Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The life cycle of a working group

We know that groups have personalities: we know it through research in sociology, organizational psychology and business. We know it through experience. We are all part of groups that have recognizably different ways of perceiving and interacting with the world. What does group personality mean for the individual personalities that comprise a group?

We could begin with a theory. Instead, begin with your own experience. Think of a working group of which you are part - a collection of individuals engaged in work that has a common structure and purpose. Allow your attention to engage in a moment that is characteristic of that group, a moment in which you have experienced that group's personality. Notice the attitudes and actions of the group in that moment. Then allow your attention to move into your own experience and notice how you see, hear, and feel the world as part of this group.

What did you notice about the relationship between your own experience and that of the group? We know that individuals in groups behave differently than individuals acting and thinking alone. We also know that our experience of ourselves is both the same and different when we are part of a group. What we do is always a negotiation between what we expect to do and what the group expects from us. Another way of looking at this is to notice that we become aware of the parts of ourselves that fit the group.

At the same time, we are always ourselves, and a group personality does not mean that every individual in the group is a pattern for the group as a whole. In fact, group personality is usefully seen as an emergent system: a system with complex characteristics that emerges from the combination of diverse individuals. Think of your brain as a model for a group: each part of the brain has its own rhythm and function and yet collectively they form a recognizable identity: you. No one function represents you: you are the combination of senses and thought and experience that are processed in all the centres of your neurology.

As you wait to see where this thread of the blog is moving, notice yourself when you are alone and yourself when you are part of different groups.

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