Group size to the power of one

Nancy White’s post drew my attention to the important points that Chris Corrigan makes about group size.

He  suggests that groups should be made up of one, three of five people for creative purposes (odd numbers), and made up of two or four people for “settling” purposes (even numbers). There should never be more than six people in a small group because  introverts begin to withdraw when groups get to that size and the group then begins to lose the benefits of diversity.

According to Chris, the reason smaller groups work well is because there are more “edges”. The more edges you have, the more diversity you create. The more diversity you create the more resourcefulness and sources you have. This is a principle from nature about how things combine better “when we have more ways of offering ourselves to each other”.

The concept of a group of one sounds odd in our world governed by groupthink. But it does seem reasonable to start counting group size with the number “1”. Not only does that include those who work best alone in the common enterprise, but it also acknowledges the creative tensions of intra-personal interaction. The pendulum is swinging back to recognise that “groups of one are the best way to innovate” and that larger groups are not a “good place for generating innovation”.

I often hear fellow ministers talking about the power of small groups. What we forget is that groups can be as small as one. Already congregations and organisations are made up of small groups without anyone having to try to engineer them. Rarely do the groups of one have their voice heard which means that they may not realise their responsibility or potential.

Extraversion has been the order of the day and the assumption is that we get our creative energy “out there”, through collaboration and with developed “people skills”. But, according to research by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (you’d have to be broad shouldered to have that name on the back of your football shirt!) and Gregory Feist, most creative people in many fields are often introverted. They need solitude as a catalyst to innovation.

Susan Cain is critical of “groupthink” in a New York Times article. She quotes Eysenk’s observation that introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work”.  She refers to research which suggests that group performance gets worse as group size increases and quotes organisational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “Evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Picasso’s take on it was that “without great solitude, no serious work is possible”.

PS Susan Cain is author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking

Tiki Taka

One of the highlights of my week has been spending time with a group of clergy committed to developing more leaderful communities and congregations, but facing the problems of working with those who don’t see leadership as their responsibility. How do we bridge that gap?

Leadership models have focused on individuals and individualism. New models of leadership inspired by “new science” focus on process and what goes on between people (this has coincided with a renewed awareness of the interplay and community of the Trinity). Other facilitators, like Viv McWaters and Chris Corrigan talk about developing play. The result is that leadership develops as a community activity rather than a one man (often gender specific) band.

Tomorrow is Cup Final Day. Kenny Dalglish and Roberto di Matteo, managers of Liverpool and Chelsea respectively will be giving their team talks. The winning team will most likely be the team that plays better together, and that is less like a collection of interviews. As we play together, we grow together. As we play together, we take more risks together. Chris Corrigan picks up the theme of football teamwork when he refers to a style of play called Tiki Taka:

A style of play characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.” With Tiki Taka the ball is continuously passed between team members in a way that the whole team operates as one intelligent field, rather than sum total of talented individuals.

Is that it? Do we need a rich passage of interplay to become a successful team? Is it the short passes, working the channels, the give and go which turns an unresponsive group of individuals into one intelligent field and a leaderful organisation.

If you liked this post, you may also like this recent post: