Group Dynamics: Small Stones Cast Big Ripples

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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Throw a tiny pebble into a pond and watch the ripples reverberate. They cascade outward beyond the point that our eyes can see. The effects occur on the surface and beneath it.

Have you ever thought about this change principle in the context of an organization? Every group structure is shaped by its own DNA – the way in which individuals engage with one another on a one-to-one basis, and as part of a larger social structure.

According to a Harvard Business Review article on Group Emotional Intelligence written by Vanessa Druskat and Steven Wolf, three conditions are essential to a group’s effectiveness: mutual trust among members, a sense of group identity (a feeling among members that they belong to a unique and worthwhile group), and a sense of group efficacy (the belief that the team can perform well and that the group members are more effective working together than apart).

When these conditions are absent, going through the motions of cooperating and participating is still possible. However, the team will not be as effective as it could be, because members will choose to hold back rather than be fully engaged.

Upsetting the Apple Cart; Changing the Chemistry

One of the most disruptive actions regarding a group’s dynamic is the addition of a new member. In an organization, bringing in just one new employee into a company can potentially affect the chemistry and interactions of existing employees, and therefore compromise productivity. Consciously or subconsciously, employees are thinking, “How will this change affect my job?” “How will this person affect how we do things around here?” Their sense of organizational trust may be challenged.

Existing employees have to make room for the newcomer  by clearing out physical, mental, and personal space.

In a matrix organization such as Information Experts (, our project teams and dynamics are constantly changing. People who work on multiple projects (which is just about everyone) constantly work in different group dynamics. Every project team represents the collective efforts of many different talents and personalities, and each relationship among team members has a different history. This is one reason why our team members rarely get bored or stagnant.

On the flip side, it is precisely why we hire slowly and solicit input from multiple stakeholders across the organization – to ensure the least disruption.

Networking Communities

This is also the case with highly selective networking communities. In all networking groups, the membership base drives the value. High engagement typically results in high return on investment. However, to achieve high engagement – where people show up, follow up, and enjoy transformational experiences on a regular basis – the members have to be committed to creating a remarkable experience for themselves and for their fellow members.

One community that beautifully executes a highly selective membership strategy to drive extraordinary results for its members is Washington DC-based CADRE (, which stands for Connecting Advocates, Deepening Relationships, Exclusively. Founders Derek and Melanie Coburn are highly discerning when evaluating prospective members. They have high expectations of their members, they seek out only truly remarkable leaders who have a history of connecting with others and helping others, and they value quality over quantity. Not surprisingly, they have grown their member base to almost 100 members in 9 months, and have a wait list of prospects.

Derek and Melanie are keenly aware of the consequences of engaging with members who don’t live up to the Cadre values of remarkability and accountability. When a member fails to show up for an event to which they committed, the group dynamic is affected. This is precisely why they will only engage with those that fully respect the member responsibility of being part of a remarkable community.

Leadership Forums

The same situation can occur with a confidential advisory team, such as a leadership forum. Adding a newcomer to a long-time established group is risky and requires serious consideration on the part of the existing members and newcomer. The chemistry and dynamic between the standing group members will change with a new person, and all members must feel 100% comfortable sharing their confidential information with the new member. The new member also must be comfortable sharing their situations (with 100% truthfulness) with  a new set of peers. There is a leap of faith on both sides.

Worth the Risk

The rewards, of course, can be tremendous if both sides have carefully thought about the “merger.” Close-knit, trust-based groups with like-minded individuals can be an essential component of business success. These groups provide extraordinary perspective, intelligence, honesty, and accountability – all elements that all CEOs and leaders need to move their businesses forward.

A group’s value is not simply the sum of its members – whether the focus is on creativity, intelligence, process, visioning, strategic planning, project execution, or any other essential task. Of course each member brings tremendous individual value to a group. However, the ultimate value comes from the creation of a unique, additional dynamic.

The Mastermind Concept

One of the great proofs of this premise is the Mastermind group. Napoleon Hill, author of one of the most valued business books “Think and Grow Rich” introduced the concept of the “Mastermind” group in the early 1900’s:

“The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”  Continuing, he said, “No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.”

I’ve recently joined an exceptional Mastermind group that will surely help me scale Successful Culture in ways that I would not be able to do alone. The people in my group are truly “masters” of their craft. They are nationally and globally recognized for their products/services, speaking, books, and consulting. In turn, I hope to provide value to my fellow Masterminders through my 16 years of business-building & culture-building experience, and my experience with marketing, strategy, branding, education, and human capital.

Some of the people in my group have known each other well for 18 years. That is a lot of trust. To have been asked to join this group was an honor… there’s no other way to express it. The potential they see in me, the trust they place in me personally and collectively, and the value they see in me as someone who can help them is humbling.

Tip-Toeing Through Change

As we create a new path together and reconfigure the group dynamic based on my addition, I’m learning how to absorb into the group with as little disruption as possible, keeping the three required success conditions in mind: mutual trust among members, a sense of group identity, and a sense of group efficacy.

As you move forward with your own group dynamics – whether you are the stone or or the pond – I encourage you to be mindful of the potential ripple effects as well. Trust, collaboration, and purpose are the engines behind any successful group.

Good luck!



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