• Dan Berger

Why every manager needs to attend a group relations conference

“Why is the white guy trying to take the lead?” our small group’s consultant asked. He was referring to me and my “contributions” to the group thus far. The rest of the group, which was underrepresented minorities and women, seemed to agree with him as they began to assassinate my character. They told me I wasn’t creating a safe space. Feeling unseen and misunderstood, I shut down for the rest of the workshop. This interaction took place at the group relations conference (“GRC”) I participated in a few months ago at University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences. The goal of this post is to convince you to not only attend a GRC but also send your managers to one as well. So, why buck the management classes and EQ development programs favored by exec coaches and HR practitioners? Because a GRC is a real-time experiential learning laboratory where participants can study conscious and unconscious group dynamics, see how they contribute to these dynamics, and rapidly apply any learnings to the outside world. This work is critically important for those who want to foster belonging within organizations: Empowering managers to see their own blind spots, understanding the forces at play within teams, and learning how to talk about these things unlock a deeper understanding of peers, and thus, team cohesion. In other words, GRCs provide participants with a reflective opportunity that develops humility, compassion, and empathy. In retrospect, the GRC was uncomfortable in the right ways. It forced me to realize that, regardless of how I show up, the way I am perceived is not going to be congruent to my intentions (or even fair!) but that’s where the step function for personal growth lies.

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