When we get together in relationships and groups, we humans can behave very much like hedgehogs in winter. Schopenhauer created a parable about the dilemma hedgehogs face when trying to stay warm in their burrows in the coldest months: they need to huddle together for body warmth, but their spines are prickly, uncomfortable and even damaging, so they need to move apart. Eventually, after moving in for warmth and out for safety, the hedgehogs discover they need to maintain a comfortable distance from each other to gain the benefits of togetherness without the painful downsides.
In his latest book “The Hedgehog Effect“, Manfred Kets de Vries suggests that we too need to grapple with the hedgehog dilemma – how close must we be to others to survive in the world? As ‘human hedgehogs’, Kets de Vries suggests, we are drawn together by relational or societal needs, but at the same time we’re repelled by others’ prickly and disagreeable qualities. Our need for intimacy coincides with our desire to avoid hurt or painful entanglement – creating the human condition for a certain amount of distance.
Not only does this play out in our more intimate relationships, but also team settings in organisations. At work we confront the hedgehog dilemma everyday, in most of our daily interactions. How close should team members get in order to achieve team objectives? How aligned are we as team members? Are our interconnections too loose or too stifling to enable us to perform to our potential? What boundaries do we need? We need to accept a certain degree of closeness in order to work effectively with others.
So, what’s your hedgehog factor? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents ‘I like to be very close to people’ and 10 represents ‘I prefer to be very distant from people’, where would you place yourself?
Consider how your ranking on this scale affects your relationships with other people. Where might you put other team members on this scale? Reflect on how such hedgehog factors influence whether your team can generate synergy which leads to high performance and effective outcomes, or whether together you’re steeped in conflict, leading to low performance and little productivity.
By becoming aware of behaviour patterns of people in groups and teams we can begin to understand the dynamics that play out as we try to accomplish our goals, as well as begin to get to grips with the real complexity of human relationships when it comes to teamwork.
Photo credit: Tomi Tapio