It’s remarkable that so many groups and teams actually manage to get work done and even more remarkable that they are able to work well together. (Think of boards for health services, schools, councils, business, project groups and teams; there are groups working together everywhere.)

Why? Individuals are pulled together each with their own personalities, values, beliefs, needs, perspectives, fears and potential agendas. Examples: some hate groups, others are afraid they won’t be heard, others have learnt to dominate to get what they want.

Evidence shows that the more diverse the individuals, the better the end result. Yet that very diversity makes it harder for the human beings in the group to work together! What a dichotomy!

Consider the iceberg analogy:

Above the water is the work (task) to be achieved. Below is all the human ‘stuff’ mentioned above.

Most often the facilitator/ lead focuses purely on the TASK (the desired outcome) – above the waterline, rather than managing upfront and throughout, what lies below the waterline – THE INDIVIDUALS AND GROUP

Then you wonder why the experience can feel like trying to walk through quicksand!

There are many ways to manage the ‘below the waterline’ ‘stuff’.

  • Identify, name and acknowledge diversity (personality, needs). Use a personality assessment tool if useful and appropriate. This can enable everyone to see the difference transparently, acknowledge BOTH strengths and limitations, and recognise that very difference is healthy and useful.
  • Discuss and agree acceptable behaviours, communication processes and structures. This ensures foundations are in place as challenging discussions arise and maintains the integrity and respect of the group for each other.
  • Ensure clarity of purpose, goals, roles and responsibilities and consider what each individual wants, their concerns and agendas (and what they are realistically able to get) within the team or group.

How this is done should be appropriate to the group e.g. pre-meeting documentation covering off the task information (project timelines, goals etc) but also including an agreement on what is needed from everyone to achieve the outcome; a discussion at meeting 1 around both aspects.

However you do this, make sure it is discussed, socialised and agreements set. Then revisit and flag them as necessary.

If you treat everyone respectfully, as adults and load the group up to succeed rather than catch them failing, this works.

And lastly, ensure that the leader of group discussions/ meetings has sound facilitation techniques and training in managing tough conversations and conflict, and decision making. Alternatively, when emotions are high, strong personalities involved or diverse unclear agendas, get in an external facilitator.

Look out for Part 2 Managing conflict, heated debates and strong personalities in groups and teams!