Balance competing values

The board is in session. People are talking about whether an ambiguous set of findings from a feasibility study for a big capital campaign signals a go-ahead. The discussion is tense. Quotes from my notes:

  • “I don’t know why we have to belabor this. It’s obvious we need to move ahead.”
  • “I’m tired of all this process. We just have to act.”
  • “I’m sorry. As a board member I have fiduciary responsibility to consider this information thoughtfully. I’m not ready to act.”
  • “Look, we’ve got a lot to do here today. Why don’t we hold off on the decision and talk about what would happen if we just decided to move forward.”
  • “I think the last few minutes of discussion have been off point.”

Following are six pairs of values that compete against each other. Under different circumstances, each of the values can be positive.

My activist involvement in challenging proposals and directions coming from others My acceptance of work done on my behalf by others (e.g., committees)
Upholding my sense of what is good and right Deferring to others’ sense of what is good and right
Time spent on one important mission-based topic (one person’s desire) Time spent on another important mission-based topic (another person’s desire)
A discussion that “fully” explores a particular issue before action and decision Giving even (and lesser) attention to the full range of important issues
Openness, inclusiveness, rigor, completeness in board deliberation The need to act and decide with less than full information and inquiry
The perceived rights and interests of the individual The individual’s obligations to the whole and the preference of the collective

Good groups and effective individuals balance trade-offs

Most groups will require changes in the behaviors and attitudes of certain individuals if the group is truly to add value. Groups will be challenged by:

  • Individuals who view their beliefs about what is best for their organization as obviously true and self-evident
  • Individuals who have had little experience in seeking to understand and identify with the ideas brought by others, and…
  • Individuals who have been trained to be excessively analytical and scrutinizing toward ideas of all types and who have little experience in stepping forward within a stance of commitment to argue for what they believe in.

Successful groups require at least some of these people to change their stance toward their own ideas and toward the ideas of their peers. This is a difficult proposition.

What many individuals need if they are to function well within a group is a fundamentally more fluid, flexible stance toward the world. In the organizations with which I have worked, accomplishments were usually characterized by involvement of individuals who listened in new ways, suspended judgment, and were able both to influence and be influenced.

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