Years ago I heard the adage that even a broken clock is right twice a day. And while that adage is technically true, we certainly want to be more successful than a broken clock when working with people. Like cogs in a clock, there are a lot of moving parts when working in groups. Think of the last meeting you were in. What went well? What flopped? Did you achieve what you were hoping for in that last gathering of professionals?
I was recently in a meeting that seemed to be circling the drain. We had just discovered a fatal flaw in our new project rollout and we were attempting to mitigate and eliminate that flaw. But as the meeting progressed (or regressed) I couldn’t help but sit back and take note of some really interesting phenomena in the group dynamics. We were dealing with different ideas, life experience, levels of trust, communication styles, and a whole lot more. I concluded that working with people is challenging and that if we only ever did what I said and desired, projects would get done a lot faster, with a lot less acetaminophen, and probably with a lot more fatal flaws.
There are a multitude of reasons that it is important to work with other people to get things done. I don’t think many professionals would dispute that fact. But for the purposes of this article we will start with that assumption, working with people is hard, but necessary. So, with this assumption in mind lets also realize another important point, that while working with people we need to understand a few fundamentals so that we can work with people better even if it remains hard to do.
There are five fundamental characteristics we need to be aware of when working with people. They are:
- Principles. A principle can be defined as a universal truth we can all agree on. These shared truths operate as the why behind any motivation to accomplish a shared task. We need to start with clearly stating and repeating the “why” whenever we set out to accomplish something with other people.
- Parameters. A parameter is a guideline or boundary we need to work within. We need to clearly and consistently inform people of the constraints we have to work within to achieve success on the desired goal. Budgets are an example of a parameter a group needs to stay within.
- Personalities. We need to readily acknowledge that when working with anyone other than ourselves there are different personalities in the mix and those personalities may not always play nice in the sandbox. “He rubs me the wrong way!” is an example statement of how personalities can get in the way of progress.
- Paradigms. We need to appreciate that because of divergent life experience we all come to the table with different worldviews which can enhance the collaborative experience when embraced or detract from it when undermined and dismissed. A strong opinion is a manifestation of a person’s developed paradigm or worldview.
- Preferences. Because we are influenced by nature and nurture, culture and community, we need to recognize we have developed a set of preferences we may personally find very important, but that others may disagree with. Keeping our own preferences in check, rather than subconsciously assuming our preferences are principles, will go along way when working with other people.
Each of these “Five P’s” are important when considering group dynamics. The graphic below attempts to illustrate that each of the “P’s” compound the complexity of any individual we work with.
Like cogs in a clock that must work well together for the clock to be right more than twice a day, the recipe for success when working in groups is to teach principles, provide parameters, acknowledge personalities, appreciate paradigms, and check preferences. When we do so we can appreciate each person’s own uniqueness, and we can work more collaboratively to accomplish a shared goal.