“But, what if I am being overly dramatic?” Miriam continued to question. “What if the team’s inability to work together is just my own projection of insecurity, and that when the going gets tough, they will put their differences aside and cooperate with each other? What if I am just afraid of a little water cooler talk?”
“What do you mean, water cooler talk?” I wanted to know.
“You know, two people at the water cooler, complaining about the third person,” Miriam replied.
“Always the same two people, ganging up on the other?” I asked.
“Heavens, no,” Miriam chuckled. “There is equal opportunity pairing at the water cooler. Depends on the issue to determine who is at the water cooler and who is thrown under the bus. Scapegoat of the week.”
“And, how do you know what is discussed at the water cooler?”
“Oh, I hear. The rumor mill is much more effective at communication than the company newsletter.”
“So, you have your own little birdies who pair off with you?”
“Yes,” Miriam nodded. “And, that’s what has me worried. These are the issues that could blow up the team in the middle of a high pressure project.”
“Miriam, the reason I wanted to hear the details of the water cooler talk, is that this is classic pairing behavior. A group, faced with an unspoken issue will splinter into pairs, often at the water cooler, to avoid confronting the issue in the group. It is a collusion, between two people to find allies in a struggle to avoid the issue.”
“Is that what they are doing?”
“Not just them, you have your own little birdies. You have engaged in pairing behavior yourself,” I described.
“My goodness, I didn’t even realize. I was doing it, too.”
“Not to worry,” I smiled. “Pairing is an unconscious behavior. You didn’t know it was happening, neither did your team.”