There are certain thresholds that hold the behavior of groups together. Group dynamics are complex, but well worth understanding, nonetheless. Consider the following dynamic. You’re in the airport terminal about to board your plane. Like a mostly logical person, you’re seated until they call your group.
“We now welcome ‘Group 2’ to the boarding area,” scratches over the PA system.
Grabbing your carry on, you get to your feet and walk over behind the mob of people between you and the woman scanning the boarding passes in front of the gate. After noticing the folks in front of you aren’t moving you inquire, “Excuse me, mam, are you in Group 2?”
“Oh, nope. Group 4. Go ahead..”
There are twenty-two other people like her standing in front of the gate insanely ineffectively blocking the boarding process, which, by the way, is a process that it specifically doesn’t pay to be first in line for. The plane leaves when everyone boards. You don’t leave when you board.
While this frustrating scenario is nearly universal in airports around the world is a bit funny as long as you’re not currently in the airport, it does pose a more important insight than just frustration.
Let’s say you wanted to do something about this. So, of course, the next flight you take, you decide to heed Ghandi’s words and you decide to “be the change you want to see in the world.” And, you stay seated until it’s your turn to board. Then, you realize that’s what you’ve always done and, regardless of what airport, you’re in this doesn’t seem to inspire change.
But, you’re a real go-getter, so you don’t stop there. The next flight you take, you begin petitioning anyone who will listen in the boarding area. Of course, you can’t talk to everyone before boarding time and as soon as the PA system announces pre-boarding, folks begin pooling in front of the gate.
What’s happening here? This is an example of group dynamics run amuck and the only way to change it is group wide norms. Groups that don’t get too far gone with unanimously ineffective norms are groups in which an agreement is made and a tone is set. These norms and tones don’t even need to be set from the top down, but they need to be set. Groups that perform best are in agreement about something. The problem with the mob at the airport is no one has made an agreement and no one has set the tone to guide their behavior.
Human beings want to be led. We like order and clarity. Without it, insanity can ensue where we, as a group, do things that no one in the group prefers.
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