A ? of Group Identity

“Who am I?” – one of the most hopeful and frightening questions we face as individuals. But perhaps there’s one question that even more hopeful and more frightening – “Who are we?”

Understanding the workings of group identity is fraught with both delicious possibility and hideous despair, just ask our major political parties. In group life we rarely have the tools that enable us to understand what happens to our individual identity when we become part of a collective. For instance, one of our most common human responses to problems in group life is to attribute blame to individuals, cleverly absolving the remainder of the group of responsibility. The truth is rarely this straightforward.

With distributed models of leadership becoming more commonplace, the cult of the “I” is shifting, so the importance of understanding and engaging intelligently with issues of group identity are becoming more urgent. There is merit in bringing these issues into our consciousness through practices that encourage people to experience themselves and others in ways that are playful, meaningful and (hopefully) revelatory.

Understanding group identity is not as simple as whipping down to the marketing department, devising a series of feel good values, and placing them on lanyards that people can wear around their neck in order to create the perception of ‘oneness’. That approach has had its day. Many of us are now looking for a greater level of congruence between our individual and group identities in our workplaces. This doesn’t necessarily mean always mean identifying shared values, it’s more about an ability to build tolerances to support a diversity of them.

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