Archives for posts with tag: improving performance

Sometimes when I am a part of a small group, it is easy to slide along together enmeshed in a purpose or vague “goal” of being together. And if the small group experience is not rockin’ with synergy, results, and fun – or worse yet, begins to feel like I have my feet mired in muck and I feel stuck with the group – I want out. Yet if I’m honest, most of the time that sense of needing to cut myself loose has to do with the egocentric “Me vs. We” tug of war exercising muscles belonging to the human, selfish nature within me…that’s within all of us.

Yet a small group is a system. In fact, it is much like a galaxy!

Shaping the small group – as a leader or participant – by seeing it as a System

In a small group, whom do I focus upon most? Why, ME, of course! Yet just because I may think of myself most as I consider my small group, or just because I may see my world as just that…MY world, doesn’t change the fact that earth is just a piece of the galaxy. And the galaxy is a vast system of interconnected elements.

When the term “galaxy” dances across my mind, the scene becomes one of the backdrops for a Star Trek show. You know, where you see the stars out in a vast blue sea of “forever” on the screen, with an occasional meteor or falling star whisks by – threatening the safety of the Starship Enterprise and life upon it had it connected?

Using this metaphor of the Starship Enterprise zipping across the galaxy may illumine the SYSTEM characteristics of small groups.

And why do we care? This knowledge can help us effectively shape the course of life and work in a small group – as a leader or participant.

What do I need to remember?

  • 1 change = BIG change. If there was an oxygen leak on the Star Trek Enterprise, the entire starship was at risk. In a system (and small group), there really is no such thing as an inconsequential change. For example, enter or exit a new member to your small group – YIKES! This could place the small group at risk of disintegration. At the very least, it may change how the group optimally functions.
  • A system is like a living organism; it is continuously adapting to the environment and micro-changes in order to continue. A small group innately seeks stability. It tries to manage its stability by controlling the degree and rate of change.
  • A system (whether a galaxy or small group!), continually seeks Dynamic Equilibrium. Much like a system, a small group has an invisible control panel where it monitors the “desirability” of change. Dynamic Equilibrium in a group or system is the delicate balance between change and stability. A group’s Dynamic Equilibrium Control Panel manages change, promotes success and growth, and knows the limits of pushing for that success without placing the group or system in utter chaos…where the threat of disintegration is real.
  • Small groups and systems seek survival at all costs – usually through Adaptability. With changing conditions, small groups respond with modifications (when needed) to its rules, procedures, and boundaries.

When we consider how small groups ARE like systems, we begin to see how we are NOT separate individuals “attached” to a group. We are part of a web of interactions, and we and our movements are connected to one another. We influence one another. We individually impact the focus, strength, and effectiveness of the group. There is an extreme degree of interdependence among all members of a small group – because it is a system.

So as a leader or participant of a small group, knowing that even though I am but one member I DO highly impact my group’s welfare hopefully keeps me mindful of how I choose to interact with my small group.

Because in all truth, my actions, words, and attitudes as I connect with my small group contributes to the overall “ripple effect” of energy in the group. Either I generate life-giving growth to this system, or I drain it by tapping its resources to simply try to adapt and sustain itself.

So which are you when it comes to leading or participating in a small group?

As you reflect, are you a Life-Giver? Or are you a Resource Drainer?

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I’ve heard how people who check money to see if it’s counterfeit study “real” money to be able to quickly discern which bills are real and which are not. They touch the real money, examine it, hold it, and peer intently at it.

Discerning if a team has synergy or not is something most of us intuitively sense. But since synergy isn’t something tangible like a $100 bill, how can we study to recognize the level of synergy that a group or team has? And more importantly, as a leader, how do we assess synergy in a team we are leading, and make improvements in the team by leading differently?

Assessing If Your Team Possesses Synergy

Synergy is often defined as what occurs when members of a group cooperate in connected ways to achieve a goal – and their work together exceeds expectations of what could have been accomplished as individuals.

Synergy has an intangible “it” factor. Because of this, by understanding what synergy is NOT can helps us to:

1) Assess our team’s level (or existence) of synergy, and

2) Increase the effectiveness and synergy in our team.

So what is synergy not? Synergy is not:

  • When a team’s work is halted or hindered from external obstacles and insurmountable challenges that they can’t seem to work through.
  • When a group prevents or stops its progress – from internal communication and collaboration issues.
  • When a team’s efforts are thwarted, encumbered, or blocked from an inability to collaboratively work together toward a single goal.

Questions for Leaders to Assess & Improve Synergy in Your Teams

So next time you notice that your team is clicking well, step back and examine WHY? How has your leadership (and/or contribution as a team member) increased the collaboration and synergistic work of the team? Tuck these effective behaviors away in your mind and use them again!

When your team seems to be at a stopped place, can you identify any external obstacles? Can you articulate what they are – because sometimes a team feels like they are blocked but don’t truly know the real cause(s). Can you share the specific obstacles you see, AND contribute 3 or so ideas for working through it to prompt the group to problem-solve?

As you consider your team, if you sense internal relational, or communication and collaboration issues, can you reflect on it as if you were viewing a video camera? What would a video reveal as some of the team’s root problems when it comes to its communication or collaboration problems? Can you objectively share what you believe these are with the team, AND provide a few ideas to move past them toward your group’s common goal?

If you think or feel that your team’s efforts to collaboratively work together toward its single goal are currently thwarted, ask yourself if each team member possesses extreme clarity around the purpose of the team’s work. Does every team member agree on the team’s goal in working together? How can you bring momentum to the team to help them move past a “stalled” point in work and increase focus on the goal of the group?

As you consider your team’s lack of synergy, what behaviors that contributed to that state do you need to own? How can you take responsibility with your team by honestly communicating how you may have contributed to its lack of synergy? How can you verbally commit to “fixing” these behaviors of yours?

What you discover to some of the questions above may help you effectively turn the tide as needed with your team and lead in a way that increases its synergy. This self-reflection process may also help you effectively lead a different team in the future.

Or, if you’re ever a part of a team that is not experiencing synergy, rather than lamenting about how dead, not-fun, or unproductive the group is, review the questions above.  Assess how you can alter your contributions to the group to help stir up synergy, helping the group reach its goal in working together.

How to Become a More Effective Small Group Leader or Member

All of us have been part of a small group at some point in our lives, haven’t we?

Think of some people gathered on a street sidewalk in a bustling city moving closer together in a “group” as they try to hail a taxi. Or can you picture some people gathered in a work/office room, discussing and collaborating to solve a challenge? Now consider a group of people gathered and waiting to be individually called in for a doctor’s appointment.

Does each of these mental pictures of groups of people fit the meaning of what a small group is? What are key elements that help us discern the difference between random collections of people, and functioning small groups?

And why do we care?!

Well, if you are a leader of a small group (either a leader established formally – perhaps by a title, or have informally become the “leader” of a group), understanding these 4 Key Elements of Small Groups can help you intentionally lead with fresh strategies.

Or, are you a member of a small group, and do you desire to make it a meaningful, positive, and effective experience? If so, then understanding these 4 Key Elements of Small Groups can help you engage in the group in ways that may shape the experience and effectiveness of the group.

Understanding 4 Key Elements of Small Groups – What are they?

1) When 3+ people gather together, they have the makings of a small group – when a few more key elements are added! Is the size of a small group limited or ideal with no more than 7, 12, 15, or 20 members? Actually, there is no magical number when it comes to how large an effective small group can be. The ideal number of members in a small group is typically the smallest number possible to successfully complete the purpose of the small group. This size number of group members depends largely on the next key element of a small group…its purpose.

2) The next element of small groups is that they possess a known and shared goal or purpose.  Group members are united in their common focus of reaching the clear goal or purpose of the group.

3) A third key element of small groups is that members interact with one another. Whether face-to-face or in virtual groups, members dialogue, discuss, sometimes debate, and collaborate as they create shared meaning together. In graduate school online leadership development courses I teach, I have seen some extremely dynamic small, virtual groups develop. They have a clear purpose (a small group project/assignment!), and work closely together to pull it off, all while never meeting face-to-face.  Whether or not you have had a virtual small group experience or not, let’s hope we can all relate to the interaction involved (and required!) in a functioning small group where participation is primarily face-to-face.

4) The last key element of small groups is that members influence one another. Members are open to learning with one another as a result of dialogue and discussion and discovering insights from the perspectives of others.

How does this info help me as a leader?

Sometimes asking ourselves questions like below related to the 4 Key Elements of Small Groups help us reflect as leaders – and then plan how to lead more strategically.

  • Have I clearly designated the members of this small group? Have I made known the members of this small group? While this seems elementary, sometimes conflict and obstacles in a small group’s effectiveness result from unclear membership.
  • Have I clearly articulated the purpose for this group? Are ALL members aware of the goal and purpose of this group? If I asked each member, would I get the same response? Do I need to cast some vision regarding what this group is trying to accomplish? Can I paint a picture of what it will be like when this group has achieved its purpose?
  • To what degree do all members in this group interact with one another? How can I best encourage every single member to contribute ideas and discussion? Are there any ground rules I need to establish as the leader to create a safe environment for all members to engage in dialogue?  Am I listening fully to each group member when they contribute in any fashion?
  • Do I see this small group as a connected system, where each member influences other members and the group at large? How open are the members of this group to invite questions from one another and to truly listen to the perspectives of others? How open am I to this?

How does this info help me as a member of a small group?

It is not unusual to find ourselves as a part of a small group – either by choice or what seems like force (more about this in a subsequent post!). If we are not in the formal role as the leader in the small group, we can still play a significant part in influencing the small group and creating an enjoyable experience. Most likely we can all recount being part of a small group that seemed like drudgery or just miserable; all we could hope was that time would fleet by so we could be “done” with the small group!

Understanding the 4 Key Elements of Small Groups provides us a set of questions to consider as we attempt to make our participation in a small group an enjoyable and effective one.

  • Have I gone out of my way to acknowledge and to even welcome (in some small way) each member of this small group? What could that behavior look like?  Am I willing to commit to expressing value for each group member as a human being? (Hopefully you also foresee value that each unique individual brings to the group. But in case not, perhaps you can welcome each person in a civil way because of the virtue that he or she is a human!)
  • To what degree do I “know” that my perception of the purpose of this small group is accurate? How can I check this? When I possess clarity on the purpose and goal of this group, how can I restate this to the group and refocus our group on our purpose? What will that sound and look like?
  • How well do I interact with this small group? How willing am I to risk by offering my ideas and suggestions? How can I help create, establish, or maintain a safe and trusting culture where all members feel genuinely welcome to contribute and interact with one another?
  • How open am I to learning from other group members? How attached am I to my views and ideas? How important is it that my ideas are embraced by this group? To what degree am I able to suspend my judgments and try to learn what the perspectives are of other group members? How can I help this group be willing and open (and even desire!) to discover and learn insights from one another? What would that look and sound like?

Now that we’ve spent time thinking about key elements of small groups, we know that just because people may be gathered together – that proximity of one another does not make them a small group! So a group of people waiting for the next taxi or a subway, or folks gathered in a doctor’s office waiting room does not mean they are what we call a small group!

Whether you are a small group leader or member, hopefully now you are equipped to apply this knowledge in intentional ways to better impact the group how you desire.

Taking Action

Which questions above resonated with you most? Which ones can you copy/paste into your calendar to remind yourself to think about them and take strategic action as you continue to lead or participate with this small group?