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July 01, 2008

There is no such thing as a self-forming group

I'm trying to finish up my promised prediction, but in the process of so doing, I've been marinating a deep thought or two and felt it necessary to make this statement: There is no such thing as a self-forming group.

Self-forming groups get talked about quite a lot in association circles, but the fact of the matter is that all groups are subject to the law of entropy. Without someone or something to hold them together, groups disintegrate. When it comes to so-called self-forming groups, there is always someone (or many people) who devote time and attention to creating and sustaining them. It sure is convenient to refer to online communities or herds of like minded people who network through the web as self-forming groups, but it isn't accurate.

When confronted with a so-called self-forming group, don't just assume all of the participants just spontaneously banded together. It's more likely that there are a few ringleaders who have quite a bit of sweat equity invested in it. Keeping this in mind could help you craft your engagement strategy.

It may reek of circular logic, but this assertion isn't incompatible with an earlier statement made here: All associations are self-forming groups.

Tagged: ; ; ;


ljunker said...

"Without someone or something to hold them together, groups disintegrate." That’s an extremely important point! I commented on this on Matt Baehr's blog recently, too: I think that any plan for social media (or communities of practice, or other types of groups within an association) has to allow for a big investment of staff and volunteer time if you want the blog/community/what have you to succeed. Just building it isn't enough. And a successful community that loses that someone or something that's holding it together has a good chance of falling apart, no matter how well established it is; you have to be prepared to find a new linchpin to hold things together.

ljunker said...

Oops, sorry--I wrote "Matt Baehr" when I meant to write "Bob Wolfe." (Don't ask me how I did that--it's not like their names are even similar.) Matt and Bob, my sincere apologies!

Hatch-Eric said...

Associations are people. They are not venues (whether virtual or actual), and they are not by-laws/purpose statements. Arenas for gathering people together will always exist, because people want to be with other like-minded idealists.

Ben, I will call you on your "circular reasoning" self-forming groups. I think you try here to flip the earlier blog's argument on its head. Is this a debating tactic that you are using: giving supporting evidence for both sides? Is it just an attempt at artistry? Sorry, Ben -- it's just confusing at the moment.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@eric: In the earlier post I asserted that all associations are self forming groups. Essentially, I was trying to say that all groups had somebody or something as the driving organizing force. Associations haven't just always existed, even though it may seem like it for some people. Somebody, somewhere took a lot of time and effort to organize the groups. The bottom line, echoed in this post, is that "self-forming group" is really a misnomer.

There's no tactic being employed here (that much should be obvious). I'm just trying to sort through my thoughts.

Matt Baehr said...

Lisa - not a problem. I know I have written several posts recently referring to self-forming groups. I think we are in a semantic debate now. Most every group, of any kind, is self-forming. Meaning that at least 2 people got together to start the group. A non-self-forming group would be one person creating a "group" and hoping people join, thus actually making it a group. in the current context of Web 2.0 and associations, I think most people refer to self-forming groups as small, usually web-based, and not official in any type of capacity (corporate or non-profit designations, etc.)

Ben, I don't disagree with most of your post. I just think you go beyond the forming stage. All groups, no matter what type, need someone or something to hold them together or they die. And if you are an association trying to work with these types of groups, whatever you call them, remember they are usually led by a small number of folks.

David M. Patt, CAE said...

I like the "ringleader" analogy, Ben. And Eric's observation that "Associations are people" is a reminder that all groups will have to deal with person-to-person issues.

Anonymous said...

Ben, self-forming groups and entities are a verifiable phenomenon. Just GGL "Dee Hock Visa chaordic". See here

I agree that "self-sustaining groups," to differ from "self-forming," may be a bit more difficult, though they too exist: GGL "American colonist organizing" or "patriots organizing", or "Kids First Oakland Childrens Fund campaign".

Central to both sets of organizations or associations are a common event or common threat that spurs disparate individuals to unite or associate for self preservation. The patriots even instituted their values in the Constitution as an article to ensure their existence. The Kids First group of non-profit organizations bound together around the need for a radical increase in public funds to fuel children and youth developmental programs and founded both legislation and a public fund to ensure their missions' existence.

Common goal or interest and like-mindedness are the central catalysts to self-formation or even self-sustenance from what would otherwise be disinterested parties.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@Amos: It's my assertion that "self-forming group" is a misnomer. There's almost always someone or a few people behind the group-forming.