The successful group communication
Variety is a measure of complexity and complexity is the number of all possible states or possibilities for action that a system can exhibit – this is how William Ross Ashby expressed a central insight of cybernetics. According to Ashby, a system must have at least as many options for action as there are faults that can emanate from the system to be controlled. The system must therefore be at least as complex as the situation it has to cope with. In practice, this can be achieved by increasing your own options for action, e.g. through more people and knowledge, better information processing or better methods. Put simply: you need the appropriate skills to be able to react appropriately to complex situations. And what does this have to do with groups and successful group communication?
The complexity of groups
Ashby’s remarks lead to the idea that major challenges can only be overcome by large groups. Small teams cannot therefore integrate enough perspectives or knowledge. Unfortunately, large groups themselves form complex systems with many potential disturbances and great challenges in moderating such groups. Since a moderator or moderation team can never be as complex as the large group to be moderated, you need a correspondingly complex method for moderation. A method that creates at least a balance between cooperation and group complexity. With such a method the group can develop its full potential.
Leverage points in group communication
How can this logic be used for communication in groups? I use leverage points that exclude undesirable group dynamics and favour desirable ones. By using leverage points, the whole problem is viewed from different perspectives and in context. At the same time egoisms of the group members are minimised, thoughts can mature and contents can be based on the insights of others. The group gains a very good understanding of itself and the original problem, so that an integrated catalogue of measures and strategies, in which all group members have participated and behind which everyone stands, emerges almost by itself. The leverage points enable the experience of collective intelligence. Below you will find a list of the points of leverage:
What is the theme and aim of the work? Define a clear topic with a challenging question that motivates all participants. Formulate a goal and focus on achieving the goal in the form of tasks and questions, as well as sub-topics and focal points derived from them. In this way, you direct the energies in the team away from personal conflicts towards the common cause and avoid endless discussions.
- Specific Competences
How is the decision made? Everyone is an expert in his field of activity and responsibility. If a part of a group is confronted with a situation more frequently, this person is best able to assess certain situations and the need for decisions. Make use of such experience in the decision-making process.
How is the exchange organised? The work in large groups must be very structured, otherwise undesirable dynamics will arise. If a discussion is structured in the right way, information can be better exchanged. Otherwise, each additional participant increases the number of disturbances and chaos. There are many, small possibilities for structuring group communication, such as rules regarding the speech parts, the targeted rotation of responsibilities and perspectives, seating and spatial planning, the distribution of roles or topics or different process phases with different topics and priorities.
How is feedback integrated? A lot is more or less connected. Before a decision is made, it is useful to ask for feedback. In this way you can anticipate possible repercussions of various interfaces and optimise the solution through impulses and other points of view. Ideally, you should systematically design internal and external feedback loops.
What is the rhythm of the work? With time constraints you can determine the frequency of communication. It is important that you adhere to time limits yourself, because strict time limits mobilise energies at the defined time and ensure results orientation. Use structural elements such as roles and rotations to design brain-friendly communication processes. For example, if you want to optimise information processing, then time constraints are essential to alternately relax and tense the brain.
How transparent is the process? A system works better the more it knows about itself. In other words, the more an actor understands, the more he can contribute to group communication. This also means that the way and the sense and purpose of the cooperation are as comprehensible as the emergence of results and decisions.
Are knowledge carriers integrated equally? Make sure that all group members have the same opportunities to contribute their opinions and knowledge. Involve everyone in the work and decision-making process. By structuring the process in the right way, you ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to influence it by distributing responsibilities, work phases, roles or perspectives equally among the participants.
How available is information in the process? Especially in the case of complex questions, it is necessary that each piece of information is available several times at any time. This is the only way to ensure that individual sources of error are compensated by the group. In order to achieve this, a clever algorithm is required which ensures that everyone is in the right place at the right time to see, say or hear the right thing.
Group communication is not easy. The larger a group is, the more complex the design and combination of leverage points becomes. With the combined leverage points, you ensure that a system understands itself better and thus functions better and better. This leads to a collective that works like a big brain, which is an impressive experience for all involved. It is the top class of analogue communication. Why not try it out at your next (strategy) workshop.
For more information on the leverage points of group communication and examples, see www.gruppenbing.de.
Alexander Tornow is a process designer for collective intelligence and an expert on viable organisations. He studied Business Communication and worked for many years with personnel management in publishing houses, agencies and consulting firms. Following his master thesis on leadership, he developed first techniques for working in groups. At the beginning of 2011, this led to the gruppenbing! method and the company of the same name. Alexander advises, supports and enables companies, consultants and organisational developers in the design and implementation of effective interventions, workshops and development processes.