The perfect group? A dangerous fantasy?

The MindTools website is a useful source of all kinds of resources, articles and ideas. I’ve just read the latest e-newsletter on beating self-sabotage which has a great article on perfectionism in it. Read the article and then translate it from the business world to grassroots groups. Recognise any situations? Here’s a few of the characteristics of perfectionism the article lists which I see groups struggling with day-in and day-out:

  • You don’t like taking risks, because there is then no guarantee that you can do the task perfectly. You stick with safer tasks, because you know that you can achieve them.
  • You don’t enjoy the process of learning and working; you only care about the result…
  • You often exhibit all-or-nothing thinking: either something is perfect, or it’s a failure…
  • You don’t handle criticism and feedback well…
  • You may apply your own unrealistic standards to those around you, becoming critical when colleagues don’t meet those expectations. As a result, you may not have many close relationships at work.
  • You have a difficult time delegating tasks to others.

All of these are a recipe for dysfunction in a group, for alienating and driving away new members, for preventing groups achieving sustainability and resilience. Here’s an example:

For instance, imagine that you never delegate tasks to your assistant, even though this is why you hired him. You often stay late at work to finish tasks that he could have done. You don’t delegate tasks, because you believe he’ll do them incorrectly, and you’ll look bad.

Forget assistants and think instead of “the rest of the group” or “newcomers”… a very familiar problem in groups as this manifests itself in terms of control, unwelcome micromanagement, lack of genuine access to skills and responsibility, lack of support, and informal hierarchy.

The article goes on to talk about strategies for dealing with your own perfectionism and has more wise words many social action groups could learn from, such as:

Don’t Fear Mistakes

Mistakes are part of life. They can even provide rich learning experiences, if you have the courage to examine them. Your mistakes can teach you far more about life and your abilities than your successes will.

Make a real effort to learn from each mistake that you make. You’ll grow as a result.

So maybe the perfect social action group is not desirable after all? What we’re looking for is the group that’s imperfect, comfortable with its imperfection, and with good processes to grow, learn and share.

Quotes from the article with permission: © Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2012. All rights reserved.