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WGS: Facilitating Productive Group Process

by Clayton  Horsey   

On September 22, 2012, Woodstock became an official Transition Town. If you have been following this column you understand to some degree what that statement means. But what does a Transition Town Initiative accomplish and how does it do that? Many Transition Town initiatives across this county use the structure of small groups of citizens working together to achieve a shared goal or create something new around a shared passion. These collectives are called working groups. 

During the first year of Woodstock NY Transition (WNYT), a small, dedicated group of citizens met every week to create WNYT Working Principles, a governance structure, and a constitution. But as everyone who has any life experience well knows, working on a committee to achieve a goal or complete a task can sometimes be a frustrating and overwhelming experience. 

As a result of the intensive effort and focus of that initial core group, the Working Group Support (WGS) formed to provide a forum for conflict resolution and a living laboratory for studying, practicing, and implementing effective group process and communication skills. WGS began meeting twice a month during the fall of 2013. One of our members attended a three-day workshop on Effective Collaboration taught by Nick Osborne, a Transition Trainer from the UK. After our members were trained, WGS began learning and using the effective collaboration material in its bi-monthly meetings. We created a mission statement: “We offer support to WNYT working groups for effective group process, in order to help them accomplish their mission and vision. We provide facilitation and written guidelines to foster communication and team-building skills. We offer support through conflict resolution understanding that conflict is growth trying to happen!” And a vision statement: “The WGS group is recognized as the go-to source for tools, techniques, and facilitation for effective group process for Woodstock area organizations and for Transition US.” 

One of the WGS group’s first tasks in the fall of 2013 was to provide the WNYT Working Group Council with guidelines for effective meetings. The council meets monthly to provide a forum for support and communication among the Working Groups in WNYT. 
In the winter of 2014, Working Group Support began to meet on a weekly basis as it added the study of conflict resolution techniques to the ongoing study and practice of effective group process. An opportunity to address a conflict in an important working group of WNYT provided WGS with the impetus to develop a written set of guidelines to implement in the event of a future opportunity for conflict resolution. These guidelines were developed primarily for the members of WGS to direct their own behavior during a conflict intervention so as not to contribute to the problem. 

As a result of developing these guidelines, WGS agreed that no one person would hold sole responsibility for a conflict resolution intervention or for developing effective group process recommendations. Instead, the entire WGS group would work together as a whole. We recognized that each member has equal value to contribute to the work and an equal voice in any decisions or recommendations that we make as a group. 

During the summer and fall of 2014 we began to study, develop, and practice specific strategies and templates to use during a conflict resolution process. We decided that any conflict is an opportunity for growth if the parties involved choose to embrace our guidelines and work with us as a group to find a solution. 

We have found that as we develop and practice conflict resolution strategies within the WGS group, using real conflicts between our members and role-plays that we create, our trust in one another has deepened and expanded. WGS has become a place of inner transition as much as a source of tools and techniques for the outer transition we all hope to achieve. Therefore, we added the following sentence to our mission statement: “We cultivate our own inner capacities to respond rather than react as the conditions on our planet rapidly change.” 

WGS has been meeting on a weekly basis now for a year and a half. During that time we have provided assessment and specific recommendations to other working groups regarding effective group process. We have also provided specific conflict resolution interventions between and within working groups. And we have done this by working together as a whole group. We understand that effective group process and conflict resolution strategies benefit from multiple points of view, since each one of us has only one piece of the truth, but together we can create a new reality—one Transition Town at a time.