HRMS Team Development: Wilfred Bion’s Theory

Any group of people with a common task or goal that requires them to cooperate will develop as a unit; positively or negatively. As the person responsible for a new HRMS project and the HRMS team, it’s worth understanding a little of the theory around how new groups develop. There are, of course many theories available and in a sense, it matters not which one you choose as the purpose is simply to give you a framework within which to influence the group’s development process.

Wilfred Bion

Bion distinguished between two types of group dynamic or behaviour. One group has a clear purpose or task and focuses all its resources towards that aim; this type of group Bion called, a ‘work group’ and some examples might be: a management team discussing the detail of next year’s business plan and budget; a planning group conducting an energetic brainstorm, or a project team on a Friday afternoon, all doing their bit to meet a tough HRMS go-live deadline.

The other group bonds through a set of common feelings or underlying values; this type of group Bion called, a ‘basic assumption’ group and some examples might be: a management team arguing about who gets which car park space in next week’s rota; a planning group pretending to discuss the task but really having a gossip, or a project colleagues in a pub, on a Friday night, dissing a difficult group of senior stakeholders.

The difference is one of behavior. A work group within your HRMS team is productive; bringing all its assets to bear on the task at hand. The basic assumption group is unproductive; it’s not achieving anything, often because it is dominated by emotion and over-focussed on negative issues.

Influencing HRMS Team Development

The HRMS team leader’s role (or at least, part of it) is to ensure that the team has clear, relevant and useful work to do; at a level appropriate to its talents; with enough structure to give it a sense of organisation. Basic assumption groups develop when certain circumstances are prevalent; usually when the group is either a) over-dependent (e.g. on a leader); or b) feels under threat (e.g. a slashed budget threatens HRMS project closure).

In these circumstances, useful activities from the HRMS team leader include: facilitating opinion-sharing, setting up smaller sub-groups (to split up any cliques or cabals and also help shyer people to contribute), encouraging appropriate risk-taking (to take the group a step or two out of its collective comfort zone), discouraging blaming, identifying positive action steps to move towards project goals, and of course, refraining from colluding with or joining in the unhelpful behavior!

It’s human nature, in any group environment – and perhaps particularly in the closed and temporary surroundings of a project team – some behavior will be unhelpful to the group’s purpose; some individuals will naturally gravitate (or attempt to gravitate) toward dominance, and key skills within your HRMS team can be lost/buried if the group culture that develops doesn’t encourage contributions from all members. As team leader, your job is to encourage a healthy group atmosphere that gets the job done.

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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall