Sunday, March 12, 2017

Teamwork: The Blessings and Challenges

As professionals, members of families and communities we frequently engage in activities that require group dynamics. Whether you are coming together to raise funds for a new playground or church or to put on a production or event, you are working with individuals with their own experiences and backgrounds. Those experiences invariably shape their thinking, feelings and actions and can have an impact on the group as a whole. Their experiences may spur the group onward reaching for more and encouraging members to strive for results. Their experiences may be grounded in doubt and therefore detract the group from taking risks. Their experiences may be more pragmatic and result in taking very measured steps to the end. Whatever their background, their experiences will add a distinct flavor to the group dynamic, for better or worse.

Because we really have no way of knowing what the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of our group's members are, I have been thinking about how crucial it is for us be be mindful of our intellectual and emotional health when tasked with group activities. I arrived here because, I know the blessings and challenges that come from group work. Moreover, I am struck by how often, I know I don't always consider these same challenges and blessings when I am working to help my students learn to work in a group.

The question then becomes, "how do we remain positive, motivated and encouraged" and "how do we impart these strategies to the students we work with?" First of all, there will be times in most of our lives when we are part of a group that has a common goal. This group may be professionally based, community based, church based or even family based. What has recently occurred to me, is that because you share a common goal, you may believe you have a common vision. That may not be the case. Goals and visions aren't necessarily one and the same. Merriam-Webster defines a goal as "the end toward which effort is directed" and vision as "a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination." Personally, I think this is where I run aground; goal versus vision! This distinction is huge and has the potential to prevent much discord. When working in a group or when helping our older students learn HOW to work in a group, it may be important to clarify the difference between a goal and a vision and encourage the group to refine their collective notion of each. When, as a group, your goals and visions are aligned, it becomes easier to recognize where problems are seated.

Second point; remember when working in a group, you are in fact part of a group. That means that the group is the driving change and decision making body. So while you may have grand ideas and visions, if they aren't shared, they most likely won't be accepted. That can be very discouraging. It is in those moments that often we are faced with making a decision about whether we have a good fit with the group. I am not suggesting giving up. I am suggesting either yielding to the majority or perhaps finding/forming a group that is more in line with your goals and visions. In some groups, the discomfort associated with change is more than the discomfort associated with stagnation. Those groups might not change and if that is what the group wants, then that should be what the group gets. Find your group!

Third point: you may feel like an island, believing you are the only one with a vision of growth and success. That may not be so. As a wise friend said to me once, "As long as there is at least one other person in the trenches with you; that's the mover and shaker you need. Two can turn into four, and four can turn into eight, and so on." The takeaway here is, find an ally. I don't mean someone to collude with. I mean someone who complements your vision and can help you express it effectively.

Working in groups is one of the most wonderfully difficult, challenging blessings we can engage in. It is a life skill that if not learned, can result in family, school or employment struggles. Group dynamics bring about dichotomous relationships; the discouragement of roadblocks with the elation of success; the sadness of isolation with the joy of unity; frustration of negativity with the thrill of positivity. In life, there is value in experiencing and learning to cope with all.

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