Gene Leganza [Posted by Gene Leganza]

I have to report for jury duty on April 1. I have several reminders set so I don’t mistakenly think I played an April fool’s joke on myself. This upcoming instance of civic duty reminds me of the incredible trial I was on a few years ago where I wound up being elected jury foreman. Subsequent EA workshops I have conducted exhibited a remarkably similar phenomenon to my contentious jury experience from that trial. Let me explain…

It was an amazing trial – not one of those incredibly tedious cases where some jerk is suing another jerk and you couldn’t possibly care who’s right. In this case, a drug dealer had shot a cop in the face. They caught the defendant hiding nearby, wearing the same glaringly obtrusive camo outfit that witnesses to the shooting claimed the shooter wore. Some of these local residents had seen him up close and talked to him just before the incident trying to get him to move off.

But the problem was we had no physical evidence directly connecting the gun to the defendant and the incident. See, the defendant had been just released from prison, where he had learned there to “double-glove:” wear two sets of rubber gloves when using a gun, so your fingerprints go on the inside glove, and the gunshot residue goes on the outside glove. There was no link from prints to gunshot residue to ID the shooter. It gets worse: We had no bullet to connect the gun to the shooting because it was lodged in the officer’s spine.

Now, in the post-CSI era, people just don’t want to convict without physical evidence clearly linking the suspect to the crime. So, the judge gave us 50 pages of information about when it’s legit to use circumstantial evidence to convict. When the jury retired to deliberate, I took a vote. The majority wanted to acquit. Everyone was convinced the defendant was guilty, but no one was satisfied with the case the state had made. Our deliberations got rather loud. Basically, we shouted at one another for hours. One other jury member and I were the chief proponents of the reasoning that the eyewitness testimony plus the judge’s explanation of circumstantial evidence, plus the lack of any other plausible explanation as to who did the shooting clearly justified a guilty verdict. Many people just as forcefully argued that it just wasn’t good enough. When we ended on day one, I was prepared for a hung jury.
On day two, something remarkable happened. I took another vote as soon as we gathered in the morning and the vote was unanimous to convict. What had happened? Each juror’s reflections in the evening led her or him to conclude that the argument to convict met the judge’s requirements. We were on our way home before lunchtime.

So, what can this possibly have to do with EA? I began noticing a similar pattern at the EA workshops I conduct to define or refresh EA teams’ priorities. No, not the hollering (at least not usually). On day one in those workshops we get all the issues on the table: business drivers, technology drivers, issues with the current state, characteristics of the future state, resource issues, organizational issues, political issues. People find themselves very unhappy at the end of day one. There is just so much more valuable stuff that everyone wants to work on than can possibly be done in the period we’re planning for. But then day two begins with everyone very upbeat. Overnight, the attendees have reconciled themselves with the wish list being too long. The must-have items are completely obvious. We spend the rest of the day refining a plan and often have time left over to work on some specifics of that group’s EA program. At first I thought this phenomena had to do with “sleeping” on a complex problem, but recent research has raised serious questions about the value of unconscious thought processes vs. just working things out consciously. Now I believe the process is the one-two punch of the active dialogue during the day one session – true dialogue where the team “thinks together” as Peter Senge describes it – followed by each individual’s quiet deliberation that evening. Day one is about the exposition and exploration of issues, and in the immediate aftermath the critical points become clear. It seems like there should be many variations on this pattern, such as a continuation of the discussion on day two to make the tough prioritization decisions, but it just doesn’t happen that way.

If there are lessons here, they are that 1) it is critical to introduce an explicit planning process that periodically stops day-to-day work and lays out the current issues for examination; 2) team dialogue is a critical part of that planning process; and 3) a multi-day experience is necessary. The multi-day aspect may be difficult for distributed teams with no travel budget. Stay tuned for future posts on my thoughts for effective virtual workshops.

Oh, and maybe there’s one more lesson in there: When that jury duty letter arrives in your mailbox, don’t just start working on ways to get out of it.