Recently I have been reflecting on a family group that I am part of and how we got together to organise an event. It is a selection from a much larger family, and a particular mix that doesn’t often get together in the same place at the same time. While inevitably everyone has their position in the family; the older sibling, the in-law, the niece, the aunt and uncle, the relative hierarchy has been put aside in favour of getting tasks done. Everyone has been allowed to play to their strengths and so tasks have been completed and tempers remained intact. Each member has a skill or adds knowledge in a way that transcends the “title” that they enter the group with. Perhaps not initially but certainly after a while individuals are recognised for this rather than their role in the family.
Group make up
Groups of people are made up of all sorts of individuals and exist for all sorts of reasons, be they social, work related, task orientated or perhaps accidental. It is quite common in groups, particularly those who are together professionally for the focus to be solely on people’s positions, their job titles and the roles and responsibilities of their day to day professions. Of course, this is why they are employed, this is what they do, this is their part in the workforce or team.
Sometimes though, when a group works together, this defined and recognised order needs to be put to one side so that the group can function better. Sometimes the hierarchy needs to be busted apart. People need to be allowed to play to their strengths and those strengths may not always be the same as the skill set that applies to the role or job.
Everyone has skills outside their designated work remit but depending on the place and type of work environment, these skills are often ignored. People who are not paid to work in a particular area may still have some great ideas that can be valuable to someone working in that field. Suggestions and ideas can spark off trains of thought that let the experts turn them into actions. When problems need to be solved, it is not always the people ‘in the know’ who have all the solutions, sometimes they can be too close to the problem. It may be the cleaner or secretary or office manager who comes up with an idea that helps the IT expert or technical engineer to solve his problem. The greater the diversity of the group the larger the range of perspectives available.
Space for exchanges
Creating a space for groups to interact, allowing and (more importantly) making people feel comfortable to input their hidden or unrecognised skills is a challenge. This is not always possible, and even purposefully setting up such an environment may be fraught with time and resource constraints. Sometimes it is the group of people that happen to be in the canteen together that end up chatting. It can be the open plan office where people overhear conversations and can’t help but get involved. It can be some common ground discovered in a more abstract way that leads to such group exchanges. These are valuable, they are not to be dismissed and they are opportunities where a lot can be learnt.
The power of a group
Whether a group of people come together accidentally, informally or in a planned way, whatever the situation, there is a power in a group of people coming together. This is often far more than the perceived sum of the skills or expertise of the people in the group. There will always be more. Stepping back a little, listening to what others have to say and creating the opportunity for individuals to use their wider capabilities can lead to surprising results. The manager or leader is not always right, and the expert may not always be the person with the immediate answer. Embracing this, without making people feel threatened or uncomfortable, and recognising when an input is valuable is definitely a challenge. But if people as part of a group, can be allowed to play to their strengths rather than always working to a rigid structure this may just turn out to be more fruitful.
How do you create space for people to play to their strengths in your groups?
If you liked this blog then you might be interested in my blog on group communication.
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