Group Coherence for Project Teams - A Search for Hyper-Productivity


Group characteristics and group dynamics are invisible to most of us. We are not trained to detect them, let alone manage them. Our work is influenced by much more than what we see. This can make project success (and failure) sometimes appear to be random.

If you ask a project manager to give you a summary of the state of their project you would reasonably expect the answer to include several metrics. In some cases that might be all you get, or all you feel you need to hear. The bias towards the quantitative is quite prevalent in our projects and in our lives.

The tools and training to identify and analyze qualitative input are a lot less developed. Even project management methodologies that practitioners don't consider "traditional" have only started to scratch the surface of the human aspects of our work.

It is curious that at the end of a project - once the measuring stops - teams can typically describe qualitative factors that influenced their ability to deliver the project. The quantitative voice might quickly suggest "hindsight is always 20:20". However, it seems that the ones that experience the strongest success or achieve hyper-productivity are often the ones that also have qualitative observations. We think exploring qualitative research methods can provide a source of rich learning about teams.

We want to share new research and the insight it offers to project teams.

What is Group Coherence?

Joanna Zweig spent more than ten years researching group characteristics for her Ph.D. dissertation. She formed the Group Coherence Cooperative Inquiry (GCCI) group to learn about Group Coherence. This research team used Cooperative Inquiry , a group research method consisting of cycles of action and reflection to answer a question that the group agreed upon. The question was "What is Group Coherence ?"

For this post, Group Coherence is the shared state reached by a group of people that allows them to perform one or more tasks in perfect rhythm and harmony with great energy to overcome obstacles. This simplistic interpretation is a starting point for discussion and we acknowledge that it doesn't begin to do justice to all the interdisciplinary components of Group Coherence that include behavioral, psychological, spiritual and sociological.

In reality Group Coherence is a more elusive concept than one would imagine. Indeed during their research Joanna and her group overlooked Group Coherence , seeing only a great meeting or experience rather than a shift at the group level.

Types of Group Coherence

During their research the GCCI group experienced Group Coherence on four occasions. When each instance of Group Coherence felt different, the group called them "types" of Group Coherence.

They named four such events as instances and types of Group Coherence as Group Shared Experiences:

1. Coming Up With a Common Question to Answer ,

Type: Stating the group's problem or common purpose

2. Agreeing to a Common Project to address that question,

Type: Identifying a group action to learn about the problem or purpose

3. Finding and Agreeing to a Common Process was also significant,

Type: Identifying a group process for Practice (An example of this could be the self-organizing nature of Agile methods such as XP and Scrum) .

4. Finding an answer to the research question completed the research process.

Type: Group resolution or group learning based on the question.

Despite being able to recognize these types, they found that Group Coherence was not something that could be planned or made to happen at will. They did, however, identify and describe seventeen ingredients they experienced as contributing to their experience of coherence.

Key Ingredients

Among the seventeen were five ingredients they considered to be "key" because the group felt that these ingredients would be present in every type of Group Coherence.

The key ingredients are listed below. We will discuss them in subsequent posts:

  • Relationship between Individual and Shared


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