Problem Solving and the 4 Stages of Community

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in ComLead, Organizational Leadership

Problem Solving and the 4 Stages of Community

Here’s my idea of a dream team:

  • We understand one another.
  • Our opinions are equally valuable.
  • We’re safe to create, take risks and call one another out.

We just click.

You can already imagine how this team works – focused, dedicated, caring and unstoppable. In a world where many teams feel stuck in neutral, what separates this dream team from the rest is a sense of community.

Without a sense of community in a team, we see unproductive conflict, team members marginalized, battles for power and spinning wheels. Often the greater organizations itself is stuck. Members don’t trust one another enough to take risks or delegate, so work is slow and creativity and innovation are stunted.

Does this organizational culture sound familiar?

Last week we explored the four natural stages a group takes to get to authentic community, as management consultant Eve Berry explained in her Community Building through Leadership training. Eve, who also teaches community building and conflict management in the Communication & Leadership Master’s program, brought her training to campus as part of ComLead’s Spring Events series.

Eve’s model for community building (click here for a refresher) provides a new framework for understanding the problems and solutions on our own teams.

Think Like a Community Architect

“We usually talk about problems in terms of people’s personalities,” Eve explained. We blame the problem person, the nagger, the visionary or the taskmaster for causing ineffectiveness and frustration. Instead, she says, “we should really look at it in terms of which stage of community they’re in.”

Understanding which stage a stuck team is in will help us understand the context for people’s actions. If a team is unproductive because people are afraid to challenge one another, maybe the problem isn’t a team full of people pleasers. Perhaps the real problem is that the team is stuck in pseudo-community. Rather than replacing teammates, a thoughtful leader might build an opportunity for productive conflict into the next team meeting.

Another common frustration in teams can be smaller coalitions of teammates that undermine the larger goal. Instead of blaming the ringleader of this coalition, we might see a chaotic and unsafe environment as the true cause of cliques.  With this definition, we’re likely to change the environment rather than blaming single person.

Using the organization’s developmental stage as a framework for understanding problems empowers everyone on the team. From this perspective, problems are a matter of environment, not people or personalities. Reframe the environment, and you give people a chance to change their attitude and behavior without casting blame.

Teams who have made it to genuine community maximize member’s time, intelligence and talents. Their meetings are productive, ideas innovative and efforts efficient. Eve agrees the process can be challenging.

How could building community challenge and change your team? Share in comments section below.

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