By CPA Allan Wasonga
Our world is fast changing and with each passing day the workplace continues to experience dynamics that have never been seen before. Perhaps it is safe to say that Technological advancement has been rendered not so useful in dealing with human emotion at the workplace. The old support systems of the past—religions, universal causes to believe in, social cohesion—have mostly disappeared, at least in most parts of the world. Disappearing also are the elaborate conventions, rules, and taboos that once channeled behavior. Our continual connection to social media makes us prone to new forms of viral emotional effects. These are not media designed for calm reflection.
Since the workplace is essentially a group of people that come together in order to achieve a
desired objective, we must ensure that we put together the ideal group at work in order to reap the full benefits of a cohesive work environment in a chaotic and a fast changing world. Each human individual is radically unique. This uniqueness is inscribed in us in three ways—the one- of-a-kind configuration of our DNA, the particular way our brains are wired, and our experiences as we go through life, experiences that are unlike any others. It is for this reason that bringing together a team to pull in one direction has to be one of the most difficult tasks of the Technological Revolution era.
Understanding the group dynamic is the first step to cultivating a functional reality group. In this column, I will endeavor to explain how a group works and the various group characteristics and qualities that shape the overall effectiveness of a group. I will begin by explaining the various individual effects that groups exert on us then move on to the patterns and dynamics that groups will almost always tend to fall into and finally discuss the key strategies that should be put into practice in order to achieve a healthy reality group at our workplaces.
We all experience different emotions when operating in groups of people but the transformations that we undergo in these circumstances largely go unnoticed. The first individual effect that groups tend to have on us is the desire to fit in. We are generally unaware of this desire and it almost certainly occurs to us unconsciously. We may begin to use similar verbal expressions as others, a sign of what’s happening below the surface as part of this desire to fit in. Our own ideas slowly shape themselves to those of the group. The next certain occurrence is the need to perform. It is not just that we conform in appearances and thinking but that we exaggerate our agreement and show others that we belong. In the group, we
become actors, molding what we say and do so that others accept and like us and see us as loyal team members.
This performance will depend on to a great extent, the size of the group and its particular makeup—bosses or colleagues or friends. Hypercertainity is the third individual effect that groups exert on us. We are willing to take more risks without much consideration. As Celebrated Author Robert Greene puts it in his popular Laws of Human Nature “We feel the urgency to act. Arguing and deliberating is tiring, and where will it end? We feel the pressure to decide and get behind the decision. If we dissent, we might be
marginalized or excluded, and we recoil from such possibilities.”
We will now discuss the group dynamics aspect of our teams. We can say that group dynamics refer to the attitudinal and behavioral characteristics of a group. Some of the most common dynamics experienced within a group overtime include: group norms, group structure, group communication, group sentiments, group culture, group status, group rules and codes, group factions among many others all of which are very critical in studying groups. I will discuss group culture, group rules and codes together with group factions to detail.
When considering your own group culture, think in terms of style and overall mood that prevails. Is it loosely structured, with an easygoing style? Or is it organized top down, its members afraid of stepping out of line or breaking discipline? Do its members feel superior and
separate from the rest of the world, displaying an elitist attitude, or does the group pride itself on its populism? Does it seem riddled with dysfunction and disunity, its members more concerned with their egos than with getting actual results, or does it emphasize productivity and the quality of the work? To answer these questions, don’t pay much attention to what the group says about itself, but rather examine its actions and the emotional tone that prevails within.
Group rules and codes are to a large extent never written down or documented somewhere within the group but are instead implicit. If you violate or look down upon them in some way, you are likely to face segregation and eventual exclusion without establishing the cause. The codes will regulate acceptable appearances, how much free talk is encouraged in meetings, the quality of obedience in relation to bosses, the expected work ethic, et cetera. Generally, it is prudent to keenly study your group rules and codes and ensure you don’t violate them to ensure you survive the exclusion.
Group factions are inevitable for any group. Overtime, the individuals that make up a group will
begin to split up into different directions. The reason for this is simple: In a group, we get a narcissistic boost from being around those who share our values. But in a larger group, this narcissistic boost suffers a setback because the differences among the members then become visible. In response, the members of the larger group then form subgroups and cliques with those who seem even more like them, giving them back that narcissistic boost. This all occurs unconsciously and it is a continual process. The earlier we can identify it, the better for the overall effectiveness of the entire group. It is better to tighten the whole group by creating a positive culture that excites and unifies its members, making factions less attractive.
In order to avoid the negative patterns of groups that we have discussed above, we must alter our perspective: instead of instantly focusing on individuals and the drama of the failed action, we must focus on the overall group dynamic and fix it. A functional healthy group exists in order to get things done, to make things, to solve problems. It has certain resources it can draw upon—the labor and strengths of its members, its finances. It operates in a particular environment that is almost always highly competitive and constantly changing.
The healthy group puts primary emphasis on the work itself, on getting the most out of its resources and adapting to all of the inevitable changes. Not wasting time on endless political games, such a group can accomplish ten times more than the dysfunctional variety. It brings out the best in human nature—people’s empathy, their ability to work with others on a high level. It remains the ideal for all of us. We shall call this ideal the reality group.
The following are five key strategies for achieving the reality group:
i. Instill a collective sense of purpose;
ii. Assemble the right team of lieutenants;
iii. Let information and ideas flow freely;
iv. Infect the group with productive emotions;
v. Forge a battle-tested group.
Allan Wasonga (B.Com finance option) is an Audit Manager at Grohney & Co. Associates, a firm
of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya. He is among other things, responsible for Policy
Formulation within the firm to ensure value creation and building of trust with clients.