Norming Storming

 I almost walked out of the meeting.

Marcy and Marti accused one another of not listening.  Feelings were bruised.  Voices raised. During a business meeting. At a restaurant.

Fully aware that I was checking out of the meeting as their confusing quarrel escalated, I opened my laptop computer and searched for the word, group, on Dictionary.com.  A geological reference defined a group as “a division of stratified rocks.”  This seemed to be a fitting description of our status; a collection of individuals who could find no common ground.

The experience was similar to the frustration I felt as I listened to a group of teens argue about an upcoming event when I was a youth minister almost 20 years ago.  Their job was to plan.  My job was to encourage them to use the collaborative skills of consensus.

Throughout the meeting, Ellie persistently repeated her idea to the group.  They interrupted each other.  They rolled their eyes.  They ignored their collaboratively-composed norms, such as “Use ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements” and “Listen to and respect each others’ points of view.”  I knew it was time to take a look at our norms again.

The group decided to take a break and returned to the table 15 minutes later. No one spoke.Their body language clearly reflected their feelings. They avoided eye contact. Their legs and arms were crossed. They groaned when Ellie walked into the room. Tears she tried to suppress showed she understood her peers were upset with her, but she didn’t know why.

“We have an event to plan,” I said. “Let’s pick up where we last left off before the break. Where should we start?”

The teens moaned.

“I’m not feeling very well,” Ellie sighed softly.

“Is there anything we should discuss before we continue?” I calmly asked.

“Ellie needs to shut up,” snapped Ryan.

“Respect each other’s points of view,” barked Parker, pointing to our group norms poster.

“You know what?” I asked.  “I almost walked out of the meeting.”

Eye contact returned to the group.

“I’m mad!” grumbled Jim.

“That was then. This is now,” insisted Rasha. “Time to move on.”

“History has a nasty way of repeating itself,” I replied. “Do you want to go through this again?”

“I know everybody is mad at me,” Ellie cautiously admitted, “but no one will tell me what I am doing wrong.”

“You won’t shut up!” repeated Ryan.

“Respect each other’s points of view!” insisted Parker.

“I don’t think any one person was to blame for all of the arguing,” concluded Jenni.  “I think we forgot that we had group norms.”

When I invited the teens to become part of the leadership team, I included a cross-section of different personalities.  Jenni was a listener.  We needed her insight.

“I think Jenni’s right,” Emma agreed.

Ellie reluctantly stepped back into the facilitator’s role.  I was so proud of her.

“Let’s brainstorm,” she suggested.  “What do we mean when we say, ‘Use I  statements and not you  statements?'”

“Stop giving advice!” cried Emma.

“What’s wrong with advice?” Rasha asked.

“Nothing’s wrong with advice when somebody asks for it,” answered Emma, “but I feel angry when someone’s giving me advice and all I want is for someone to listen.”

“Once you share your idea to the group, say it once and that’s it,” Ryan added.  “If we need more information, we’ll ask for it.”

They looked at Ellie.  I expected her to crumble, but her face beamed.

“I kept repeating my idea!” Ellie brightly exclaimed.  “I thought you didn’t understand what I was saying.”

“It wasn’t that we didn’t understand what you were telling us, Ellie,” explained Parker.  “We just didn’t like your idea.”

His honesty relieved her.  Ellie understood.  The crushing fog created by lack of communication lifted and their typical joyful banter returned to the group.

In the days and months that followed, they planned lock-ins, retreats, and fun activities.  The pastor invited them to prayerfully address the congregation during sermons on Sundays. Ellie and Parker were invited to be part of the church leadership counsel.

“The adults on the church counsel interrupt each other and get sarcastic,” Ellie once confided in me.  “How come we have to use consensus skills and they don’t have to?”

“Because you know the skills,” I answered.  “It’s not about what they do. It’s about what we do.”

“Sometimes I don’t like your answers, Julie,” she sighed.

“Sometimes I don’t like my answers, either,” I laughed.

Several years later, I accepted a position in a different city.  The students went to college.  Ellie is now a youth group leader at a large church.  Parker is an attorney.  Jenni is a school guidance counselor.

“Julie, are you listening?” Marti asked.  “There’s a meeting going on here.  What do you think?”

I stepped out of my memories and consciously returned to the present.

“You know what?” I asked.  “I almost walked out of the meeting.”

“We almost walked out, too,” they laughed.

“I used to be a youth minister a long time ago,” I revealed.  “Our inability to move past our differences reminded me of my experiences with members of a high school leadership team.”

“What happened?” inquired Marcy.

I told them about the kids, their norms, and the respect they (usually) showed one another.  Their norms were a safety net which (usually) prevented personal attacks when they experienced conflict.  Most importantly, they held one another accountable.

“Can you bring a copy of their norms to our next meeting?” inquired Marcy.

Jesus said, “When two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am in their midst” (Matt 18:30, NIV).  Jesus never said that the process would be easy or painless.  However, he did add, “I give you a new command: Love one another” (John 13:34, NIV).  A new norm.  For a new time.

Sometimes solutions to current problems are found in the pages of our past.

What does collaboration mean to you?

 

On April 16, 2013, posted in: Blog by
2 Responses to Norming Storming
  1. Julie,
    You have provided a scenario that fit any group that might have a power struggle. I pray that more often, then not, that people will take time to listen to one another, support one another, and lift one another up in their endeavors. This would be a much better world to live in.
    Blessings, my dear and keep on writing.You have such a gift!

    • Thanks, Lynda. I agree; communication struggles are not fun, but they open doors to deeper relationships. Norms are crucial to successful collaboration. I’m grateful for your input!

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