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Well-formed groups

Good facilitators or team leaders often make managing groups look easy!

To those less experienced who find themselves in a role or position to manage a group to get an outcome – whether this is in a meeting, workshop or joint problem-solving activity, they quickly find how easily things can go off the rails. For example, the group can “take control”, particular individuals by their behavior can distract or annoy the whole group, and alignment or achieving decisions seem less possible at the end of a meeting than at the start.

Our colleague Michael Grinder, has provided us and all people responsible for managing groups some very useful and practical approaches to this common dilemma (Interactive Managing Groups: The Fast Track 2nd Ed, M. Grinder with M.Yenik -2011). All Michael’s work on groups is under-pinned by the concept that there are n+1 entities in any group, where n=number of people in the group. The group itself is an entity in itself and when working with groups it is best to manage at the group level, rather than attempt to manage the individuals.

The group – is it formed or unformed?

There are some observable behaviors in a group that tell a facilitator or leader if the group is formed or unformed. It is important to establish this because different tools are required to manage the group, depending on the answer to this.

The more well formed a group, the easier they are to manage.  It takes less energy to facilitate of a formed group because,

  • The group owns whatever problems arise.
  • The members rely on one other
  • When a disagreement arises, the people tend to assign positive intentions to those they disagree with

Grinder’s 6 signs of group formation are,

Observable behaviors UnformedFormed
Where the group lookAt the facilitator
At each other

Speed of transition of group into activities or sub-group workSlowFast
Speed of transition of group from activities back to focus on facilitatorFastSlow
How well individuals in group know each otherNot wellWell
Who is providing psychological safety in the groupFacilitatorThe group itself
Whether they respond together and in unison to a request by facilitator
Patchy responsesIn unison – as a whole

It is therefore in the interest of the facilitator to speed up group formation if it is needed.

The way to speed group formation: it is EASY!

E—Echo

  • Any activity that has everyone doing something at the same time (eg – getting the group to stretch together or read a key word or two off the board)

A—Acknowledge

  • A group, especially an un-formed group, feels safe when the person-in-charge is competent. For example, the facilitator acknowledges that they know what is going to happen before it happens, or that the group, its history or its type of work is well known to the facilitator

S—Silence

  • The facilitator demonstrates they are comfortable with silence. And since “comfortable silence” suggests a high level of familiarity, it subliminally conveys that the group is already formed.

Y—Your Hands

  • When the facilitator represents the diverse sub-groups by using hands. Bringing hands together as she talks about the sub-groups, she symbolically blends the groups together.

 

Jill Tideman

 

 

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