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Back in the 90’s, I participated in a research project run by the University of Chicago. While the specifics are a bit fuzzy, I remember it involved a group of around 100 of us from a variety of backgrounds in the social sciences. There may have been business people involved as well, but I don’t remember.

We were broken into smaller groups where we were supposed to come together as a group. But here was the thing. We were not given a task to complete, a problem to solve, or even a current issue to discuss.There was this “group facilitator” who did nothing except indirectly comment on the process of the group. And this person would say bizarre things, like “The members of the group are dug into their foxholes.” or “The group seems to be … (afraid, angry, sad, happy, etc.),” or my favorite “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Oh, sorry, that was Star Trek.

Anyway, as participants, we weren’t supposed to know what was going on, and I certainly didn’t. I was pretty sure I had wasted two days of my life.

At the end, we all came back together as a large group and reviewed our results. Some groups had organized and were discussing race relations. Other groups had found different topics to address. Our group never did.

I figured we had pretty much failed at the task, whatever the task was.

It turns out, that we really hadn’t failed. What the researchers were studying was the process by which leaders developed as well as how group dynamics played out in highly ambiguous situations. Other groups quickly moved beyond the struggle to form meaning where there was none. Our group was different.

We struggled the whole time, and it turns out that was a good thing, for one simple reason.

We trusted the process.

I didn’t even know what the process was, but there were some members of the group that had been there before and they didn’t push things. They helped the group let things unfold slowly.

Sometimes as a leader you have to push, and sometimes you have to sit back and let the process happen.

The key is knowing which is needed when.

That only comes with experience. And time.

So, be patient. And you can experience “Sokath, his eyes open.”


Dr. Jeff

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