Happy holidays! And happy Wednesday if you don’t celebrate holidays this time of year or ever!

If you’ve read the Collective Self blog in the past, you may suspect that I’m unlikely to be capable of writing a concise post on this subject. If you’re one of my own self-organizing group members, you’ll know that on my own I’m about as capable of writing a concise piece as Leo Tolstoy. Working on his favorite novel. In his most productive month ever. Fortunately, this week one of the groups I’m studying wrote my point for me.

To guarantee that your self-organizing group is successful:

“REMEMBER: the only rule of flash mob is that you’re NOT IN THE MOB UNTIL YOU’RE IN THE MOB. Meaning? You’re a shopper or tourist or on a break from work or hanging out with a friend until you’re a dancer in the mob.”

FYI, here’s video of this group’s rehearsal and their three performances.

I’ve studied 25 self-organizing groups and work groups: groups of teachers, business employees, consultants, organization starters, university students and staff and faculty, writers, and a variety of groups, like flash mobs, that came together for the fun of being together and bringing joy and support to others. Seven years, 14,000+ research hours, and this flash mob organizing group just nailed what I had to write tomes to fully see. If you’d like a slightly longer version, here’s how I’d say it…

You’re a regular individual person until you are part of a self-organizing group, and then you are more: much more. You become the group. And when your group’s time is done, you must let go and return to being an individual person for at least a moment. But when you leave these groups, you aren’t the same person anymore. You leave the group as an individual person disinclined to settle for less than you now know you are capable of being. You leave the group on the lookout for new self-organizing groups (whether you’re fully aware of it or not at first). And you already have what you need to find and become amazing self-organizing groups again. You now have what I like to think of as group eyes and group ears. Not in the negative “group think” sense, but more like that cool 1,000-eyed dragon character in one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books (I forget which one). Once you’ve looked at life from the multi-perspective of an entire group that you were part of and that you love, you can recognize that your individual perspective isn’t as interesting, effective, or true as you imagined it was. And you learn this for yourself, from yourself.

If you want your self-organizing group or work group to be successful, become the group. Make a leap of faith, open yourself up to the possibility that you can become these amazing groups, and then allow it to happen. People drawn to you and the group become group members. People not drawn to you and the group don’t. Respect, trust, and listen to other groups members to the extent you can. The group doesn’t need to agree on everything and benefits from holding, valuing, and demonstrating multiple perspectives while still moving in the same general direction. 

Today I recognize that I’m only capable of seeing and being part of successful self-organizing groups, thanks to my own self-organizing groups. Across all 25 successful groups I’ve studied, I notice that the people in them eventually:

  1. Recognize themselves as groups first and as individuals second and act accordingly
  2. Value difference above similarity or at least both to the same extent
  3. Value learning above expertise (or at least both to the same extent) and learn from themselves and all those they consider part of themselves
  4. Aren’t afraid to be themselves (which appears to happen in baby steps, first a little bit with one person, then a little more with a few more, then eventually many more)
  5. Refuse to work any other way when part of the group (It actually may be “are unable to” instead of “refuse to,” I can’t tell. I can say that once people experience themselves as part of self-organizing groups, they appear to be disinclined to settle for less elsewhere in their lives and at work. These people raise the bar for themselves and, by extension, for every person, group, and organization that they go on to touch.)

I highlight the word eventually above to highlight my impression that today these groups are useful to, used by, and available to every single one of us, not just a select few. Some people come into self-organizing groups capable of one or more of these things already. Others, like me, learn them along the way as part of these groups.

Thank you, team Janet Jackson flash mob, for concisely saying out loud what I’ve been seeing across these groups all year. You are a gift!