The skillful leader avoids this apparent dilemma between too little and too much direction, by taking firm control of the group’s decision process, while insisting that members contributed their skills and knowledge to the group’s task. One way of doing this is spelled out in the paper titled, “Make Better Decisions”. Another example is described in “Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion”.
Groups Can Be Scary
Members of new groups are apprehensive. They need a secure and dependable leader. Over the years I have heard many “tough managers” deny that groups are scary places. But they are. If you think that’s not true just imagine yourself entering a new peer group. You don’t know:
- Who knows who and what existing relationships and commitments exist.
- Who is going to do what—participate, dominate, attack, undermine.
- What effect your actions will have on your career.
- What covert agendas exist with members and with the leader.
- If you will inadvertently make a fool of yourself in front of everybody.
If there are people from many levels of authority present in the group, the problems are compounded. In these groups, particularly when trust and relationships are weak:
- People in power will behave to assert their rank.
- Subordinates will attempt to show their competence, or try to out-do their peers.
- Others will posture, showing they’re not afraid of authority, or they will try to demonstrate their independence.
For these and many other reasons, it is very difficult for a group, with many levels of authority, to become a smoothly functioning team. Usually it requires a skilled and experienced facilitator, and ideally at some point, a frank discussion by the group of how it will manage these all-too-dominating authority issues. But eventually, if all goes well, over time, our personal questions about the new group are answered enough so that we can settle down to work. This process quickens if the leader takes firm control of the group process, so that members feel productive.
Each of us has probably been in a group where an inexperienced leader allowed the group to wallow for too long in uncertainty. Is one of life’s most frustrating experiences, and it can happen even if everyone in the group is highly competent and experienced. Few want to tell the leader he or she has no clothes. Don’t take a group’s failures personally. Group issues are about the group psychology and dynamics, which are not necessarily connected to the competency of individual members.
First—Solve an Easy Problem
Experienced managers and professional facilitators often settle the new group by asking members to list their favorite meeting ground rules. The group then decides if the list is one they will work towards and follow, to better manage themselves. This simple exercise is probably familiar to visitors of this site.
- It’s an ice-breaker.
- It gets everybody to speak out.
- It shows the meeting will be run democratically, that the leader is open to people’s ideas.
- It shows that the leader respects members as competent.
- It provides a quick win, i.e. the group immediately solves a problem and makes a decision.
- It helps people get to know each other.
cc 425 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.