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Understanding Group Process

Understanding Group Process


(Adapted from the work of Richard Weber, NTL, 1982)

During our lives, both professional and social, we all have experienced times in being in or with groups that have worked and those that have not worked. Why is it that some groups come together and develop form and grow from a collection of individuals to a cohesive functional unit? Is there any way that we can prepare for the process or is it just “fate”?

The experience of a “good Group” is frequently equated to a “mystical” experience’  something “just happens,” and it happens either by divine intervention, or the planets are just right, or maybe “chemistry.” On the other hand, when we experience a “bad group” we often ascribe it to poor leadership, or a lack of affinity among the members, or not enough time, or just not paying attention. All of these factors can affect our group experiences.

What is not evident is that groups are not static things that “just happen,” but they are complex living entities, similar in many ways to a person. Few people think about the development and growth of groups.

Each group goes through three major stages of development in the life of the group. The stages can be compared to the infant, adolescent, and adult stages of a person. Further, each stage has four dimensions that need attention: Group Behaviour, Group Tasks or Issues, Interpersonal Issues, and Leadership issues. Each stage is different from the other stages and different in the way which each group experiences and lives through it. The trainer needs to know that each stage is lived through by all groups that develop into cohesive, functional units.

So, as in the development of an individual, certain stages may be more of less pleasant for us to experience. Anyone who has had a problem teenager knows this. Each stage must be lived through, however, and each can be treasured as our own unique experience in an inevitable cycle of development.


Forming in Group Process


Regardless of what events give birth to a group, as it begins, it has to form, to come together. The behaviours in Stage I are initially polite and superficial as each person seeks out similarities or common needs. While introductions are made, each individual is testing the amount of compatibility of her or his reasons for being there with the stated reasons of other members. Confusion and anxiety abound as different styles and needs become evident. The goal for the individual is to establish safe patterns for interaction. The group issue is the establishment of basic criteria for membership.

Interpersonally, each individual is working at varying levels of intensity on the issue of inclusion. Some questions raised during infancy are: “Do I wish to be included, here and with these people?” “Will they include me, accept me as I am?” “What will be the price and am I willing to pay it?”

The first stage reflects dependency with regard to leadership. As confusion, ambiguity, and anxiety abound, individuals look to whatever leadership exists in the group of the environment. Whatever the direction or information provided, it is grasped for guidance.

Where there is no response from the designated leadership, written descriptions or charges to the group may become a substitute. For example, “The training description says…” If this sort of thing is also lacking, the absence of direction itself may be brought forward as a direction and guidance. For example, “Since we are getting no direction, we must be expected to proceed ourselves and take responsibility to…”

Depending on the similarities in style and needs that exist in the group, and depending on the tolerance for ambiguity that exists in the group, this first stage may be smooth and pleasant or intense and frustrating.


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