How Groups Get Unstuck

Following on the series, How Groups Get Stuck, this post is the first in a longer series of How Groups Get Unstuck. This series will be longer. Getting stuck is easy. Getting unstuck takes some doing.

A useful lesson from the Getting Stuck series is that dysfunctional groups don’t have one big problem. Nor do they have a list of discrete problems. Getting stuck reflects a whole network of interlocking problems. These problems keep each other rolling along. For example, weak leadership encourages difficult group dynamics to continue unchecked. Poorly managed work demands weaken employees’ inclinations to take responsibility for their own behavior. Problems aggravate one another.

The good news is that it’s not necessary to address each and every one of these interlocking problems. The very inter-dependencies that maintain dysfunction become leverage for improvement. If a group can improve one piece of the puzzle, that gain becomes a base camp for turning the system around. For example, when CREW interventions encourage greater civility among colleagues, changes in their day-to-day interactions go directly to improving group dynamics. Indirectly, these improvements encourage better leadership behavior. Leaders want to at least keep up with their employees. Leaders will also find that team members will respond with greater acceptance to the leaders’ constructive initiatives.

This series will consider the four determinants of team civility:

  1. The Work
  2. Leadership
  3. Team Dynamics
  4. Ways of Thinking

The series will consider ways for troubled groups to turn things around and for winning teams to stay on top of their game.


People greatly value of a sense of belonging. The experience of being an accepted, and preferably valued, member of a social group is rewarding in itself. Group membership brings a sense of safety that reflects its survival advantage to humans over life as lone individuals.

People have a refined sensitivity to their status within a group or within a relationship. Because belonging is important, people pay attention to it. They readily interpret words, gestures, spatial configurations, or any other social information for implications of acceptance or rejection.

Reciprocity is a powerful group dynamic. People do unto others as others do unto them. On the down side, unpleasant relationships perpetuate themselves through mutual incivility. On the plus side, respectful initiatives can harness reciprocity by inspiring others to act accordingly.

People view the world through filtered glasses. People make sense of the world. The social world of work is complex and uncertain. Due to the importance of managing their way through this world, people devise theories, hypotheses, and just plain guesses to explain what they experience. With practice these explanations become filers through which they perceive new events.

Leaders are a pivotal part of the mix. The two points here is that (1) leaders are part of the social world of their teams and (2) they have pivotal influence. They certainly can’t make everything evolve at will, but, of all the team members, the formal leader has the most direct access to influence within the group.

Any solutions to persistent human problems will be more effective and more enduring when those solutions build upon basic principles.

This series is about action. It will build upon direct experience working with individuals and groups intent to improve the quality of their working lives.


  1. Thanks for your kind words about the site and the post.
    Ongoing conflict among colleagues is definitely bad for the heart but physically and metaphorically.
    All the best,

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