Do you ever feel as if you are the scapegoat in a group, the one who ends up carrying the blame for everything when things go wrong? Or perhaps you feel compelled to take the lead in a group, frustrated that no one else has stepped up to take some of the responsibility. If this is happening, perhaps the forces of group dynamics are taking hold.
On one end of the scale, a lack of awareness about group dynamics might lead to your feelings or needs remaining unheard. At the more extreme end of the scale, this group dysfunctional group dynamics could lead to persecution of the more vulnerable members of the group. How can you protect yourself when you interact within a group, and how can you ensure that your feelings and needs are met?
Every time a group is formed, it is arguable that group dynamics are being played out. Group dynamics comprise of –
Let’s look at each part of group dynamics in a little more detail –
When you are interacting in a group, you may feel that you are compelled to do something that other group members are not. You may not understand why you feel compelled to do this, but it may be because you feel a task of the group needs to be achieved. For example, everyone in your group might be complaining about the rise in crime in the area, and you are all wondering how you can stay safe. You might feel frustrated about these constant complaints without any action, and, as a result, you might decide to seek out the exact numbers of crimes in your area, to see if there has been a rise, or whether this is just perception. It is arguable that you are adopting a group role here, and that might be the role of ‘information-gatherer’.
There is theory to explain why you may feel compelled to become the ‘information-gatherer’. In a paper called ‘Functional Roles of Group Members’ Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats wrote about group roles and, in doing so, they identified several roles, including the role of ‘information-seeker’. Here are some of the group roles, and you can see that Benne and Sheats organised them into three different categories: 1. Group task roles; 2. Group building and maintenance roles; and 3. Individual (or dysfunctional) roles –
“Group Task Roles
Initiator-Contributor – suggests new ideas and ways of looking at problems or goals.
Information Seeker – asks for clarification and for supporting facts and authority.
Opinion Seeker – asks for clarification of pertinent values.
Information Giver – offers ‘authoritative’ facts or generalisations or relates relevant aspects of his or her own experience.
Opinion Giver – states belief or opinion, emphasising values rather than facts or information.
Elaborator – spells out suggestions (eg with examples), offers a rationale for proposals, and explores likely implications of proposals if adopted.
Coordinator – shows or clarifies relationships among ideas and suggestions, tries to pull them together, tries to coordinate activities.
Orientor – defines the group’s position with respect to its goals by summarising what has occurred, identifies departures from agreed directions and goals, or raises questions about the direction discussion is taking.
Evaluator-Critic – assesses suggestions, etc, and questions their practicality, their logic, the facts, the procedure.
Energizer – prods the group to decision, action, ‘higher quality’, etc.
Procedural technician – expedites ‘group movement’ by performing routine, tasks, etc.
Recorder – writes down suggestions, records group decisions, acts, etc. As the ‘group memory’.
Group Building and Maintenance Roles
Encourager – praises, commends, agrees with and accepts the contributions of others. Conveys warmth and solidarity.
Harmonizer – attempts to reconcile disagreements, relieve tension by joking, etc.
[There is also the Compromiser, Gatekeeper/Expediter, Standard setter, Group Observer/Commentator and the Follower *** ]
Individual [or ‘Dysfunctional’] Roles
Aggressor – may seek to deflate the status of others, express disapproval of the values, acts and feelings of others, joke aggressively, try to take credit for another’s contribution.
Blocker – tends to be negative or stubbornly resistant, to disagree and oppose without and beyond reason, to reopen issues after the group has dealt with them.
[There is also the Recognition Seeker, Self-Confessor and Playboy [or Playgirl] *** ]
(*** For a full set of the group roles, please see ‘Functional Roles of Group Members’ - Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 4, Issue 2)
So you may ask: So what? This is all very interesting on a theoretical level, but what does it mean for me? With awareness of the group role we may be adopting, we can see that
Groups usually develop according to a predictable process. My favourite way of putting this is Bruce Tuckman’s approach:
An awareness of group process can help us to understand what is happening, and it can offer the opportunity to become more sensitive to individual group members. For example, if we know that in the early stages of a group we are storming, we will expect more conflict and disruption, and we might be able to develop a healthy distance from this, seeing it as a natural, and important part of the group’s development. The same can be said for child development: If we have a general understanding of certain tasks that are expected of certain stages of child development, we can adopt a more understanding attitude towards that child or teenager.
Talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist
Without awareness of what is going on, we can fall into a trap, and, as a result, we can end up doing things that we would not have chosen to do. Talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you to become aware of group dynamics. Once you have this awareness, you can work with the counsellor or psychotherapist to make an informed choice about how to respond. You may decide to carry on in the same way, but if you decide to make a change, for example, by challenging a group member who is adopting a dysfunctional role, this can be difficult to manage alone. Other group members may have come to expect you to be a certain way, and so, working with the support of a counsellor or psychotherapist, you can explore what life might be like if you did decide to change, and what strength and resources you have to face this challenge.
Chris Warren-Dickins BACP Registered Counsellor
Counseling and coaching blog