Creating a shared intention with a group of people you are working with involves stating, asking or referencing the purpose and goal of the activity, workshop or session – whatever it is you are facilitating. It is a linchpin for many of the other elements of the First 10 (which we will introduce soon!). By linchpin, we mean that so much can be connected to the Intention.
Prior to sharing the Intention, participants may have had an understanding of goals or purpose, yet rarely is that understanding the same for everyone present. Declaring these for the group while all together – so that all can hear it at the same time – has value in providing a consistent message. We recently worked with a corporate staff team of 50 people, and while we had been assured everyone knew the purpose of the training, it became clear when sharing the Intention that this was not the case! Each department had “made up” it’s own reason based on whatever different bits of information they had.
“Where” everyone is beginning is vital for you to know! Imagine if you were hosting a meal and the mischief that might be caused if everyone came to a meal with different ideas and expectations of what it would be like: some are expecting breakfast, others a hearty soup, etc. Reviewing the “meal” to come and thinking about what end result is desired allows for the possibility of alignment and collective action.
Another value of spending time on the Intention is that it is a chance to clarify and assign ownership of the process: a key priority of the First 10. This can take place by checking the Intention against people’s expectations and see where there are alignments or gaps. Important questions to ask are simply: “How does this look? Does this seem valuable for you? What would you like to add or take away? This is your session, so as you look at this Intention, does it look worthwhile for you? In what way?” Asking these questions honors the unique needs of individuals, moves responsibility for the process and outcomes onto their ‘plates’ and offers up a chance for people to participate.
When we feel like we have crafted an appropriate Intention, we ask people to share what is valuable about it for them personally? What ‘clicks’ or what do they appreciate about it? Wait and let a few people answer this question: it allows them to practice naming what is important to them (which lets you hear that too) and gives people who are unsure about the Intention something to hold onto.
Perhaps most importantly, human beings appreciate meaning and purpose: knowing what it is we are doing here fills in a gap that people are desperate to have filled.
Have you ever gone to a work meeting and been so distracted with the thought of “what is the purpose of this?” that you likely missed opportunities to contribute? Or it caused cynicism to bubble up and take you away from the work at hand? Answering our innate need for purpose and meaning helps bring people closer and takes away the damage caused by its absence.
Sharing the intention, as a practice, is not revelatory in and of itself: it is common for an educator to post the day’s goals on the whiteboard, or for a coach to hand out a practice timeline with objectives. What is relevatory about it and makes it an aspect of our Framework is the purpose/context behind it. Stating the intention and pausing a moment to make sure everyone is on the right ‘bus’ is used as a participatory act that begins to set the table of collaboration and mutuality: we are in ‘this’ together, let’s make sure we begin to name what “this” is. Rather than a token effort or mere lip-service, giving time and attention to the intention is used to help bring participants’ guidance systems in sync with the current moment. It is one of the first steps in building availability.
Once you get going with a group, a fantastic way to use the Intention as a tool for participation and ownership, is to ask your group “how are we doing with this?” Imagine you are half-way through your meeting or session and visualize yourself referring to the Intention in this way. You are immediately honoring what the group agreed it is there for, and you give them a chance to own the experience. It takes the ‘pressure’ off you and makes it shared and jointly owned. If the group responds that “yes, we are moving in the direction of the Intention” – great work! If someone responds with a “no, we are not following our Intention” then you have a great opportunity to let the group manage itself: Where are we off? What might work better here? Use the Intention to create an atmosphere of mutuality and you reduce a common barrier to participation: the pull of isolation, as in “my voice/presence is not needed or valued here, I can stay distant”.
Finally, use the Intention to keep you grounded in the work at hand for yourself. It is very easy to get pulled in different directions when working with a group: we find that posting the Intention and keeping it visible is a helpful truing device. When we feel a bit adrift or are not sure what is next, we can turn to the Intention as a helpful guide.
There are many ways to practice intention – pick at least two and work on them purposefully during this week. If you want to post the results or reflections of this practice on the group Facebook page, that would be great. We will have a posted a place for you to do that.
- Pay attention to intention with others: Where do you see intention present or absent? When you are with a group of people, is the purpose for being together clear? Is it visible (written down somewhere), is it assumed and well understood, or is it absent completely (not only visibly but also in people’s understanding)?
- Pay attention to intention for yourself: What happens when you set a clear intention for yourself? What happens when you don’t? During the week, notice the impact that setting an intention has on you.
- Create an intention prior to working with someone else or a group, and share it. If you have an opportunity to work with your partner or a colleague or with a group of people, create an intention for your work beforehand. Share it out loud and write it down somewhere if you can. Ask whomever you are with what they think about it, if they can agree with it, does it work for them, etc. Ask if they would add anything to it. Pay attention to what difference it makes in the level of participation that people demonstrate. What do you notice about the process that helps them ‘get closer’ or be more available?
- ***Tip: Don’t spend a lot of time on explaining your intention. Just share it out and ask for reactions. If people ask you to explain where it came from then of course it is okay to tell them. We find people are often tempted to justify and give their ‘because’ – yet it is often not needed and takes away the opportunity for people to share their own insights, ask questions, think out loud, etc. It also puts YOU in more of a “telling” space, versus listening space.
- ***Tip: stay with your intention until you receive a ‘good amount’ of dialogue about it :-). Ask people “what works about this?”; “what could be missing?”; “will this likely get us where we want to go?” – and practice getting personalized responses from a few people if working with a group (a personalized response is one where the person is speaking in the first person: “this works for me because…” vs. third person “this is good because it might help you…” – ask them to share how it might help him/her specifically).
- ***Tip: The intention is a great place to pull in a reluctant participant. Ask him/her specifically about it as a way to get them on the field and thinking about if the intention really works for him/her or not.
- Use an intention already in existence to “true” a group’s work. While working with someone or a group whose intention has been made clear, refer to it at some point during the work of the group and ask “are we heading towards our intention?” (or something similar). What does this cause?
- ***Tip: This is a good tool to use if a group gets stuck or in conflict. It may be that the group is off task and this pulls them back on, but it also may simply serve to Cause Pause (something we will get into soon). Causing Pause gives time for people to sync up: maybe they were getting distracted, upset, worried, etc. and your question allows them to “pick their head up and look around”.
- Question an intention. Is the work of a group or person really the work it/they are best suited to? Asking this question to yourself is a great practice and gives you a chance to step back and look at the big picture; the same thing can happen when you ask it silently or out loud with a person or group. It can be done after a break, or in the midst of a period when things seem a bit disjointed. We worked with a church pastor once who was noticing declining participation during worship and recommended he ask the congregation if the mission of the church – that he shares at the start of every service – was still meaningful to everyone. He later said it was the most lively conversation they had ever had as a group and has lead to several productive sessions of mission-development work.