Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Individual's concerns represented as group concerns

Occasionally within a group, a few individuals may have a concern. Rather than say "this is my concern," the person will represent it as a group concern: "Our group feels slighted by what you did" or "The group doesn't think so." By the way, I'm talking about concerns that are shared by a few. I'm not referring to concerns that statistically do represent the group.

The problem here is that the group is referred to in monolithic terms. That is, generalizations are asserted in a way to create the impression that this statement is true for most if not all members of the group. What is really happening is that the speaker holds a minority view but holds it intensely. I believe that there is not an easy way to present one's valid and intense feelings about something and the way to get things heard is to assert incorrectly that the entire group feels this way.

The trap for the leader or the change agent is to accept this as a group issue and continue to address the group. The feelings and reactions are valid and should not be ignored just because they belong to one or two people. But, the right approach is to talk to the individuals one on one.

The trap is especially prevalent in places that put people in groups without clear boundaries. We don't really practice the discipline of teams yet we put groups together that Katzenbach would call a "compromise unit." These are the worst kinds of groups - they are a pseudo-team. They lack the leadership of a single-leader unit and they pretend to be a team when they don't practice the disciplines required of a team. Fundamentally, this is the real source of the problem described above.

Folks wouldn't mask their individual concerns as group concerns if they were clear on the boundaries and processes associated with the work unit they belong to.

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