"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Why some groups work better than others

By on January 28, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
June Darling

You want a prediction about the weather? You’re asking the wrong Phil. I’m going to give you a prediction about this winter? It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be dark and it’s going to last you for the rest of your lives! 

— Early in Groundhog Day, Phil Connors character (played by Bill Murray)

By June Darling

Research supports the notion that social interactions can and do affect us physically, emotionally, and cognitively. 

If our relationships are off-track it’s easy to predict our internal weather can feel cold and dark and seem like it will last forever. We don’t get much done either.

Recently I joined a group to do what I considered important work, but I consistently left the meetings feeling disappointed, disconnected, sad, and even angry at times. It never seemed to get any better. 

To top it off, I was not at all sure we were doing good work together. 

My own mind was more occupied with noticing everyone’s social behaviors than the work we were supposed to be doing. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going wrong nor what to do about it. I simply resigned.

Shortly after my resignation, my son, Hoby Darling, sent an online article he and a colleague, Jessica Amortegui, had written for Forbes (3 Surprising Secrets of The World’s Top-Performing Teams). The article explained and emphasized the importance of belonging, bonding, and “believing in something bigger” for high team performance. 

The article helped me sort out what went wrong for me. 

The first thing, and probably the biggest thing, that hit me was I didn’t feel I “belonged.”

Let me be more specific. Human beings are wired to pick up tiny cues as to whether we are “in” or “out” of the group. Did you interrupt me? Did you look interested and energized when I spoke? Did you allow me to speak for an equal amount of time as others? Did you sit by me or closer to someone else? 

These little behaviors are called by Dr. Alex (Sandy) Pentland “belonging cues.” 

When members of a group are included, respected and connected; it’s clear on some primordial level that we are “in.” When we sense we are safe, that we are “in”; then we are happier, we think better, we’re more resilient and we’re more engaged. 

Here’s the biggie for performance. Belonging cues are more reliable at predicting a group’s success than intelligence, skill, or leadership!

Bonding builds on the importance of relationships by going deeper than safety toward becoming close allies. According to Jessica and Hoby, mutual vulnerability and authenticity are what take relationships to a more meaningful place. We get closer when we share our hopes, dreams, fears, and hardships. We become more bonded when we openly and voluntarily do something human beings are loathe to do — when we say “I made a mistake” to each other. 

“Believing in something bigger” is being willing to set aside our personal agendas and contribute our “blood, sweat, and tears” to something we all value. For the most part, these big aims are unique ways to make a positive difference for others. 

The three B’s — belonging, bonding, believing in something bigger than ourselves — go a long way toward making life worth living for human beings, social creatures that we are. 

These are what I wasn’t getting and, unfortunately, not helping others in my group get either. 

But luckily, life isn’t yet over for me. I have more chances to better work with my group relationships. 

We all do — on our playgrounds and classrooms, in our clubs and churches, and with our families and communities. 

As human beings, everywhere we go, there we are. Feeling mad and frustrated. Being left out or leaving others out. Getting a bit more enlightened. Trying again, and again, and again… which gives me an idea.

If you, like me, would like to get better at how you do your group relationships, set this date. Feb. 2, Groundhog’s Day. Let’s watch it one more time, the old Bill Murray movie that illuminates what Buddhists, Jews, Christians and philosophers all claim to hold the secrets to a good life. 

We’ll notice… again and again and again, that it’s all about relationships — especially belonging, bonding and believing in a cause beyond our own small self.

When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life.

 But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter

— Near the end of Groundhog Day, Phil Connors character

How might you pay more attention to the 3 B’s of your group relationships and move up to The Good Life?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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