Getting to Square One: Three Stumbling Blocks for Workgroups

Following an earlier post on the reluctance of managers to address challenges in their work, this post considers challenges for workgroups. Reflecting on ways that leaders and groups make decisions about participating in CREW or other team building processes can be a learning experience. Sometimes, core assumptions can get in the way of constructive group development.

Hoping for Consensus. Consensus is a tough one.

    • It is simply impossible for a dysfunctional group.

    • It is a stretch for a poorly functioning group.

    • It is not necessarily available to a well-functioning group.

A problem with consensus is that it implies the absence of conflict. For work groups, conflict is not the enemy. Conflict can occur well or poorly. When conflict is nasty, disrespectful, and unresolved, it undermines a workgroup’s capacity to function. When conflict generates debate and drives creative problem solving, it can be at the heart of a group’s effectiveness. In short, consensus is not necessary or a necessarily constructive part of a group’s decision about team building.

Waiting for Psychological Safety. Psychological safety is a cherished quality of a group, reflecting team members’ confidence that they can count on one another’s respect and support. It is a quality towards which to strive in a team building initiative. It is not a precondition of development; it is the result of effective development.

Escapism. The alternative to tackling a problem is to run away. With fight and flight as wired-in reactions to life’s challenges, people have an inherent talent for running away. We are good at it; for some situations escape is the right thing to do. However, for worklife problems, escape is a poor option. It is unwise to throw away an otherwise good job. More importantly, solving serious problems at work is how people establish their leadership potential. Think about it: when asked in a future job interview about your response to difficult people problems, do you really want to say: “I just get out of there as fast as I can?”

What to Do:

Inspiring a group to address its problems defines a basic leadership challenge. Solutions will fade away when groups wait for consensus, insist on comfort, or just escape. Effective leadership is willing to:

    • Stay in the situation

    • Take a risk

    • And start building on agreement from a few group members.

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