The need to belong

My point of viewIndividual versus group needs and where do I fit in?

The Joomla Day New England was the second Joomla Day I attended and the first where I gave a presentation. It seems that I hit the nail with my topic as there were lively discussions during and after my session and I was asked to write everything down.

So here it is πŸ˜‰

I consult and coach different kind of companies regarding their organizational structure and guide them to develop and implement necessary changes. Doing this I use the methods of Transactional Analysis (TA), a psychological theory, based on psycho-analysis and psychotherapy.

It is used in counselling, organization development, education and psychotherapy. There is a set of models which helps to understand why we think, feel and act like we do, to trace behavioural patterns and ways of thinking, reflect on these and learn to develop alternatives, that will lead to a change of the everyday (working) life.

I am not directly involved in the Joomla project nor do I have strong relations to many members, I just got in contact with some of them and, from my outside standpoint, I was looking with my TA eyes at the visible processes of the Joomla project.

The Group development model by Eric Berne was for me the most appropriate model in that case and so I gave a very short introduction about

  • the visible and hidden structures of groups,
  • the dynamic of groups,
  • group activities,
  • authorities in groups.

This is to give an insight into how I look at groups, but please, this is not a pattern. Applying the model needs more detailed work with a group.

Based on a small survey, I showed how members of the project fit in and that development is possible and needed.

The Need to Belong

Human beings are social beings. We need to be in contact with others, to review our positions, to learn from and share with each other. We associate and, at the same time, dissociate by forming groups to fulfil our personal needs. Even though we all have many different reasons to build, join or leave groups, we all have the same basic needs, we need to assuage our hunger for

  • Stimulus: We need adequate challenges and stimulation to stay in and follow a group
  • Recognition: We need to be appreciated in what we are doing and have done, someone has to take care of us, we need to be seen in our wish for learning and coping with changes
  • Structure: We need to know how to spend our time, how deep we’ll be involved with our resources, emotions and if there is a future in this group
  • Leadership: We need guidance and leadership, a vision
  • Survival: How can I survive in/with this group? Can I adapt to the culture and be safe?
  • Passion: We need to introduce own ideas, show our creativity
  • Quiescence: We need time to reflect and regenerate about activities which happened.

Of course, we need to find all this in a group. Even though, a group is constantly changing because of external challenges or the fluctuation of members, we are seeking to find a balance of these seven motivations. If we can’t satisfy one or more of them, we’ll start revolting, try to change the group or leave it.

Let’s have a closer look at the structures, dynamics and authorities in groups.

The Visible and Hidden Structures of Groups

A group can be defined as an agglomeration of individuals who interact with each other for an apparently common purpose. A group provides great potential for destruction as well as for healing. It is the most powerful environment for individual and societal change, for the better or the worse.

A group dissociates people from each other and has, however natured, a structure. The structure of a group is defined by boundaries, the type of membership and inner and public structure, visible in the organizational chart and staffing. Boundaries can be hermetically closed (when there is no way in or out, e.g. in prison), open to both sides (easy to belong and leave, e.g. or open just in one direction (easy to belong but difficult to get out or vice versa).

The type of membership defines under which conditions and achievements it is possible to belong to a group:

  • voluntary: You like the idea and it is easy to join as the borders are open
  • optional: You got invited, you can join, but you don’t have to
  • accidental: Your nationality, you are a citizen of a town, etc.
  • obligatory: you don’t really have a choice (school class, army, etc.)

The public structure of a group is easily visible with an organizational chart, the inner structures reflecting the responsibilities and assignments of tasks. This inner structure can be

  • very simple: A group with one leader
  • mixed: Different, but clear, distinguished hierarchies
  • complex: Split leadership with one per working groups/boards
  • complicated: Split leadership in different boards, responsibilities and decision power is delegated to the boards

Complex and complicated structures induce conflicts about decisions, responsibilities and involved persons have difficulties to find their right place; their belonging in such a structure.

According to what is published on, the structure of the Joomla project is complicated (Figure 1).

Structure of the Joomla project

Figure 1: Graphical interpretation of the public structure of March 05, 2012

The project has a shared leadership. The different functional areas appears clearly distinguished from each other in the organizational chart, but members belong to multiple functional areas and, additionally, OSM is an independent organization.

There is great potential for conflict, as in reality, clear boundaries of power do not exist or are not respected which might be difficult because of the multiple belongings. Responsibilities are not really defined and delegated to specialized working groups and it is not clear how to become a member of the different groups. Not to forget, the big community seems to have no space here.

A lot of the people I was talking to about the organizational structure of the project confirmed that it’s not really easy to understand who is leading what, which activities are going on and how to participate.

This confusion results e.g. in less creative contributions as people do not have certainty about their personal involvement.

Each group has its hidden structure, which is the summary of the sub-conscious image that members have, resulting from their needs, desires, experiences, requests, feelings.

In TA we call this group imago. The imago underlies a permanent development process as the individual motivations, relations to other group members and roles are changing throughout the time being in the group.

The group imago delivers a good insight about how a person positions itself, others and group leaders in terms of their personal involvement. The imago decides the success of a group.

During the session I asked the participants to draw their imago and they came up with some interesting ones which showed a bit of the confusion I described above. None of the few imagos we discussed during the session reflected the public structure. Most of them expressed a forlornness, helplessness and the need for orientation.

This underlines once more the need for a structural change πŸ˜‰

Dynamics and Activities of Groups

When observing groups, most people think first about group dynamics. It’s important but too short of a thought as this is only one part in the game.

However, the dynamic of a group reflects how the group is acting, the processes in the group (Figure 2).

Dynamic of Groups

Figure 2: Dynamic of Groups

The balance between the cohesive power and the individual preferences will decide not only on how the group is going to be developed, how creative it is, but also about whether it will still exist or split up.

However, the personal development and situation of each group member have a direct impact on group activities and will, thus, constantly change the group.

If the cohesive power is bigger than the sum of the individual interests, the group is better in working on common creative activities. If it’s the other way around, then it puts stress on the group and minimizes their creativity. In rough times of high competition, the group needs their whole potential to stand up against this external pressure. The better the group is prepared, the better they all stick together and give enough space for creative self-expression, therefore the easier it will be to get through such situations (Figure 3).

Group Activities

Figure 3: Group Activities

Authorities in Groups

The entirety of the mental, material and political influences on one side – visible in the rules of decision-making, etiquette, infrastructure and group culture – and the people leading the group on the other side, are the authorities of a group. However, it impacts a group and is of prime importance if the members follow, rebel or being passive.

When analysing the leadership of a group, then we often see three different people, even though there is only one official leader according to the organizational structure:

  • The person in charge, the responsible person, who is calling to account for slips and who gets the merits.
  • The real leader, the decision-making authority, the person who gets the most attention and who has been asking for advice in difficult situations.
  • The psychological leader, the person who has the biggest influence in the group. It’s the person who is already present in the mind of each member.

Ideally, these three leaders are unified in one person. If not, they should at least, work together in an efficient way as not to waste their power in personal fights (Figure 4).

Group Authorities

Figure 4: Groups Authorities

The Need to Belong in the Joomla Community

Preparing the session for the Joomla Day New England, I did a small survey on Facebook, asking people β€œWhat is your relation to Joomla?”. Some choices for answers were given, but people had the possibility to add their answers. Multiple choices were possible.

About 50 people answered, I know, this is not representative, but it gives a small insight and shows a tendency (Figure 5).

How to fit in?

Figure 5: How to fit in? – Facebook survey

To get a better understanding of the answers, I grouped them broadly into the basic motivational parameters explained above. For more detailed statements, further analysis is necessary (Figure 6).


Figure 6: How to fit in?Results

The majority of the people are part of the community because it allows them to survive, to live from the products the project delivers. Those contributing are in the minority and here I can only guess why. Maybe, an adequate system of recognition is missing, maybe there is not enough space or it is not easy to contribute ideas. A reason could also be that people can’t find a security in the structures of the project, they haven’t got any idea about the future of the project and thus do not spend their personal resources for the project, even though, a lot of them find the idea of open source software appealing and are stimulated by the people in the project (positive and/or negative).

Combining these results with the group imagos people drew, it seems that a clear leadership and a given orientation structure is not available (Figure 7).


Figure 7: Needs

The balance between structure, culture and dynamics needs to be disturbed for changing a group or an organisation.

When talking about changing the structure of the project, we have to consider that these changes directly influences the balance between dynamics and therefore the culture of the group.

The leadership composition and style impacts the cohesion power. It changes the reasons why a group sticks together and, therefore, it challenges the balance between personal and common interests. How the members of the group cope with these changes will be visible in the allowed behaviour, in the etiquette, the culture of the group.

For example:

An organization of volunteers has developed a good product and it is becoming very successful on the market. The project grows, in number of project members and clients. The lead of the project is loosely organized and those who were there from the beginning feel the need for more organized structures to satisfy the growing number of requests and demands from clients and to reduce the work overload for a few people. They introduce a formal leadership team, composed of some early members of the organization and of some people from outside with more business experiences. These people get paid for their work. The majority of the numerous members of the organization are still happy to spend their time in the organization, share and discuss ideas with other people there. Over the time, the creative input from those people is declining as most of them feel that they don’t get rewarded for their contributions except for those who are in paid leadership positions. Conversely this means that the leadership team needs to find other sources of contributors. They establish an external company which from now on leads the decisions over the further development of the product, from the organization of volunteers to recruitment of their employees.

The changes in the structure of that organization destroyed the balance between the cohesion power and the personal interests of the members of that organization which then again led to a different culture of the organization. At the end of this restructuring process, it is still an organization of volunteers, but with a complete different dynamic and culture.

When presenting my conclusions and thoughts about that little survey, I had no knowledge about the plans for re-structuring the leadership of the project but I found myself supporting a group for preparing a proposal for a new leadership structure after the Joomla day.

However, during my presentation, I talked about some changes, necessary for the further existence and development of the Joomla project.

The big value of the Joomla project is its cultural diversity, with its big potential of ideas and creativity. They need a unique governance to find their place in the project, to assuage their hungers for contribution, recognition, structure, stimulation, passion, quiescence and leadership.

Yes, there is more leadership needed in the project. There is a need for a clear transparent framework for actions and responsibilities to support creativity, to recognize and reward contributions and for continuous evaluation.



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