“The Leader must have a deep understanding of the workplace personality, character, and conscience.”
For employees today, the workplace fulfills many of those all-important human social needs, especially those rooted in mutual respect whose foundations are built on in-person communication. At the most primal level, human beings are social animals driven by a sense of purpose. If you consider the workplace environment at a handful of successful companies, you will discover they have many things in common. You will surely find a collective identity and a sense of responsibility toward the achievement of a common goal, but not necessarily through compliance with a specific set of company rules or standards (that is, being told how you should do something). At many of these companies, you will also find employees extol a true sense of belonging.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, this group of folks just clicks! I don’t know what it is; they just seem to click. They really work well together.”
When we talk about the workplace conscience, we are not referring to individual conscience expressed in the workplace based on worker’s conflicting beliefs. Instead, these are the elements that contribute to the personality of the workgroup and whether there is a general consensus among team members as to how the group approaches different tasks – be that in a positive or sometimes not so positive way. Understanding the factors that shape the collective personality of the group is essential for the Leader to succeed. The Leader must be aware that team personality has proven a robust predictor of team efficiency, and these efficiencies – and subsequent successes – should not be minimized.
Short of having your entire employee pool take a 30 or 40 question factor analysis survey, are there traits the Leader can quickly identify that help define the collective personality of the group? If workplace character is an expression of the group conscience, how does the group conscience come to exist? What is its makeup? Of what is ‘group conscience’ comprised?
Our last article did a very quick dive into determining personal character traits – strengths and weaknesses. Might there be any techniques that we discussed previously that apply to the assessment of the group? If the workplace personality or character is an expression of group conscience, it is first necessary to understand what group conscience means.
Those who would be Leaders in this brave new world must be able to anticipate and interpret these things and do so quickly.
What is ‘Group Conscience’?
One of the best definitions I have seen describing a ‘group conscience’ comes from the addiction community. There are many program descriptions and explanations to assist the new 12-step or other program inductees toward an understanding of the commitment that they are making toward ridding their lives of addiction. This one is from GreySheeters Anonymous and is equally applicable to any group (as evident in its broad adoption).
“The Group Conscience is the collective conscience of the group’s members, representing substantial unanimity on issues involving the group before definitive action is taken.” 
It is vital here to make the distinction between ‘group conscience’ and ‘mob rule,’ two terms sometimes used interchangeably and very incorrectly. Group conscience recognizes authority and implies that any pertinent information has been shared, and all views have been respectfully considered before a majority or consensus is reached. In short, ‘mob rule’ is more the control of a situation by a few, typically by violence or intimidation. The important thing to realize here is that these mutual considerations do not necessarily need to occur consciously.
How is Group Conscience Formed?
In the workplace, group conscience develops when individual members of the group have the opportunity to share independent points of view and discuss differing opinions, ultimately identifying differences and similarities. More than merely arriving at a consensus through majority similarity, it is the importance, the weight given to the individual factors on which each member agrees or disagrees that forms the bonds within the group. I suggest that among the strongest of these factors is consensus around purpose.
These mutual considerations usually do not happen through the formal agenda of a meeting. It is more likely they will occur during discussions in the lunchroom, in conversations over Zoom™ working together over a piece of machinery, getting oily with a colleague in the grease pit, by generally getting to know one another on a non-work related basis – at work. For many people today, work colleagues form the foundation of their social network as time with friends outside the work arena is marginalized. (This is the chapter in my book on balance and we’re not going there in this missive!)
Socialization promotes a shared system of knowledge, as is often more prevalent and evident in the stabilization of established teams. Is your group open and inviting when welcoming new employees, or is it closed and uninviting?
New hires often try hard to ‘fit in best’ when provided a new team opportunity, trying to prove themselves early and define their place in the team hierarchy. Initially, at least, they are also more open to accepting guidance from the group. This vulnerability only exists for a short window in time, though. This window is also an opportunity for the Leader to understand the ‘group conscience.’ The employee-leaders among the workgroup are often an example of the centrality of the culture, and these employee-leaders often exert more dominance than others over the newcomer.
In many cases, subordinates do not look to the next level of management as Leadership, but rather to others within the employee team.
Leaders Within the Team
Identifying the leaders among the employee pool can serve two purposes. First, this may serve as an indicator of the central tendencies and variabilities within the team. The Leader may glean from the traits of a smaller population insight into the larger group. Second, consequences of context may moderate social behavior or influence team dynamics and performance, offering further insight into the group conscience. Understand that no matter how small or how large the employee pool is, certain individuals will be apotheosized and emulated by others. Who are these individuals within your employee team? (It is important to note that this discussion applies equally to those forming a new team or working within an established organization.)
Understanding team composition may serve as the basis for planning the most effective operations. It is not always true that bigger teams will get the job done more efficiently. As operating budgets become marginalized to the nth degree, the Leader may recognize that a small special operations team, made up of a team leader and skill-specific team members, is perhaps the most appropriate way to proceed. These teams must encompass members with certain character traits in common and the ability (if not already possessed) to develop a high level of mutual respect.
In addition to the importance of mutual respect, and related closely to the common ground formed as a result of the given working conditions, one of the keys emerging toward understanding the group conscience is the importance of the ‘why’ factor.
The ‘Why’ Factor
In one of the most viewed TEDx talks of recent years, Simon Sinek elaborates on the importance of Leaders to be clear on ‘why’ it is you do what you do – as a company, as a leader, as a consumer, as a marketer. Sinek postulates that the ‘why’ factor is at the center of all the decisions we humans make, especially as consumers. When the group conscience forms consensus as to ‘why’ the group is doing what they are doing, individual members of the group feel empowered to perform independently toward successful completion of the overall goal.
I would further refine Sinek’s postulate by adding that while ‘why’ empowers the individual toward successful completion of the task (inspires the individual), it is a ‘sense of purpose’ – and the alignment of our sense of purpose with that of the corporation – that is the driver behind the ‘why.’
In the workplace of today, a subordinate’s impetus of care is the quality of their interpersonal relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and with the overall corporate mission to which they are expected to commit. While personal and organizational values may not be perfectly aligned, the Leader in this brave new world must lead from a position of compassion and understanding, helping those in the employee pool to recognize their purpose – their full potential. (This subject is explored in much greater depth in next week’s post: The Third Key. Again, we must be careful of crossing that thin grey line and stepping into the ‘moralization’ of ‘why.’)
The Leader must clearly define the ‘why’ related to the long-term objective to be met or goal to be achieved in a way and manner that the junior team can understand and embrace. As a Leader, can you define whether there is consensus among team members as to ‘why’ they are doing what it is they do every day? More importantly, is it the right ‘why’?
The Right ‘Why’
In an age when Leaders are often called upon to supervise subordinates hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away, one may be forgiven for asking who is leading whom? After all, who is driving this bus anyway? The Leader in this brave new world must realize that workplace culture is more anti-hierarchical than it has ever been – and is continuing to evolve (or devolve depending on your perspective). Subordinates do not follow all the time – and the Leader must not only be aware of this but encourage it. It is perhaps for this reason alone that group conscience consensus toward the right ‘why’ becomes essential.
The right ‘why’ does not have to be an in-depth understanding of the nuanced accounting details or what the company stands to gain by undertaking a specific objective. (Indicators would suggest that this generation of employees find perceived ‘corporate greed’ repulsive and financials are of secondary importance to their own personal ‘why.’) The right ‘why’ may be fostered by encouraging a sense of ownership in the task at hand, or by promoting responsibility for the organization through self.
In the brave new world, one of the most critical elements of leadership is an intimate and emotional relationship between Leader and subordinate. For example, creating conditions such that junior staff may participate in the decision-making process toward such preferences as working hours, wages, location(s), and the discussion of specific task assignments. These discussions create a sense of belonging and a sense of ownership. These are two of my five pillars of ‘why’ an employee chooses to work at a specific company, or for a particular Leader.
A Closing Thought
Exaggerated by a dispersed and partitioned work environment, one of the most important conversations the Leader must have with their employees is about expectations based on the objectives and work conditions. Far too often, senior leaders neglect this essential communication and the opportunities it provides. This missive would not be complete without a word or two about how the leader may develop workplace conscience.
For much of this guidance, I credit W. Edwards Deming. By fortune, chance, or intent, I look to Dr. Deming as an icon with whom I share much in common, especially our common background as engineers and passionate interest in a wide range and array of interrelated subjects.
The group conscience is not a fixed commodity and may be in flux much of the time, varying with how the group approaches different assignments. While the Leader must be proficient at scanning the work environment for changes, the Leader must quickly adapt personally to what they learn. As a Leader in the emergent brave new world, you must be adept at creating constancy of purpose while providing a rigorous program of education and self-improvement. The Leader must foster an inner worth and promote personal growth in their employees all the while including everyone in the company in the process and transformation of the workplace into the ‘model of the new era.’ (see also Deming’s 14 Points)
This advice indeed forms the construct of my five pillars of ‘why’: A sense of belonging, a sense of ownership, a sense of pride, a sense of purpose, and a sense of direction. The employee in this brave new world must feel they are in control of their own destiny, and that they are making a difference.
If the Leader has an understanding of themselves, recognition of the group conscience, and the ability to scan the work environment for change, how must these characteristics combine in response to circumstance and in reaction to the employee pool in order to project success?
- Kozlowski, S. and B. Bell, Workgroups and teams in organizations, in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, W.C. Borman, D.R. Ilgen, and R.J. Klimoski, Editors. 2003, Wiley-Blackwell: New York, NY. p. 333-375.
- Group Conscience Format. GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA) [electronic] 2016 [cited 2020 August 8]; Available from: https://www.greysheet.org/meetings/meeting-group-resources/meeting-formats/group-conscience-format.
- Sinek, S., How great leaders inspire action, in TEDx – Puget Sound 2009.
- The Deming Institute. [electronic] 2020 August 2020 [cited 2020 August 8]; Available from: https://deming.org/.