This excerpt from What Matters at Work seems to add nicely to previous discussions about conflict, collaborative negotiation, and decision-making. I hope you find it useful to read — then give it a try!

A key challenge occurs when we are invited to engage in longer planning, policy-making, or conflict negotiation processes without being adequately prepared to do so. One important contribution that you can make as a member of a group considering such efforts is to help group members first clarify What Matters, by identifying those things that reflect their values, Intentions, and expectations of one another in their work together. A simple process that we have utilized with great success is the “Outcomes Identification Exercise.” I initially came across a variant of this activity in the Pfeiffer group facilitation Annual in 1987, and we have adapted it to work with dozens of work units, community groups, and leadership teams preparing for strategic planning. 

It is often useful at times of conflict and struggle, where there is a desire to move forward with planning or change efforts that have been stymied by relationships that have run aground. By clarifying the desired outcomes each participant seeks from work, and then noticing and affirming ways current efforts contribute to such intentions, members begin to learn (or re-learn) things about one another that can transform their energy and commitment. Once again, by focusing on strengths and assets within the group, the stage is set for important work that has otherwise eluded them. 

Process Overview

(Note: While this is primarily designed for a group sitting together in the same room, it is easily adapted to a virtual platform that allows for small group breakout discussions)

Facilitator’s Opening Statement: 

“A key challenge facing people who need to work through conflicts together is a lack of clarity about what they need. Their expectations regarding how those needs are met, and the relative priority of these expectations, is at the heart of this exercise. By clarifying desired outcomes from their work together, participants can begin to build an agenda that addresses those needs in practice.”

Step 1: Silent Brainstorming 

Individually, each participant should ‘brainstorm’ a list of responses to the following question: “What outcomes do I desire from my workplace?” 

An alternative question may be: “What expectations do I have from my work with my co-workers?” 

Take 5 minutes of quiet time to write down as many answers as possible to the focus question.

Step 2: Nominal Group Sharing

Going around the circle, each group* member should identify one desired outcome to share with others. The facilitator should record these responses on flip chart paper. Go around the circle a couple of times… if a ‘desired outcome’ has been previously stated, participants are encouraged to identify other items from their personal lists. People may “pass,” if preferred. After completing 2-3 turns around the group, the facilitator should ask members to review the flip chart list and identify any other items from their personal lists that they now feel are important to add to the group list.

*At the end of this step, the group’s list should contain 12-15 items. This assumes 5-7 members per group; if working with a larger group, it is advisable to break into subgroups.

Step 3: Hear What Has Been Noticed

Elicit feedback from group members regarding the characteristics of the desired outcomes they now observe. Ask them (if not otherwise noted) to notice the relatively significant role of procedural and relational needs (See Lesson 21) identified in these lists. [If you have a few sub-groups, it may be helpful to have people ‘wander around’ and view the other lists before making these comments.]

Step 4: Affirm What Matters

Ask each person to reflect upon the group list that has been generated, as well as their personal lists. Then ask each group member to take 3 minutes to compose two statements:

   A: “One desired outcome I am working to achieve is _____________.”
This is very important to our work group because _____________.”

   B: “I know that (someone else in the group or work team) is working to achieve (another desired outcome). This is very important to our work group because _____________.” 

Encourage group members to elaborate fully with these statements. Then, when all are ready, have people share them with one another, each in turn around the table.

*Again, small groups may be desirable. However, there is tremendous power in the experience of hearing people share these statements within the larger group. The facilitator should determine which approach is best in this situation. 

Step 5: From Ideas to Action(Optional

Building an action agenda often flows from the listing of desired outcomes in Step 3. You may return to this list and ask participants to identify [with check marks or colored dots] the “top 3” items on the collective list that should now be acted upon by the group. After people are polled in this manner, the group should identify those priority items that now appear to be meaningful and actionable for the group, and set aside time to address those items in the best possible way.

NOTE: Since this exercise may be used as a training exercise, moving ahead to problem-solving may not be appropriate within this meeting. On other occasions, however, it is a natural next step.

Challenge: Use the “Outcomes Identification Exercise

WHO: Solo/Group        

WHY: To apply this process to a meaningful issue. 


Step 1: Identify a group of colleagues that wants (or needs) to engage in a meaningful problem-solving process. This may be due to workplace challenges or difficulties, or it may come from a genuinely positive desire to improve their work together. Set aside 90m for this conversation and facilitate the steps of the process outlined above – you can do this!

Step 2: Follow the steps outlined above.  

Step 3: Later, (a) journal your insights and questions, then (b) discuss with a Coach or Mentor (perhaps someone engaging in this Journey with you) the power of the process and the results of the experience, and (c) reflect upon your own Values and Intentions and how they align with doing this work for you. 

Published by Harry Webne-Behrman

I am a facilitator, mediator, educator, and consultant specializing in addressing complex challenges and disputes within organizations. I bring over 40 years experience to this work and offer two recent books, What Matters at Work (2020) and What Matters in This Moment (2021) to these efforts.

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