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Solving Small Group Dysfunctions Prevents Big Ones

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

What do you know about group dynamics? Anyone who has ever worked in a group knows that dysfunctions and negative patterns develop easily. Why waste time sweating the small stuff? We have more important things to work on than who stole my lunch from the fridge. As it turns out, letting the small stuff slide lets the big problems emerge, because the small stuff is exactly the same as the big stuff, it’s just…well…bigger.

A Single DNA strand encodes the information for the entire organism it comes from. It’s a microcosm of the whole being. I see group situations in the same way. Each situation has encoded the assumptions and dynamics of the group. You can solve group dysfunction by working through a single situation. But you won’t because it would take a long time and new situations will keep popping up. The key point is that you can pick any situation as a starting point to address because all roads lead to the same issues and patterns.

Every time you let something go, even small stuff, your container springs a leak. Using the example of someone stealing a lunch out of the fridge. Letting that go unaddressed sends a signal to the stealer that it’s ok to take what’s not yours. And it also, and perhaps more dangerously, sends a message to the rest of the team that they are not safe, and that they don’t need to respect their teammates. It’s not about the sandwich, it’s about maintaining trust. Tomorrow when I’m thirsty and there’s a coke in the fridge why shouldn’t I just take it? And then what about when I need some images for my presentation? Why bother paying a license fee. And just like that, we have a team where ethics are optional.

Brain Twist: Next time a small situation pops up on your team, call it out. Be non-judgemental, seek to understand always, but also be clear that a norm was violated. Be ready to be accused of being petty. Make a distinction between the issue itself and the norms that are at risk. Encourage the team to be clear on the norms and enforcing the boundaries.

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