Analysis by Cindee Tang
Countless organizations utilize evaluations like Strengthsfinder 2.0, Meyers-Briggs, and Enneagram to learn their employees’ workplace priorities and preferences, in hopes of creating a better work dynamic. However, many fail to consider the invisible forces that impact how we think, behave, and more importantly, interact with others.
As humans, we make decisions based on our experiences, interests, and preferences of the world — so in a group setting, every member comes to the table with their unique backgrounds and ways of working. Think about the last group project that you were in. How often did you say “we decided to….” or “we eventually agreed upon…” Did everyone agree? How do you know? Did you ask everyone individually whether they agreed with the decision? You most likely didn’t, but it’s okay, most don’t. Pragmatically, groups cannot wait until every individual member is in agreement before proceeding, because decisions have to be made. With an understanding of these invisible forces, and a keen eye for observation, you can capitalize on the group dynamics that are aiding your group and mitigate those that don’t:
Norms Regulate Group Behavior.
They act as the invisible force that determines what kind of behaviors are welcomed and what are not — does your group habitually turn to one person for their opinion? Do specific people always talk the most? Is humor encouraged or inappropriate? Think about a group that’s brainstorming for a marketing concept. The norm of being humorous may allow people to be more creative, more bold… but what if, then, the members who are humorous become the only people whose perspectives are valued? How does that affect the quiet creative in the group? Norms, if not recognized, can favor the perspectives of certain members, and hinder a group’s ability to effectively integrate perspectives — and make well-informed decisions. Being actively aware of the norms of your group is critical. It allows you adjust behaviors and interactions to give way to sound norms that are more representative of motivations, commitments, and performance necessary to reach the group’s goals.
Cohesiveness Unites a Group and Speaks to an Individual Members’ Willingness to Stay a Part of the Group.
Benefits of group cohesiveness include increased productivity, and lower absenteeism and turnover. However, one major downfall of cohesion is that groups are susceptible to groupthink, which occurs when a group exerts pressure on members to reach decision with consensus. Think of this scenario: you’re going out to eat with your friends and it’s taken an hour to decide where to eat. Finally, a member suggests the new burger place in town and you hear some agreement from the rest of the group. You tell the group that you’re down for burgers, even though it’s a new restaurant and it may be difficult to get a table on a Saturday night. But, you brush these thoughts off, because at least the group has finally made a decision. In the Uber ride, you look at the traffic, and realize that the group might not even get there until last call. You tell your group, but one of your friends tells you it will be too complicated to pick another restaurant at this point. When you arrive the restaurant is closed, just as you predicted. If only the’d listened to you. You see these types of occurrences everywhere, from something as small as deciding where to eat, to the release of a global campaign. Lack of dissent can result in uniformed judgements, disregard for alternative courses of action, and faulty reality testing. At the cost of reaching consensus and moving forward, a lapse in informed decision making kept the group from making the most effective decision, ultimately inhibiting the group from reaching its ultimate goal. Providing platforms not only for discussion, but leveraging perspectives before decision making can allow a group to move forward in the decision making process.
Role Clarity Supersedes a Job Description — or any Description, Really.
What is more important: Making sure everyone is clear on a group’s goals, or making sure that everyone is clear on members’ roles? An intuitive assumption is that once all group members are clear on the goals and processes that must occur, then leaving roles fluid will encourage the collaboration and flexibility necessary to see success. However, a study by Harvard Business Review has revealed that collaboration and success in groups are almost always seen when individual roles within groups are well-defined:
“Consider a team of doctors and nurses working in a hospital emergency room. Before the next ambulance to arrives, they have no idea of the nature of the task ahead. Will the patient require surgery, heart resuscitation, medications? The condition of the next patient is unknown; the tasks that will be required of the team, ambiguous. But at no time while the team waits, do they negotiate roles: “Who would like to administer the anesthesia? Who will set out the instruments? Who will make key decisions?” Each role is clear. As a result, when the patient arrives, the team is able to move quickly into action.” — Tammy Erikson (Harvard Business Review)
A study conducted by HBR on BBC’s TV and news production teams responsible for found that role clarity within these teams allows them to operate with less conflict. In large teams such as these, clearly defined roles allow members to effectively operate in the face of ambiguity. Roles that aren’t explicitly given tend to naturally emerge to meet the needs of the group. Think you’re the initiator? Propose an action and see if the group follows. Think you’re the harmonizer? Try and break up a conflict, — see if the members follow suit. Role clarity occurs when both yourself and your group members can clearly see the specific role of every member of the group and how to role help the group reach its ultimate goal. Here’s a challenge: think about the last group you were in. Could you say what your role was within that group? More importantly, do you think if asked, the other members would’ve said the same thing? If not, don’t be afraid to speak up. Who knows, maybe your role in that group could even be…role clarifier.
As you navigate your next group project, family gathering, or kickback party, I encourage you to take a look the norms, cohesiveness, and role clarity of the group. You’ll be surprised to see what you’ll find. Don’t let these invisible forces control your group without your knowledge; become a leader in your everyday. All you have to do take a step back and observe.