4x100m Medley Relay: even though they perform alone in the pool, the overall result is what matters. In a pretty well balanced team, like this, each swimmer can go for his best style. If the team was heavily unbalanced, at the limit, for instance, Adrian happens to be competitive only on butterfly – Phelps could give up his best stroke (butterfly) for the overall goal – since Phelps’ crawl could deliver at least enough contribution for a medal.
During my career I have had the opportunity to work with different people, from different cultures (5 cities, 3 countries) and I think I can talk about my very own impressions of what is a functional working group.
I believe in a very straight way to work in group: comradery. If you can provide what others need – do it. I am not saying you need to sacrifice yourself, but the overall result should be more important than your very own result, as in any system. Frustrated colleagues will, even if they try to avoid, create a frustrating environment, and that is language – not a mystical energy as one could suggest. The size of your RAM memory does not mean too much if the throughput is damaged at a certain frequency.
But it all comes down to language: human language. It is such a complex mechanism: a biopsychosocial product from the structure of your bones, passing through the consequences of the most joyful or painful events you went through and the positions you someway have occupied on the groups you once belonged or still belong to (family, school, sports, etc.). And of course, everyone has different bones and a life story, therefore, different ways to communicate. By communication, I mean transferring, receiving and processing information. This is even more clear when working with people from different cultures.
Being helpful makes who helps feel fine – mainly if recognized. Being helped makes people feel included, and not apart or ignored. An ideal system has fully functional decoupled components that communicate well. No noise, no jitters, no heavy dependence between them, but if one component malfunctions/fails, the overall system will eventually malfunctions/fails, otherwise it is not a system at all.
The tricky thing in all of this is the balance. There will be times when a person will need to provide more than receive, and another times, this very same person will need to receive more than provide. This sending+receiving addend, should integrate in time to an ideal value, as a contribution to the ideal system value, i.e, a goal. It seems the value for the overall system is more meaningful and easier to assess than the value for each component, but the stability of the system depends on the harmony between the components1. And there are deadlocks: helpless people cannot help. And the capacity of anyone to help is also limited. If someone is not receiving, it is very probable he will not be able to provide. What comes first? That is the tricky balance.
Anyway, as individuals the best we can do is to be self-aware. Some psychologists say behaviors can generally be classified as constructive or destructive. Below some attitudes are listed2. It is worth to think about how you are doing.
Cooperating: Is interested in the views and perspectives of the other group members and is willing to adapt for the good of the group.
Clarifying: Makes issues clear for the group by listening, summarizing and focusing discussions.
Inspiring: Enlivens the group, encourages participation and progress.
Harmonizing: Encourages group cohesion and collaboration. For example, uses humor as a relief after a particularly difficult discussion.
Risk Taking: Is willing to risk possible personal loss or embarrassment for the group or project success.
Process Checking: Questions the group on process issues such as agenda, time frames, discussion topics, decision methods, use of information, etc.
Dominating: Takes much of meeting time expressing self views and opinions. Tries to take control by use of power, time, etc.
Rushing: Encourages the group to move on before task is complete. Gets “tired” of listening to others and working as a group.
Withdrawing: Removes self from discussions or decision-making. Refuses to participate.
Discounting: Disregards or minimizes group or individual ideas or suggestions. Severe discounting behavior includes insults, which are often in the form of jokes.
Digressing: Rambles, tells stories, and takes group away from primary purpose.
Blocking: Impedes group progress by obstructing all ideas and suggestions. “That will never work because…”
1 We are not that predictable, although being predictable is an essential good social adaptive response.