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Using group methods in social work for the
development of feeling communication skills is not something new. In the
Still at the time social workers started to systematically focus on the development of group methods that they perceived as being extremely efficient for solving a large range of social and personal problems. In the last years, using group methods has been expanding in areas such as: psychotherapy, education, mass – media, and, of course, social assistance.
The group methods being so attractive can be explained by the complexity of the psycho-social processes that are activated. The very definition of the groups can be indicative of several of the reasons of the success that group methods have.
The group, formed of at least two people, but regularly of more than two, gathers together participants of common purposes or goals, of a cognitive, emotional or relational nature, in single or repeated meetings, still enough so that the participants
could make an opinion about one another,
could elaborate a common set of rules that should provide for the group’s activity,
could settle purposes for the joint activities and
could develop a feeling of belonging to a group,
could perceive themselves and be perceived by others as a distinct entity in relation to other groups.
One may notice from the above definition that the members of the groups interact based on both what they have in common, and the differences that individualize them. They have purposes in common as well as the trust that together they may achieve a lot or little of what they have set as a goal otherwise than if they did it by themselves.
It is not by chance that the groups are based on inter-human exchanges of signals, information and messages by virtue of rules, “codes”, languages and common « channels ». This is how we step into the vast domain of communication.
1. The Group – Communication Relation
Key – concepts: group, communication, communication elements, the group – communication relation, group types
During the latest decades we have been witnessing the down slope of interpersonal relations that the specialists in the field of communication explain, first, by the development of the mass communication media. As counter balance, a large variety of groups and group techniques have been developing during the latest decades, meant to stimulate the very interpersonal direct communication, in a context that is very close to the actual psycho-social one (we called the formal group an analogous psycho-social entity).
The “group” and “communication” relation is an interdependent one: the group facilitates the communication and, at the same time, it is impossible to talk about a structured group when communication is absent.
After defining and indicating the most elementary features of the concepts of “group” and “communication”, as well as the relation between them, we shall further refer, in order to complete the notional table of group – communication, to the group types the most frequently used in social assistance training. We would like to indicate that the “list” is not comprehensive, but a mere reference, as in practice there may be organized an infinity of groups, the fundamental criterion being that of the proposed purpose. The descriptions below include both the specificity of each group type, and the „communication” elements. These types or group categories may and should be adapted depending on the client – specific features (age, problematic area, being institutionalized or not etc.)
Educational and skill – forming groups
Decision and problem – solving groups
« Encounter » groups
The goals of these groups are achieved by means of activities that are carried out with pleasure and have recreational effects. Most often such activities are spontaneously initiated without any intervention of any leader outside the group of participants. What a socially oriented organization may offer as a response to the various initiatives of the clients would be an appropriate space, various equipment or means of transport, if it comes to a trip in the midst of nature. Certain organizations may specialize in order to offer such logistic means for the stimulation of the participation of certain categories of clients to the recreational activities as an alternative to spending time in the street or as a means to prevent delinquent behavior. Other groups of a recreational nature may be led by professionals, especially when it in related to organizing sportive competitions, art and craft exhibitions or other similar activities.
Such groups aim at acquiring knowledge and skills. They are led by a skilled and experienced leader and are often carried out didactically, the group resembling well enough a class of students who are encouraged to interact and express their opinions. Examples of such groups can be numerous and varied: educational groups by various topics, groups preparatory for various situations in life, volunteer preparatory groups, groups for acquiring communication skills and assertiveness etc.
In the case of the groups in question, each participant brings both personal and common interest issues to be debated. By this, the group faces three types of problems that derive from:
the group – individual relation (the decision of the group is inferior or superior to the individual one?);
group thinking quality (decisions are accepted without considering all pro and con alternatives, a certain « social pressure » being felt);
the decision – making manner: by consensus and majority vote (the consensual decision is sustained by all members while the majority vote decision generates frustrations to the « minority », especially if the perceptual ratio is 51-49).
Further, we provide you examples of the two of the most creative communication techniques that are used in decision – making and problem solving.
The brainstorming (further called BS) (Maier, Osborn, cf. Zastrow, 1989) is a very good group technique to find means to achieve the proposed purposes. For a first approximation, a definition of the BS may be generating ideas for solving problems. However, the term also designates certain techniques specific for generating ideas, inventorying possibilities or alternatives to act. Using BS actually means identifying as many problem-solving possibilities as possible. BS usually takes place within a group run by a mediator who also has the task of facilitating idea production.
Egan, (1982) identified several techniques that facilitate the idea production process:
Giving up one’s reason. In order to help a group produce ideas it is imperative that they should give up criticizing the ideas produced by the members.
If the ideas are criticized, the flow of idea production shall reduce or cease as people will cease to produce new ideas.
“Unchaining one’s ego”. The participants will be encouraged to mention the craziest ideas. Even if hilarious, some « crazy » ideas may prove useful in time.
“Encouraging the idea production ”. The more ideas, the highest the possibility that some of them should be achievable. The mediator shall encourage each and every participant to produce as many ideas as possible.
Combination – it helps the participants to unite and combine the generated ideas and following this process to find new possibilities. This process that requires the participants’ imagination is stimulated by viewing the list the ideas have been written on.
After the idea generation process the group will start ordering them by categories, which will provide the occasion to comment on certain ideas or aspects thereof.
The self – help groups have become in time extremely popular and enjoy a lot of success, being indeed efficient for certain types of personal and / or social issues. The comprehensive definition of the groups, formulated by A. Katz and E. Bender, enables us to understand both their popularity, and efficiency.
The self – help groups are group structures of relatively small sizes, voluntarily organized so that the participants should provide mutual support and reaching certain goals. These groups are usually formed by similarity criteria and gather people that agree to grant one another mutual support, thus answering to joint needs, such as:
the need to change certain practices, behaviors, attitudes, be them personal or social;
the need to overcome circumstances in life,
the need to know how to face illnesses and / or handicaps.
The initiators of and participants to such groups believe that solving their situation does not rest with the authorities, public institutions or organizations, believing that they themselves are responsible of finding solutions by means of social interactions.
Within the self – help groups the members gives one another mutual emotional support. They are frequently oriented towards a joint cause and their purpose is promoting certain ideology, certain values by means of which the members believe they can define and assert their identity more clearly.
Numerous authors believe that socialization is the fundamental goal of any type of a group because the group activities generally aim at changing the participants’ attitudes and behaviors so that they should become socially acceptable. The distinctive feature of the socialization groups is that, by means of such groups, the development of the social skill, of the communication competences, the increase in self – trust and the planning of certain emerging purposes are aimed at.
Socialization groups may be organized:
with youths who have pre-delinquent manifestations in order to reduce the occurrence of such behavior,
with people who belong to various ethnics for the reduction of inter-ethnic tensions,
with institutionalized children and youths in order to motivate them to have an active life and to get them involved in various activities,
with imprisoned delinquents in order to prepare them for reintegration in their families and community when they are released,
with the future young mothers, during their pregnancy, to plan their future roles,
… and of course, the list may continue …
Leading a socialization group requires thorough knowledge and abilities in the fields of professional development, preparation for changes, stimulation of the change, and the group dynamics.
The therapeutic groups have many elements in common with individual counseling because their purposes aim at deeply processing personal problems, as well as the elaboration of strategies to solve these problems. The leaders of the therapeutic groups choose a specific approach means:
Client – oriented therapy
Trained psychotherapists recruited among may lead the therapeutic groups: psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers who have participated in trainings according to the specificity of the respective therapy. At present worldwide it is increasingly spread the use of therapeutic groups in the social assistance practice and that is because the group approach has certain advantages in comparison to the individual intervention:
in groups, the principle of the « therapist’s therapy » is functional for participants: the members of the group have the possibility to experiment various roles, including that of providing help to others (by sharing their own experience, by being « cast in the helper » etc);
the group facilitates the perception of one’s own problem from the others’ point of view as well, noting the fact that there are alternatives by which a life problem may be experienced, understood and solved;
the group stands for an appropriate environment for the people experiencing difficulties to experiment and practice one’s connecting abilities;
practice has proved that attitude, behavior and even personality changes, occur faster within groups than during individual interventions;
although the leader‘s professional effort is considerable within the groups, the advantage is that several people enjoy the professional effort simultaneously.
As a conclusion, the leader of the therapeutic groups will use his knowledge and abilities that are typical of individual counseling for the group dynamics for the purpose of improving attitude and behavior malfunctions.
This name generally designates groups whose purpose is to favor inter-personal knowledge and trust:
becoming aware of the common elements and the differences,
rendering the participants sensitive to an issue or a topic
facilitating direct communication.
These groups imply that their members connect in a very close and inter-personal manner, based on trust, sincerity, openness and even personal revealing. The participants in such groups are willing to express themselves, to “open up”, leave feeling see through, are motivated to experience “here and now” in an informal, warm atmosphere, attitude and behavior patterns they wish to acquire and that have represented the stake of the anticipated change prior to adhering to the group.
1. The first stage, „de-freezing”, consists of the group’s meeting for the purpose of interacting, using attitude and behavior patterns different from the regular ones that in years and years of practice have become automatic, routine. The personal style of the interaction that has been long practiced has gradually changed into some sort of a „second nature and even more it has proved to be functional. The group participants are aware of it (which represents an important change – resistance source), but on the other hand they feel the need of a transformation, of a personal „growth” that they could not achieve by themselves because of the effort such action needs, and also because of the discomfort of giving up something familiar, known, in exchange for something new, uncertain, invalidated. “De-freezing” occurs when the decision to give up behavior patterns has been made and when the participants are psychologically ready to explore new ways of connecting in view of change. In this stage exercises are recommended that are structured on trust, bringing participants „here and now”, on becoming acquainted with the place and the group.
2. The second stage, that of change, is usually facilitated by the spontaneous responses of the members of the group, by the feedbacks it receives. This is because as a result we do not receive explicit feedbacks to our attitudes and actions, we don’t know what effects they have on others. By contrast, within groups, it the feedback and the sharing (sharing experiences and similar feelings) are encouraged as they are relevant for our awareness of the manner we are perceived and influence others. Once identified, a behavior that needs changing, new forms of responses, of interactions may be expressed within the secure climate of the group.
3. The third stage uninspired called “re-freezing” because it does not accurately reflect the reference process and has a connotative meaning that rather implies rigidity than change and development processes that are typical of re-freezing. The processes of « hardening » and « fixation » of the newly acquired behavior and attitude models are typical of this stage so that they should prove their efficiency. If the new models are not « fixed » during this stage, the group participants shall face a strong tendency to resume the old patterns. Also, the leader has the mission to warn the members that, once the group is completed, the started process of change is not ended, but that it is continuous, it must supervised outside the group as well, and the effects of the changes shall be translated by personal growth and development that are also continuous.
. Rules, obstacles, difficulties and risks of working with groups
Key-words: group processes, group dynamics, membership and reference group, stages of the group formation, task – roles and support roles, personal goals and group goals, conformity, group competition and cooperation, group controversy and creativity, approaching conflicts within the group, troubling behavior within the group, descriptive factors concerning the start and performance of groups.
Despite the fact that groups are different as to purpose and performance, there are several common aspects identifiable in any group process. Discussing about it renders intelligible the psychosocial mechanisms that are the basis of the group dynamics and evolution. Here are some of them:
Membership and reference group
Stages of the group formation
Task – roles and support roles
The basics of power within a group
Personal goals and group goals
Group competition and cooperation
Group controversy and creativity
Approaching conflicts within the group
Troubling behavior within the group
Descriptive factors concerning the start and performance of groups
Each of these aspects (common to any group type) implies risks and difficulties, that is why it is necessary to know the performance rules, their application that is creative and adaptable to the situation. All these aspects are essential to the understanding of the group processes. We have left out in the detailed discussion that follows the aspects related to the leadership of groups and the basics of the power within a group because these topics deserved a specially detailed treatment within some other context.
The group membership is defined by a person’s belonging to a group and obviously the recognition of this fact by the person in question, as well as by the other participants. Belonging is a necessary condition for defining the group membership.
Various types of identifiable members within the groups:
Voluntary and involuntary members
They are the persons who belong to two or several groups among which only one is referential and the others are of secondary importance.
They are clearly and fully involved in the group (emotionally, attitudinally, cognitively, and actively) and are accepted and recognized as such. The bigger the attraction to the group, the bigger the commitment for the achievement of the group’s goals and also the individual and group benefit.
Members – to - be
They are those individuals who wish to participate in a group, but have not been formally accepted yet. Psychologically they identify with the group and behave as if already accepted.
Voluntary and involuntary members
As a rule, the participants in a group are knowingly committed by virtue of a personal decision. However, there are cases when a person gets to be part of such a group by chance (for instance in prisons, hospitals, schools, various social services). These are involuntary members whose behavior within groups may be disinterested, hostile and even troublesome.
Garland James, Jones Hubert; Kolondny Ralph (cf. Zastrow, 1989) developed a five - stage pattern for the analysis of the social assistance groups. The pattern provides references and clarifications concerning the initiation and development of groups, typical problematic situation being presented. The pattern is applicable especially to socialization, therapeutic and encounter groups, but, in a wider sense, it is applicable to self-help, problem – solving, decision – making, educational and recreational groups.
The core concept of the pattern is that of 'closeness' and its correlative « distance »: the extent to which the group members allow themselves to emotionally get close to one another. The topic of closeness is reflected in each of the five stages of the evolution of a group:
Power and control
The members of the group are ambivalent as to the participation in the group: interactions are supervised, there is certain suspicion and most behaviors are rather exploratory than direct approach. Ambivalence is explicable by the fact that the group situation is a new one (newness sometimes is scary!), and the members of the group oscillate between the tendency of self-protection and the wish to benefit from the group situation. They try to keep a certain distance and at the same time to receive as much as possible from the group but with no risks. The participants in the group are aware or intuitive of the fact that revealing themselves gives rise to new questions and painful areas, frustrations may be touched. On the other hand, however, the group also has a power of attraction that it exerts by the fact that it may represent a favorable environment for self-assertion (sharing positive experiences).
The group leader’s task is to determine the increase in the group’s attractiveness by:
maintaining the distance convenient to each member of the group without pushing too hard, without insisting, bearing and making silence bearable;
building a trust environment within the group by manifesting his / her acceptance and tolerance ;
facilitating the exploration of the physical environment and psychical climate;
initiating joint activities;
simultaneously taking care of the structure of the group (undertaking responsibilities, time of performance etc).
The first stage is completed when the members feel safe and are psychically comfortable within the group: the fear to get emotionally involved disappears because prior attempts to get emotionally involved have been rewarded with tolerance.
Power and control
When the climate is good, and the members start feeling safe, there occur features specific to the group that are indicative of a new stage: growth, development. Thus, within the group, certain communication and behavior patterns are set up such as:
alliances are made within the group;
the members undertake new roles and responsibilities;
the initial standards, rules as well as group task achievement methods are changed, new ones being proposed and settled;
more and deeper questions are asked.
Thus, there is « struggle » following which each member of the group will know what his / her position and role is within the group. This « place » is not taken over, but conquered. It provides « self-protection », and each and every member of the group wishes to get from the leader and the participants a « reward » by his / her recognition of the contribution made to the group’s evolution. The « reward » from the group and the leader is the most important rewarding. The leader is perceived as the most powerful person in the group holding absolute power. He / she may influence the direction, orientation of the group and also grant the « reward » or not (material or emotional).
These processes are natural and necessary so that the group should function and fulfill its mission. This second stage of the group formation is a transition stage that raises several fundamental issues that need solving:
who really has the control of the group? The leader or the group?
What are the limits and extensions of the leader’s power?
The uncertainty resulting from these dilemmas determine a state of anxiety among the members of the group who are nor struggling to set limits and norms both for the leader’s power and authority, and the group’s.
Revolts, “rebellion” or even leaving the group are phenomena that occur very often in this stage. The leader’s task in this stage in:
to help the members understand the nature of the struggle for power;
to provide emotional support so that to diminish the general discomfort caused by uncertainty;
to help the group set norms and solve uncertainties.
It is very important that the members of the group should develop and strengthen their trust in the group’s leader. He / she has to maintain a just and fair balance between the power shared with the group and the exerted control. When the trust is regained, the involvement of the members will certainly be complete.
In this stage likes and dislikes are shared within very close relationships. The group increasingly resembles a family within which there are rivalries and the relation to the leader is done and expressed as to a « parent ». The feelings and emotions connected to the group are now expressed more open and also discussed.
The group is seen as a place of growth and change. The individuals feel free to examine their problems, emotions, behaviors, attitudes and make efforts to change.
The groups’ tasks are assumed and completed. Within the group feeling of cohesion and independence (self-leading) are predominant.
The struggle is now for fought for personal changes, however there occur questions concerning the group such as:
“What is the group in its entirety?”
“What does the group do to me?”
« Where does its power come from?”
By these problems that are raised the group is internalized and assimilated.
In this stage of group growth the feeling of freedom of the group members is increasing. The members of the group experiment new behavior patterns. It is the stage where the individual rights are acknowledged, and a very good level of communication is noticed among the members. The group is more efficient as organization and functioning. The leadership is shared with the group members and the roles are more functional. The « power » issues are minimum, and decision are made and fulfilled on a more objective, less emotional basis. It is a stage where the « growth » is visible as it is a period of asserting one’s own individuality and personality. The reactions of each member become more rational, each of them presents his / her problems more sincerely, more openly and wish for their settling.
This time of individualization has occurred because the group valued and fueled individual integrity. In this stage, the leader helps, stimulates the group to function and an autonomous entity and interact with other groups or within a larger community.
The leader will use any opportunity to evaluate, appreciate the activities, feelings, and behaviors of the group, within the group. The differentiation stage resembles a lot a functional healthy family where the children have become adults and successfully start their own lives: the relations are as among equals, the members mutually support one another and contacts are made more rationally and objectively.
The purpose of the group has been achieved as the group members have learnt new behaviors and are able to transpose them outside the group as well, in other situations and life experiences. The termination is not an easy process. Some members may be reluctant to split. They may have regressive behaviors (attempting to extent eh safety that the group provides them) pr may express emotions such as: fury, refusal or denial when splitting is close.
The leader’s role is now:
to facilitate the split, to encourage the wish to separate;
to concentrate on the individuals’ and group’s mobility elements;
to allow the expression of ambivalences concerning the termination, and to acknowledge the individuals’ and the group’s progress.
Orienting the individuals towards other possible sources of support facilitates accepting the termination and assistance or other activities that should use the new behavior skills acquired within the group.
Beginner group leaders might expect that going through the stages and passing from a stage to another should be smooth, without too much trouble or conflicts. Lack of experience and trust within the group processes may have the leaders to tend to « push too hard» and « skip stages », which otherwise will be invalidated because each group follows its own rhythm and possibly gets to the same final point. The groups that have skipped certain stages or whose evolutions are « atypical » most often go back the prior stages the tasks of which have not been completed. The leader must only recognize this process and facilitate its evolution. Blocking or going back to certain stages is unusual enough and rarely occurs.
All types of groups (organized for therapeutic purposes, for solving problems or other purposes) involve the members’ assuming a variety of roles. Generally, assuming the so – called task – roles and support roles, equally satisfies the needs of a group and they must be satisfactorily fulfilled to an equal extent.
The task – roles are necessary for the fulfillment of the purposes specific to the group while the support roles refer to socially and emotionally consolidating groups.
There is a large variety of functional (positive) task – roles that are assumed by the groups’ leaders. The most often encountered ones are:
searching for and providing information
coordinating the activity
summarizing ideas and activities
setting diagnoses to difficult situations
The most often-encountered support roles are:
group orientation, guidance
encouraging the group members
building the trust climate
facilitating the expression of feeling within the group
removing tension from the group
In certain situations, assuming both roles by the members of the group and the leader is necessary for instance: evaluation, mediation, tension reduction, and attempts to reach a consensus. There comes a moment in a group’s life when both types of roles are necessary and an efficient group is deemed to be the group whose members and leader are sensitive to such needs.
Personal Goals and the Group’s Goal
“The goal” is generally defined as the end, which the activity of a person or a group is oriented to. It a terminal point, an ideal or a valorized wish.
“The personal goal” refers to the fact that a certain member of the group assumes it.
Enough members of the group assume „The goal of the group” so that one may say the group itself is involved in its achievement.
Any group has goals as any individual has goals. Goals may be long – term or short - term, the short – term ones may be references (steps) for the long – term ones.
The reasons for which setting the group’s goals is important are:
the group’s efficiency may be appreciated in connection with achieving the goals;
the goals orientate, guide the groups and group members;
the goals guide the program and the efforts of the group;
the conflicts of opinion among the members of the group are solved if which opinions that are the most favorable for achieving the group’s goals are judged;
goals are a motivational force that stimulates the groups’ members to work for achieving them;
once the groups’ members have agreed on the goals, they will feel obliged to mobilize their efforts, skills in order to achieve their goals.
The motivation for goal achievement is higher if the group’s members have been involved in goal setting, which means:
that personal goals have higher chances to be integrated within the group’s goals,
being aware of the importance of the choice of those goals and not others,
the members feel more obliged to mobilize resources of they have contributed to the selection and setting of goals.
The higher the congruence between the personal goals and the group goals, the higher the attractiveness of the group. Personal goals can be homogeneous and heterogeneous. The more homogeneous the easier to set the group’s goals. When the members of the group have heterogeneous goals means they will use “hidden personal agendas”, with goals unknown to the other members of the group, meaning they can interfere with the group goals. Sometimes, « hidden agendas » may be destructive (for instance if within the group there is a writer whose hidden goal is to see certain behaviors « live ” it is highly probable that he/she will harass the other members in order to achieve his / her hidden goal), or less serious (persons who want to practice their communication skills take over the pauses). Incorporating personal goals to group goals may minimize the effects of the „hidden agendas”. Mention must be made of the fact that groups work on two levels: surface tasks and hidden needs and motivations.
All members come to the group to satisfy several personal needs. Sometimes, after such satisfaction, new ones emerge to the surface. This is not selfishness, but something normal and to be expected. The issue is what effect these personal needs have on the group ones: A’s needs must not prevent the achievement of the group’s goals. The solution consists of legitimating one’ s personal needs so that the problems could be solved. The leader’s task is to support those members who try to take out to the surface hidden agendas. It is ideal that no one should be criticized for having a hidden agenda so that inhibitions and defensive attitudes should not be created.
Conformity has been defined as the process of submitting to the group’s pressure.
Conformity implies the implicit existence of a conflict between the influences exerted by the group and the personal « inner forces » that determine a different way to valorize, think and act. Someone who experiments such a conflict has two options: either assert their independent point of view, or conform and adopt the group’s point of view. In its turn, conformity may have two aspects: surface (someone accepts and behaves in compliance with the requirements, norms, values of the group even if they do not coincide with the personal ones) and deep (the requirements, norms, values of the group coincide with the personal ones).
The research meant to study conformity behaviors (Krech-cf. Zastrow, 1989), have outlined the following:
The individuals have the tendency to adopt behaviors / judgments induced under the pressure of the group even if they are obviously inappropriate or wrong.
Many people may be influenced by the pressure of the group, (they submit to it) even if they will personally have to suffer.
There are big individual differences in the conformity process: few are those who conform in most cases and also few are those who usually do not conform. Most people conform in some situations, and not in others.
The answers given by individually questioned individuals are different than those given under the pressure of the group. Only few subjects keep their previously expressed opinions, most of them tending to « resume » to personal judgments.
The bigger the group, the stronger the submittal pressure.
If a person opposes another, there will be small chances that one should submit the other. Chances increase if either person is joined by part of the group. In other words, a dissident opinion has the effect of consolidation the independent group who in its turn may influence the decision of the group.
People submit to an authoritative command even if the imposed behavior is incompatible with their moral and conduct convictions and standards.
Generally, the group one belongs to (as a reference group) contributes to defining the social reality: most people do not have the non – social, “objective”, self-appreciative and orientation means; consequently, they appropriate the opinions, values, beliefs of others. Each member of a group is credited and holds a position (status) within a group to the extent he / she proves his/her competences and conforms to social expectancies. The crediting that has been thus obtained (from the group) may be used at a certain moment for the assertion of a nonconformist behavior, (of denial of norms and values), without being sanctioned, in other words, his / her status is consolidated. Nonconformity, in its turn, shall not be infinitely credited: it is very probable that there will be a status decline or even a rejection from the other members.
Within groups the atmosphere may be:
Cooperation, characterized by open and sincere communication, cohesion, resourcefulness. It has been noticed that among the effects of cooperation there are:
the increase of creativity,
the coordination of efforts,
the increase of the labor sharing,
the emotional involvement for the achievement of the group goals,
the development of the inter-personal skills,
positive attitudes towards the group and its tasks,
increased acceptance towards the individual and cultural differences
the development of decisions and problem solving
the wish to help and share common experiences.
(Jonson & Jonson, cf. Zastrow,1989)
The cooperation environment occurs when the personal goals of the group members are perceived as being compatible, identical or complementary. In such groups each member aims to coordinate his / her efforts with the others’ in order to achieve the group goals. To settle a cooperation environment it is important that the group should be oriented towards the achievement of the group performances more than the achievement of the personal ones.
Competitive: characterized by a ferocious destructive struggle. Its consequences within the group may be:
decrease of creativity,
lack of effort coordination
reduction of the labor sharing
reduction of the group cohesion
communication is inefficient
suspicion and mistrust
increased level of anxiety
negative attitudes towards the group and its tasks
dislike among the members of the group
rejection of the individual and cultural differences
lack of efficiency in problem solving
Within groups of a competitive environment, the members are oriented towards achieving their personal goals and ignoring the common ones.
If within a cooperative group there appears a competitive individual, he / she will usually change the group’s environment into a competitive one. The explanation for this strong influence consists of the fact that the competitive individual will attempt to take advantage to his / her personal interest of the cooperative environment and will tend to hold a privileged position as to the other members of the group. The reaction of the group will be defense: the other members will not accept being exploited, consequently they will start to function by the pattern of the newly arrived. In order that the cooperative group should survive it is important that the new member(s) should have an orientation compatible with the group.
The generic term of “controversy” refers to situations such as debates, disputes, and disagreements concerning ideas, beliefs, convictions, and assumptions. The controversies are natural and frequent within groups. If skillfully managed, controversies may contribute the increase of creativity, stimulate the members; involvement and improve the decision quality. The emotional reactions that usually accompany the involvement in controversial situations may have the following positive effects:
and the following negative effects:
On the other hand, people react differently in controversial situations: some avoid them, others find them exciting, others get furious, while others use them to express themselves and ventilate their own feelings and preoccupations.
By means of controversies, members of the groups often succeed in clarifying their own values and convictions, which stimulates the process of personal development. Learning to control their inter-personal feelings, the members of the groups also learn means to solve inner conflicts.
When controversies are out of control, they cause conflicts, the members split in opposite sides (“them” and “us”) and judging in antagonist terms: “correct-incorrect”, “justice – injustice” etc.
7. Approaching Conflicts within the Group
Once occurred, the conflict may be mainly approached from two perspectives: the „win-lose” type approach and the “win-win” type approach (problem solving).
In the first case, “win-lose”, power subgroups are formed, each subgroup denies the other subgroup’s legitimacy and tries to be won. The group’s long – term goals are forgotten, the whole attention and energy of the parties is concentrated on consolidating its own position and argumentation: the losers are no longer willing to provide their resources for the actions imposed by the winners. Mistrust, lack of communication and cooperation, the refusal to vote, message distortion, impolite speech, embarrassing deed revealing, personal rejections are but a few of the features of the conflict situations approached in terms of “win-lose”.
The approach focused on problem solving, in terms of “win-win” implies going through the following steps:
the identification and definition of the needs of each person within the group and subgroup.
Finding alternative solutions.
Evaluating the solutions that have been found.
Selecting the solution that has received the vote of each member.
Implementing the solution.
The evaluation of the manner the adopted solution works.
It is true that re-guiding a conflict situation is not an easy process either for the leader and the members who have hold so different positions. What makes the change possible is firstly the existence of a common goal that all members should understand and agree with. The process concerning the change of the manner to approach the conflict may be also facilitated by active, empathic listening to the other’s (others’) point of view, as well as the decision – making, preferably, by consensus. Eventually, it would be important to see whether to all members the compromise or consensus that has been resorted to is acceptable.
The key for settling the conflict, changing the “win-lose” situation into a “win-win” situation is the option for a solution convenient to all instead of a solution convenient only to a person or subgroup.
Disturbing Behaviors within Groups
Disturbing behaviors are encountered especially within involuntary groups (groups which the individuals are obliged to participate to). This category includes: aggressiveness, the refusal to fulfill certain tasks, the permanent wish to compete, demonstrative behavior, and jester behavior, seducing behavior.
The leader has three main means at hand to control such behavior:
Allow such manifestations, but ignore and minimize them so that the person should perceive his / her inappropriateness, feel the ridiculous and willing give up such behavior;
Resort to confrontation: leader – troublemaker, either have an individual talk, or in the presence of the other members of the group;
The confrontation takes place between another member of the group and the troublemaker.
Any of these methods may be successful.
8. Important Factors for Starting and Performing a Group Intervention
The group formation and leading processes depend very much on: the type of group you wish to form and the specific purposes you aim at. However, there are common elements you must take into account as they influence, in any group, reaching the maximum potential. Such factors are:
the group leading style;
the similarity of the members (homogeneity);
age and sex;
size of the group;
openness or closeness;
duration of the group.
Except for these factors, there are also numerous traps and dilemmas related to group leading; knowing them contributes to preventing or correctly solving them. Do not forget that a group’s life is similar to the life of any live system, therefore, it may go through various development stages, which the deserved attention must be given to.
The Goal of the Group
Carefully and precisely set the goal, which you want to form the group for, as this will influence the selection of the members!
For groups that aim solving problems, the participants’ expertise is important, that is why it is recommendable to form the group of members having knowledge, competences and perspectives that are related to various areas.
For the groups the goal of which is education / formation in specific areas, the selection of the members shall take into account the fact they should have similar features and interests.
For therapeutic groups, individual interviewing is important prior to forming the group so that the leader could realize if the individuals may face the group situations / pressures.
The Composition of the Group
Pay attention to descriptive attributes and behavior features as the thus created mixture may influence the achievement of the goals.
Descriptive attributes (sex, age)
The similarity of the descriptive attributes may favor the achievement of the goal by homogeneity and at the same time confers certain peculiarities to working with such groups: work is different with groups of children, groups of teenagers, old people groups, groups of women etc.
Behavior features (actions or behaviors expected from a member of the group).
It is highly probable that an aggressive or hyperactive person will disturb the activity of the groups. Accepting within a group people of behavior and values that contribute to the consolidation of the cohesion is not only necessary, but also possible by considering the behaviors, values, attitudes, previously manifested (based on the information gathered in individual interviews, references etc.).
Set the size of the group depending on the goal! It seems that there is an optimum number of members for each type of group:
the optimum group is formed around the figure five;
small groups stimulate controversy, antagonism;
large groups inhibit participation;
the more complex the task, the larger the number of the members.
Closed Group vs. Open Group
Set what type of group you’ll work with! The two types of groups have both pros and cons.
Open groups face situations such as:
continuous acceptance of members,
early leaving of members,
frequent change of members.
These situations have:
the advantage of bringing new behavior patterns that subsequently will contribute to redefining the norms and practices of the old group.
disadvantages of continuously accepting members are related to the inhibition of the opening processing, the decease of the trust in the promised confidentiality. Also, in open groups, the members are in various stages of familiarity with group processes.
Closed groups have the advantage of working much more efficiently, even if in temporal terms (goals are achieved in a shorter period of time). The early leaving of certain members is often felt dramatic by the group, which may influence the dynamic of the group processes (return, stop for a while).
Both in open and closed groups, the leaders must pay special attention to the termination and splitting processes.
The above – mentioned group processes enable us to note the fact that each stage must have time enough. Practice has proved that most groups last 1-3 hours per week for a few weeks (therapeutic groups usually last longer, duration which is imposed by professional associations). Setting temporal limits, the work structure is very important as it contributes to reducing resistance (which is not functional). AT times the logistics facilities (available space for a limited time) impose strict planning. Planning the duration of the group must not become a rigid framework, a disturbing restriction of the group processes. On the contrary, the leader must note the group’s need to grow and develop and adjust the temporal terms in this respect in order to avoid frustrations and diversions that may be generated by such restrictions.
Summary Guide for Leading Groups
The theories concerning the leading of groups have highlighted the fact that each member of a group simultaneously acts, during the role assuming process, as a group leader. In other conditions as the group ones, many individuals do not assume the leader’s part knowingly, fearing either that they will not know how to act, or that they lack the features necessary to a leader. Absolutely surprisingly, it may be noticed the shy, anxious and untrusting participants in the group often may finally get to freely assume leadership roles
We wish to underline (and also encourage the undertaking of the group leadership by reserved persons) the fact that there are significant differences between assuming leadership roles within groups and exerting these roles as a leader or designated leader within an organizational structure for instance.
Here are summarized several of the imperative conditions of the group leadership (they have already been presented in this material):
Use warming up exercises when starting the groups, both during the initial stages and on the occasion of each and every meeting. The role of these exercises is to “break the ice”, suppress inhibitions, and facilitate the setting of the trust climate, contributing to the increase of the efficiency of the group.
During the initial stages of the group, the leader’s attention must be focused on the identification of the personal goals of the members, and, starting here, the group’s goals will be set.
A designated leader (appointed, “official”, formal), must not leave out sharing responsibilities. Each member of a group must also have leader experiences. The designated leader must not dominate and hold the exclusive control over the group: he / she is not responsible of all the group’s tasks and functions.
For decision – making those means will be used that will provide the highest satisfaction (possibilities of expressing oneself and “finding” oneself in the made decision for as many members as possible) to the participants in the group and that best suit to the decision – making situation (consensus or simple majority).
A group cooperative environment is always preferable (as opposed to competition).
Knowing that, in the group, controversies and conflicts are inevitable, in order to solve them the “non-loss” approach is preferable (no one loses) as opposed to the “win-loss” type of approach (someone wins and some other loses).
It is generally preferable that the leader should facilitate open confrontations among the members who are hostile.
Try to create an open sincere communication atmosphere.
Within educational, therapeutic and sensitivity groups, both theoretical knowledge and practical possibilities to exercise the new knowledge and to for skills will be provided.
Pay the deserved attention to the last session of the group. Do not hesitate to summarize (both the leader and the other group members) and thus highlight the most important moments of the group. Summarizing has the role to remind the stage or key – processes and also gives the members the satisfaction of having achieved their goals.
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