Turning Working Groups Into Programs

In any organization, there are many types of groups, ranging in formality, size, and duration. At one end of the continuum, there are ad hoc groups that may assemble over a single lunch to address a very limited issue, such as how to fix a software bug. At the other end of the continuum are formal organizational components such as a division branch, with a formal structure and activities designed to endure indefinitely.

Working groups, with their informal structure, often fall closer to the ad hoc end of the spectrum. This is often appropriate to address very simple issues or initiatives but has significant weaknesses for initiatives with broader scope; efforts that require significant planning, analysis, project management components, or substantial change.

Most working groups in the government tend to be single-threaded; that is, everyone in a group is contemplating and discussing the same thing at the same time. However, analyzing the nature and structure of an envisioned or current working group against its objectives represents a significant factor in the group’s eventual success. When the wrong structure is applied, the group may lack the organization necessary to effectively address larger issues or in the case of simpler objectives, may be weighed down by structure and organization resulting in an equal lack of progress towards straightforward recommendations.

 The spectrum of groups commonly found within an organization and where working groups typically fall within that spectrum.

The spectrum of groups commonly found within an organization and where working groups typically fall within that spectrum.

In order to successfully decouple those who desire continuous contemplation from execution activities, to successfully 'divide and conquer' and move forward faster, an individual may have to develop sub-groups within a working group where individuals focus on different things and report back to the larger working group on a periodic basis. This change shifts the standard working group closer to a program structure, which is often a better fit for many initiatives addressed by working groups.

 The traditional working group approach versus the program-structured working group approach.

The traditional working group approach versus the program-structured working group approach.

With resources deployed across a broad range of areas in a more execution-oriented way, more gets done faster and better. The very structure drives a mental shift within a group from being contemplation-oriented to execution or implementation focused.

To address the presence of individuals who lack a desire to move past contemplation, make at least one program segment's activities focus on continuous visioning, analysis, and communication activities. These activities may never end, but as good ideas emerge from and around these activities, individuals in one sub-group can focus on their implementation while the other continues to refine the associated messages.