I attended a small, non-language-oriented conference this weekend. (Yes, there is life outside of localization!) The cold I picked up aside, there was a lot to absorb from the other attendees, including how — at the meta level, if you will — each network member can affect and reflect the core values of an organization, and at any stage of its development. At issue, put forward in the member’s forum prior to our attending, was how much each workshop should adhere to the organization’s stated mission and whether the mission that was originally created actually still “fits” the group’s apparent wayward direction.
In 1965, noted psychologist Bruce Tuckman published a theory on group dynamics in which he asserted that group development moves through four distinct phases of growth. The group first establishes itself (forming), begins to struggle with competing ideas (storming), settles on a concept with which it moves forward (norming), and then competently moves on through appropriate conflicts and processes to achieve results (performing).
What I found in our own storming was that what we believed to be a united mission was in fact the “victim” of considerably different interpretations. It brings to light reponsibilities that we as team members — whatever our organization — should give thought to.
Reconnect With Your Mission
Are we clear on our organization’s mission in the first place? In a competitive workforce, and one that has changed so dramatically from the “one job for life” framework in which our parents invested, some may be little interested in the organization as a whole. Yes, we expect the organization to succeed and rely on its success for our livelihoods.
Moreover, yes, we want to be productive at work, for our own sense of self-worth. Still, so many of us are being recruited to fulfill very specific tasks, with roles and relationships defined by so many job descriptions and hierarchical charts, that it’s no surprise that the bigger picture gets lost in the day to day.
Nevertheless, because the success of the organization means the potential for our own success in it, it makes sense to not only know the stated mission of the organization but to deliberately raise that mission up for use.
In our industry, in which there is considerable reliance on freelancers, it makes sense, too, for organizational leaders to tighten the bonds by reaching out to distant teams with a message about the mission of the greater organizational family.
Create Constructive Conflict
As Tuckman notes, even performing teams revert to the storming phase when considerable external challenges and opportunities arise. As threatening as change is for many, it’s as natural as breathing. So too are the conflicts that spark change. New team members, new market conditions, new technologies — there is a diverse range of circumstances that can toss the certainty of a mission statement back on the table. Consider Apple’s leap from personal computing (Mac) to consumer products in music (iPod), telecommunications (iPhone), and other consumer electronics (iPad).
Giving our organizations a chance to grow (and for us to grow within them) means not just being open to new missions but also spurring the discussions and environments in which mission change is welcome.
As my own conference event showed, these tensions — between our different understandings of the mission and its potential — also create great opportunities for inter-group trust to deepen. Don’t be afraid to play a part in revealing those struggles over definition.
Don’t Neglect the Group Hug
As I noted already, change, while natural, is also naturally threatening for many. The performing organization has already accepted processes, leaders, and values that provide a sense of security and promise to members of a team. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs urged us to “stay hungry, stay foolish” and that remains a compelling approach to personal and professional development. But that also came from a place in which Apple employees and its customers could stand on a reliable brand.
At the conference that I attended, one of my fellow attendees noted that this summer, as in every summer, his employer took the team on a field trip. This year, team members could choose between water skiing and mini-golf. While seemingly completely unrelated to the day’s tasks, these excursions continue to support the idea that, the work details aside, how we recognize each other as complete beings — especially through play — can actually help us achieve our organizational mission.
At this conference, there was a last-evening’s talent show that everyone had the chance to perform in. There was song. There was dance. There was theater. There was stand-up comedy. And, nevertheless, these all were seen as within the framework of the mission.
Our missions may be heavy, confusing, out of date, and champing at the bit, but we’re forming, storming, norming, and performing together. Together is the important part.