No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. John Donne, English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)
Have you ever thought about the importance of groups in your life? After all, we are social animals and are associated with others at work, school, socially, recreationally and even digitally. As Pink, in his book When says: “Our ability to survive, even to live, depends on our capacity to coordinate with others in and across time.” In his book, Pink talks about our individual timing, but also says that group timing is just as important. Nothing that occurs in your life is unaffected by the timing of other. The work you do, the paycheck you get, your mail or packages arriving, the store clerks working, the church service you attend, and even the traffic you sit in is all about group timing.
The concept of time
Galileo, in the late 1500’s, did an elegant experiment and discovered that a pendulum, swung as far in one direction as it did in the returning direction. This led to the development of clocks and hence the concept of time. Time became the de facto regulator of life. Time was so important that the British navy used it as a navigation tool, in addition to the sextant, as they expanded around the world. (Yes, I realize this is a simplistic explanation.) The clock allows us to synchronize our actions with others, and as a result, we can set an appointment or time a conversation with anyone in the world if we desire.
Having a clock is not enough
The clock sets the external standard, which sets the pace, but Pink says that is not enough. For groups to be effective they also need to synchronize to the boss, the tribe and to their heart. Let me try to explain what he means. The first part is easy. We all understand the concept of the boss. Pink says that “…group timing requires someone or something above and apart from the group itself to set the pace, maintain the standards, and focus the collective mind.” Picture the conductor of an orchestra or a coach running drills. This allows people to have their behavior become entrained to the activities and tempo of the group.
Synching to the tribe
Much of social science is about belonging and interacting in groups. It was important to our evolution and it is important today. Think about how important belonging to a group is in your world. We even have a negative impression of people that don’t belong to groups, describing them as “loners”, which has a very negative connotation. Pink says that a necessary part of synching with the group comes in three parts: codes, garb, and touch.
Think about your workplace. You have a code for the work that is done. Sometimes it is in the language you use. HR gets criticized heavily for its use of “lingo”, but to me, every profession has its lingo, and the understanding of that lingo makes you one of the group. All of us have “codes” in every group that we belong to, that is what makes you part of the group. It gives us a sense of belonging and according to Pink’s research, this is critical. He quotes one study that says “…the more cohesive and communicative a team is – the more they chat and gossip – the more they get done.”
The second part is the garb. Uniforms, t-shirts, hats, bandanas, or whatever, often identify and allow others to identify with a group. From the baseball uniform to the gang member’s colors, all groups have some garb that makes them a member of the group. In a couple of months from now, I will be attending #SHRM18 as a member of the Bloggers Team. We will have badges for our emails, we will have a t-shirt that identifies us as a blogger, and of course, we will have bacon. All of this makes us a team. As I am writing this, I was reflecting and wondering if by getting away from uniforms at work we have destroyed a bit of team identification, to the detriment of the organization.
The subject of touch, in the human resources world, is, well a touchy subject. With the specter of sexual harassment, many might shy away from this, but research has found that touch bolsters belongingness in groups. Watch a sports team and count how many times the high-five each other. If you have watched the Olympics at all, hugs abound between team members. If you want to work on your team cohesiveness try to doing more high-fives when there is a success in the office.
Synching with the heart
What Pink means by this is this:
Synchronizing makes us feel good – and feeling good helps a group’s wheels turn more smoothly. Coordinating with others also makes us do good – and doing good enhances synchronization.
To end this blog I will quote Pink on the value of synching with your group.
Operating in synch expands our openness to outsiders and makes us more likely to engage in “pro-social” behavior. In other words, coordinating makes us better people – and being better people makes us better coordinators.”
If you want to improve your life, your company, and the lives of those around you, be aware of these principles of synchronization.