The Trip Gels on the Third Day

If you have spent any time working with group development you have certainly noticed that there is a regular pattern that this process follows, and in the Green Tortoise world this we best reflected in another rule that I was quoted:

"For better or worse,
the group 'gels' on the third morning"

I noted this idea in the back of my mind and started to look at how the group process evolved on the trips. On every long trip that I drove there was a marked shift that happened the morning of day three; roles had been set, habits had been formed, alliances had been forged. Where everyone would mill around together on the first day or two, now sub-groups emerged. Where the first couple of days were filled with the driver giving direction and explaining how to do things, the morning of the third day seemed to dawn on a group who would take matters into their own hands.

Of course, how well the group functioned was largely depended on what happened during the first two days of the trip.

Small Group Dynamics

When I went back to college to finish my degree I took a course in Small Group Dynamics. When we studied the "Forming / Storming / Norming / Performing" model I immediately recognized that this is what had been happening all along. While each group had different factors such as nationality, age, and individual differences they were also the same in many ways — a group of people living on a bus and traveling. The 'sameness' of their situation bred a sameness of experience. The repeatable nature of this process is what allowed Tortoise drivers to develop a repeatable leadership model that worked so well. While each group had a different makeup of people (more Germans on one trip, more Brits on another, an older group on one trip and a younger group on the next) the fundamentals were the same: 35 – 40 people living together on a bus for a set amount of time. This made the group development process essentially the same each time.

"The 10th Day is Always a Tough Day"

The Grand Canyon trip was always one of my favorites, and it happened to be 9 days long. After driving a few of those and really liking the way it flowed I embarked on a 14 day Cross-Country trip, that's when I first heard about the tenth day. How hard the 10th day is depends on the dynamics of the group, but there are always some challenges that appeared on this day: cliques who had been together the whole trip swapped members. People who had been inseparable start to fight. Those who have been doing more than their fair share of the kitchen work confront those who have not. Those who kept their personal possessions organized on the bus had words with those whose baggage was spread all over. Patience just ran out on the 10th day. The particulars were different each time, but the result was always the same: changes happened and things were different moving forward. It didn't matter if the full length of the trip was 10 days, 14 days, or 30 days — the readjustment happened on the 10th day and from there on in things were generally fine.

Leading the Corporate Tour

Having a working experience of guiding a group through the storming and forming process has given me some very useful insights into what types of input will help a group move through this process effectively. They will move through it one way or the other, but a good leader can have a very big impact on how well (or badly) this happens.

A clear statement of a goal, and clear instructions on the path to achieve that goal are the two things that make the most difference to a group in the forming stage. Give people vague direction and no tools to work with and sometimes you'll get lucky and the skills will be present among the group, but generally your results will be uneven because you are taking the risk that the lesser side of human nature will take over and people will get defensive instead of co-operative.

I've seen plenty of solid groups hit bumps in the road. Which day it happens is not as predictable in the corporate world where there are more variables at work than on a bus, but the response is the same: attention must be paid to giving the group the room and the tools to work things out. Something will happen during this readjustment, but just like on the bus, how well it happens can often be positively influenced by a leader that knows what's going on.