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 –
1. Group roles adopted by each member of the group
2. The development of a group as it progresses through its process (group process)
You may have heard of group dynamics in the context of your working life. But you probably find yourself in a group in other parts of your life, whether that is in your immediate or distant family, your friendships, or the group of parents you meet up with as your child participates in sporting practice.
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
1. There is a purpose for our behaviour. If we each adopt different roles, this might help achieve the tasks that the group has (consciously or unconsciously) formed to achieve. Knowing this can often counteract the frustration we initially felt when we thought that we were always the one who was doing all the work. Instead, we might see that each group member is still working in a way that fulfils a particular group role.
2. Conversely, we might see that we are the only one who is adopting a task role, and others are adopting dysfunctional or individualistic roles. With this awareness, we are in a better position to assertively challenge this dysfunctional behaviour.
3. We can be flexible as the needs of the group develop. For example, once we have achieved the task of information-seeking, we might need to then adopt the role of information-giver. To know what roles are required of us, we need to understand what stage our group has reached in terms of group development. As a result, we will turn to the second aspect of group dynamics, and that is ‘group process’.
Groups usually develop according to a predictable process. My favourite way of putting this is Bruce Tuckman’s approach:
1. Groups form, when there may be a lack of group cohesion, a lack of certainty as to which group roles each member should adopt, and a dependence on some sort of group leader.
2. Groups storm, which means that group roles are slowly being allocated, but this may be the subject of dispute as the group establishes itself.
3. Groups norm, which means they (consciously or unconsciously) agree on how the group should be, and there is greater clarity in terms of group roles.
4. Groups perform whatever task(s) they have (consciously or unconsciously) formed to achieve.
5. Finally, groups adjourn, when the group task(s) have been achieved.
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 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 psychotherapist can help you to become aware of group dynamics. Once you have this awareness, you can work with the 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 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.
Hope you found this informative.
Chris Warren-Dickins LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Ridgewood NJ 07450 and Teaneck NJ 07666.
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