Monday, September 04, 2006

Group Accomplishment

Recent events in my life have caused me to think about “group accomplishment”. Exactly what does it take for a group to accomplish something? Also, what happens to produce failure to accomplish?

In my estimation, for a group to accomplish something worthwhile requires vision, commitment and action.

Failure requires the lack of any one of the three and is therefore perhaps a more common theme in many groups and organizations.


In order to accomplish something – anything – a solid vision of what will be accomplished is needed.

I like to listen to the Thomas Jefferson Hour. I have a radio in the garage which I like to have on in the background while I tinker with my old car and motorcycles. Scholar Clay Jenkinson carries, I believe, the Jeffersonian vision across to the listener exceedingly well, though I am certainly no expert on Jefferson. The other day he quoted Jefferson (or perhaps paraphrased him?). I can’t cite the exact words but it comes out to be something like, “All my public life when required to make a choice, I strived to look past immediacy and to make decisions which would be sound for the future”.

Amen. How many times do you see groups and organizations - local and national – school, church and community, applying band-aid fixes to present problems with apparent total disregard for the long term outcome? If you stop to think about it, you’ll come up with “most of the time”, I bet.

It is, I believe, a lack of vision by the whole group which causes this. Some people are natural visionaries. Others have to work at it. Sadly, most people who are not natural visionaries choose the lazy way out and don’t even try. In a group, you must not only have a common vision, but you must maintain it throughout the group’s existence. The visionary in any group or organization provides that vision, but the group leadership must sell the entire group on the vision and keep reminding them of it for it to be truly successful.


In order to accomplish worthwhile things, group or organizational leadership must be tenacious about working toward the vision, but also in imparting the vision to the members of the group. Once the vision has been imparted, each member of the group must make a choice. Will they support the vision – commit to working towards it – or not.

In my experience, it is at this point where group members begin to fall by the wayside. The most successful groups I have worked in or with have usually required the members to sign some sort of a commitment document saying that they will make every effort to attend all meetings, be active, and perform assigned tasks on time.

Unless the group commits to doing what is necessary to accomplish the vision – and is tenacious about following the vision – the group fails even before the first chore is undertaken.


Finally, all the vision and commitment to that vision in the world is useless unless the group can be guided to do those things which accomplish the vision. The group leaders must be able to motivate the group members to actually do the work needed and they must always keep the vision foremost in their mind when assigning tasks. Otherwise, members of the group become disenchanted as they discover that the task they have been given to accomplish toward the goal is a dead-end, busy-work task.

Action by itself is rarely, if ever, useful. It must have the direction and purpose of the vision tied inextricably to it.

I was recently involved with a group which assembled a working sports car from a pile of parts in three days. Our visionary who dreamed the whole project up provided all of us with a clear idea of exactly what we were going to accomplish at the end of three days and continued to reinforce that vision to all of us throughout the project. The members of the group had traveled from all over the country to be there and participate, donating their expenses to the project and thereby making a significant commitment to seeing the vision through to the end. The action commenced on schedule with everyone involved in tasks which were leading toward the realization of the vision. When the smoke cleared on day three, we watched the car drive around with a terrific feeling of “group accomplishment”.

Some of the members of that group plus a few more are now involved in a new and much longer term project. I sincerely hope; 1) we can come up with a vision that all can share, 2) we don’t lose too many when the time comes to make the big commitment, and 3) those who do commit to the vision can be guided to do the most productive and rewarding tasks possible to achieve the goal of “group accomplishment”.

There is no better feeling, I think, than being part of a group which has just accomplished something really exciting and worthwhile.

Vision – Commitment - Action