Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Example of Poor Group Process

Here’s something I’ve observed that I think may be a common phenomenon within many groups of people working together.  It has to do with compatibility, honesty, and integrity.

Your group is open to anyone who wishes to join in your shared work.  There is no method by which individuals are vetted for membership.  They simply attend meetings.  Well, that’s mistake number one.  No filtering to avoid antagonists.

Due to this loose policy, enters Starflower, a sweet person with a lack of boundaries and a casual attitude towards commitment.  She may volunteer for all sorts of projects and jobs, yet it seems that as soon as she leaves a meeting, those commitments evaporate.  She cannot be counted on to do what she said she’d do.

Veteran group member Bubastis works hard at teaching and taking care of the group’s funds.  She collects the money paid for classes and events, and then pays the costs (hall rentals, etc.) and issues checks to each teacher.  She’s older and can at times be cranky, but she’s entirely standup.

Others in the group realize that Starflower is flakey.  On the back end, some are griping about her.  They don’t like her much, but, heck, this group is egalitarian and fair and open to anyone, so what are you gonna do?

However, standup Bubastis confronts Starflower about the fact that she doesn’t do what she says she’ll do.  Others appreciate this statement, but they don’t give any indication that they share Bubastis’ frustrations.  They keep quiet, stand aside, and let Bubastis do all the confronting.

Months elapse, meetings continue, all the while nearly everyone in the group disliking Starflower.  She displays her antagonism, but no one except Bubastis calls her on it.

At some point Starflower complains about the lateness of a reimbursement check from Bubastis.  Needless to say, every member of this group is a volunteer.  Bubastis has a life beyond this group, with other things that need her attention besides the group’s books.  She is timely about writing checks.  No one else has ever complained about her work.

So Bubastis confronts Starflower about her unreasonable demands and her chronic dropping of the ball.  Again, everyone else shares Bubastis’ exasperation, but in the face of this confrontation they remain mute.

This state of affairs continues, with Bubastis calling Starflower on her unreliability and the difficulty of working effectively with her.  Finally, one of those who is most annoyed with Starflower says, “You two obviously need mediation.”  So the group decides to send Bubastis and Starflower to a mediator.  They go, but nothing is resolved.  Why?  Because the problems with Starflower are not Bubastis’s problems.  The problem of Starflower is shared by the whole group.  They have merely scapegoated Bubastis in order to avoid confronting Starflower themselves.

So what happens?  Well, Bubastis throws up her hands and leaves the group.  She has not been supported.  She has been scapegoated.  And what else happens?  Starflower leaves.  Perhaps she discovered that she and the others weren’t as compatible as she’d imagined they would be.  Or perhaps she resented being sent to mediation with Bubastis.  Or perhaps her role as antagonist has now been fulfilled.  Who knows?  But whatever the reason(s), the group, in losing Bubastis, has now lost a valued member.  Not only that, but there has been unnecessary hurt inflicted upon Bubastis.  She became discouraged because she was not supported by those she’d been working with all this time.  She had proven her worth.  Evidently the rest of the group felt it was okay to sacrifice Bubastis to rid themselves of Starflower.

To me, this is a sad commentary on the health of this particular group.  Do you recognize this type of situation in your group?


Beth Owl's Daughter said...

Nailed it. This is almost exactly what happened to me in our group. And on rainy days, that amputation still hurts terribly.

Lady Charissa said...

I can't tell you how many times I've seen and experienced this same thing in groups. Even the ones that have a vetting process are not immune.

AlSweigart said...

This is the exact story of the Noisebridge hackerspace in San Francisco. The no-rules, no-authority, and mediation-can-solve-everything taught me that anarchism is the purest form of political conservatism.