How Groups Work
I will first define a group as an assembly of at least three people who all have something in common. I would define a team slightly differently; a group of people who share the same goals. (Thus, you can see the difference between a support group for new moms and a team of professionals who will benefit from the firm hitting its sales quota next quarter). I will use the term “group” as an interchangeable term for both “group” and “team” – as firm shareholders have things in common, such as all being employed at the same firm, possessing similar skillsets, etc., as well as sharing the same goals which are growth and/or profitability of the firm.
Extensive research has been done on this subject. To quickly summarize years of research on this matter, I will illustrate that there are four stages of group development. Understanding them can assist us in how we might nurture or develop a culture of accountability and unity among the members of the group:
- Dependency & Inclusion – The members of the group look directly to the leader for guidance
- Counter-Dependency & Conflict – Someone within the group challenges the leader
- Trust & Structure – The group members start to experience a sense of unity as at least two or more members of the group agree and are the “same”
- Work & Productivity – The group starts to be productive as its initiatives / goals begin to be recognized
What Stage of Development is YOUR Partner Group In?
Stage 1 (DEPENDENCY / INCLUSION )
At your partner meetings, everyone seems to go along with the Managing Partner, whatever he suggests. The Managing Partner does most of the talking while some heads nod in agreement. There is little, if any, conflict expressed or discussed among the group members.
In division/department head meetings, the well-formed outcomes of meetings are not often addressed and the members are not well-versed in the goals of the group or the intention of the meetings. (This rings true even when group meetings are held on a regular basis.) In many cases; there is no written or formal agenda for the meeting and the contribution of participants is often uneven – some members will not offer an opinion or say anything during the course of the meeting. The use of personal digital devices is often tolerated (participants disengage from the meeting while reading / sending e-mails, etc.)
Stage 2 (CONFLICT / COUNTER-DEPENDENCY)
Group members have varying degrees of confidence in the goal or processes of the efforts of the group. The leader’s ideas are being challenged at this time. There is more than one point of view being openly discussed and/or there may be conflict or tension within the group.
What happens in the room when an idea or a proposed plan of action is challenged? How do your partners or managers react and or diffuse the conflict? Is there a member of your group who, in your opinion, pushes the boundaries or somehow “stirs the pot”? Does tension serve the group by creating a dialogue among the members to brainstorm or does it have a negative effect on morale, stifling productivity?
I can remember one such meeting where a member confided in me afterwards that she would never speak up again in the meeting because the leader rudely dismissed her idea. When the leader heard of this, he insisted group meetings stop altogether.
Stage 3 (TRUST & STRUCTURE)
Group members arrive to meetings on time and they are prepared and focused on the agenda. Most of the conversation and interaction is focused on how the team will achieve its goals, including accomplishing specific tasks.
Partners and managers are relaxed and easy, yet sharp and engaged. Often, this is the stage when sub-groups or committees are created to multi-task the variables that are necessary to meet the group’s objectives. When an obstacle is identified that might impede the progress of the group, members switch gears appropriately and come up with a reasonable solution. The professionals appear satisfied when leaving meetings and the next meeting date has been set. Often, group members will have been assigned a specific action step to be completed prior to the next meeting. At this stage, I have witnessed “reports” given and “homework” assigned to group participants.
Stage 4 (WORK / PRODUCTIVITY)
Members of the group are effectively implementing decisions and completing action steps. All participants are reporting on their progress and commitments are being fulfilled. Group members are taking pride in their contribution. During this time, group members’ accomplishments are acknowledged and “celebrated” inside and outside of the group.
I have found during this stage that professional service providers, especially in levels of higher management, sometimes take pleasure in friendly competition, enjoying the publication of their “wins” firm-wide. Humorous banter can drive the success of the group and keeps the objectives alive in a meaningful way for group members. This also helps boost morale and maintains a positive energy during meetings. I encourage senior management to support group members’ successful behavior by communicating their personal success stories – e.g., distributing some type of internal newsletter, report or firm-wide address on a regular basis. This will educate all firm members on management’s initiatives, boost morale by sharing success stories and foster a sense of pride among all group members.
Summary of How Groups Work
- It is beneficial to understand the effectiveness and power of the group as it applies to professional services firms’ shareholder groups its subdivisions – departments and divisions within the organization.
- When you understand the stages of group development, you can honestly assess where your groups are currently – and help guide them to the final stages of group development – which equals a positive impact on work product and increased accountability and unity among the members of your group.
- It is important to hold regular meetings in order to go through the normal stages of group development toward productivity. If your partner group or niche teams do not meet on a regular basis, this should help sway you to understand the importance of doing so. You should plan on doing so for at least six months before the expectation of any real work product.
- Partner groups with more than 7 members should consider the creation of sub-groups or committees to achieve certain initiatives.
- Projects that are short-term (less than 6 months) might best be undertaken by one or two individuals rather than a team or group approach.