For Higher Ground: Building Powerful And Principled Groups And Communities
30, 2000 -- More
and more people today are expected to accomplish important work
through group activities and group decisions. Not only in the globally
connected work place, but in todays busy homes and active
families, churches, professional organizations and civic life, collaboration
is a growing necessity.
as most people also have experienced, groups can be places where
much energy is expended and little is achieved. Diverse groups are
routinely called on to sit at the same table and present complex,
conflicting and sometimes divisive views. Even the rules of what
is "civil" are seen as relative and changeable in different
often, simply surviving a group experience becomes the primary objective,"
points out E. Franklin Dukes, a University of Virginia mediation
specialist and co-author of a newly published book on helping large
or small groups function at their best, "Reaching for Higher
Ground in Conflict Resolution: Tools for Powerful Groups and Communities"
and co-authors John Stephens of the University of North Carolina
and Marina Piscolish of Antioch University assert that few groups
-- whether a local school board, a business team, a deeply divided
community, or a family facing important issues - truly harness
the power of their members collective wisdom and aspirations
to achieve something out of the ordinary. In fact, despite widespread
understanding of the idea of seeking "win-win" common
ground, effective and positive group experiences tend to be exceptions,
their "reaching for higher ground" approach to group problem
solving and conflict resolution, they urge setting up a group "covenant"
and then maintaining shared expectations and deep commitments to
an agreed-on vision as an integral part of the effective group process.
essential than basic ground rules such as "no interruptions"
and "listen first, ask questions
this establishing of "relatedness" among members can help
create authentic community and sustainable agreements, the authors
book, illustrated with real-life "snapshot" examples of
group problem-solving, is aimed at anyone who works with or in groups,
including managers, committee chairs, team leaders, mediators, consultants
and teachers. It outlines techniques for helping groups articulate
the values that members hold dear, develop the principles that will
guide their efforts, and set clearly the shared expectations that
will be honored throughout their work.
are recognizing that through careful communication and creative
problem-solving they can find ways in which their own interests
can be satisfied without denying the needs of others, says Dukes,
director of U.Va.s Institute for Environmental Negotiation
who has worked closely as a mediator in discussions among tobacco
farming communities and public health interests in seeking ways
to sustain rural communities while promoting health goals.
going even beyond attempts at "win-win" solutions, he
says, group members can find that they can "connect with others
in ways that affirm both oneself and the other," transcend
self-interest and "seek not just common ground but also the
vary depending on the size and purpose of the group, but following
are six key elements that will allow you to create your own path,
whatever your group, to higher ground. These six elements are:
ESTABLISH THE NEED: Seek understanding and agreement about
the need for shared expectations for higher ground.
EDUCATE AND INSPIRE: Offer sufficient support, including
time for reflection and discussion, illustrations of other covenants
or ground rules, examples of how rules have been used and abused,
and indications of commitment to developing and honoring a covenant
from group leadership.
BEGIN BY ENVISIONING DESIRED OUTCOMES: Begin by envisioning
the desired outcomes that will define higher ground for your group,
then develop the specific rules that will allow you to reach those
PROMOTE FULL PARTICIPATION: Work actively to give each group member
a real voice in developing the covenant.
BE ACCOUNTABLE: Honor the agreements made.
EVALUATE AND REVISE: Evaluate, modify and recommit whenever
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856