Why Do We Group?

Author and organization development consultant Geoff (The Consultant's Calling) Bellman is wondering, Why do people group?

I was at a conference yesterday (the 10th annual New Jersey Organization Development Sharing Day) where Bellman was a keynote speaker.

He asked us to think about a time when we were part of a group that accomplished something that we recall favorably. It could be a work group or a non-work group such as a family, or a ball team, or a rock band. Further, he asked us to distill from that memory, some of the factors that contributed to that successful group outcome. He then asked us to share those factors as three bullet points.

Mine were:

- Trust
- Collaboration
- Risk taking

Others said things like:

- Shared vision
- Team work
- Leadership
- Good communication
- Ability to resolve conflict

He then challenged our thinking, to peel the onion back further than we ever tend to go, to try and delve deeper into why we as humans form into groups, why we work together, and what it all means to us.

Bellman (who is writing a book on this topic) suspects that there is some primitive urge that is hardwired in us as a species: that grouping is a hallmark of what it means to be human. In other words, grouping is natural. It's in a group (first the family, and later other groups) that we discover meaning.

Organizations, on the other hand, may not be natural at all for most humans, Bellman suggests. Though organizations are comprised of many interacting groups, the most natural home for the individual person is in a small group.

Could this be one of the secrets to organizational excellence? Focus on building and sustaining successful work groups. Identify what is keeping the work group from reaching its potential. Then improve the conditions that promote work group success.

Hmmm...I think Bellman may be rediscovering what Organization Development was (and could still be) all about.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 2, 2008


Chris Morgan said…
I certainly recognise the 'thumpability' factor. I generally found that Public Sector clients (eg. government departments) really expected a thick report as a deliverable. However the tech' sector companies just wanted the summary!! Know your client...

Terrence Seamon said…
Good point, Chris!

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