People are social creatures. Taken from the pyramid of (((Maslow))) () we find that belonging and esteem are our third and fourth level of need. The bottom two levels are reptile-brain needs. They originate from our brainstem and are concerned with base survival. The top level of self-actualization originates from our cerebral cortex and represents our fully-aware, conscious human need of individuation and self-improvement. Both are fundamentally lonesome and are of no concern to us right now.
Right now we care about the middle two social levels. They are mammal or primal and originate from our larger lobes. While these needs are not as base and unconscious as our physical needs, they are also not as conscious as our human needs. And that means that a lot of what we do socially, we just do, without giving it too much thought.
This makes group dynamics absolutely fascinating. If you choose to be aware of them, they are probably the most entertaining thing you could observe. Of course, because we are usually in the middle of it, and not entirely conscious of it, there is only so much we can see. There is no stepping out of the machine. But, as mentioned in the previous article, we are working with a model. There are no good models, only useful ones.
What is a group?
A group is a collection of people who have some form of social ties. They are distinct from not-groups in that you could probably give it a kind of name and have other people understand what you’re talking about. Teams are a special kind of groups that have specific goals and tasks that gives them momentum, but they are still groups and come with many of the same dynamics.
Every group membership comes at a price. You may not realize it, but it’s there. You are paying an actual or social cost to be there and partake. Whether it is being the subject of a joke, a fee or a potluck meal, every group comes with an explicit or implicit cost. Even this one. Did you do your homework and clean your room?
This doesn’t mean groups are bad. Far from it; we badly need to be part of groups. It is a need more important to us than self-actualization. This is one of the reasons why the FDR group is so volatile: it is filled with people who try to self-actualize before they belong.
It can be hard to join a group. Especially if the group has already been going for a while. Take this very group for example. In only a couple of months a host of content has been published. We members have had all that time to consume it, incorporate it into ourselves and allow ourselves to be changed by it. Newcomers don’t have that luxury. The same applies to you, when you are the newcomer in another group.
Don’t be that person that expects the group to be welcoming to you. Pay the price of joining. Groups that are too welcoming to newcomers are not healthy, they’re desperate. They are not in a good place. Allowing newcomers at significantly reduced rates creates resentment and is destructive for the long term health of the group. This goes as much for us as it does for taxi driver unions and entire nations. Group dynamics are universal and apply to each and every group.
You have to correctly answer these four questions if you want to join a group and pay the entry fee:
- Who are you?
- What is your place in the group?
- What are you looking to achieve?
- Do you understand how we do things here?
So, a correct approach tends to be:
Hi, I am new here. I know you guys are doing this for some time already, and I just barged in here a minute ago, but I have a good feeling about this. I really hope to learn and have a good time. However, I’ve done this thing before so if there is anything I can do to help I would absolutely love to.
I am no one. I am at the bottom. I want to go up in the ranks, but I understand this goes slowly.
You join humble, you pay the price, you receive the group value, you give back and slowly grow to the place you deserve.
To form a group someone needs to take a leadership position and stimulate cohesion of sufficient members that the group becomes self sustaining. Groups are usually formed one person at a time around a shared nucleus. Like a perl forming layer upon layer within an oyster. Often that is an organic process, however we can also intentionally form groups around something that we find compelling.
In an oyster the pearl is formed around an irritant. Groups can be formed around or as a solution to a shared pain. For example, a weight loss group group might be formed around the mutually shared challenges of regulating members weight.
Groups can also be formed around mutually shared interests. Sports fan associations, philosophy discussion groups, etc. form around a shared interest in something. These groups will remain stable as long as their shared interests are stronger than their differences.
Shared values are perhaps the strongest basis for forming a group. Groups formed in this way can last for thousands of years. Religions are an excellent example of this and so are schools of philosophy and even entire cultures.
Situational groups for when people are thrust into a situation (or crisis) and must ally out of necessity. Most families are like this, and neighbourhoods and even nations can be formed this way. Unless they share other important similarities these groups will break up as soon as the situation or crisis is over.
Some groups are formed around a person. They make friends and act as a sort of hub to the group. Such groups tend to disintegrate if the core person in the group leaves. It can be easy to form such groups if you have a dominant personality, however it's not stable.
A team is a small group that does not change for some time. In fact, teams are what is called “immutable”. Teams don’t change; they form and break-up. This means it’s impossible to join a team. The difference between a team and a group is that a team is formed to tackle a specific goal. That makes us a little bit more a team than a group, because we have the specific goal of becoming the best men and women we can possibly be. Though, on the other hand, we are probably too large to be considered a team. Our packs certainly are teams.
Every team goes through the same four stages:
It takes some time to get a basic understanding of each other. When a part of the team is still new we tend to be extra nice and gentle. The first couple of days everything is just so pleasant. This effect can last for a bit, but it will most definitely end.
Invariably people will start to bump up against each other and find the other member’s limits. These limits will be crossed and some infighting can occur, especially when the members are not very adult individually. But when correct boundaries are established the team can start to work from a small controlled baseline and gradually improve from there.
During the norming phase this baseline is slowly moved upwards. Slowly but steadily, through the use of one or two experiments at a time, the team grows up. There is less “heroism” and more expected outcome. The team matures and members start to get comfortable.
And while there are always gains to make, by this point the team is performing.
You and your romantic partner are a team
A very special kind of team, but a team nonetheless. This comes with a very interesting perk. Besides working for what is best for yourself and your partner, you work for what is best for the team. If both you and your partner understand yourselves and your team balance, strengths, and pitfalls then it becomes easier to thrive.
The thing about groups and teams
Unless every member in the team has a strong sense of belonging to other groups, the group will strive to secure its continuation. Be aware of the threat you represent when you join.
Don’t go to the gym and try to get everyone to do Starting Strength, for example. No matter what it does for you or how enthusiastic you are. Unless the group is overtly and truly interested in becoming strong, there is no way for you to successfully join a group and subvert its methodology. Not just its intentions. You cannot join a group and change its course unless you are a significant member of the group and still then it may very well be impossible. Do not beat yourself up trying to change the group. Join the right group. Form the right group.
It is essential to belong to a group. It’s a need, and a more basic one than self-actualization. You don’t have to belong to just one group; you can belong to many. In fact, when you belong to several groups it’s easier for you to maintain a healthy distance between yourself and the groups you are a part of. Understanding group dynamics helps us to join groups and grow as a member.
Next time we will look at our place in the group, our esteem, and how we can understand what happens when we engage. We’ll use several models to determine our own and the group’s balance, what that means for group momentum. Finally we’ll see how we can use these models and the personal models we discussed previously to cement our presence and become happy and productive members of any group we choose to.