Becoming a professional manager (part 3)

Over the last few weeks I covered some of the key elements of effective managerial performance. Today I want to cover some important things about being a person in a management role; a management role that is specific to you, in this organisation, at this point in time.

In taking up managerial roles we need to be, above many other things, constant and reliable, so that others can depend on us. Both the people who have employed us to deliver certain outcomes, and the people who are in our team and who work for us. The best managers are strongly committed to achieve the required outcomes and it is important not to change or redefine this task. However, the way in which we deliver the task is infinitely variable and will depend on a range of factors. We need to be very flexible in our methods and behaviours, experimenting with what works, sussing out team members and playing to their strengths.  The best managers also factor in the external context and the expectation of others in the organisation. If we listen to our team, the customer and have great awareness of our environment we will develop, adjust and learn as we go along, and this is much more likely to get results than just plugging away with a notion we learnt from a text book. Keep on checking back with your team, and with reality. Does the method work? Are you getting results? Are you actually delivering something, or just excuses? Can your efforts be seen to be effective or not?

You will have worked with ineffective managers. I am just thinking about one who was good at the art of “BS”. She never gave a straight answer, talking about “non-cashable” savings, or saying “I contacted the supplier but they wouldn’t budge”. If she was challenged she would get nasty and say things to the challenger like “you backed me into a corner just then, which I didn’t appreciate”. This colleague was very likeable and popular. She was sensitive to feelings and was generally a good team player. Unfortunately she had been promoted beyond her competency and  was not able to do the job she had been placed in. Another manager comes to mind who, again, was a good talker, but absolutely unable to actually deliver anything. He often claimed that the report was on his computer, or was coming next week. In response to suggestions he invariably claimed it was already happening (without any evidence). I think he actually believed he was fully on top of the job and doing well, while all around found him nice but ineffective.

Now I mention both of these colleagues as they were both very pleasant, kind, easy to get along with people. They would probably do well in a popularity competition. But if  a colleague struggles to take up a role they will often default to using top down power (command and control) to get things done.

In other words without the authority to get the work done they resorted to using power. As we work to achieve our organisation’s aim we need to use the authority that is vested in us, via our role. This is what doing our job, at heart, amounts to. We personally get the authority to do what is required to deliver our tasks. Authority is exercised as we seek to achieve the aim of the system, to do the role we have been appointed to. Managers who are comfortable with the authority that they have will not try to control others unduly, simply passing down the appropriate tasks and authority to those who work for them. They will manage the process to get the aim achieved. Exercising authority on behalf of the system, via the role, he or she gives others the opportunity and space to take up their own authority and participate in the organisation wide endeavour to meet the aims and objectives of the company.

Those who lack competence struggle to use the authority that goes with the job. As a result they resort to using  their role power (this underlies all senior roles but is best used very sparingly) to either control others, or to avoid being controlled by them. It is not surprising that these people will find the rules (delegations, systems, regulations) hard to adhere to, and often find themselves wilfully subverting delegations or authorities. They may bully or charm others to get their way as their authority is undermined by their incompetence.

Something I read recently, by someone who had work in a wide variety of organisations, really resonated with me. He says:

“Each of these organizations has had the same ability to affect my happiness in a profound way. If, for example, I completed a project successfully and enjoyed the company of my fellow workers, then the whole of life seemed enlarged, happy and worthwhile. At other times, undemanding work, authoritarian bosses, and hostile rivalry seemed to reduce my life to a prison and in two instances I resigned.”

(Robert De Board, The Psychoanalysis of organizations, Routledge, 1978, Introduction)

Managers Forum Notting Hill GenesisManagers Forum NHG






Becoming a Professional Manager (part 2)

Last week I described how those new to management can take up the role of manager in our organisations. Ideally this is  a conscious process to consider our own abilities and personality, and seek to combine them with the culture and systems of the organisation. To take up the role effectively we need to understand ourselves; the task; and how we relate to the task. To become a manager we have (psychologically) to take up the role of manager.

What does this mean?

It is helpful to perceive any organisation we work within as an open system with inputs and outputs, all of which are transformed by the work of the people who make up the organisation. By describing the system/organisation as open we mean that we are influenced by changes in both the internal and external environments.

The role of a new manager is therefore to first understand their own role in relation to the system, the organisation, as a whole. The context for your own is the key. Your role will be responsible for delivering certain tasks/products and for a range of people who are there to collaborate in this delivery.

What are the aims of the whole system/organisation, and what is the specific aims of the part of the system for which you bear responsibility? Once this is known, you will be able to clarify what your own responsibilities and activities should be.  This should be very clear from the Job Description but that is not always the case. You need to focus clearly on  how your role relates to the system as a whole.

Determine what the objectives and measurements are.

Establish your role context in relation to What and Who.   What can affect the role – public policy, legal framework, financial context etc? Who, both internally and externally, can affect the role?

So far, so good. Your role and responsibilities and how you fit into the structure is an important first step and may well be something you have considered carefully before applying for the job. If you are an internal candidate you may have an even better idea, having worked to or beside this role for a period of time. At the time of recruitment or significant change it is likely that the organisational structure chart and the job description have been revisited recently. But it is entirely possible that “someone in HR” has applied a formulae and the recruiting manager may not have even reviewed it. Aspects of the job are very likely to have changed over the years, and it is possible that certain aspects may have been over or understated in order to satisfy extraneous matters such as pay scales, sensitive political issues or tender egos.

It is helpful to think of the JD as the menu, and the role as the meal.

Meeting of managers
Manager’s Meeting

In any real life organisation we can appreciate and describe

  • the task
  • the organisational structure
  • other people we must work with (colleagues, managers, suppliers, customers)
  • the culture of the organisation.

This is our personal and individual work context. To be personally effective and perform well, we all need not just technical skills but also behaviour which enables us to relate to this context. As well as considering the formal, technical role requirements there are two other critical areas to consider.

Firstly is your own competence. It is likely, if you are newly recruited, that you have been involved in a process where you “sell” yourself to a new employer. Those seeking staff sometimes have very unrealistic expectations, believing that the new recruit is a gift from God, and will be far superior to anyone they already have in house. Of course the newly recruited manager is just another human, and we rarely come ready made. I would strongly challenge the notion that people are either (intrinsically) personally effective or not. The situation is at least as important, and can undermine or support their personal effectiveness.

Examine your own competence. The self-awareness to realistically evaluate what you know and are entirely competent to carry out, and what areas you still to learn or develop, is most useful. In the interview or shortly afterwards meet your own manager to discuss your own development needs. Being able to say “management is new to me” or “I have not done an operational role before” can really help your manager give you the support, training and direction that you need. Personal effectiveness and potential is the skill set we are supporting, rather than the crude label of “She’s wonderful/perfect/exceptional” versus “She is hopeless/useless/waste of space”. Make sure you think of yourself and your team as a group of people who all have the potential to perform the job well. However it is important to evaluate competence objectively and  honestly – some managers are overconfident and cocky – others lack confidence and need to come forward more. A good manager should help you realistically appraise yourself.

Finally be aware of your own feelings. I have covered this to some extent before. When you come into an organisation, or take up a role, you are usually very sensitive to what is happening around you – good, bad, anxiety provoking, puzzling or reassuring. It is really helpful to make a note of this as you go along as it will help you as a manager. For example I noticed how warmly I was greeted in our regional offices, compared to the office I work from most often. After considering my own feelings I realised this was just a matter of familiarity in one office, compared to a sense of a slightly special occasion in the other offices, perhaps in the same way that as a Mum I was slightly taken for granted by my kids, whereas they were generally excited to see Dad when he came home from work.

When you engage consciously with the context you will take account of your own feelings, and work out how to do the task in the given circumstances. You need to take account of your own skills and capabilities. I can remember, in my first management role, how long it took me to think things through and how slow I seemed to be. Now I can make decisions very much more quickly because I have often done the job before. Now the context is everything. When I was learning context was vital but so too was my competence. I certainly made many mistakes (and still do), but I hope I learnt important lessons as a result.

Finally if we take account of the real life context; if we work within our competence but aim at extending it; if we take account of our own feelings and those of others; and if we understand how the task (project, scheme, or challenge) when completed will impact on others and help deliver the objectives of the organisation, then we will be effective managers. If we fail to do these it is likely that we will either fail to achieve or complete the task, or we will show signs of incompetence.








What is Professional Management (part 1)?

A manager is responsible for outcomes. The key definition of a manager is that they must achieve these outcomes through other people. The most important activities for a manager is therefore is to plan for the required outcomes and to work with others to achieve this.

Each manager has a domain or area of operation that is distinct from another one. These boundaries divide us by function, eg. sales v finance, each has a different membership, location and purpose

Each department should have a clear understanding of its primary aim. This departmental aim should dovetail into the overriding corporate purpose and contribute to its achievement.  The primary task should be a very clear, easily understood and communicated statement of its aims which contribute to the corporate objective/primary task.  Department aims need to dovetail into the overriding corporate purpose.The “mission statement” describes our aims – what we are doing and how (processes) but also what our intended outcomes are.

For Notting Hill Genesis our corporate aim is “In the community, providing homes for lower income Londoners”. And for the finance team it is something like “Ensuring high standards of financial management and probity, we plan the business and ensure we have sufficient resources to provide more homes for low income Londoners”.

Treasury Team

Why so much emphasis on purpose? Surely if I am a finance manager what I do is more or less the same, wherever I work?

Actually everyone who works for an enterprise needs to understand its intentions so they can see the bigger picture and understand the inter-dependencies – with members of their team, other departments, the board, customers, competitors, shareholders etc. Making sure everyone understands the context of what we do takes considerable effort. I know that some of our teams are relatively isolated and specialist and it always takes more time to help them feel involved, included and listened to. However without it is hard for our staff to understand the meaning of their work – the single most important factor in providing motivation and commitment.

Once it is clear what the department is for, in the context of an organisation that clearly knows what it is there for, the individual manager (and their staff) will be able to take up their role effectively. They will be able to direct their skills and energies to benefit the organisation as a whole.

Clarity around aims contributes to the behaviours required. Both  managers and staff need to relate objectively to other roles, rather than be unduly affected by personal relationships. This is what people usually mean when they talk about the needs of the customer, or the primacy of the bottom line, or the focus on the patient etc. If all of us understand the aims of other departments we can be objective and co-operative when we necessarily interact with other teams.

If this is what a manager does (and I would be pleased to hear your alternative views or challenges) how does one become one?

I believe we must consciously take up the role as manager. This is both a process – the first time we are appointed to take responsibility for others – and a mind-set that needs to consciously approached. Of course some have natural leadership abilities, but we cannot do the job effectively without consciously taking it on.

To take up the role means we need to discover, inside ourselves, a way of operating that enables us to manage our work in relation to the requirements of the organisation, both as a member of the organisation and as a leader.

We take up the role when we identify with the organisation and its culture. We  identify with the objectives and mission of this system  and choose action and personal behaviour which best contributes to achieving the aims. Because circumstances and context change all the time, inside and outside the organisation, the role is never a static pattern of behaviour.

Being in a role means we carry the organisation in our mind and manage our own behaviour in relation to the organisation and its culture, to further its aim and purpose, accepting accountability for ourselves and being open to changing our judgement in the light of experience. This concept goes way beyond what our staff and other managers expect of us, or what our job description entails  – it’s our psychological role. I will come back to this idea in my next post.






Leaders that listen

What makes a really good leader?

My daughter and her friends are at the time of life when many of them are getting married. Which brings me to the “hen party”. This relatively recent phenomenon seems to have morphed from a meal out with your girl friends, to weekends away, lots of alcohol, dancing, activities and general sillyness often in foreign destinations putting lots of pressure on the finances and bonds of friendship, it seems. The main issue, as far as I can see, is that the issue of leadership is rarely resolved first, as I discussed on a previous occasion. 

In selecting staff, or as a learning experience,  create two groups with the same task – for example consider which imaginary organisation would be the best merger partner.  With the first group choose a chair or leader for the group. With the second group ask them  to reach a decision on a democratic basis.

What is fascinating about this experiment (and one you will understand much better if you have ever had the opportunity to participate in a group relations conference), is that the first group will probably reach a good clear decision in the required time frame, while the leaderless group will struggle to get there and may not even achieve an answer.

Why is this? Strangely, once the leadership question is settled it will be much easier for the participants to focus on the task. This group will be able to behave more democratically, giving everyone a voice. They will feel freer to contribute, relieved of the ultimate responsibility for making the decision. The second group, unsure who is in charge, will often struggle to focus on the task as they jockey for leadership, disengage because they are not happy with the way it is going, where some will dominate and some will remain silent, fearful of the tensions in the room as a result of the group dynamics. In the second group defensive processes will prevent the task being achieved effectively, proving (in case you didn’t know before) that a leaderless group is an impossible construct. And if you don’t believe me I suggest you try it!

So one possible answer to the question “what makes a good leader?” is that the best leader is the one who is properly appointed, and authorised to lead. This may be by appointment, selection or election – democratically or not. But the authorisation of the leader by the electorate, or the panel, is absolutely required. This then legitimises followership, and gives the leader the authority to act on behalf of the group.

However this is not the end of it. Even though, in the last analysis, the leader is indeed accountable to the board, or owner, or the people, they have considerable freedom in how they carry out the task. And there are a wide range of styles from the dominant, omnipotent leader who doesn’t listen to other’s views, to the leader who doesn’t seem confident of his or her own views and effectively lets the most dominant team member decide.

Getting the balance right during the  exercise of leadership is therefore quite difficult. I often see my role as the chair of the executive board rather than “the leader” which can seem a bit militaristic. “Tally ho! Follow me as I charge into battle!”

Wiki Commons
Follow me

But when chairing a meeting I often find myself listening to the group rather than speaking. We meet as a team because a team is much better at making decisions than a single person (the CEO or other leader). Not only do my Director colleagues have specific qualifications and skills that I lack, they know their part of the organisation far better than I do. Also they have a different view point and have to tackle real challenges everyday that involve them working  and collaborating with other Directors and teams. They are closer to the front line and have great sensitivity to what is happening in and outside the organisation. And personally they have different skills to me and this helps counteract the blind spots I have. So I generally listen and see my role in helping a clear and democratic decision to emerge. Often I don’t contribute on an item at all; simply sensing the feeling of the meeting (even though there are often opposing views being expressed) and helping bring the item to a close with a clear, deliverable decision, we can all live with.

If someone is very uncomfortable with a decision we keep going, listening carefully to his or her view, weighing up the tensions, downsides and issues we need to take care of. At the end of the day we do go with a majority decision but we always listen especially carefully to the outlier as he or she may well be right. As the leader you don’t always have to be first, or right, or “in charge”. You don’t become weak by taking a faciltating and empowering stance – you become a better informed, balanced and respected leader if you listen and use your intelligence and experience to get to a worked through consensus. The immature leadership stance of believing I have the best judgement, and I am both entitled and required to decide because I am the boss, means you move away from consultation and consensus. The problem is, if you do this habitually they will soon stop telling you stuff and move into just carrying out orders right or wrong. And the consequences can be catastrophic.

Here is Nelson Mandela on leadership (from Long Walk to Freedom):

“I have always endeavoured to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Often times, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion.”


Dealing with a Narcissistic Manager

I have had a few bosses in my time who were rather ego-centric, but that is not surprising. Getting to the top in organisations requires a degree of confidence and self-assurance that is less common in the lower rungs of organisations. Sometimes just believing something is possible can make it happen, and confident leadership is essential if we are to innovate, invent or create a new approach or product. Brave and fearless people are more likely to achieve more in life than those who are reticent and scared. But when does self-assurance tip over into self-importance: confidence into narcissism?

There is a condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder with a range of traits and tell-tale signs. I am not going to address this because I am not a psychologist and I don’t want to stray outside my area of expertise. But I have had a couple of bosses who showed a range of traits and behaviours that were narcissistic, and I have developed a few techniques for dealing with them that I would like to share.Donald_Trump_(29496131773)

Firstly what is a narcissistic manager like?

  • He or she has an extraordinarily high opinion of themselves. He boasts about his achievements, telling anyone who will listen how he single-handedly landed a deal, or was the fastest/youngest/richest/brainiest leader in his sphere. At social events she will do her best to dominate the conversation by holding court rather than chatting contentedly to others. In fact the self-importance may spread to trying to control who they sit next to. He wants exclusive or special spaces and treatment that marks him out as a superior being, and to surround himself with admirers. She is invariably a “name dropper”.
  • Control over his own reputation will mean manufacturing a “legend” about his  super-powers. She will promote this through careful and controlled marketing activity, even hiring experts to create a positive image and story about her. If anyone disagrees with him or his self-created story he will immediately label them  “half-wits”, “a very bad person” etc.
  • No empathy. They are not interested in you at all. Whatever is going on, it is all about him, his role, his view, his demands. She doesn’t want to hear what you think. She may let you talk if she needs some information, but normally she only gives others air time so she can get her next thoughts in line. They don’t feel the need to take your views or feelings into account, and if you resist or disagree it can  quickly escalate into an argument. He is likely to be  aggressive in response to even minor challenges, when most people would give way or compromise.
  • He is often prickly about how he perceives himself being treated, but is oblivious of others’ discomfort. She is likely to find it hard to make genuine friends as there is not much give and take. Consequently narcissistic managers are poor at building a team, as this requires a sense of equality, mutual understanding and reliance. In the world of politics the democratic process will usually prevent seriously narcissistic types getting to the top, as alliances, compromises and courtship are necessary. Few Boards want a narcissist at the top – either as Chair or Chief Executive.  Today, in business, leaders are properly accountable to the Board and have to work with the consensus – which includes taking staff, customer, regulator, investor and stakeholder interests into account. There is less interest in dominant, individualist styles of leadership. However there are a number of family businesses, entrepreneurs and “celebrities” whose modus operandi is pure personal need, and we see lots of  domineering people who are used to having things their own way in many walks of life.

A narcissist will struggle to function in a modern workplace as these traits impair the individual’s ability to develop relationships – on which successful organisations and partnerships depend. Obviously it will also be difficult to develop trust or friendship with the most self-centred of people.  However you may find yourself working for one of these types, so here are a few tips that should work.

  • The Narcissist will ignore or rubbish your abilities. This can be very demoralising if you know more than them, and are a rounded and able manager yourself. They feel superior to you and will not be interested in your advice. Consultation is not a concept they are familiar with. As their ego crowds you out you will feel belittled and defensive. It would be natural to back off and acquiesce to ever more bizarre demands. Don’t. You must continue to believe in yourself, your experience and your knowledge  base.  While remaining pleasant and balanced – just stick to your professional view and calmly implement it.
  • If he or she becomes aggressive it is easy to feel bullied and scared of the implications. However it is necessary to do the right thing. If he demands you do something serious that you know to be wrong you should not take the instructed action. Do not be drawn into an argument. Just simply say you do not agree. You have a loyalty to your role, your organisation and to the ultimate decision makers (eg the Executive team or the Board). If you are doing the right thing the implications of not  doing what the narcissist demands are a secondary consideration.  You need to continue to be a person of integrity and do what you believe is right.
  • Narcissists can be very manipulative. When bullying doesn’t work they can be wheedling or persistent – whatever it takes to wear you down or get what they want. Stay calm and factual. There is no point trying to convince them of your point of view. State your position, then act on it. Be decisive. Say this is my decision and take action – don’t seek their permission.
  • Narcissists often caricature others. They have a few black and white view of other people – some are condemned outright with a one word put-down; others are praised to the skies as if they are more or less perfect. Of course neither of these descriptions will fit any real people who are always a mixture of good and bad. Don’t collude in this senseless labelling, especially as it will conflict with your own more measured and reliable judgement.






Twice a week our Executive Board meets for a cup of coffee – here is why

Twice a week at Notting Hill Genesis the entire Executive Board  (eight of us) meet for a cup of coffee. “Let’s discuss that at coffee” means we commit to discussing an issue amongst ourselves in an open, collaborative and strengthening way.

We had a problem. Our Executive Board was seen as a diverse group of people running their own empires. George, running the sales team, came to see me quite often, asking me to have a word with Helen, in charge of product. She was being unreasonable and wouldn’t allow a change of design. Helen, on the other hand, usually had something negative to say about Colin, the Finance Director. He wasn’t allowing accruals, meaning her figures were always seen in the most pessimistic light in front of the main Board. And so on. The idea of these one on one meetings was that I, as the Chief Executive, would side with them and issue an instruction. Or that I would find a reasonable compromise they couldn’t achieve alone. I used to find this irritating, and was heard to mutter about “knocking heads together”, or not wanting to be the Mum to a bunch of rivalrous children. If an item was coming to our Executive Board meeting the proposer would routinely consult me, get a view, amend the paper if necessary and bring it forward, knowing I would push it through for them, even if there was an objection from another department.

Throughout the organisation there was an awareness of “what the CE wants”. Quite junior people were aware of my preferences to a ridiculous degree and tried to please me or win favour by doing what they thought I would like. As they treated me like a Queen, in their own departments I let them be the Squire – in charge and in control. Staff were generally loyal to their own King or Queen, and didn’t automatically co-operate with rival Squires. If asked they would say that they were not sure what the overall strategy was,

At the time I had created an organisation where I managed “strategy” and the main board – the team were allowed to run their own departments, more or less free from interference. Any areas of difficulty or disagreement, I would decide, using what I thought was my superior skills of judgement. Things went quite well for a long time.

Eventually however things started to go wrong. One person’s judgement is always only partial. No-one really challenged me. Each Directorate was at war with the other one, although the disagreements were suppressed and not expressed directly.  We made poor decisions because we were not a team. We didn’t do the right thing for the company or the customer as staff were set up to do what they thought one person – the boss – wanted.

After things had come to a head we had a genuine change of heart and decided to operate quite differently.

We consciously adopted collective leadership. 

The whole team was tasked with agreeing the purpose and strategy of the organisation. I stopped telling everyone what I thought or wanted and tried to listen. That was quite hard! I looked for differences of opinion around the table and helped the team work out a reasonable compromise. When one person was an outlier we tried to find a solution that would address their worries. We spent much longer reaching a view than we had ever done before and I began to worry that we would simply run out of time to do our main jobs. As we slowly, but surely, began to hack a new strategy out of the rock face, we began to grow as a team. We gained a much greater understanding of each others’ viewpoint and experience. We all listened better and thought more creatively rather than just reverting to our old certainties.

These early meetings were quite difficult as some areas were difficult to resolve. But as people felt listened to by everyone else they became more receptive to new ideas. Sometimes one or two ganged up and I tried to undermine this, in an attempt to get a considered team standpoint.

The experience of working together over several months to create a genuinely shared vision, mission and strategy, was very positive. Firstly we really got used to each other and learned about each other, in depth. We also created something we could share the organisation as a whole – a very clear view of what we were here for that everyone could share. Finally we got used to dealing with conflict, and difference, and the whole process of listening and working through difficulties. This stood us in good stead when dealing with difficult issues as they came up week after week. The organisation started to notice something very different – now there was a collective view. The Directors started to work in a new way. They now encouraged a range of opinions before giving an opinion. They listened to the staff – actively seeking the contrary and dissident views – and tried to find a solution that worked for all. They were respectful of their Director peers and brought their difficulties and issues into the room.  We began to experience a much more harmonious organisation.

We decided to continue the discussion over coffee. We now meet up twice a week – on Tuesdays and Thursdays as it happens – for an hour or so, from 8.45 to 9.45am. We meet in the canteen or break out areas in a couple of our main offices so the staff can see us sitting, talking and working together. We are available if they need us. Now, twice a week we check in with each other, share what has been going well or badly. We get decisions or a view, or just keep each other in the loop. We reflect on what happened in meetings of staff, the board or with key stakeholders. We do all we can to attend, and if we are needed at an early meeting elsewhere we tell the others by email in advance. Our coffee mornings doesn’t replace our fortnightly Executive Board meetings that have papers and decisions and minutes. The collective approach we have developed means there is minimal need for colleagues to lobby the CEO. We are very open with each other and there are no secrets. We still work quite hard to reach a reasonable compromise on the tricky issues but everyone is heard and contributes.


Being reflective at work

Recently I put forward an idea to someone I work with. It was a radical idea and I don’t think it was very well received. But I am pretty sure my colleague could not think of an easy way to say no without appearing mean or petty. So he said “Let me reflect on that”. He meant – I need some time to think it through. Perhaps he didn’t know what he thought or he needed time to find a better proposal or an acceptable way to reject my idea.

And then I thought that to me reflection is much more than thinking twice about something.

Reflection, done with openness, can massively help a leadership team (or any group for that matter) work out the dynamics in the group that often get in the way of effective leadership.

The Reflective Group

In my organisation we make a habit of reflecting as a group after a major event – such as a Managers Forum, an all-staff workshop, or a Board awayday, for example. While there maybe a few observations on the behaviour of individuals we are always trying to understand the behave of the “group as a whole” – not the individual. However the group’s behaviour is often expressed through the behaviour of an individual, pair or sub-group.

Try to work out what the behaviour means, getting a bit deeper in your reflection than just description. What is happening to the feelings of the group?  By discussing your findings as a group, can the group become more self-aware?

Here are some of the questions we consider when we reflect as a group.

  • Was there any anxiety in the group? Why? What helped reduce it?
  • How was any conflict dealt with?
  • Is conflict avoided by any means?
  • Were we able to be open with each other?
  • Did you see any flight or fight behaviour in the group?
  • Was dependency an issue?
  • Were people “pairing off”?
  • Were there any identifiable sub-groups?
  • If there were smaller, table group discussion – how did the smaller groups fare, compared to the dynamics in the larger group?
  • How did we behave if we left or joined the group?
  • How were any latecomers or early leavers dealt with?
  • What did any disruptive behaviour (eg attempts to change the agenda, point of order type activity) impact on the group?
  • Are there divisions in the group such – by Department, gender/race/age, office bases, paid staff v volunteers etc?
  • Was there a fight for leadership? Do members of the group want to lead or to follow?
  • Is competitive behaviour present?
  • Did the group reach a consensus after carefully considering the issues or was someone’s will imposed on the group?
  • Was the group clear on its task or were there hidden agendas?

An aware and healthy organisation is able to spot and discuss these issues. Off-task behaviour, as it is described and challenged, helps the organisation to move forward. This helps us focus more energy and resource on our primary task and less on “politicking”, making the organisation safer, more productive and effective.