The perfect group? A dangerous fantasy?

The MindTools website is a useful source of all kinds of resources, articles and ideas. I’ve just read the latest e-newsletter on beating self-sabotage which has a great article on perfectionism in it. Read the article and then translate it from the business world to grassroots groups. Recognise any situations? Here’s a few of the characteristics of perfectionism the article lists which I see groups struggling with day-in and day-out:

  • You don’t like taking risks, because there is then no guarantee that you can do the task perfectly. You stick with safer tasks, because you know that you can achieve them.
  • You don’t enjoy the process of learning and working; you only care about the result…
  • You often exhibit all-or-nothing thinking: either something is perfect, or it’s a failure…
  • You don’t handle criticism and feedback well…
  • You may apply your own unrealistic standards to those around you, becoming critical when colleagues don’t meet those expectations. As a result, you may not have many close relationships at work.
  • You have a difficult time delegating tasks to others.

All of these are a recipe for dysfunction in a group, for alienating and driving away new members, for preventing groups achieving sustainability and resilience. Here’s an example:

For instance, imagine that you never delegate tasks to your assistant, even though this is why you hired him. You often stay late at work to finish tasks that he could have done. You don’t delegate tasks, because you believe he’ll do them incorrectly, and you’ll look bad.

Forget assistants and think instead of “the rest of the group” or “newcomers”… a very familiar problem in groups as this manifests itself in terms of control, unwelcome micromanagement, lack of genuine access to skills and responsibility, lack of support, and informal hierarchy.

The article goes on to talk about strategies for dealing with your own perfectionism and has more wise words many social action groups could learn from, such as:

Don’t Fear Mistakes

Mistakes are part of life. They can even provide rich learning experiences, if you have the courage to examine them. Your mistakes can teach you far more about life and your abilities than your successes will.

Make a real effort to learn from each mistake that you make. You’ll grow as a result.

So maybe the perfect social action group is not desirable after all? What we’re looking for is the group that’s imperfect, comfortable with its imperfection, and with good processes to grow, learn and share.

Quotes from the article with permission: © Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2012. All rights reserved.


Warm ups, comfort zones, and corporate raiders

In the process of planning yesterday’s Steiner school meeting I worked with the existing  core group and they in turn shared the plan with a couple of other folk involved in the meeting. One or two revisions came back to me. Nothing unusual there except that, if I’m honest, one of them frustrated me slightly. There was  request to cut out the 10 minute warm up altogether. The reason given? That icebreakers sounded too corporate and might leave people feeling uncomfortable.

For me the warm up was essential – this was a public meeting one aim of which was to leave people, many of whom would never have met each other before, feeling able to volunteer to get involved in an ambitious project. Rather than making people uncomfortable, my thinking was that some form of warming up was necessary to create enough comfort for later conversations to be meaningful, and for people to begin to get a sense of themselves as part of a community.

It was also a meeting about a model of education that has concepts such as creativity and learning through experience and movement at its heart. It seemed appropriate to draw on that within the meeting.

OK, so some of you are reading and simultaneously reflecting on icebreaker experiences that would have sent you running a mile feeling decidedly less comfortable than when you arrived. Of course there are some icebreakers , many icebreakers, out there that would make all but the most outgoing drama student cringe and look for excuses to leave. I could happily live without having to pretend to be an animal waking up in the jungle, making appropriate movements and sounds, ever again (if that’s your favourite icebreaker, my apologies, but please take a long hard look at it before using it with a group of strangers….).

My personal preference is for gentle activities that encourage people to have spoken to at least one other person before the time is up and to have begun to reflect on the purpose of the meeting. If they involve movement, so much the better – and by movement I usually mean some sort of sedate mingling not a round of It’s a Knockout. Of course some groups can tolerate, and want, more game-playing, more physical challenge. So be it.

To cut a warm up altogether, however tempting, is a false economy. To my mind it enhances the quality of all that follows. However, in this instance it’s exactly what we did. And it serves as a very useful reminder that when working with a new group, network, or client there’s a need to warm them up to what we do as a facilitators and to our personal style. These folk don’t know me well enough simply to take my word for it. They have their own experience of warm ups in one half of the scale and the word of a relative stranger in the other. So, note to self, more to be done to break the ice before and during the agenda planning stage!

As for warm ups as too corporate…. facilitation is facilitation, and if it works for activist groups it’s going to work for corporate teams too. Tailored to context, of course. Who did the first icebreaker, corporate team or community group? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, and it doesn’t matter. I regularly raid more ‘corporate’ facilitation toolboxes such as MindTools for ideas, take what works for the groups I’m working with and discard the rest.

“Decruitment”, far easier than recruitment

Here’s a quick signpost to Dwight Tower’s latest addition to the English language: Decruitment. His post Decruitment: sarcasm and social niceties is well worth a read for a few ‘how not to’ notes on welcoming people to groups….

It also brings to mind a fun activity a trainer friend of mine is fond of – the reverse ideastorm. Ask the group to ideastorm around creating the problem rather than solving it. So in this case ‘how do we decruit rather than recruit?’. Then work from there to solutions….

Decruitment: sarcasm and social niceties