Pseudo online communities

Back in the eighties, Total Quality Management was all the rage. Companies adopted "quality circles" to enable those close to the work to work together on improving quality. There were a few showcase examples, but most were "quality circles" in name only. People showed up for the meetings without making an effort or making a difference. The same pattern occurred with self-directed teams, communities of practice and cross-functional task forces. In the dozen years I taught college, the same dysfunction occurred on the students' "group projects". At the same time, I participated in several online listservs. Now we have more than a million online communities that mostly appear to be communities "in name only". The pattern continues to repeat itself ad infinitum.

Here are some of the telltale signs of falling into pseudo teamwork or community dysfunctionality:
  • The predominance of silence filled with only a few loud voices.
  • Tired debates over positional stances that avoid collaborative processes for changing, learning, rethinking, problem solving etc.
  • Use of the shared space as a dumping ground for personal frustrations, resentments and other forms of baggage.
  • Routine experiences of "talking to a wall" and getting deprived of feedback, reactions, responses, and other perspectives.
  • Polarizing of members into cliques, mini-tribes or turfs to make enemies of other members and to fortify defensive rationalizations.
  • Contributing to mutual misunderstanding, mistrust, escalation of tactics and adoption of superficial stereotypes.
  • Expecting others to provide what's missing while abdicating responsibility for contributing to much-needed solutions.

Over the years, I've come up with many explanations for why these patterns reappear so consistently. Here's more than a few:
  • Left brain cognition thinks in dichotomies which rejects the nuances and complexities of effective interpersonal relations
  • Emotional baggage interferes with authentic relating and our ability to understand others insightfully.
  • Doctrinaire approaches to schooling breed passive learners who cannot regard "what's going wrong" as a lesson to learn from.
  • Bureaucratic employment enforces a culture of top-down, hierarchical power structures which repudiate power-sharing, bottom-up initiatives and teamwork.
  • Scientific objectivity rejects the cyclical, interdependent, reciprocal and self referential dynamics of seeing other people and "their" problems.
  • We only relate effectively when we're feeling understood, and otherwise become preoccupied with getting attention or getting even.
  • Systems of abuse silence their victims and teach them to feel permanently powerless, dominated and vulnerable to hostilities.
  • Outer directed consciousness falls into vicious cycles which drains the participants of their personal motivation, commitment and creativity.
In this post I've used my bounty of the patterns I recognize to identify recurring problems. In my next post, I'll explore the solutions inherent in these ways of defining the problems.

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