Leadership in Crisis – Preserving the Group

 

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy and Team Agility. At Team Agility we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products and become agile in a turbulent environment. In Intact Academy we organize training programs for coaches and consultants to teach them how to help businesses innovate. 

I’ve been a consultant for 35 years and a leader in multinational businesses for 23 years, and one thing I’ve learned over time is how to deal with crisis. Of course this is more relevant than ever today. 

I’ve grown and sold four businesses. I know what it is to deal with crisis. And as I’ve said in previous blogs, what you need to do is establish a clear leadership, re-establish your boundaries and re-establish your structure.

You also need to create more cohesion. You have to give everyone within the organization a sense of belonging. The difficulty is during times of crisis, we often have dynamics which are pressing on the boundaries, which creates breaches in the boundaries and breaches in boundaries create less cohesion. Imagine if you have a balloon and the air in the balloon is the cohesion. As soon as you have a hole, all the air goes out. So you need clear boundaries without breaches to hold that air or the cohesion in a company. 

We talked about re-establishing the boundaries in previous blogs, but now we’re going to talk about how to strengthen the cohesion in a company, a family or a nation.

 

What is cohesion? 

 

I always describe cohesion using red dynamics and green dynamics. The red dynamics are the negative ones that press on your boundaries. If they press on your major external boundary it is called pressure. If it’s on the major internal boundary, it’s called agitation. If it is breaching the major internal boundary it’s called intrigue

You need a green dynamic to counteract these red dynamics, which we call cohesion. Cohesion means the need of the members and the leaders to preserve the existence of the group. This is the definition that Eric Berne gave in 1966 and I think it’s still true. Now preserving the group can be at many different levels and I’m going to talk about that first. 

 

Preserving A Group

 

A group can be preserved in terms of its structure, relationship and idea:

  1. Structure: the group can continue to exist as a structure even if the rest is gone. So for instance, I’m dealing with a lot of production companies where they have to close the factory. So there’s no one in the factory, no one is producing anymore, but the building is still there. Sometimes I walk through town now and I see buildings that are empty. But I know because the building is still there, that the organization still exists. And we say the same thing about teams: if the structure still exists, the teams still exist. 
  2. Relationship: A second level is when the building isn’t there anymore, but the people are still there. So imagine this, the factory is closed, but the people are still there and the people still have a relationship with each other. The organisation exists as a relationship even if the structure isn’t there anymore. The group still exists even if the building isn’t there, but the people are still there. They’re still a group. I went to a school reunion even though the school doesn’t exist anymore. But we exist and when we came together, it was as if the group was still there. 
  3. Idea: The third level of existence of a team is when the building isn’t there and the people aren’t there anymore to hold the relationship. But the idea of the group is there. So the group exists as an idea, even if the building and the people aren’t there. Think of Israel. Israel existed as an idea before the people were there and even before the country was established. So that idea of the group was already there. And that’s a very powerful thing. We say every organization, every team starts as an idea before it starts as a structure or even as a group of people. As an analogy, if you have children, your child exists as an idea even before it’s born. So you have hopes, fears, dreams for your children before they’re physically born. Anytime you start a group or organization, there’s an idea in someone’s head before the structure is there and before the people are there. 

So, cohesion is the need of the members and the leaders to preserve the existence of the group. And that existence can be at the structural level, at the relational level, or at the imago level (idea). How do you increase the cohesion? We have many different strategies for that, and I’m going to talk about that in the next blog. 

 

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