Monday, September 8

The Wisdom Is In the Group

On my website, I have a summary of lessons learned from over 30 years of working with thousands of organizations.  Yet every once in a while, I have the opportunity to relearn one of these lessons.  Such an opportunity presented itself recently—and the experience took my breath away.

A few weeks ago, I facilitated a strategic planning retreat for the board, staff, and key stakeholders of the ABNN (the certification organization, American Board of Neuroscience Nurses).  This diverse group was able to assess where they’ve been successful and build on that while also pinpointing where they need to explore alternatives to activities that have not yielded the desired results.  They demonstrated all the behaviors of a “Learning Organization.”  Even the form that their strategic planning documents took emerged organically from our work together to meet their specific needs as they continue to promote the advancement of neuroscience nursing.

What was so amazing about this is that when I interviewed them by phone before the retreat, they each provided answers to my questions, but didn’t get too imaginative or enthusiastic in their ideas about where the organization needed to go and what factors might have the greatest impact on its success.  Yet, when they gathered and could feed off of one another, I found myself inspired by their enthusiasm, openness, and anticipatory mindset.  Experts have called this, “generative thinking,” and perhaps the greatest contribution a board can make.

Several participants told me that the time we invested initially in getting to know one another paid off in rich dividends when we turned to focus on their vision of where they want ABNN to go and in setting priority goals to achieve that vision. What they were referring to was an exercise I have never tried with a client group before, and it was a calculated risk on my part.  In conjunction with self-introductions, I asked those who were comfortable doing so to share “a vulnerability.” This is a subject I have been reading and thinking about personally and I thought it might help them to bond.  Every participant did so, and the result was a shift to a fully-engaged, connected group.  Their evaluations of the retreat weekend noted that this exercise caused them to better understand other participants on a personal level and feel more connected in the work they tackled together.

The valuable lesson that I re-learned from this experience was a basic tenet of the Japanese continuous improvement work of 30 years ago:  upfront investment of building the team pays off later.  The wisdom is always in the group and, if the group is unable to find the elegant solution, it needs to expand either its own circle or its definition of the problem it’s tackling.  Thanks to all who made our ABNN weekend in Tahoe so productive and fun!

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