Natural groups

Last week I visited an aquarium and was lucky enough to have an expert guide talk to us about the shark tank. There are 5 blacktips in the tank and our guide explained how that group would not accept any more. If another shark were to be introduced then one would be killed. Interestingly, the loser would not necessarily be the one introduced. It would be the weakest.

What’s the optimum number of people in a team? There’s been a fair bit of discussion about optimum group size. There’s also been plenty of analysis around  group roles.

I’ve wondered why some groups I’ve worked in work well and others less so. In one instance I noticed a lot of tension and dysfunction in a large group.  By chance, people began to leave the group and what I noticed was that the quality of communication, ideas generation, decision making and the general temperature / positivity improved as the group became smaller.

What I also noticed, in the larger group, was a severe friction with some individuals who normally work extremely well in different (smaller) groups.

In another group, I noticed that the energy was patchy as people from all the correct project roles were gathered in the same place at the same time.

My sense is that successful working in groups depends upon both size and group roles. There’s a difference, I think, between project roles and group roles. The first is functional, the second is social. Here’s an example… for my project I may need a project manager, designer, operations manager, health & safety officer, accountant, lawyer, technical consultant, executive director etc. These are functional. The problem is that individuals in this group are unlikely to know what their group role is and could easily end up undermining those critical social attributes.

So as part of project planning, once you’ve assembled your functional experts, perhaps it’s worth discussing:

(1) appropriate meeting sizes; and

(2) the need for group roles

for more natural groups.


How much growth do you need?

Seems as though we need to get bigger!

I hear on the news that last quarter the economy grew by “only 1%”. Politicians and business people are obsessed with it. Many individuals measure their ‘life success’ by it. And it seems like it’s never quite big enough.

What’s wrong with maintaining a steady weight? Suppose the economy balanced, business plateaued and individuals (including shareholders) felt they had enough.

Worth considering some of the negative effects of economic growth.

Inside out: values, vision, strategy

It’s the start of a new financial year. Time for a new business plan, people want to know what’s in store, what’s the “new vision”… So where to start?

“Customer focus”, “Outcomes”, “Long term strategy”, “Big picture”, “Results”…

Obvious, right?

Well.. I’m not so sure. I think there’s at least a couple of problems with starting at the end and working back.

To begin with, I don’t know that we can do the best job for our customers if we’re not in the right frame of mind, feeling good and thinking positively.

The other thing is future uncertainty. How can you know today what the right place, time or cost will be?

Here’s a bit more on those two…

1) If things aren’t right at home, your customers won’t make it better – It seems to me that things become easier when your own house is in order. If you’re not happy about something before you get to work, chances are it’ll impact your work. So taking it right back to basics is, in my opinion, the starting point. One of my favourite takeways from “The Art of Happiness at Work” is Dr Wrzesniewski’s interviewee comment:

My job can’t make me feel better, I have to take care of that.

Fast forward a few steps to work. Does it make sense to embark on lots of customer engagement before the team is happy? Maybe not, but I wonder how many organisations spend more time, money and energy doing customer focus exercises than they do focusing on their own staff.

2) Even Nostradamus got it wrong – So why do organisations think they’ll be any different?  I can’t be certain what’s going to happen tomorrow. Predicting the price of petrol next year? I wouldn’t bet on it. Nonetheless, business plans are inevitably sprinkled with guesswork and wishful thinking. 

Traditional thinking assumes that in order to stand a good chance of arriving in the right place, at the right time, at the right cost you must have a clearly defined roadmap to get there. History is littered with failed attempts to predict the future as long-term plans change shape, miss their targets or simply aren’t delivered. And the ones that do meet their targets? ..have contingency built in to such a level that the truth is, they were always adaptive.

So wouldn’t it be more realistic (and effective) to adopt an ‘adaptive vision’ that responds to circumstances as they evolve?

Here’s a definition of “adaptive vision” from Jon Husband + Luis Suarez

“An adaptive vision is one that can change and adapt as context and landscape shifts, without losing the fundamental touchstone, or your core values”

I tend to identify “values” more as internal and “vision” more as external. On that basis, values ought to be less prone to change because there are less variables.  And if “strategy” is the route to a vision then, there must be infinite strategic possibilities.

If you can agree collective values and accept an adaptive vision, a strategy will emerge.

The questions that remain are: what’s going to make you happy? …what’s going to make the team happy? And if you can’t predict the future with certainty, but you can commit to values, what values?

Here’s a few suggestions that spring to mind: 

Inside out.