Monday, December 9, 2013

Doer Archetyes that Disturb the Force

Permeating all of the Star Wars movies is the concept of "the Force": a binding, metaphysical energy that is everywhere, but which some are more sensitive to than others. In particular, it is a phenomenon that Jedi Knights—such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker—aspire to grok, attune with, and harness.

Though not quite in the same IMAX way as George Lucas, I try to teach facilitators to be sensitive to the energy in group dynamics and to trust their intuition (in addition to tracking whatever the little jimmy dickens people are actually saying) with the understanding that there is much more going on in meetings than sequencing an agenda, exchanging ideas, and solving problems.

That said, one of the things that most groups encounter, sooner or later, are people who act as if the Force doesn't exist (at least not beyond the force of their will) and I want to explore the dynamics around that phenonenon.

One of the hallmarks of cooperative groups is that they pay as much attention to how a thing gets done as what gets done. Thus, process agreements (explicit norms about how things should flow) tend to be a big deal in cooperative groups (and individual initiative to just go out and "get 'er done" is less celebrated).

I want to approach this from the perspective of two archetypes that are especially vexing to the Cooperative Force: the Tragic Dynamic Veteran and the Cynical Lone Wolf, both of which should be familiar to observers of group dynamics. First, I'll start with a compendium of qualities that these types tend to hold in common. 

o  Are hard workers.
o  Are willing to push for what they believe is needed, even if their position is unpopular.
o  Are not particularly looking for the limelight; yet expect quiet recognition and acceptance for their (considerable) contributions to the group's welfare.o  Have martyr tendencies, where they expect some relief from scrutiny (or slack around process) by virtue of their yeoman service to the group.
o  Will suffer in silence (rather than gnash their teeth in public), even though it's not hard to tell when they're pissed.
o  Tend to be critical of people with a high need for emotional support, unless it's accompanied by high productivity. Similarly, they're skeptical of devoting a significant chunk of plenary time to focusing on feelings unless it can be clearly shown that this leads to action. ("If we redirected just half the time now being taken by meetings to simply doing the work, there wouldn't be so damn much to talk about.")
Archetype I: The Tragic Dynamic Veteran

Their Profile
Frustrated by non-performance. While they'd prefer to be part of a team, they don't want to be held up by slackers. Process is fine, but when push comes to shove, it's more important to get the work done than to hold the hands of people missing deadlines or wracked by doubt.

Often easier to do something themselves than wait for someone less able to get around to it. While this doesn't build capacity, it solves the immediate problem and doesn't slow them down. They accept many claims on their time and it can be excruciating asking them to accommodate the confused, the slow thinking, and the less competent.

—High-functioning, which package probably includes many or all of the following traits: a) multiple skills useful to the group; b) the ability to work quickly; c) the ability to produce quality work consistently; and d) an understanding of work details, the best way to sequence things, and the big picture.

—While process savvy, there is a tendency to be impatient with bureaucracy when it's perceived to be in their way (or irrelevant).

—Long to have their ideas listened to as closely as they listen to the contributions of others.

—Tend to get sullen when upset (because they've learned that the group doesn't do well with their anger)

—For the good of the group will put their thumb in the dike to tackle work the group wants done but which no one else will tackle. If this is work that they don't enjoy or don't think is necessary, it can lead to resentment when that effort is not appreciated or broadly supported.

—By definition, leaders have more power (the ability to influence others) than others. As such, they are often the target of those who are suspicious of power being unevenly distributed.
—Socially adept and readily available to help others at need, though not particularly open about their own needs, or asking for help. Given how much the group may depend on the contributions of dynamic leaders, the expression of their personal needs can be labeled emotional blackmail. 

Here's how it works: 
A) The group is dependent on its leaders to get things done.
B) The group functions better and feels more cohesive if members share from the heart what's going on with them.
C) Emotional needs tend to be translated into demands.
D) The leader responds to the request that they be more human and vulnerable in the group (per point B), yet in the presence of that sharing there's push back from the group about the leader pressuring the group to meet their needs (per point C) with the implied threat that they'll withdraw their energy if their needs aren't satisfied (invoking Point A).
Thus, while leaders may think they're only doing B, it may appear to others that it's a power play. Yuck.

How this type benefits the group. They can find people who can meet them in some respects (big picture thinking, stamina, dynamism in front of the group, pace), providing peers and the possibility of handing off significant aspects of their workload to others. They don't mind sharing the credit or control if the work is being done well. The group can be a base of operation or platform for their work in the world.
How the group benefits from this type. The group often relies on their dynamism and vision, even when there is baseline discomfort about how much power they have. A good leader can help develop the leadership capacity in others, both through modeling and direct mentoring.

How to connect. I think the points of leverage are: a) being diligent about leaders sharing from the heart as much as others; b) seeing to it that leaders have peer support (just like anyone else); and c) holding leaders accountable when they color outside the process lines. Hint: Leaders tend to operate on accelerated time, which means it's important that any of these options be acted upon as promptly as possible, to interrupt the leader's tendency to feel isolated and poorly understood.

Archetype II: The Cynical Lone Wolf

Their Profile
—Surly; uncommunicative; doesn't respond to emails or notes; isn't responsive to feedback or evaluations.

—Socially awkward; not well connected in the group.

—Rarely attends meetings & doesn't speak much.

—May ignore greetings.

Tendency to leak sarcasm.

—They are a person of actions; not words.

—They possess cowboy energy; acting impulsively on their own, rather than seeking permission and group support.
—Life experience has taught them that talking doesn't get things done.

—Being emotionally vulnerable risks getting hurt; it's safer being armored.

How this type benefits the group. Their work ethic is an inspiration to others. You never have too many members who ask little and deliver a lot. Their areas of commitment tend to be handled promptly and competently.

How this type benefits from being in the group. They basically align with the group values, and benefit from the shared work (living in a group, the loner needn't do everything themselves). They accept group decisions about what needs to happen and what resources are available to accomplish things; yet they opt out socially. (Since they don't value group process, they don't see its violation as that big a deal.)

How to connect. I think the best chance with this type is offering something that makes sense in their value system. Probably that means selling them on how clear communication and clear energy leads to better efficiency and productivity. While they may be skeptical, they will probably accept hard evidence (the proof is in the doing). Hint: Someone approaching this type is not likely to gain any traction unless that person has a decent reputation for getting things done.

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