In Part I of our exploration of the down-in-the-weeds discussion pattern, we noted the value of understanding the pattern, and recognizing it quickly when it occurs. Even more valuable, in terms of group productivity, is the ability to avoid the weed patch altogether. That probably isn't achievable, but we can reduce the frequency of the pattern's occurrence. In this Part II, we offer two suggestions for preventing trips to the weed patch.
- Know your objectives
- Unless the parties to a conversation agree about the reason for the conversation, their respective contributions can pull the group in different directions. That's useful when the group isn't sure where it's going, though work on goal definition intentionally is probably more effective. When the parties haven't explicitly discussed the goals of the conversation, and reached agreement about those goals, irrelevant contributions are inevitable, and some of those will be down in the weeds.
- Beginning any complex discussion with an explicit statement of goals for that conversation is helpful for staying out of the weeds. Even better: give examples of what the weeds look like. For example, in a discussion of approaches for trimming requirements to achieve budget reduction for a project, a group might agree that inquiry into the merits of budget reduction would be a topic for another time, and that this conversation will focus on revising requirements to reduce costs.
- Define the scope of the discussion
- Knowing the objectives is one important step, but it leaves open the question of scope. One cause of trips down into the weeds is disagreement about the definition of relevant. Some contributions to conversations are relevant to the topic in a general sense, but they don't actually move the conversation in the direction of the agreed-upon objective.
- Agreeing on definitions of relevance might seem tangential to any given discussion, but Beginning any complex discussion
with an explicit statement of
goals for that conversation is
helpful for staying out of the weedsit's a tool that can be reused for many different conversations. A handy measure of relevance is this: How well does this contribution move us toward our objective? The group can then enumerate the properties of relevant contributions. Here are four possibilities: a contribution can clarify the objective, or argue in support of a specific possible path to the objective, or raise questions about a specific possible path to the objective, or enumerate properties of promising paths to the objective.
Avoiding the weed patch is usually advantageous — except when it isn't. Just as some desirable plants do sometimes grow among weeds, ideas that truly are treasures sometimes appear only when we take trips down into the weeds. That's why examining the detailed structures underlying the big issues is a useful thing to do. What is usually less useful is doing so when we're supposedly doing something else. First in this series Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to
avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering
this kind of knowledge more systematically.
- Who Would You Take With You to Mars?
- What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the
latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
- Knowing Where You're Going
- Groups that can't even agree on what to do can often find themselves debating about how
to do it. Here are some simple things to remember to help you focus on defining the goal.
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Communications
- Finding work in tough times entails presenting yourself to many people. You'll be conversing, interviewing,
writing, presenting, and when you're finally successful, negotiating.
- Office Automation
- Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our
lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.