How to stay on course when the wind is not at your back.
November 22, 2020 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I have been leading a report-writing project for a committee at my city's bar association for about nine months, and need advice from you, hive mind, to help me at a crossroads on the effort. I committed to the undertaking, have put a lot of work into it and do not want to quit, but the lack of congeniality on what is essentially a volunteer project is wearing on me. What can I do to steer this project safely to land?

The project is a written report on pending legislation (U.S.) for an important and somewhat controversial element of corporate transparency. I was asked to lead the project because it relates to my area of expertise; however, for most of the project a few members of the team have resisted my efforts to steer and lead, e.g., refusing to share their draft sections, holding ad hoc calls and discussions and not communicating with the rest of the group, sending critical group emails that detract from the spirit of the project. There are about ten of us working on the report, all lawyers, all contributing time outside of work hours in an extracurricular, volunteer undertaking.

The ten-person team includes pro-regulation folks who work in the regulatory space, as well as some stringent anti-regulation folks. The anti-reg faction can be contentious. I created a shared Google doc for the project many months ago (tools and technology are limited since this is a volunteer project). One member of the team harshly criticized the technology and my efforts on a group email, refused to use the doc, and went so far as to escalate his criticism to the committee chair. This team member left the committee a couple of months ago, but another who shares his critical attitude remains in the group. I have tried to build a bridge to this person, but they continue to resist my efforts to lead, e.g., sending new drafts that do not build upon earlier drafts, not committing to deadlines, only accepting feedback from the committee chair. I have spoken with the committee chair and he says he supports my leadership on the project, but nothing has changed. The team member who departed from the group a few months ago left a preliminary draft section (50 pages of quotes with limited cites) that needs to be re-worked into the final, publication-ready document. It is a lot of work.

I could propose a new schedule in light of external circumstances, such as the status of the pending legislation and the departure of the team member, and that would address the logistics of project completion. But the real issue for me is the lack of cohesion in the team, the lack of congeniality. I am not sure what to do about it. I welcome your suggestions.
posted by ponibrown to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If it's just the one person who is really being snotty at this point and everyone else is just going with the flow, sitting on the fence, I'd go to the committee chair, remind about this project being a voluntary side thing, and say you didn't sign on to have a months-long battle of wills and you're ready to walk if this doesn't get ironed out.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:43 AM on November 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

One member of the team harshly criticized the technology and my efforts on a group email, refused to use the doc, and went so far as to escalate his criticism to the committee chair.

This is a pretty standard bad-faith negotiation tactic - argue like hell over something trivial from the outset so that by the time real decisions are getting made people are just exhausted into letting you have your way. My read of your situation is that “lack of cohesion and congeniality” is the symptom of an adversarial situation in which at least one party is acting in bad faith. Your bailing out is a victory condition for this person, and there aren’t any bridges to be built here, really - this is just going to be a slog if you intend to stay invested in it. I’d remind the chair that this is a voluntary position and that if they intend this process to be successful they’d better reel this faction in, and then think long and hard about the answer and how invested you are in the process after hearing it.
posted by mhoye at 8:46 AM on November 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Do you have the ability to remove people from the project? If not, who does? The committee chair? I would get the difficult people off the project or leave the project.
posted by medusa at 9:24 AM on November 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've led some groups to more-or-less satisfactory conclusions - but none with as widely differing and parochial interests.

In the region of "do the simplest thing that could possibly work", I might try a simple dialog:

"The lack of congeniality on this volunteer team is wearing on me, and many other members. What can we each do to steer this project safely to land?"
posted by j_curiouser at 9:31 AM on November 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

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