Is the existence of an argument really evidence that a group is thriving?
My gut says no. There are a lot of reasons that members of a group might be arguing or have different views on things:
- Maybe the group is really just starting and seeking definition
- Maybe the group is falling apart at the seams and this is evidence of an impending split
- Maybe the group just enjoys conflict and doesn't seek resolution (I worked at a place where this was the case - "no fun unless there's a fire" - it was exhausting!)
- Maybe the group really is thriving and this is a way of assimilating new ideas, new approaches, new challenges, etc.
So if the existence of arguments or controversies isn't evidence that a group is thriving, what is? How do I know if this group I'm looking at is functional and improving?
Let's start by defining what we mean when we say a group is thriving. A group is thriving if it is able to successfully respond to changes in its environment - new ideas, new challenges, new groups. Further, in order to be considered thriving, the group has to be able to both attract and retain members.
Awesome, I have a group and a definition. What do I look for to indicate that the group is actually in this wonderful thriving state? I don't think there's one answer for this, but I do think there are things you can look for:
- Group membership is stable or slightly increasing over time, and turnover exists. Sure a group may occasionally downsize, but generally in a thriving group new people are joining and people who are there are staying for a while. A thriving group also needs people to be moving on. Not all of them, and not incredibly quickly, but some.
- The group is aware of new ideas in their field. Ask the group about some concept, technique or tool that is fairly new. Reservations and controversy are okay, but if there's no awareness, that's not good.
- Issues are resolved. It's all very well to have people with differing views in a group; to a large extent that's healthy. However, conflict for conflict's sake is a real problem. If the group is more interested in arguing than in figuring out a solution, the group is not thriving.
- There is a common vocabulary. No group can thrive unless the members of the group can communicate with each other. If you have a group that uses different words for the same concept, or the same word to mean two different things, then there's a problem.
I'm sure there's more that I haven't thought of. When you're looking at a group, what do you use to figure out if it's thriving?