What Aristotle and Plato have to say about Team Development?

This post focuses on two basic principles that assist us to conceptualize Team Engagement (analyzed before here, here and here) starting from an interpretation of Ancient Philosophy that seems more contemporary than ever.

Read on if you also want to get some tips on how to go about to achieve this within your teams.

Plato and Aristotle

INTRODUCTION

So, what can Ancient Greek Philosophy can contribute to a discussion on better Team engagement?

What would Aristotle and Plato say about the management of modern teams?

Surprisingly, the advice that these thinkers may have suggested is very close to what our current thinking about team and individual development is.

The core of it could be crystallized in two terms: methexis (μέθεξις) and endelexeia (ενδελέχεια).

Let’s see on why it is important to consider those terms which enable us to better strategise towards getting optimal results from our teams.

 

Endelexeia

Endelexeia means to “have an end in itself / to have completeness”. In other words, to become who you really are.

Endelexeia is a concept that suggests that we need to know our team members’ behavioural style, i.e. weaknesses, strengths, dreams.

Only then, we can find the best ways to engage them i.e. position them in the right roles, support them and guide them towards meaningful work that will eventually promote and expand their ability to achieve optimum results for themselves and for the team i.e. work that will increase their Self-Esteem and enable them to even attain Self-Actualisation (as per the model by Abraham Maslow).

Nowadays, it is true that Work and Life have become intertwined. Technology has vastly contributed to the blurring of the dividing line between the two.

As we are creatures that seek meaning in all facets of Life, Work provides a great opportunity for this should we want to pursue it.

Moreover, we are getting closer and closer to Peter Drucker’s inspirational view that organizations are the means through which individuals can contribute towards the embetterment of society. Specifically, from his book The Effective Executive the below quotes are representative:

“The cohesion and strength of our society depend increasingly on the integration of the psychological and social needs of the knowledge worker with the goals of organization and of industrial society.

Effectiveness reveals itself as crucial to a man’s self-development; to organization development; and to the fulfillment and viability of modern society”

Job positions that satisfy mere processing needs are becoming automated and so, eventually we will be left with positions for which significant value-add will be required from each team member.

This means that creativity, lateral thinking, full engagement and the organizations’ focus on each team member contributing 100% of their capability will shift the attention towards understanding and promoting Endelexeia for each individual.

We already see this in recent literature e.g. the Rosenbluth and McFerrin Peters great book, The Customer Comes Second, supports the notion that should an organization supports and promotes the success of its own employees, then it also ensures that the Customer will be served and looked after.

It is thus important that work transforms itself to become meaningful enough and engaging enough so, each team member can be allowed to achieve optimal results.

Only then, the process of work becomes a win-win situation in which each individual can achieve Endelexeia.

A good start to the journey towards endelexeia is summarized below:

  1. Run a Behavioural Test with each team members and use it as a prompt to start a discussion.
  2. Run a Productive Culture Survey and use it as a prompt to see how you can improve it. (download here)
  3. Start having One-on-One meetings with your team every week or bi-weekly so, you keep in touch with them. Use these meetings as a means to connect, reflect and continuously improve.
  4. Reward successes.
  5. Go through the presentation on 12 tips for successful team engagement (here)

 

So, now have a look at the second significant term – Methexis.

Aristotle

Methexis

Methexis is a term we find in both Aristotle and Plato with slightly different connotations. The term effectively means ‘working together’.

However, the interpretation of the term provides for a more esoteric meaning e.g.

“A good way to describe methexis is by considering the circular dance of primitive tribes we sometimes see on the History Channel. The dancers work on an individual plane acting the steps based on the rhythm but also on a collective as the group can also be considered as a separate entity”. – Bolt

Paraphrasing Bolt (found here), Methexis is a way of considering the intermingling of attitudes, expressions and movement and the way in which meaning is enmeshed with the materiality and temporality of processes and practices in which signification is embedded.

So, it becomes clear that “the primitive tribes’ ” dance is not in response to the world, but a means of encountering it, sensing it, and remaking it.

Extending this thought, Carter (found here) describes the indigenous belief in the practices of sand-dance-painting which, he believes, is producing ‘real effects both on the human and the divine plane’.

“In essence, acting within a group has the potentiality of producing real effects on the individual and supporting and guiding his or hers journey towards self-actualization”. -Carter

Thereafter, the key question is this:

‘How is it possible for one form or nature to be present in a plurality of things, and yet to remain one?’. Cornford

To understand this question better, we can think of it in the same sense as  modern physics asks the question for the nature of light:

How can light be considered a particle and a wave at the same time? (you can find a brief description here)

In response to Cornford’s question and for whoever has immersed in dance, the experiential facts provides the answer that:

Yes, we can be present in the plurality of dance and still remain “one”.

Moreover, it is meaningful to do so.

A good start to your team’s journey towards your achieving Methexis is summarized below:

  • Employ each team member wisely taking into account technical skills but also psychological attributes that compliment the team and the team’s mission.
  • Run collective meetings each week/month and promote open discussions about the team’s goals, key performance indicators, and future opportunities.
  • Run a SWOT team analysis every year.
  • Promote a “one in, all in” attitude for your team.
  • Promote and encourage the full understanding of how the team’s efforts affects the organizational success.
  • Create a sense of pride for the work done.
  • Perform a stakeholder bonding exercise e.g. a small interview between team members. The below is an excerpt questionnaire from Schuh et al’s, fabulous book The CPO, reportedly used at a team building exercise:
  • “Why am I at this company? What motivates me to be part if this organization?
  • What do I expect from my colleagues within procurement and/or in different countries and/or in other functions?
  • How do I contribute to this? What am I willing to give?
  • You would never have expected this about me:”

 

CONCLUSION

Thinking about effectiveness and how to build the organizations of tomorrow, it becomes clear that we should focus on removing the organizational barriers that created the silo mentality and thwarted communication, innovation and progress.

Plato and Aristotle when they argued about Endelexeia and Methexis did not have modern organizations in mind. Methexis was a term that was used in the Arts (Theatre) as a way to describe that the audience was fully immersed in the play and so, a measure that the play was successful.

However, both these terms can provide much food for thought in how we organize our teams today. This is because these terms assist us to conceptualize basic human needs i.e. the need to become and the need to connect.

The balance between the individual and the team is very important, i.e. the balance between the need to reach Endelexeia and to feel Methexis and so, making steps towards achieving both these states would ensure that organizations will have happy and engaged employees, well tuned and effective teams in their effort to be successful in this hyper-competitive market-space.

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Image courtesy of Nick Thompson / www.flickr.com

 

 

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