Enabling Group Thinking For Performance & Impact

We all need attitudes, behaviours & habits which will help us be agile, much much more agile

Everything is created twice. First in the mind, and then, in the physical world. Anonymous wisdom

Morale is an expression of a work group’s emotional health.– Harry Levinson, Organizational Psychologist, in The Levinson Letters

Purpose and Vision are extremely critical for a person, team, society or nation to achieve great results. Similarly, Results &Impactare important for anyone to continue pursuing that purpose & Vision.

When Levinson mentioned the importance of morale or Janis spoke about ‘Groupthink’, they were all keen researchers looking into what makes a team tick, while what makes another fail miserably. For a long time now, from society to corporations to NGOs, people have been looking for the magic formula to measure and increase the performance of a group. They have also been researching ways & means to control the damage of a badly performing group.

A lot has been said about the role of a manager or leader in creating this difference. Similarly, much been said about the macrocosm of the societies or the organizational culture in enabling or disabling great performance. So, these are not the vantage points we will be taking to discuss performance.

Today, we will examine how the ‘internal mechanisms’ and ‘microcosm’ of a team enables or disables performance. And, we will do this simply with a few reflections on how to identify and control them.

Identifying Group Thinking Patterns

Imagine you get inducted into a team or walk into a meeting. People are just the same here as anywhere else. Some people are expressive, others not so much. Some are kind, others not so much. Some are focused, others not so much. It’s a normal group. But you just get a sense of something that is happening in this meeting or group that is not letting it generate anything meaningful or of value:

  1. The group meets to discuss or act on some agenda – be it production, change or actions required.
  2. They start a discussion, but there are several diversions and distractions that occur.
  3. Eventually, they agree to do something, which is a Common Minimum Agenda, put together through a desperate attempt.
  4. As they start executing, problems happen and everyone does what is just enough to protect themselves and blame someone else.
  5. END RESULT -Disastourous, or mediocre performance. Wastage of time and resources. Average or low morale. And, the downward spiral continues.

This is a failing group i.e., a group which erodes resources, value and moral, of self and other. All of us would have seen this, once too many times.

Meanwhile, there is another group. Something about this group says that the members of this group don’t have to say much, but they understand each other a lot. They act and behave as ‘one’. People are just the same as anywhere else. But you just get a sense of something that is happening in this group which makes it a self-contained, auto-mode team. Over a period of time, in such groups/teams, you notice:

  1. The group meets to discuss or act on some agenda – be it production, change or actions required.
  2. Each person in the group is focused and centered around the discussion.
  3. Eventually, they agree to do something which is a Highest Possible Outcome, as a common drive.
  4. As they start executing, problems happen. But, everyone uses this as an opportunity to learn and get better.
  5. END RESULT – Outstanding and exceptional performance. Everytime, on every aspect.

This is a Champion group i.e., a group that uses its group thinking to achieve outstanding results every time.

Each of these groups has a thinking pattern leading to its success or failure. So, what is different between the two groups that create these differences in approach and outcomes? Let’s consider these questions:

  • Did we hire people in one group correctly and in the other, not?
    • The answer is no. They all have similar skills and knowledge.
  • Does one group have individuals who don’t want to work?
    • The answer is no. They are all well-intentioned people who want to earn an honest living.
  • Are the work conditions of these groups different?
    • No. They are all mostly a part of the same unit and the same shop floor.
  • Do they use different languages to talk to each other?
    • Maybe, may not be.
  • Is the leadership or any other influence different for them?
    • Again, the answer is no. They all work for similar people.

Then, where does the problem lie?

The problem lies in the way these groups and members are oriented towards performance enablers. When the observations about these groups are broken down, here is a table with 22 very powerful anchors that I have been able to establish to identify and eliminate the incorrect thinking patterns.

Thinking & acting patterns of a FAILING GROUP/group member

Performance Enabler
Thinking & acting patterns of a CHAMPION GROUP/ group member
-We need to set minimum possible goals.
-They aren’t so important.
-We already have an idea of what we want to do.
Goals -Goals result in the best outcome.
-They enable learning & productivity.
-We’ll try. Commitment to Goals -We will do all that is needed to achieve our outcomes.
-They are never-ending.They are a waste of time. Meetings -Meetings should be agenda driven.
-They are important to discuss, direct, decide or resolve things.
-Who cares?
-They keep changing?
-Who will bell the cat?
-They are trying to play the hero.
-I have to prevent this from happening.
-Let’s keep it at a level to just satisfy everybody.
-Majority rules.
-The powerful ones rule
-Who’s got the right cards?
-We will just enforce our opinion/wishes.
Decisions -Decisions are important for alignment.
-They must be made by keeping the overall vision, values, and strategy in mind.
-They must be effective and optimum.-I must make timely decisions and carry others along.
-What? I only trust my friends or family.
-Last time, I got back stabbed.
-They are not worth it.
I have my own group I will depend upon.
Trusting -Trust is the starting point of a relationship.
-I will find a reason to trust.
-I will make and enable agreements.
-I can depend on my group members.
-I am doing what I have experienced.
-They cannot be trusted, so I will have my back channels.
-I must be one up.
-Why should someone lean on me?
Trustworthiness -I will be true and authentic.
-I will make and keep my commitments.
-Anyone can depend on me.
-Easy is the breezy.
-I will take only what I can.
-I will take only what I want.
Work distributions -Work should be distributed based on roles and strengths of group members.
-It has to be in line with the overall goal.
-Everyone does something, and everything is done by someone – no balls are dropped
-Is a nightmare!
-Who will try to convince them?
-It’s easier to just do and later say/tell.
-I will do what I want to.
-I will do it if it is essential.
Communication -Understanding others is the key.
-It should be kept simple and frequent.
-I should present ideas on time.
-I should Influence and convince others using data.
-I will stand-up for a gut feeling.
-It’s OK to disagree.
-I will give it when I get it.
-If it isn’t there, I will show them what I can do.
Respect -I will always be respectful to others.
-I will ask for it if it is missing from others.
-Look, let’s do the basic and that’s enough.
-What’s the need for anything new?
Innovation & creativity -Problem solving is the key.
-Customers’ needs must be met in the best, easiest & fastest way.
-Why? This is not a part of my job!
-Why should someone lean on me! I don’t.
Emotional support to others -I will empathize and be available if I can be of help.
-I will do what it takes to help others thrive.
-Together we can, and we will.
-I’ll do it as and when required.
-I’ll do it if it benefits me.
-I will not give too much.
-There is a price for my time.
Involvement with others -I will share openly.
-Together we can, and we will.
-Oh! Not again.
-I will do my part and others should do theirs.
Progress checks -Frequent progress checks are a key to stay aligned with the overall outcome–They help us progress in the right direction.
-We meet and thrash-out the pending and that which is impending progress.
-Whatever is possible will happen.
-There are always flaws in planning. Things go wrong.
Adherence to schedules -This is what we need to stay on course.
-Let’s get this done.
-Early warning helps to renegotiate or redirect.
-Closure is more important than perfection.
-Agile cycles help learn and improve fast.
-I will be available when convenient.
-I will come to the meeting, but you will have to accommodate my call and mails!
-Sorry, I am busy.
Physical presence and availability -I will be fully available for anything that is agreed upon in advance.
-If a crisis strikes, I will do my best.
-We are in this together.What is collective has to be done collectively.
-I will be fully available whe I am needed.
-I don’t have any conflicts.
-They are the ones who started it.
-I don’t know why people do this!
-Now, let me show them!
-You can do what you want.
Conflict -Conflict can be healthy.
-Let’s see why it exists.
-It should be resolved in favour of the overall vision and values.
-Oh, it’s them, not me.I can’t stand it.
-If pushed, I will get hostile.
Hostility -Never let a conflict get to this point.
-If an expert is needed to handle, we’ll get an expert.
-I will if I get support.
-Ask them to start.
-I tried.
Collaboration -Collaboration is fundamental.
-I will do all that is needed.
-I will do whatever it takes.
-It is not my job.There are so many factors to assess.
-I can only control my efforts.
Impact assessment -It starts and ends with the definition and extent of impact.
-Impact is real performance.
-I already know what I am doing.
Self-assessment -It helps to pause and assess our growth & progress.
-A framework helps to do meaningful self-assessment.
-Structure brings good dynamics.
-Customers can say anything, we know what we are.
-We can’t control everything.
Customer feedback & engagement -We should always work for it.
-NPS is the key.
-What is this?
-The company must ensure this.
-I don’t understand the connection with my work.
Profitability focus -We know the hidden and obvious costs of our work.
-We believe in optimization and speed for quality results.

Why do these negative patterns occur?

The reasons are plenty, but here is a potent list:

  1. A lot of them are based on the early conditioning of an individual—childhood, society, etc.
  2. Some arise as a defence mechanism to recent life changes.
  3. Some have become a coping mechanism for an individual’s current context—workplace, society, etc.
  4. Some are empty idolizations of someone influential like a previous successful leader.
  5. Some are just picked-up innocently as an attempt to fit in.
  6. Some are acquired as a weapon to inflict an experience you experienced.
  7. Some are a way of getting quick results.

And, we can go on…But, the key is that these are maladjustments, and “they can change”.

Why do these positive patterns occur?

  1. A lot of them are based on the early conditioning of an individual—childhood, society, etc.
  2. Some are learnt values from powerful experiences of life.
  3. Some are a result of training or skill acquisition.
  4. Some are induced by a positive culture.
  5. Some are a result of having dropped a negative pattern in favour of a positive one that yields permanent or effective results.

So, how do you really fix Group Thinking to yield the best performance?

There are several macro and micro methods to help change these. Some examples are:

Macro Methods Micro Methods
Clarify the vision and values of the organization and drive it to complete adoption. Have an influential person in every group as a conscience keeper.
Make roles and responsibilities of each team, department and individual purposeful. Ensure that individuals and organizational purpose are aligned. Set-up and follow through on the right norms in a group during the norming stage. Then, encourage everyone to keep up the spirit.
Invest in regular development of mindset and skills of all group members. Clarify an unacceptable behaviour when it happens, and provide a way to change it.
Make it mandatory to understand and eliminate unconscious biases. Have a self and group evaluation mechanism to do regular clean-up of unproductive behaviours.
Introduce organizational frames to enable discussions, direction, decisions, dissent and so many other group processes that are required for effective work to happen. Choose and use frames/tools like SCRUM to become effective.

Group thinking—whether it is optimum, or it is sub-optimal—is a human process. It consists of several natural occurrences. Therefore, groups, when guided correctly, are effective and efficient. But when not guided, they can take whatever natural shape.

The question is, in your organization or group – are you really enabling group performance? If not, then its time you took macro and micro-level actions.


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