Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course Three, Lesson 1
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
Careful time must be taken at the start of a group to help the group adopt a purpose that is critically important to the group members. The group purpose provides direction to how the group functions (group process) and what it does and says (group content). It spells out why the group will exist. Individual group members first commit to a significant purpose and then to the group and its members as a way to achieve the purpose.
The lack of a powerful purpose statement will defeat most groups. In the least, it will compromise the potential of the group. At most, it will destroy the group. Poor attendance, dysfunctional member behavior during the group, low commitment, to name but a few, are all basically caused by no stated and remembered critical purpose.
Poor relationships among members will persist because of the absence of a purpose that is critically more important than petty differences. Most adequate and highly-desired purposes need relationships to be healthy and functional. In this regard, consider that the purpose of studying parenting does not call for people to work out their differences as does the purpose of meeting together to help one another deal with their rebellious children.
Inadequate purposes also destroy a small group leader’s motivation. The purpose must not only hold the group members’ interest and commitment, it must also hold the leader’s interest and commitment. Most of us, for example, would soon wither helping a group talk about the member's depression. But to be the group leader helping a group help its members overcome depression and build lives that are enjoyable – ah, that is luxurious!
Great purposes call both group members and group leaders up to higher callings, producing far greater levels of group as well as group member functionality. Something really worth doing (a significant purpose) grabs the attention, makes us want to make it top priority, and urges us to mobilize strengths and get over shortcomings. Something really important that can only be done by the group makes us want to overcome our prejudices and judgmental behavior in order to work together to achieve the greatly desired purpose.
Therefore, the successful small group leader first points out the importance of having a critical group purpose and then goes on to help the group establish, define and commit to a purpose that members really want to achieve. This group purpose sets the stage for success. Without such a purpose there is no focus, no direction, no destination.
And that is why group purposes should not be activities. Talking about problems, for example, is an activity and should not be the group purpose. But talking about problems to get over them is an acceptable purpose that provides a destination. Such a change can greatly prolong commitment to the group.
Remember the working definition of a group: “a collection of two or more people who need each other to accomplish a common purpose.” The phrase, “who need each other” stresses the importance of group members working well together to achieve something they all really want. This interdependence on one another's help is foundational.
Most of the lessons in this Course Three have to do with starting a group or team correctly. Notice the interdependence stated in each purpose, usually by the words, "help one another to".
And keep in mind that a good purpose is not stated in the form of activity. If the purpose does not answer the question, “What for?” it will neither draw people to sufficient commitment nor give adequate direction.
Let’s illustrate this further by the small group of a husband and wife. A purpose statement for a marriage might be “to enjoy one another.” But asking, “What for?” points out the inadequacy of such a purpose statement. Besides, someone else could come along who is more enjoyable and commitment is shattered. How about a marital purpose statement “to know each other more and more to be able to be more and more helpful to each other so that we enjoy life and are able to deal with whatever life throws at us." This has more substance. Our family’s purpose statement was simply “to help one another enjoy life and become all that we can be.”
Purposes that are stated in terms of results give direction to the group’s effort. From such a purpose goals can be set and action steps taken.
A solid group purpose can help a group identify inappropriate or dysfunctional behavior of its members. If behavior moves the group toward its purpose, it is appropriate. If it does not move toward accomplishment of the group purpose, it is dysfunctional. The group can determine in light of its purpose what is and what is not appropriate. It might not be appropriate to bring up a deep marital hurt in a study group, but seeking such help in a therapy or counseling group is most likely appropriate. Successful groups help their members behave in line with the purpose of the group.
Purposes that are defined in terms of results rather than activity also help the group deal with dysfunctional behavior. The overly forceful group member who knows all of the answers can be told by the group that having a strong opinion on everything does not move the group ahead toward its purpose because it makes people too defensive and causes group absenteeism. Because there is a purpose that is an end result, it is clear when behavior is dysfunctional.
Let me clarify that the purpose statement should fit in with the mission of the sponsoring organization. And the purpose must also be something that the group leader wants to help a group do. If the purpose does not fit into the larger picture of the organization's mission statement or purpose, then the group may go off and do its own thing, even possibly becoming divisive. And, if the purpose does not fit with what the small group leader wants to do or thinks should be done, there will be conflict between the group and the leader in the future.
The group’s purpose must stay on the group leader’s mind constantly from the moment it is adopted by the group. Then the group leader helps the group to constantly remember the purpose and work toward its implementation. Each group member should be able to state the group purpose fairly accurately.
Think of a basketball team. The purpose would not be to play basketball, for that is merely an activity. The purpose would most likely be to win games. What if the coach (group leader) forgot that the team existed to win games? What if the players forgot? What if the players placed the purpose to win games below some other purpose such as “to play basketball to get great exercise.” Disaster! The group leader, the group as a whole and each group member must remember the purpose and let it guide their behavior.
To keep the group purpose in the minds of everyone, it is helpful to repeat the purpose statement regularly, especially during the first six meetings. For example, at the start of the second meeting the group leader can easily say, “Well, here you are again, ready to pursue helping one another overcome depression.” And when the group tells a new member what the group is all about (note that the group leader should never ever do this), various group members should state their understanding of the group’s purpose.
The successful group leader always remembers that his or her purpose is to help the group work toward its purpose. The group purpose is not the group leader’s purpose. Few groups will commit to hard work for achieving the group leader’s purpose. The purpose must be theirs. They must own it. When the group leader clearly has the different purpose of helping the group develop its skills, group members continue to own their unique purpose and strive to accomplish it. There is a big difference in the basketball team’s goal to win games and the coach’s goal to train them to win games. In a way, group members begin as players and as the group matures one-by-one members become player/coaches as each begins also to help the group succeed. The group leader is most successful if he or she is not a player/coach, but simply a coach. Again think of basketball. If the coach becomes a player/coach, his or her attention changes and there is no one standing back to see what on earth is going on when the team is winning or losing.
Every so often the successful group evaluates how it is progressing in its purpose. If it is not accomplishing its purpose or making strides in the right direction, the group should determine what it needs to do differently. Sometimes the group will decide the present purpose is not what it really wants. In this case a new purpose statement can be established. Changing the group’s purpose is sometimes necessary.
Next, let's consider how to target the right people for a group, how to "tune in" to them in order to come up with a way to present a group opportunity in light of their needs, and then how to recruit people for the group you have in mind to offer.