Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course Four, Lesson 4
Analyzing the Group's Process
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
An essential skill in leading groups is the skill of analyzing the group’s process. To be an effective and helpful small group leader, it is necessary to analyze whether or not the group is headed in the direction of the group purpose and working on those tasks that will lead to accomplishment of that purpose. What is the group doing? Where is it headed? What should the group be doing? How can the leader help the group understand both the positive and negative aspects of its process?
The successful small group leader will watch carefully how the group is operating, what is called the group’s PROCESS. Much less attention is given to the words said, what is called the group’s CONTENT. This is a helpful oversimplification, since process includes content, but content does not include process.
Process is the big picture. What is happening in light of the group’s purpose? In contrast, the content of what is said during a group meeting is the smaller picture. Few group leaders know this. Talk seems to be what makes a meeting, but it is not. Smiles, glances, fairness, inclusion, rapport, and a host of other things are also significant parts of a group meeting. What counts is how all of them together make up the group’s process – what is really happening.
Let’s imagine a group of six men who have all agreed to meet weekly with the help of a group leader (therapist, counselor) for the purpose of helping one another stop losing good jobs because of inadequate people skills.
At their sixth meeting, the group discusses how important it is to understand what other employees need from them to do a good job. This is the group’s **content**. The small group leader would conclude the group is in the **process** of thinking of ways to help fellow employees do their jobs and would not want to get in their way of the group by becoming more involved than necessary. The content of this sixth meeting would be very meaningful.
Then during the eighth meeting the men discuss the need to contribute to a good atmosphere at work. They identify fun ways to interact with others, ways to bring in refreshments once in a while, etc. Again **content* would be extremely exciting.
The group we are discussing hypothetically has a powerful purpose stated in terms of results. It is to help one another stop losing jobs. Therefore, the astute small group leader would know that this group’s process was failing. Discussion alone would not lead to significant change. While the typical small group leader would be very satisfied because of exciting content, the competent small group leader would not. He would help the group go from mere discussion to consistent behavioral change.
Processes that might be effective in helping group members stop losing jobs might be (1) identifying what each member does that causes him to lose jobs; (2) role playing needed skills appropriate to each member's weakness; (3) establishing processes each member can use to get jobs that better fit them; (4) consistent encouragement, (5) etc.
Still, content is an important ingredient in a group’s process. Content is what people say and must be analyzed as to whether or not it helps the group toward its purpose. What people say may be smart, funny, wise, or naive, and either hinder or help the group’s process to accomplish the group purpose. For example, joking at the beginning meeting of a new therapy group might be helpful in building a sense of friendship. But once the group is working on hurtful relationships, that same joking might be insensitive. If that joking ever became offensive, then it might actually become destructive to the purpose of the therapy group.
Another key ingredient of a group’s process is the interaction between members. Is there synergy? Is more happening than merely the sum of the behavior of the individual group members? Are verbalizations and actions interactive and interdependent or merely independent and autonomous? Almost all groups will start with independent and autonomous communication. Only with the group leader’s help will a group develop interdependent and interconnected content. An example of autonomous and independent content would be a group member saying, “I think bosses would not appreciate Joe's sarcasm.” Interdependent and connected content would be that same individual stating, “What does everybody think bosses would think of Joe's sarcasm? I don't think it would be appreciated."
To illustrate how a group leader can encourage the development of interactive and synergistic communication, the group leader might say to a person, “Do you want the group’s help to see if you can find out why you have been fired so often?” When the person acknowledges that he or she would like such help, then the group leader merely says, “Why don’t you ask the group for its help?” If done consistently, this group leader behavior will amazingly open new paradigms of helpful behavior.
The group leader asks himself or herself, “What is happening in the group?” He or she is thinking about what has been said interactively or independently and what each person has done or not done. Even sitting still and saying nothing, what we often call inaction, is analyzed. Then, the group leader asks himself or herself, “In light of the content (what is actually being said), what are they actually doing as a group?” In this way the group leader is asking about process. Beyond what is being said and done, how does it fit together into a course of action or tasks to be accomplished? Will it be an effective process that will eventual lead to attainment of the group purpose?
To illustrate, let’s envision a certain section of a group meeting where three people are destructively arguing a point of view. The group leader is watching all eight people, not just the three arguing. One person is fidgeting, indicating anxiety about the conflict, and four people are sitting passively, two of them not even looking at those who are speaking, indicating that they would rather not deal with what is going on.
The correct analysis will be that the group is not working as a group, and that everyone has shifted into individual, autonomous behavior, either for self-protection or for victory in the argument. In other words, the group process is avoidance of its responsibility to bring the argument into line with the group purpose. The group is avoiding dealing with what is going on. In this case all of the individual members are also avoiding dealing with what is going on, which is that the group purpose is being ignored and the group’s cohesion is being threatened. But, one of the group members might comment, “We cannot let this argument lead to hard feelings.” If the group, the small society of members, does not take up this clarion call and do something, then the group is definitely working at avoiding what must be done. Those arguing are avoiding the fact that they are part of a group with other members who can shed light on the argument. In light of an analysis that the group is not working, the appropriate group leader behavior is to give work to the group, to warn the group of the possible consequences of its avoidance. The leader might say something like, "It is the group's responsibility to make sure this discussion does not threaten the group purpose." Then, the leader would become quiet. Only in the case that no one knows what to do would the leader give any more instructions.
Let’s take this example in the opposite direction. Suppose that there are no passive people and that the other five people are active in helping those arguing to see one another’s points of view, to develop tolerance for different viewpoints and positions, and to keep comments loving in nature. Now, the group leader would see a positive group process.
The group leader must constantly be analyzing the group’s process, while at the same time observing content through his or her ears and much more by visual observation. This is a very active task. When one person is talking, all eight must be observed. There is a lot to consider, not just the mere words that are being said. What do the words really mean? Do people mean what they are saying? What does their body language say? What is the whole group working on? Is the group in control of its own process? Is it getting the job done? Is there resistance to the group’s advice by the two or three who are arguing? Are they saying the same thing over and over again? Does the group need to change its approach? Will the group eventually come to understand that it needs to change its approach, or does the small group leader need to ask the group if it thinks it is getting someplace or needs to do something different because the group is stuck? Will they understand then that they need to change their approach or, will the group leader have to just come out and state that the approach needs to be changed? Add to these a host of other such questions.
As you can see, much observation, both auditory and visual, is required before verbal contributions are made by the group leader.
ANALYZING THE GROUP’S ATTENTION TO ITS OWN TASKS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The successful group leader will need to be very familiar with the tasks a successful group must do. (Covered in Course Two.) Knowing the critical tasks successful groups do will save a lot of time and trouble for the group. From time to time the leader will see that to continue on in its process toward its purpose and goals, the group should focus on a particular critical task.
THEMES OF “WORK”
While analyzing what it is that the group is working on, the discerning group leader will identify work themes, recurring issues that come up over and over again. A group, for example, over the course of a year might occasionally work on such themes as creating a safe environment in the group due to member distrust levels, learning how to confront lovingly, racial prejudice and what to do about it, when to serve refreshments, ending meetings on time, etc.
The group leader should devote a page in his or her notebook for each of these issues, keeping dated entries describing the group’s content and process.
I remember a group of disturbed sixth graders I worked with many years ago. No one’s attention span was longer than twenty seconds. Unless someone else came in within twenty seconds with a new thought connected with what they were presently concerned about, the work theme changed. With the focus of what they were talking about constantly changing, I had to wait until the group would return back to a theme before I could help them with that issue.
Adults, on the other hand, don’t return to a discarded or avoided theme so quickly. It might be weeks before it comes up again. And the group might avoid the issue indefinitely. Once in a while, this is disastrous to the group. Then the leader should point out that the group once worked on such-and-such an issue and hasn’t ever returned to finish its work on that theme or issue.
Next, learn about giving the group its own work rather than doing it yourself.