Collaborative Problem Solving

Group Launch

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Introduce the participants and process, and start building trust and confidence by collaborating on a group charter and amending the process plan to reflect group concerns.

The introduction of participants to one another, and an initial discussion of intentions about the process and about the needs and expectations of individuals, is done with an eye toward building trust and confidence. Having the participants review, discuss, and revise the draft process design—including each phase of the process—is part of that confidence-building process.

In this stage, participants work together on either revising or creating a group charter that serves to guide deliberations, specify intended outcomes, clarify group authority, and address other substantive and procedural issues. It’s important for all members of the group to understand and agree with how the process will work before rushing into deliberations.

The opportunity to see their process concerns reflected in the set of principles that will govern the process further aligns participants with the spirit of collaboration. In this way, the group launch sets the tone and creates expectations for what follows.

Prematurely going to the next stage before participants are ready could undermine confidence in the process.

Introduce the process, individual participants, and the preliminary design of the process.

  • Participants introduce themselves. (This may follow an informal social introduction
    prior to the initial meeting.)
  • Process leader presents and explains the draft process design.

Review, discuss, and revise the draft process, as necessary.

  • Participants ask questions and raise issues about the proposed design.
  • Preliminary process design is amended, as necessary, and affirmed by the group.

Develop a set of process principles or a group charter.

  • Identify issues the group thinks are essential to function effectively:
    what the intended output of the process is; how much authority the group has; how the group will make decisions; how the group will gather research on technical issues; how the group will communicate with the media; how issues of fact and opinion in the group will be addressed; what the group’s relationship to outside task forces will be, etc.

Provide ample opportunity for thorough discussion and a chance to address questions about the intended output and process.

  • Ensure that there is sufficient discussion to satisfy participants that all issues have been
    identified and concerns have been addressed.

Develop and affirm agreements on these issues in a charter or set of process principles.

There is skepticism about the process.
Rather than immediately trying to “sell” the process, it is usually more productive to allow participants to take time to talk about their “greatest hopes” and “worst fears” regarding the collaboration. Participants can often educate each other about what is possible for the group to accomplish.

Initial commitment to the process is lacking.
Spending time before the meeting or during an initial session talking about other successful collaborative processes can help to educate participants. In addition, careful listening, attention to detail, and a thorough explanation of how the process is designed can help participants try to reserve judgment about how valuable the process and their participation might be.

The choice exists to present a detailed process design or work with the group to develop the design.
Some less-experienced groups value the process leader’s guidance, but others want to take greater control over the design process. It’s preferable for the facilitator to have clear ideas about how the process could unfold, but how to present them is contingent on the extent of the group’s process experience and their previous work with each other.

The choice exists to work with the group to develop a detailed charter governing process or to rely on simple process ground rules.
In general, the more complex and contentious the issue, the more useful it is to spend time on a highly detailed set of process agreements.

  • What perspectives and connections do participants have regarding the issue and other participants?
  • What do participants hope to produce?
  • What information will be needed as the issue is engaged?
  • Who else needs to be included?
  • What are the areas of preliminary alignment and areas of disagreement?
  • What will it take to move to a more substantive process?
  • What do participants need to do their best work?
  • What will create a trust-building process?

As the Hawaii Coral Reef Working Group (CRWG) discussed a draft charter for the development of a 10-year strategic plan, one of the issues raised was how the Working Group should interact with the Local Area Strategy groups (LAS), those task forces dealing with specific, reef-related issues such as fishing and land-based sources of pollution. The CRWG decided to forward their objectives and policies to specific LAS groups for review. To clarify the decision-making authority between the groups, charter language was added to reflect that the CRWG retained final decision-making authority about what was in the plan that was being developed.

Related Examples

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