Family B, in contrast, was a model of interdependence and ef!ciency, operating like a well-oiled machine. Everything was done collectively; each member had a role. A drill sergeant would have admired the speed and precision with which they packed for departure. Even their three-year-old approached her assigned tasks with purpose and enthusiasm.
Like these two families, groups evolve informal norms for “how we operate” (The cultural implications of this idea will be elaborated in Part Five, The Symbolic Frame.) Eventually, such rules are taken for granted as a !xed social reality. The parents in Family A envied Family B. They were plainly puzzled as they asked, “How did they ever get those kids to help out like that? Our kids would never do that!”
Google, like most contemporary organizations, depends a lot on teams, so much so that they started a research project to try to !nd the secret sauce thatmade some teamswork better than others (Duhigg, 2016).Google studied research byWooley et al. (2010), which found that teams have a kind of collective IQ—some teams do better than others across a range of different tasks. Team IQ was not related to the intelligence of individual members nor to intuitively plausible factors like cohesion or satisfaction. Butmore effective groups had higher sensitivity—members were better at reading one another’s feelings. They were also more egalitarian—no one dominated, and everyone got a turn. The study also found that the more women on a team the better, maybe because women tend to have higher social sensitivity.
The Google team connected this work to Edmondson’s (1999) study of psychological safety: “a shared belief held bymembers of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk- taking.” Teams with more psychological safety learned better, and teams that learned better
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performed better. The Google researchers concluded that teams would perform better if they developed norms of shared participation, emotional attunement, and psychological safety (Duhigg, 2016).
With norms, as with roles, early intervention helps. Do we want to be task oriented, no nonsense, and get on with the job? Or would we prefer to be more relaxed and playful? Do we insist on full attendance at every meeting, or should we be more “exible? Must people be unerringly punctual, or would that cramp our style? If individuals miss a deadline, do we stone them or gently encourage them to do better? Do we prize boisterous debate or courtesy and restraint? Groups develop norms to answer such questions.
Informal Networks in Groups Like informal norms, informal networks—patterns of who relates to whom—help to shape groups. Remember the Titans, a feel-good Hollywood !lm, tells a story of two football teams whose black and white players were suddenly thrust together as a result of school desegregation. Their coach took them off-site for a week of team building where black and white players roomed together and soon developed bonds. Those relationships became a critical feature of the team’s ability to win a state championship.
The Titans, like any team, can be viewed as an informal social network—a series of connections that link members to one another. When the team was !rst formed, it consisted of two different networks separated by suspicion and antagonism across racial boundaries. The coach intuitively understood something that research has con!rmed—informal bonds among members make a big difference. Teams with more informal ties are more effective and more likely to stay together than teams in which members have fewer connections (Balkundi and Harrison, 2006).
Interpersonal Con!ict in Groups Many of the worst horror stories about group life center on personal con”ict. Interpersonal strife can block progress and waste time. It can make things unpleasant at best, painful at worst. Some groups experience little con”ict, but most encounter predictable differences in goals, perceptions, preferences, and beliefs. The larger and more diverse the group, the greater the likelihood of con”ict.
A subtle but powerful source of con”ict in groups is two distinct levels of cognition (Healey, Vuori, and Hodgkinson, 2015). One level is conscious and verbal and is re”ected in the conversations that members have about what the group is here to do and how it should go about doing it. Another is an unconscious level of “hot” cognition—emotionally charged attitudes, goals, and stereotypes that operate outside of awareness. Con”ict between those
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two levels of cognition can occur both within and between individuals but is hard to recognize and decode because unconscious processes are at work. A team might agree, for example, that “we’ll share leadership and work collaboratively.” But suppose that one member has an unconscious goal of being in charge, and another member holds unconscious stereotypes that lead him or her to doubt the capabilities of certain teammates. Both might do things that seem to violate the group’s verbal contract while believing that they are just trying to help move things along. They may be puzzled and feel misunderstood if anyone questions their actions.
How can a group cope with interpersonal con”ict? The Model I manager typically relies on two strategies: “pour oil on troubled waters” and “might makes right.” As a result, things usually get worse instead of better. The oil-on-troubled-waters strategy views con”ict as something to avoid: minimize it, deny it exists, smooth it over, bury it, or circumvent it. Suppose, for example, that Tony in our hypothetical group says that the group needs a leader, and Karen counters that a leader would sel!shly dominate the group. Teresa, dreading con”ict, might try to bypass it by saying, “I think we’re all basically saying the same thing” or “We can talk about leadership later; right now, why don’t we !nd out a little more about each other?”
Smoothing tactics may work if the issue is temporary or peripheral. In such cases, con”ict may disappear on its own, much to everyone’s relief. But con”ict suppressed early in a group’s life tends to resurface later—again and again. If smoothing tactics fail and con”ict persists, another option is might-makes-right. If Tony senses con”ict between Karen and himself, he may employ Model I thinking: Because we disagree, and I am right, she is the problem; I need to get her to shape up. Tony may try any of several strategies to change Karen. He may try to convince her he’s right. He may push others in the group to side with him and put pressure on Karen. He may subtly, or not so subtly, criticize or attack her. If Karen thinks she is right and Tony is the problem, the two are headed for a collision that may be painful for everyone.
If Model I is a costly approach to con”ict, what else might a group do? Here are some guidelines that often prove helpful.
Develop skills. More organizations are recognizing that group effectiveness depends on members’ ability to understand what is happening and contribute effectively. Skills like listening, communicating, managing con”ict, and building consensus are critical building blocks in a high-performing group.
Agree on the basics. Groups too often plunge ahead without taking the time to agree on goals and procedures. Down the road, people continue to stumble over unresolved issues.
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Shared understanding and commitment around the basics are a powerful glue to hold things together in the face of the inevitable stress of group life.
Express con”ict productively. Weingart et al. (2015) argue that how con”ict is expressed makes a big difference in whether it turns productive or destructive. They focus on two dimensions of con”ict expression. One is directness. “I think your statement is wrong” is direct. “Maybe,” is indirect. The other dimension is “intensity of opposition” (Weingart et al., 2015, p. 235). Intensity is high when people become entrenched and start attacking each other. An example: “No way you can change my mind, because your idea is stupid.” Low intensity of opposition is expressed through indications of interest in dialogue and willingness to be in”uenced. For example: “We disagree, but I’d like to understand your thinking better.” Weingart et al. suggest that groups handle con”ict best when they express it directly but minimize oppositional intensity. In other words, they are tough and direct on substance but gentle on one another.
Search for common interests.How does a group reach agreement if it starts out divided? It helps to keep asking, “What do we have in common? If we disagree on the issue at hand, how can we put it in a more inclusive framework where we can all agree?” If Tony and Karen clash on the need for a leader, where do they agree? Perhaps both want to do the task well. Recognizing commonalities makes it easier to confront differences. It also helps to remember that common ground is often rooted in complementary differences (Lax and Sebenius, 1986). Karen’s desire to be visible is compatible with Bob’s preference to be in the background. Conversely, similarity (as when Karen and Tony both want to lead) is often a source of con”ict.
Experiment. If Tony is sure the group needs a leader (namely, him) and Karen is equally convinced it does not, the group could bog down in endless debate. Susan, the group’s social specialist, might propose an experiment: Because Karen sees it one way and Tony sees it another, could we try one meeting with a leader and one without to see what happens? Experiments can be a powerful response to con”ict. They offer a way to move beyond stalemate without forcing either party to lose face or admit defeat. Parties may agree on a test even if they can’t agree on anything else. Equally important, theymay learn something that moves the conversation to a more productive plane.
Doubt your infallibility. This was the advice that Benjamin Franklin offered his fellow delegates to the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787: “Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consid- eration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to