Once upon a functional group
What we do in our program Ain Shams Middle East North Africa FAIMER Regional Institute is put all challenges together in a confined place and literally DEAL with them. This self-torment is not just a bet that we can make things happen but also an educational experience for us along the side. These few lines are in honor of one of our teams that worked together to create and deliver a two-week distant course on “Conflict management in a workplace.”
In textbooks, team dynamics are described, staged, and distinctions between words such as “norming,” “forming,” etc are clarified. However, in real life, a highly functional group can be described by virtues and dynamics that are guided by acceptance and consensus. The “conflict team” is the perfect representation of functional dynamics.
Over a reflective phone call, after a very successful ML Web session, the team came together with the advisors and for the very first time, they were ALL there…no apologies, no priorities, no beepers going off, and no late-comers. It was as if a secret invitation was sent out to come to celebrate what they had achieved. In a celebratory atmosphere, reflection on four-months of planning and two-weeks of delivery gave everyone insight on what effective communication for better team dynamics should be like.
“Diversity is an asset if you choose to see it that way…”
This group was one of the most hybrid groups available where males and females were approximately equal in number. There was a great diversity in age, speciality, and origin. The team saw this and at first, it was scary for people who struggled with language and cultural barriers, yet, not for a minute treated this, like a challenge. From early on in the group forming phase, they decided on it as an existing asset. They managed to view strength in it. By the end of the work, they had managed to showcase views and perspectives of each and every one of them in an open project.
“Respect is not a target it is a methodology especially if you believe in it.”
Respect was one of the factors that glued people together despite expressed and unexpressed differences. Dynamics in this group were different and were built on different lines of power and intentional power shifts that were created basically by the more experienced people of the group. Appreciation and support across power lines did the trick. Appreciation rewards all abandoned rights. “I do not think I ever expect appreciation in anything I do,” was a reflection from Randa Reda one of the big heads in the group, “but this time it was in a different context and meant a lot to me.”
“Acceptance cannot be assessed it is a true personal dynamic that is practiced only when people feel safe in an environment.”
Acceptance is such a strong word if practiced properly. Acceptance is not a statement of the tongue nor is it simply the capacity to perform with someone. Acceptance is the true, deep understanding that we, as people are different. This group treated acceptance with true openness and trust. The perceived practice that led to this, in our perspective, is the culture of openness in an expression of feelings toward matters that did not find complete compliance from the whole team. There were times of frustration that you could feel in the air when people’s paces did not exactly match. How would they when we had almost the whole spectrum of personality trait combinations in the group? We had ESFJ, ISTP, INFJ, ENTJ, INTP and ISTJ MBTI personalities all in one group.
These incidences were met by the team in a quiet relaxed fashion where stress was never a part of the interaction. This was basically achieved through communication that happened before the actual implementation phase and a peer evaluation confidential report that each of them received right before the implementation started. “The peer feedback report acted like a Wake-up-call” as per Khadiga Turkistani and “it was an opportunity to reflect on how you are perceived by others”. Positive feedback was met by an “insight and a revelation,” as per Haitham Aljabbur who found himself working in elements that were not in his nature based on what he received in peer feedback. At times the atmosphere seemed unrelaxed and some of the big brains in the group were stressing over deliverables. What helped them through this was a true acceptance of everyone for the “needs improvement” section in the feedback. Perceivers knew that they were dragging and they understood when Judgers in the group were stressing over timelines. Ayman Afify being the one with the biggest scientific background in medical education was always the last to speak in meetings and he never once offered perspective until he was asked for it. His frustration at times with the scientific content was harnessed when he gave himself permission to live the whole experience and let go of his perfectionism to allow for the true dynamics in the group to actually come forward.
“Modesty when felt, rather than spoken, can be a complete game changer.”
For a while, it seemed that the group would struggle with ego but that never happened. Ego was never a part of any interaction on any scale. The sense of unity and oneness sold everyone a sense of responsibility toward the team and when that happened people were forced to face a self-evaluation everyday and for some reason, their self-evaluation was always harsh and guilt was always dominant. This is an add-on to the general peer appreciation stage that they reached. In an attempt not to let the team down, they took the extra mile. This is not a factor of being target oriented but rather a direct result from faith in the group, its vision and capacity to excel. This is also a reflection of every member’s role and importance to the team.
“Understanding is the first step toward acceptance.”
Another beautiful aspect that happened during this ML Web was an unspoken consensus on the expertise and specialization of everyone in the group. Regardless of age, academic rank or nationality, each one in the group was designated an expert in something without actually speaking it out. The beauty of this is that on a psychological level each fellow embraced their designation and acted upon it. To get people to this stage many inferences were made as regards their capacities in specific areas. Randa Moustafa found her creative side useful when she decided to write up the scenario of a situation video that they planned together. From that moment on, she embraced the name “Waheed Hamed” a famous script-writer. It became a custom to call her that and she embraced it with grace. Whenever she would get disengaged or distracted, she was summoned using this name by her team-mates who acted as though intentionally reminding her of her highly needed core skills.
“Language is a skill we leave untrained and everyday the group trained their appreciative vocabulary.”
In the everyday conversations of this group, there was a language of support and respect. There were encouragement words used on daily interaction that became part of the group culture and were ping-ponged across group individuals in an infectious way. The group celebrated each other’s’ products readily and in an outstanding commitment that exceeded their commitment to deliverables. Some people would miss discussions on course-based decisions sometimes but never did they miss celebrating a video created by a member or a voice note developed by one of them or an idea suggestion by any of them. It was as if they were in a mission to create therapy and a therapeutic environment. Sometimes feedback was needed for improvement. This never stopped the group celebrations and feedback to improve was done on one-on-one basis alongside the celebratory environment.
“Group dynamo and driving energy… A young acceptable and appealing leader.”
This group of people in extreme diversity of ways of life totally embraced and accepted the youngest in the group; Ahmed Sarhan. Ahmed was given the lead from behind role and was empowered to give and develop and use his energy and experience to push the group forward. On the reflection call, everyone nurtured Ahmed and his capacities but the truth is that the group environment was really the hero. Ahmed had an “N” personality with a big analytical vision that he utilized to lay perspective on the group. He took the lead to perform and then gain consensus for a new plan of action. At some point, he understood that discussions on distant calls were not the best option to paint pictures of vivid visions that he wanted to convey and that there was a barrier within the group in terms of communication. He decided to “show them” rather than “talk them through it”. Having taken this initiative, it could have generated resistance, but he had a follow-up plan. Ahmed opened the doors and put out an invitation for anyone who wants to participate and ended up getting consensus from everyone that they needed to be a part of the initiative. Not because they had to but because they saw the value that came with their involvement. This young “lead from behind” person transformed the group language to a lighter comic dialogue where laughs were the expectancy and to a language where the hierarchy was also very well established. When Ahmed thought he was in the driver’s seat… everyone else loved to take the passenger role happily without the fear of giving up control partially because his calm non-threatening nature was an open invitation for people to let go and focus on helping him exist. This selfless interaction helped the whole team exist.
The ASUMENAFRI conflict management team of the 2019 batch gave us all a lesson in group dynamics. If they were to speak, they would say it all…
In order for you as a group to ace it take-care:
- Give everyone a voice.
- Accept everyone as they are …do not try to change people.
- Appreciate everyone’s effort and see everyone’s potential.
- Speak a language of kindness and set group norms and values in all your discussions.
- Name each other’s skills and stress on them until you feel they have embraced them.
- Give positive feedback in public and keep tips for improvement on the sidelines.
- Understand who you are and who your group are and embrace that.
- Allow innovation and let go of ego.
- Make sure the group environment feels safe to make mistakes and be yourself.
- Communicate openly and if communication is not easy to find alternatives to get people on board.
- The faster you accept diversity the more readily will your integration into the group.
- Give peer feedback and take results of peer feedback seriously… make them an opportunity for reflection.
- When you have delivered as a group… remember to celebrate, reflect together, and highlight the learning that happened.