We’re friends, we’re consultants with different (but complementary) expertise, and we all run our own one-person businesses.
Nancy suggested a very basic exercise. She wrote three columns on a flip chart page:
She then asked, “What can we achieve together than we couldn’t individually? What do we want to preserve about our own consulting work and our relationships with each other? Is there anything we want to avoid?”
As you can imagine, a lively conversation ensued as we filled the page. We discovered, within about thirty minutes, that we all wanted pretty much the same things. The simplicity of these questions – no jargon, nothing fancy – made it easy to speak simply and straightforwardly.
Since then, we’ve paired up for several projects that were too complex for any of us to take on individually.
How often do you (or your organization) make decisions?
You’re faced with decisions all day, every day. If you manage a team, then you’re tasked with helping others make good decisions.
Most choices are simple enough. They don’t require thirty minutes and three columns on a page. But when you’re dealing with more complexity, this is a really useful strategy.
For example, imagine that you’re creating a fundraising plan for your organization. Perhaps you want to:
- Achieve a shift in culture so that everyone participates in fundraising
- Preserve relationships with several long-term donors
- Avoid random fundraising ideas that aren’t in the plan and can waste your time
Wouldn’t it be useful for everyone share the same fundraising goals? This tool can help.
Helping others better understand their options
As a consultant and facilitator, I’ve used this strategy in a variety of settings.
- While facilitating merger conversations between two social service groups, I asked them to fill out the achieve/preserve/avoid form with colleagues from their own organizations. Then we all came together to compare notes.
- About 80% of their answers aligned. We spent the next year working through the 20% that didn’t, and they ultimately completed the merger.
- Earlier this month, I facilitated a client’s initial strategic planning meeting, which included board and staff leaders. My very first questions: “What do you want to achieve with this strategic plan? What do you want to preserve? What do you want to avoid?”
- My goal was to learn about their expectations, but to also test for alignment. Everyone present participated – another lively discussion – and agreed with all the items. This bodes well for the planning process.
- From time to time, people ask me about how to start a consulting practice. Before we talk, I encourage them to fill out the form.
Clear intentions yield better decisions
As facilitator, one of your most important roles is to serve as the compassionate outsider – someone who will ask basic questions like, “Why are we doing this? What do we hope to accomplish?”
Even when you’re asked to facilitate your own group – your own staff, board, or volunteers – don’t assume that everyone is starting from the same position.
Here’s the beauty of the achieve/preserve/avoid model: It grounds everyone with the same information before making any choices. This leads to better decisions and improves your odds of reaching consensus.