Maybe your group gets the job done well enough. Maybe you also secretly wish you could change something about how the group works. Maybe you want to change little things that irritate you (but you’ve learned to live with) such as:
- wasted time and effort during meetings,
- the absence of enthusiasm in the group, or
- persistent behaviors that make your jaw clench.
Maybe you really want to address pervasive problems that completely undermine the group’s effectiveness such as:
- unresolved conflict that every group member knows exists but only gets mentioned privately outside of group meetings,
- competing interests that never get prioritized, or
- burn-out that has transformed members into zombies.
If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your workgroup what’s the one thing that you would change?
Wishing that things were different is the easy part of change. Making real, sustainable change is hard work and takes time. It’s a transformative process and includes risk because it upsets the status quo in unpredictable ways. And it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the outcome you think you want. So why attempt it?
When I was 41 years old, I reached a point where the pain of a long-term relationship compelled me to seek change. Every March 2nd, I reflect on the anniversary of the day I made the decision to leave the relationship, walking through the looking glass into strange and unfamiliar territory as though I was Alice in Wonderland. It was the biggest apple cart I’ve ever upset, and it took a great deal of effort and support from others to topple it, retrieve apples, and then make apple cider.
In workgroup situations, changing the status quo does three things that make it worth the undertaking.
1. Mitigate the Cost of the Status Quo
Your group may not be suffering obvious set-backs. But have you considered the hidden costs? Some questions you might ask yourself:
- How many hours does your group spend together in a week or a month? What is the collective cost of these hours in payroll?
- How would you characterize the time spent together? Wasted? Draining? Boring? Non-essential? Adversarial? Strained? What’s the cost in morale?
- How well are the dynamics (e.g. behavior, roles, power) serving the group? The larger organization? What is the cost in unrealized deliverables that could move the group and organization forward?
- How would you characterize the overall health of the group as a living organism? Do rifts create tension and stress that cause group hypertension?
2. Embark on a Path Toward New Possibilities
The most comprehensive, thoughtfully crafted strategic plan alone will not change the way a group works. Nor will the most eloquently stated, artistically displayed organizational values. I have worked with groups on developing strategic plans and organizational values. I have used powerful participatory processes in these undertakings that I stand by today. But techniques that focus on the resulting deliverable do not make lasting change in groups.
New possibilities do not open up by having a group carry out new tasks (and sometimes the latest organizational fad) in old ways. A focus on what’s going on in the moment in the group, how members behave, what they think, what they share and do not share, has the power to transform a group. New possibilities open up when you begin to shift the way a group works together on any task.
3. Strengthen the Group’s Spirit and Build Resiliency
In his book, Love’s Executioner, Irvin Yalom wrote, “I must assume that knowing is better than not knowing, venturing better than not venturing; and that magic and illusion, however rich, however alluring, ultimately weaken the human spirit.” I made this my mantra and have proved the positive power of this assumption in my experience. I have always learned from what I discovered the truth to be.
Avoidance of truth in a group may be less effort, but it weakens the group spirit, robs members of hope, and trounces on enthusiasm while breeding anger, depression, and anxiety. Confronting the truth, while it can be painful in the moment, opens windows to fresh air and new vistas. A group’s capacity to look at what is true is a skill that is strengthened with practice. And this skill helps the group be flexible and more creative in an ever-changing environment.
Changing the way that a group works may be rocky, but in my work, it is the only path worth taking.
And you can do it. Flow can help support you on the path to change. Here’s how you can get started.
- Do an audit of your group’s status quo. List what you’ve noticed about the way your group works now and the related obvious and hidden costs.
- Adopt an open-mindedness to the possibility of change.
- Be willing to be surprised by outcomes you haven’t scripted in your mind.
- Be curious about the process.
- Decide to enjoy the adventure!