"Fairmount School, 1711 Massachusetts Ave. Women at Fairmount School in exercise uniforms." Photo by Theodor Horydczak. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
How many times have you set out to achieve a goal and the first thing you do is look for a group to join? Perhaps you joined a gym, took a class, subscribed to a blog or created a Meetup or Facebook group. Groups are a great way to share information, to meet others with similar aspirations and to challenge ourselves by conforming to the group norms.
“The desire to form and join social groups is extremely powerful and built into our nature. Amongst other things groups give us a most valuable gift, our social identity, which contributes to our sense of who we are.”
–PsyBlog, “10 Rules that Govern Groups“
This month Ruly Ruth is blogging about motivation in groups–when it’s appropriate, when it’s not, and how it works.
Anyone who knows me personally knows I am a natural-born cheerleader. (Was never one officially–but my personality type leans toward that temperament.) Often this trait becomes a motivator for friends, family, as well as organizations. And more and more it’s being used in said group settings.
People use group motivation for weight loss, exercise groups, support groups, trade and social organizations. The theory behind all of this is an organization–or at least more than one single person–is holding someone accountable–be it for attendance, support, success, or involvement.
Everyone, regardless of how shy or introverted you are or your busy schedule, should be a member of a group. Be it a church/synagogue/mosque, a volunteer organization, a trade organization–whatever it may be–but everyone should join and attend some organizational functions. The level of involvement usually depends on 1) your passion for that organization’s purpose, and 2) how extroverted you are. Usually those of us that are the most extroverted often end up in leadership positions in organizations–we need to make sure that those that may be shyer and more introverted get tasked and are involved. This ensures that all people stay with the group, and often the quieter people have the most to offer creatively and idea-wise. In other words, tap and task everyone!
Regardless of the commitment of a group to its cause, there should absolutely be individual responsibilities and tasks to augment the group’s work. With defined goals, the tasks can be identified to make those goals occur, and then the tasks can be doled out to individuals. The quality and effort going into these tasks has a huge impact on the group’s credibility, face-value (because first appearances are important), and are signs of commitment of the individuals to the group. Amazing results are motivating to other members to do a great job as well.
However, without properly defined goals, any group can go awry. As the eHow article “Goal Setting Group Exercises” states, the group must have SMART goals–specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. If you can’t define goals in this manner, the group should probably be disbanded.
The other time a group should disband is when few people are involved, or there is no desired leadership at the top. That may seem emotionally painful, but think of it more as an opportunity to join a new group and give your talents to that goal instead.
Or, if another group does not meet your desired needs, it’s time to form your own organization/group! We are doing this right now through Facebook with the China Lake Spouses page. It’s geared to spouses living in the Ridgecrest/China Lake Naval Weapons Station area, and shows people resources and community events for adults and kids in which they can be involved. We started it a few months ago and our “friend” list is growing rapidly. It just shows when a need is identified (in this case it was lack of communication across ranks and communities), it can be very simple (albeit time consuming) to form a solution….in this case, yet another group!
You can probably tell from Ruth’s post that she LOVES working in groups! I can tell you from personal observation that Ruth instantly forms groups everywhere. In college, she had more study groups going than anyone I knew and she gained both valuable information and contacts from the experience.
When a group works well it is a wonderful experience. You feel a deep connection to the group members and enthusiasm for whatever cause/activity you are participating in. You are motivated to participate in part because you are achieving great things as a group but primarily because you feel a strong emotional connection to the group and you don’t want to let them down.
Yet, not everyone enjoys working in groups. The downside for many people is that joining a group requires conformity to the group norm. When there is a disconnect between what the group norm is and what you as an individual think it should be, a group can be a dispiriting rather than an uplifting experience. Especially if you have limited time to contribute to a group, the last thing you want to do is spend time arguing with those in the group about what the group should be doing. So, when you are thinking of joining a group, look for a group with a strong identity with many people who share your same goals.
As Ruth, mentions, there is also a lifecycle to groups. A challenge for many groups is how to keep interest in the group going. Here is where you have an interesting conundrum:
“[G]roups only rarely foment great ideas because people in them are powerfully shaped by group norms: the unwritten rules which describe how individuals in a group ‘are’ and how they ‘ought’ to behave. . . . The purpose of norms is to provide a stable and predictable social world, to regulate our behaviour with each other. In many respects norms have a beneficial effect, bolstering society’s foundations and keeping it from falling into chaos. On the other hand stability and predictability are enemies of the creative process.”
–PsyBlog, “Why Group Norms Kill Creativity“
So, while you need the group to build a strong consensus of opinion, at some point, the lack of creativity within the group may result in the group’s ultimate demise. Group members may be so focused on preserving the group as it is that they are not thinking about the future and changes the group might need to make to be successful in the future.
Research also shows that group members are hostile to suggestions for change from new members and that the same suggestion for change will be respected when given by an established group member but rejected out of hand when given by a newcomer. If society’s interest in your group in general is changing and your group refuses to change, the only new members you are likely to attract are the small number of people who still agree with your group. With many groups, it is far easier to just disband the old group and start a new one rather than try to implement change.
So, as you look to groups for motivation, keep in mind the group lifecycle and don’t become unmotivated if your group doesn’t work out as planned. There just might be an ideal new group out there for you!
What are your experiences with group motivation? Please share in the comments.