November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Brain Waves

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On WNPR’s Where We Live segment with Al Bhatt last week, the discussion focused on Gen Yers and how they are impacting the workplace. They come with their life experiences (choice, constant and real-time conversation, and access) and expectations in tow and, often, find themselves pushing against the behavior of established collectives.

Collective nouns name groups composed of members, e.g. army, cabinet, jury, faculty, etc. The verb that follows a collective noun can be either singular or plural. If all members of the collective are doing the same action, at the same time, in the same way  – acting in unison – then a singular verb is correct. “The jury agrees that the state prosecutors did not provide enough evidence, so its verdict is not guilty.” If all members of the collective are doing the same action, at the same time, in different ways – acting as individuals – then a plural verb is correct. “The jury disagree about the guilt of the accused and have told the judge that they are hopelessly deadlocked.” (Thanks to www.chompchomp.com for the examples and the explanation. More great grammar stuff is waiting for you there.)

So why the grammar lesson? Because it provides another way to observe and understand your organization. An organization, after all, is one big collective noun made up of a number of smaller collective nouns – staff, board, committee, group, council, team etc. And the way the collective nouns act determines a great deal about the future. If your company manufactures a highly technical element of a combat system, you absolutely want unison behavior from your manufacturing group – all members following the same instruction manual. But, do they (should they?) problem solve in the same manner, with a step by step guide?

You may have a mix among the collectives in your organization. Some act in an individual manner and others act in unison. Or maybe a mix within each collective where behavior moves back and forth. Or you may have individuals within collectives that don’t agree about how they should act, e.g. some want to act in unison and others as individuals.

So, what if you had a better sense of what your collective nouns are doing?

Try this. Identify all the collective nouns in your organization and consider how they behave and what impact they have. Then, detach yourself from what you know and what is on your mind, from past experiences to the stress of the impending future, so you can have an objective lens. Will you work with what you have and build around the dynamics that are already in place? Or, change what you have and rewire the collectives to work more effectively toward your organization’s goals?

Your organization’s needs are different from others. A collective voice, a collection of voices or a mix, are all plausible and worth dissecting to ensure that the work you take on is supported and sustained.

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Posted by: Bruce Kaechele
Email the author: brucek@fathom.net