Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Military Service Academies

SITUATION

The US Secretary of Defense and Congress, among others, want to eliminate sexual assault at the military academies.  West Point and Annapolis were the subjects of study by the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies.  As their group process consultant and meeting facilitator, we had to establish a collaborative team environment quickly so the group could achieve its objective in 12 months.  This case focuses on the launch, a critical factor in the project's success.

RESULTS

Task Force members quickly got off to a productive start.  As a result of our launch activity, people recalled relevant strengths and experiences they could contribute to the group.  They established ground rules and enforced them, contributing to effective conversation and decision making over the life of the Task Force.  The group's strong start helped them delve into complex policy and philosophy conversations, achieving consensus on recommendations to the Secretary of Defense.

BACKGROUND

The evening before the orientation meeting, admirals, generals, executive directors and other Task Force members arrived from around the country and Europe, and gathered for an informal reception.  The next day's agenda was packed, the group had to function effectively right away, and most of them didn't know one another.  Not only that, but many cultures co-existed among these twelve people.  All four branches of the military were represented and half the members were civilian subject matter experts, including advocacy agency leaders.  Our first challenge was to build a sense of group in an intentional and positive way.

WEISS CONSULTING APPROACH

We designed a team building exercise that wouldn't feel awkward or artificial during the reception.  Standard 3x5 cards were our props of choice.  We wrote three task-relevant appreciative questions about strengths, working in a diverse group and succeeding despite challenging differences.  We handed out sets of cards - people were glad for something to hold on to.  We briefed Task Force members on listening with full attention and instructed them to pair up for short conversations on the questions.  We then rotated their pairings for three rounds of ten minutes.  Within 30 minutes people had recalled significant strengths they brought to the group, and they had real contact with at least three other members of the Task Force.  The group was ready to go to work.