Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course Two, Lesson 3a
Establishing a Clear Contract
with the Group Leader and with One Another
what the group does to get started correctly
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
The most complicated subtask of starting a group correctly is that of establishing the set of agreements that form a contract.
This contract is not legal. But the word "contract" is important to help group members realize that they are doing something very important by forming the group and committing to the group purpose. Just the formation of the contract takes the group out of the category of all those activities that are optional and less important.
THE OFFER OF SERVICE: WHAT HAPPENS BEFORE A COLLECTION OF PEOPLE CONSIDER GROUP MEMBERSHIP TOGETHER
Before a collection of people gathers to consider becoming a group, the group leader needs to decide in a general way just what kind of group he or she wants to run, based on his or her purpose or the purpose of the organization he or she works for. Does the leader want to help a group build a bridge, help kids get jobs, or start a business?
Once his or her purpose for leading is defined, then the leader has to understand the people he or she hopes to attract to join this kind of group. How do they think and feel? How can the group purpose be offered in such a way as to best motivate people to join? This process can be called "tuning in", like tuning in a radio station for clear reception.
If the people to be in the group or on the team are already identified (by the organization worked for), then the leader tries to "tune in" to them and determine the motivations, thoughts and feelings of these people.
From this analysis of likely group members, a successful group leader forms what might be called an Offer of Opportunity. ("How would you all like to get together to . . . [accomplish whatever]?") It is designed around the group purpose the leader wants to propose. This process of tuning in and defining an enticing offer of group endeavor takes place before the people gather as a collection of people to see what the leader has to offer.
To say it a different way to increase understanding, this Offer of Opportunity, this statement of what the group might work at accomplishing (its purpose), is carefully designed to draw people into a group for a specific purpose. For recruitment purposes, it is what is communicated. Prior tuning in allows the Offer of Opportunity to likely be something the people really want. The Offer is made in their language, tied to what they identify as their needs, and is in line with the kind of group the leader desires.
For example, a long time ago when I was an officer in the Army assigned to its maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, there were men being raped. My anger at this flared and I wanted to help them not be sexual victims. In designing the Offer of Opportunity, I thought deeply about their situation. Based on that "tuning in", I knew that I could not put them all on pass to my office at the same time. As a group, they would likely stand out to the other prisoners. So, I put them on pass to arrive at my group room at ten-minute intervals. For an Offer of Opportunity, I said to them once they were together in the room, "Men are trying to make women out of you, and that is very frightening and disgusting. How would you like to get together for the purpose of finding a way to avoid being raped? No one knows the answer, but I know how to help groups be successful at working toward a purpose. If I help you as a group, hopefully you will find the answer." They all took me up on the group and within 6 weeks had discovered the answer. Using this group therapy approach, there was not another rape in that prison until the program was not continued 4 years later.
BACK TO THE FIRST SUBTASK OF STARTING A GROUP: CONTRACTING WITH THE LEADER AND EACH OTHER TO FORM A GROUP WITH A SPECIFIC PURPOSE
The group’s first job is to form a clear contract (set of agreements) with each other. Before this set of agreements is established, a group or team does not really exist.
This "contracting process" starts off with the group leader proposing a group purpose. This purpose is something that the group leader wants to help a group of people work toward accomplishing, sometimes defined by the group leader's job or organizational purpose. Therefore, the contracting process starts off by presenting the Offer of Opportunity.
The people in the room are merely a collection of people at this point. The group leader then helps the collection of people carefully consider the proposed purpose to see if together they want to join the group by committing to work on the adopted purpose with the group leader’s help.
The importance of this commitment to the purpose and to one another cannot be over-emphasized! You will see in this training that it is the purpose that guides the group's efforts and determines what is useful and what is not. The commitment to purpose is the most important aspect of a group's behavior. All of the individuals need to commit to that purpose. Then, the group as a whole has to commit to the purpose, meaning that all the individuals agree to work together and help one another so that work toward accomplishing the purpose will take place and continually be the primary reason they are together.
Sometimes the group leader may need to help the collection of people modify the proposed purpose to something that more accurately meets the needs of the potential group members. The wording might need to be somewhat changed to better connect what the group members want to do with what the leader sees as his or her purpose. Or perhaps the time of the meeting or the frequency of meetings needs to be changed, and, if so, they are incorporated into the Offer of Opportunity.
Of course, the purpose must still remain one for which the group leader will commit his or her help because it is still within his or her responsibilities.
At this point, those considering the group for the stated purpose decide "yes" or "no". Those who decide they do not want to be in the group leave. Those who decide to further consider what it means to join such a group or team, stay.
Once people agree to the group purpose, the leader helps them count the cost of actually joining the group.
Group or team leaders who want to empower the soon-to-be group or team will ask those assembled in this first meeting what they think need to be the individual and group-as-a-whole responsibilities of being in such a group.
A lengthy discussion would likely follow. It should definitely address whether or not confidentiality is necessary, to what extent what is said and done in the group cannot be told outside of the group. This, of course, will vary with the nature of the group purpose.
Then, in light of all that has been said, the successful group leader would ask the people to decide what should be the privileges and benefits of being in the group. Within the above stated purpose, they might mention honesty with one another, confidentiality, helpful discussion, friendliness, and a host of other things.
Next, the people decide who can be a member of the group -- who should receive the privileges and benefits just listed. The group leader, even team leader, should know that ultimately the group as a whole decides who is to be a member of the group or team. Through unfriendliness and gossip, for example, they can drive people away from the group or drive people to minimal participation in a mandatory team.
Membership has privileges. If a group does not grant basic membership privileges to someone, the person is really not a member. Privileges include friendliness, everyone listening carefully, an absence of hostile behavior, the acceptance of differences, and phone calls to those who are absent from the group as expressions of concern. There are many other privileges as well. It is because of the members' rights to these privileges that a group should consciously discuss who is, and who is not, to be a member of the group.
And, so, the group leader should ask the people who are considering forming the group who they want to be in the group. This starts by asking individuals to state whether or not they want to be in the group. After all those who want to be group members say so, the group leader must ask them if they all want to include everyone who has said they want to join. This sounds like a formality, but it is the way that they commit to each other. Some may not want certain people in the group, but at this beginning stage of the group’s formation, everyone is usually at their best behavior. Later on, the group might not want someone in the group, but it is this initial commitment for that person to be a member of the group that will help the group work things out.
Make no mistake, the group can decide against the leader's wishes who will be and who will not be a member of the group. No matter how hard you try to keep a person in the group, the group can drive the person out or merely ignore the person during meetings. Just as kids who don’t want someone in their karate class can make sure that the kid avoids the class as often as he can by verbally or physically beating that kid up outside of the class, so can adults expel someone they have decided is not any longer a member of the group. Just being in the room does not make a person a member of the group. Receiving the privileges of membership makes a person a group or team member.
Groups can, even without knowing it, drive unwanted people away. The members of the group can be rude, inattentive, or indifferent. Less obvious, but equally effective ways in eliminating people who are not true members of the group, are not calling unwanted people between meetings, forgetting to tell them of meeting time or place changes, or asking them to bring more than their fair share of food. There are very many nonverbal ways of indicating a person is not cared for or wanted. And you can bet that most of these things will be done "unconsciously", without thought, since membership was not "thought about" at the start of the group.
When I start a group, I ask, "Is it okay with all of you that everybody in here is a member of the group?" The people usually look at me like I'm crazy, but there is a purpose to my madness. Even though it is very difficult for anybody to say, "No, we don't like so and so", my question is the first opportunity for mutual commitment within the group. Then I say, "If a person is a member of the group, what rights does he or she have?" This is similar to asking what it costs to accept a person into membership, a very important consideration.
It is important for the group to consider the requirements for membership. Handing group members a list about membership privileges and responsibilities hinders them from seriously considering their task and learning to work together to accomplish their purpose. Don’t do that. Lists become things to discuss later, not things important enough for the present. Lists given out AFTER discussion emphasize what the group itself has already decided is important. That’s okay. But let someone in the newly formed group do it. It is not a task that the leader needs to do. A group will come up with many privileges and responsibilities of membership through open discussion. Plus, the group has been involved in the process. Members are much more likely to follow through.
Unfortunately, we do not usually consider our responsibilities to one another. Membership is cheap and worthless if we are sick and no one calls, if we are sad and the group does not comfort, if we are greatly challenged and the group does not encourage, or if the group is threatened and ignores us when we are content and happy.
For example, when somebody is absent, the group will most likely decide that many group members will call to find out why he or she was not present. That makes members feel missed and wanted. This is far better than the leader calling, because that is expected and won't mean much. (If it does, dangerous dependency has developed.) People want to know the other group members want them there. They know the leader wants them there because he or she is running a “program” and needs the numbers or is hired to "manage" them. Only the group members can show that those who are absent are wanted, missed, and cared about.
Consider how a successful group deals with someone who leaves halfway through the group experience, withdrawing an earlier agreement to be a member of the group. Since it was the group that decided that the person was to be a member, only the group can drop a membership. The group will have to decide whether they want to let the person drop out or keep the person as a member and try to bring him or her back to the group meetings. When the group decides that they really care for the missing member, that is when the really powerful work begins.
For the sake of illustration, let us imagine a very sticky situation of a member named Joe who left the group because he couldn't have his own way. Joe is opinionated, hot headed and has to get what he wants and does not consider others. If Joe is going to grow, he will have to give up those negative traits. But how is he going to give them up if he withdraws from people all the time? He will only be rescued from himself with the help of people who show him they love him greatly. These will be the people of the group who still want him as a member and persist in trying to bring him back into the group.
Imagine Joe's surprise when he starts getting calls from people who say they really miss him. They might say something like, "We know that you left because you couldn't get your own way, but we like you and we'd like you to get over having to have your own way because we really need you in the group. I mean, the other night I brought up an issue and nobody there knew anything to tell me. But you would have known. You're needed in our group. So won't you please get over your problem of having to get your own way so that you can be there for me. I'll be there for you sometimes too."
Now, since membership has been decided, for the first time the group leader has a group. Now that the collection of people have identified who wants to be in the group and has decided which of them will be, usually all of them at this point, a group exists. Individuals have made agreements with one another to form a group. To get this to happen, the group leader has been more active than he or she might ever be again. Now there is a group. Now there is an organism that can do work. Now something exists – the group – that can do things better than the group leader. But that possibility is mere potential at this time and the group leader will continue to be active, backing off little by little, as fast as the group's skills develop.
Yet the contract is not yet finished. Those agreements that had to be made by individuals have been made, but the group itself has to understand some more things and make further agreements to assure a successful start.
Next, we will explain the agreements the group must make at the beginning that will assure better success.