"It is not enough to throw people together and expect them to work efficiently, even if the team has a clear, engaging goal and sufficient resources".
"Meaningful teamwork entails numerous real risks for individuals because of fear, anxiety and uncertainty about the exercise of influence and power. If these concerns are not addressed, the anxiety generated by the risks involved in team working become too great and cannot be contained through leadership actions or facilitating structures: individuals will moblize social defenses to protect themselves. These defenses, expressed through rituals, processes, or basic assumptions, displace, mitigate, or even neutralize anxiety, but also prevent real work from being done. The result is preocupation with dysfunctional processes and inhibiting structures that reinfirce vicious circles preserving the status quo."
Manfred Kets de Vries is a clinical professor of leadership development at INSEAD, where he is the founder of the Global Leadership Centre. In effect, his book, The Hedgehog Effect, explores the psychodynamic forces that cause teams to dysfunction, (see The Five Dysfunctions of Teams).
The book takes its title from Arthur Schopenhauer's use of the problems hedgehogs have in winter. They need the mutual warmth generated by being close to one another, but too close and it gets painful. Thus, too, humans; we all need some proximity, but too much gets uncomfortable. There is a constant tension between the forces of attraction and separation.
Kets de Vries basis his analysis of how teams function / dysfunction in the "clinical paradigm". The paradigm is a clinical lens that works on the basis that:
- Rationality is an illusion - people behave "irrationally" for a reason. Nothing is random; we need to understand our own and others' inner theatre.
- What we see isn't what we necessarily get - behaviour is driven by unconscious forces, and we need to understand unconscious patterns.
- The past is a lens through which we understand the present and shape the future - we are all the function of our past experiences. We repeat behaviour patterns, particularly the way our relationships with our parents and siblings have evolved.
- Nothing is more important than the way we handle our emotions.
- We all have blind spots - there are things we do not want to know about ourselves, and we erect defences to avoid dealing with them.
- Motivational need systems drive personality - the two (of five) motivational needs that directly affect workplace behaviour are the needs for (a) attachment or affiliation, and (b) exploration / assertion.
With the clinical paradigm in place, we can see start to understand the roles that individuals cast for themselves, and then see how that affects interpersonal relationships in a team. Equally, the clinical lens helps identify negative perceptions and avoidance strategies that can derail a team. So, we can see how individuals behave in groups. Kets de Vries outlines some of the dynamics at play in a group relationship:
- The style of attachment behaviour. Humans need affiliation or attachment; and the way in which it has evolved in a given person's upbringing will determine how they relate to team members. A secure child, given consistent and good care will likely develop a secure attachment style. By contrast, an inconsistent care-giver (parent, guardian) will likely bring forth an anxious-ambivalent attachment style that may mean the person is nervous of being rejection, and can overcompensate by "trying too hard". Lastly, a consistently unavailable care-giver will likely lead to a child/adult who does not trust easily, who avoids closeness or dependence, and lacks empathy.
- Shame and Guilt. The shame-prone person worries about the real or imagined negative judgements of others, and often have low self-esteem causing them to want to withdraw, to lash-out or even to bully others. Guilt, on the other hand, is not about who we are, but about what we have done. The guilt-prone have a desire to apologise, to make reparation or confession. Shame, though may prevent it. Proneness to guilt and shame both come from the past - from the family dynamic and the behaviour of parents.
- Emotional Contagion and Mirroring. The influence of those around us is remarkably strong, often more than we might think. We are social creatures, and the influence of a leader on the mood of a team can be profound and volatile. Unconsciously we mirror one another, playing back one another's language and posture. This can create group behaviour at a level that is distinct from the behaviour of individuals in isolation.
Individuals in a group will bring their attachment behaviour, they will have differing levels of shame and guilt, and may be inclined to mirror. But beyond the individual's predisposition is the impact of "group dynamics"; when we deal with groups and organisations we have to be aware of ways individuals react with one another. The way de Vries puts it is that groups have "secret life, an existence somewhat independent of the lives of their members". There are three models for characterising a group's secret life; it may be a progression, a hero's journey, or a helical curve.
Linear progression. The group progresses through five stages, one after the next. It forms, storms, norms, performs, mourns. The first step is when the group comes together, or forms. Members observe each other and orientate themselves, they get to know one another, to test one another and identify roles. Process, requirements, structure, procedure (formally or informally) are addressed. Then comes "storming": this is the period when members jostle for position, struggle for leadership, form coalitions, challenge the aims of the group. If the team survives the storm, it needs then to focus on its aims and find agreement as to how to proceed - "norming". Standard and routines will be put in place, commitments are made and kept, members get to know how to work with one another, and responsibilities and roles crystallise. Then the group can begin to perform. Eventually, however, the rationale for the group will fade, members will move onto other tasks, and the team will dissolve. Many will mourn its break-up as they miss the contact, the purpose, the sense of belonging.
Hero's Journey. All myths, to a greater or lesser extent, relate the stages of a hero's journey: the undisturbed life interrupted by a call to action, the departure, the adventures along the way, the intervention of a protector or mentor, the fulfilment of the quest and then the return. Teams fall into this pattern almost unconsciously, but identifying the stage of the journey that a team is on can provide an insight into the way it sees itself, consciously or otherwise.
The Linear progression model and Hero's Journey are both helpful ways of understanding the evolution of a team. But reality tells us that there are plenty of teams that remain never seem to evolve or fulfil their quest. So de Vries offers another way of making sense of the group dynamic, the Helical Curve.
The Helical Curve. A helix is a from of curve whose direction is dependent upon where it has come from. Group behaviour is frequently a result of its past, governed by three potentially derailing forces that people regress to when under pressure: dependency, fight/flight, and pairing. If a group regresses to dependency, it typically looks to the leader for direction. And as such ceases to have any independence or ability to act as a team. A team, on the other hand, that assumes it's "us against them" will tend to resort to fight or flight. "Fight" will manifest itself in interpersonal attacks, attacks on the enemy - (the finance department, compliance, the management, the sales desk) - and "flight" will see absenteeism, avoidance or simply giving up. Lastly there is pairing - this is a more complicated form of regression, where the group identifies a relationship amongst its members as being the source of all problems, or indeed the hope for any solution.
A group or team has its secret life, and it also has is existence as an entity - the "group-as-a-whole" as de Vries puts it.