Sunday, August 4, 2013

Power to the People - Getting the best out of groups, part 2


This article is the second in a four-part series exploring the underlying dynamics that affect these groups and providing insight into how we can be better group leaders. 
In a magical dream world people wouldn’t be difficult, they would be easy to work with.  But would this really be so great?  Somebody famous once said that two heads are better than one and somebody else once said that nothing great was ever achieved by one man alone.   It is true because a single person will only ever see their own perspective; a one-dimensional view, of sorts, which will always limit what they can achieve.  Even if they are talented enough to see different perspectives, by paying all their attention to what they are looking at, they might accidently ignore the noise going on around them or the fragrant aromas.   

A group of people, by contrast, is able to by bringing different perspectives and levels of awareness to any situation.  Any performance group will know how useful this is in constructing and performing a great piece of work.  To this end, a range of different personalities can actually be advantageous if they all have the same hopes and aims.  People might appear to be difficult, but two contrasting viewpoints might actually work together to help a project succeed.  To explore this topic further lets consider the different ways that people learn and experience the world.

Honey and Mumford are two academics who developed a four-quadrant model of personality based on the different way people learn.  I have not identified their particular model because it is better or worse than other models, simply that it provides a useful example.  What is interesting and valuable about these types of models is that they help to identify why and how people’s different personality traits can be useful in an organisation or group setting where people want to achieve collective goals.

To form their model, Honey and Mumford characterise any learning or life experience within a four-stage cycle.  They describe how with any experience we will:
  • Plan to do it
  • Do it
  • Review what we have done
  • Draw conclusions about it 

According to their model, whilst we go through the whole cycle with any experience, individuals have a preferred part of the process of which they are more conscious. 

As a result people tend to pay more attention to one of two  stages in the cycle.   Or if they were to get stuck, they are likely to follow the same type of pattern again and again.  For example a somebody might enjoy making plans, but procrastinate and find it difficult to actually get started and put one into action.

To provide a very brief and general introduction they identified the four different groups of people as Activists, Pragmatists, Theorists and Reflectors.  Put simply, activists like to act, reflectors like to reflect, theorists like to draw conclusions and pragmatists like to make plans. 

It’s important to note that people with any personality type are capable of having the whole experience, and indeed must, to get anything done.  But each group of people have different preferences in terms of what they pay most attention to.  As a result each group will tend act in different ways and start the cycle at their most preferred point. 

Like to jump in at the deep end, enthusiastic, looks for new experiences, likes to be centre of attention, enjoy talking about experiences
Experiments with new ideas, looks for practical application, down-to-earth, problem-solver, will make plans before acting
Logical and objective, systematic and analytical, thinks things through, perfectionist, likes to understand why they should act before acting
Chews things over, thoughtful and analytical, good listener, adopts low profile, can be seen to be procrastinating as they reflect in ideas

What would be your preferred learning style?  How about those around you?

An activist by nature will like to jump straight in to a project and might feel as though their reflector colleague is procrastinating if they stop to reflect after each step along the way, even though the reflector might consider this an important part of the process.    Their more pragmatic colleague might not even notice the reflectors pauses but they may be irritated by the activists’ incessant non-stop talking and fool-hardy actions that are not that well thought through.

When we have any discussion about different personalities and difficult people, we always need to be aware of different perspectives and opinions.  Because the very notion of personality traits is something that has created by people, different people will always see and describe situations in different ways.  Any situation in life is ‘subject’ to our interpretation and even the most extreme personality traits can be interpreted in a variety of ways.     

 In summary, whether we are aware of it or not, the way we like to learn influences our perceptive of other people around us and how we judge other people actions.  It is not the only influence, but it can play an important role and you need to be aware of it in your day-to-day life to be able to effectively work and live with others.

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