Accentuate the Positivity

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Been looking for the answer to unlocking your group’s/team’s potential?  Look no further than a complex chaotic attractor!  According to researcher Marcial Losada, this is what underlies the dynamics of high performing groups and produces novel and outstanding results.  Integral to chaos theory, a complex chaotic attractor, when it emerges in a group, is what leads to innovation, bringing a system to new levels of insight and possibility.  The question is how can we create the conditions for the attractor to emerge?

Losada has an answer, based on intense observation and statistical analysis of high and low functioning groups.  What he has to say has an interesting parallel to what we at IISC have been pointing to as essential elements of the facilitative leader or collaborative change agent who is able to effectively tap into the participation of others.  The core elements we have listed in our “Profile of a Facilitative Leader” include being:

  • collaborative (interested in working with others, seeking win-win solutions)
  • strategic (keeping one’s eyes on the big picture and different possible paths of action)
  • receptive and flexible (actively soliciting others’ ideas, changing course when necessary)

That said, here is what Losada points to as keys to helping teams/groups reach new levels of creativity and productivity:

  • Positivity: According to Losada, high-performing teams are characterized by at least a 5:1 ratio of positive events (interactions that yield positive emotions or “wantable” states) to negative ones.  The closer negative interactions get to a 1:1 with positive interactions, the more the group and its results suffer.
  • Inner and Outer Focus: High performing groups have an equal measure of focusing within themselves and focusing outward.  Low performing groups tend to lose perspective and get mired in only looking inward.
  • Inquiry and Advocacy: People in high performing groups strike a balance between asking questions and advocating for their own points of view.  Low performing groups tend to get caught up in self-absorbed advocacy.  Inquiry is one of the keys to unlocking new thinking.

I am particularly interested in this notion of positivity.  There are those who say that there is power in conflict and friction to bring about new ideas, that being “too nice” can keep us mired in old and unhelpful patterns.  I’m not sure that positivity is the same as niceness.  Perhaps it comes down to good natured challenging of one another, or perhaps rather than challenging one another, standing around the problem or idea and rigorously engaging with it, and not making it about us at all.  What do you say?  What do you think of Losada’s findings?  Do they ring true to your experience?

No Comments

  • Linda says:

    Great questions Curtis! I’m intrigued as well, thinking that different people think of conflict in different ways – for some, it’s a positive experience that leads to change (when engaged well) while for others, not so much! Kind of the difference between the notion of conflict engagement and conflict “resolution” as ideas about what one needs to do with conflict.

    So am also intrigued with what Losada’s calling “positive” and “negative” states. Can you also link us to the article/book you were reading? Would love to read more!

    Great post. Thanks!

  • Curtis says:


    You can check out this link – And I’ll post another when I find it.


  • Curtis says:

    Another link to Losada (and Barbara Fredrickson’s) work, this an article entitled “Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing” –

  • Sara says:

    What comes to mind for me is “authenticity.” Surely the way we engage matters too but authentic content and intention gains us a lot of ground. And I really like the notion you put forth here of “standing around the problem or idea and rigorously engaging with it, and not making it about us at all.” What an intriguing notion – and image! – that we can circle up around a problem…together…no matter how different our approaches or ideas! Sounds powerful to me!!

  • Curtis says:


    Reading your response reminded me of a couple of interviews I did for GEO’s Change Agent Project a few years ago when I heard from both a foundation staff person and a nonprofit leader that rather than sitting across the table from one another, they wished they could sit side-by-side and link arms to address the problem on the table. Both were tired of the drama that often comes up between grantmaker and grantee. “It shouldn’t be about us!” they were saying. It’s about the shared interest we have in solving some of these problems. Powerful visual indeed!

    And thanks for bringing up authenticity. This came up in today’s Bioneers by the Bay workshop as various people talked about the need to develop REAL relationships in order to get the work done. Amen!


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