Whether you choose to call it a “roundtable” or a “workshop,” the results are the same – you and a group of other like-minded individuals take a look at each others’ writing and offer criticism in the hopes of improving everyone’s writing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it degenerates into a clusterf*** of a mess. I’m still of the firm opinion, however, that a workgroup can be an exceptionally useful tool if you (and the rest of your group) enter into it with the right mindset, expectations, and goals.
How do you do that, though? What is the right mindset? What should my expectations be? What are the goals that I should set for myself and my group in this setting? Well, let’s try and answer that.
Going into a workgroup, your mindset should be one of helpfulness, compassion, and determination. Two weeks ago I talked about the importance of critique and how to approach it professionally; the same can be said about the workgroup experience. After all, a workgroup is just a great big critique circle. Of course, you have zero control over the mindset of the rest of your group, but you can choose to ensure that your mindset doesn’t deviate from a professional one. The workgroup mindset should entail three facets. First, be helpful to your fellow writers. Enter the situation with the belief that there is good in every work, and even if you have to work to find it, it’s there, and should be praised. Your comments about what needs work will be received much better if you are able to couch those comments with praise. Second, compassion is a must when in a workgroup setting. Be mindful of your own attitude; don’t enter the situation believing that you’ve nothing else to learn. There’s always something more to learn, and you’ll be surprised about what you can learn from the least experienced among your peers. Last, determination is key to a successful workgroup. Decide, when you agree to participate in a workgroup, that you will be professional in your actions, that you will be helpful in your comments, and that you are determined to maintain those attitudes from the start and until the end of the workgroup. If you enter into your workgroup situation with this mindset, you’ll provide valuable feedback to your peers and will probably be invited to participate again and again.
Managing your expectations for the results of the workgroup go hand-in-hand with your mindset. Don’t go in expecting to have your piece ripped to shreds; that kind of attitude will only leave you with a disappointing workgroup experience. From experience, I can say that this is the most difficult part of being a part of a workgroup for me. Imposter syndrome is strong in this one, so I always think that my piece will be the worst one in the group, and no one will like it. The same as being determined to find the good in every piece, be assured that others will do the same. Conversely, don’t go into a workgroup situation believing that your piece is the best one in the bunch and that no one should find fault in your words. It’s going to happen, and if you think your piece is perfect, any “negative” comment will feel like a personal insult. It’s not – it’s your peers helping you to get better.
Lastly, setting reasonable and attainable goals for your experience in a workgroup setting is absolutely critical to not only your success, but the success of the group, as well. These goals are entirely and 100% subjective, and may be set by the organizers of the workgroup. Adhere to the goals that are formally set, but set personal goals for your participation, as well. A few good examples of personal goals could be: (1) find at least two good things about every piece you review, and praise those goals; (2) make sure that the tone of your comments is at least neutral, at best encouraging; and (3) make sure that even in your critical comments that you find something encouraging to say. Develop your own goals, and do your absolute best to stick to them throughout your participation in the workgroup. Situations may arise that your personal goals are at odds with the goals of the workgroup and if that happens, always default to the workgroup goals and rules (although I can’t imagine a situation where altruistic goals would be at odds with workgroup goals…).
I hope that you’ve gotten some use out of this week’s discussion, and if you have questions or something to add, please comment and let’s talk about it! Critique and workgroup situations can be really great experiences, but you, as a participant, have to want it to be, and have to actively work to make them positive experiences. Best of luck in your future workgroup endeavors!