In the 25 groups I’ve studied and been part of so far, here are the reasons mentioned for group formation. To:

  1. Change the way the organization plans and designs its products (working across silo’d product teams instead of within silos)
  2. Help all of our kids (those we had in common that year) to graduate by working more closely during one school year
  3. Help group members complete/earn their degrees
  4. Help bring two communities closer (a university community and a low-income community) by surfacing community needs and opportunities for connection
  5. Help a doctoral student complete a dissertation, become a doctor, and graduate
  6. Support a first-time author in understanding what it takes to get a book published
  7. Support three people trying to create their own organizations (each based on what the person loves to do most)
  8. Create a global, cross-disciplinary group to discuss ideas and share research
  9. Support new and struggling consultants in creating and sustaining successful practices
  10. Help a department figure out how to renew interest in internal communities of practice
  11. Help a person plan, create, and finish a master’s thesis project
  12. Support an author in tightening up a book prior to publishing
  13. Support local professionals who work from home by setting up informal (water cooler type) get-togethers
  14. Support a lone researcher in creating and conducting a stronger research study, in seeing more in the results, and in doing more with the results
  15. Support seven people who want to become published writers (or want to get published again)
  16. Spread the word about the power of collaboration and self-organizing groups
  17. Support each other in learning and becoming better consultants
  18. Help someone survive a life-threatening illness
  19. Surprise themselves and others and spread joy by showing up unexpectedly, en mass, and dancing in sync to stadium rock
  20. Bring joy to group members, nearby others, and an entire city
  21. Support someone becoming a consultant in figuring out how to approach a consulting project
  22. Surprise themselves and others and spread joy by showing up unexpectedly, en mass, and dancing in sync to music from Hair! the musical
  23. Bring joy and moral support to a beloved teacher/friend/colleague in the hospital battling cancer
  24. Share emergent ideas about leadership with an interested audience
  25. Support the careers of group members—careers in doing what each one loves to do

As a researcher who spent time with these groups, today I’d say that they formed to:

  • Support and help individuals and groups
  • Generate awareness, courage, and happiness in group members and nearby others
  • Make it easier for individuals and groups to recognize and pay attention to what matters most in the moment
  • Shine a light on the array of possibilities that are available to people in the moment but that they cannot fully imagine, see, and experience as individuals

As a group member I’m far braver and can say a lot more than I can as a researcher. As a group member, today I believe that spontaneous, self-organizing groups are closer to who I really am than the flawed, often frightened, individual that I used to imagine myself to be. From my perspective today, these groups feel natural and right to us because we are, in fact, collective selves. My own groups allow me to experience this and make it increasingly difficult for me to believe that I (and others) are just the bunch of flawed, tired, and struggling individuals that I used to imagine and experience us to be.