Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 30;   July 29, 2015: Down in the Weeds: II

Down in the Weeds: II

by

Last updated: November 22, 2018

To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
Ammi Visnaga, a nile weed that has medicinal value

Ammi Visnaga, a nile weed that has medicinal value as a source of psoralens, a family of molecules that are useful in treating lymphoma and other diseases.

Although ammi is widely regarded as a weed, it has been used in medicine for millennia. Only by examining its chemistry in detail do we even begin to understand its properties and intrinsic value. So it is with many plants, animals, and — in the knowledge-oriented workplace — concepts. Getting down in the weeds, at times, has its rewards. Photo (CC) 2.0 by Dwight Sipler, courtesy Wikipedia.

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 weeds
it'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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Wacky Words of Wisdom: IV  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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 welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Two cyclists commute to work at the U.S. Federal Highway AdministrationEnjoy Your Commute
You probably commute to work. On a good day, you spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or two — each way — commuting. What kind of experience are you having? Taking control of this part of your life can make a real difference.
Sun doing a loop-de-loopA Message Is Only a Message
When we receive messages of disapproval, we sometimes feel bad. And when we do, it can help to remember that we have the freedom to decide whether or not to accept the messages we receive.
Writing on a whiteboardParadoxical Policies: I
Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are actually counterproductive. Here's a collection of policies that would be funny if they weren't real.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportRisk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?
ClarityBrain Clutter
The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting…

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Delicate Arch, a 60-foot tall (18 m) freestanding natural archComing November 20: Paid-Time-Off Risks
Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important. Available here and by RSS on November 20.
What an implicit interrogation can look likeAnd on November 27: Implicit Interrogations
Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers

On 14The Race
to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program.

Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.