looked at my calendar and saw that I had
two committee meetings scheduled for later
in the day. Each group was coming together
to focus on a meaningful task and each would
consist of wise, caring people, but that was all the
groups had in common. I dreaded being part of the
first group—almost wishing I could go to a dental
appointment instead1—but I was eager to be part of
the second group. Both meetings were important.
Why did I have such different reactions to partici-
pating in them, and what did my reactions imply
about the effectiveness of both groups?
No doubt you’ve had feelings like this. Maybe
you’ve even led a group whose meetings you
dreaded attending! We principals spend much
of our days in meetings with different groups,
gatherings that vary in purpose, composition, and
frequency. What’s consistent is that some groups
are effective and others, too many, are not. The
effective groups accomplish their desired tasks, do
so in a timely manner, and ensure that everyone
leaves with a smile, or at least without a frown.
Other groups, however, are characterized by difficult communication, a lack of trust and learning,
and failure to get the job done.
Such polar opposites—with groups at one end
being more than the sum of their participants and
those at the other end being somehow less than
the sum of their members—can occur whenever
people come together to solve a problem, whether
in businesses, schools, or book clubs. Why is this?
What can we do about it?
Highlight Purpose and Participation
If we want any group to be effective at problem
solving, we must begin by asking, “Why is this
group meeting?” We need to be clear about what
problem is to be solved, and whether we’re meeting
to share information tied to that problem, elicit
opinions, or something else. Never meet just
because it’s on your calendar! It’s always good to
begin each gathering by reminding everyone of the
purpose of the meeting; this leads to more people
feeling responsible for the group’s effectiveness.
In the New York Times article, “What Google
Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team,”
Charles Duhigg (2016) points out that effective
teams are characterized by equal participation
among the group members and a sensitivity to
one another’s words and actions. In an effective
problem-solving group, each participant speaks
about the same proportion of time as everyone else.
The group isn’t dominated by any one person—
including the leader. Principals have an opportunity to create and reinforce each of these norms
in groups we’re involved with. We may need to
work to limit how much we talk, or perhaps we’ll
need to constrain someone else’s loquaciousness.
Conversely, we’ll probably need to pull a bit more
dialogue out of some folks.
It’s important to be intentional and transparent
about such expectations. Before the first meeting,
talk about how effective groups are characterized
by a nearly equal proportion of comments by
everyone—and offer a reminder of this at each
subsequent meeting. Being explicit reduces the
Thomas R. Hoerr
Group Effectiveness Is No Accident
Guidance and transparency lead to meaningful meetings.