Groupwork 101...10 things you need to know about creative groupwork
This webpage is designed as an induction tool for staff involved in group work for the community services/ relationships/ health sector.
Leadership is the most important variable for creating effective group experiences. Leadership skills can be developed and learned over time and different people have different leadership styles. In a recent group supervision session, a colleague remarked that the group was more successful when the leader was comfortable and relaxed. The characteristics of good group leadership include people being themselves and the application of a variety of professional and personal skills and attitudes. No two leaders are alike and that is why groups continue to be the ‘passionate technique’ and allow both participants and group leaders to present themselves in different and more confident ways.
Two important things to remember when discussing how group leaders can be effective:
no one leader has all the qualities listed in the section 1 article.
group leaders can effectively salvage many difficult moments in groups by being honest and acknowledging they are also still learning.
1. It is important to know how change occurs in a group as opposed to working individually with clients.
People are born into a group (family), socialise in groups (school or work) and live in groups (communities). While groups have accounted for some of damage people have experienced in life, they also provide an opportunity for change, group and stability. The following outlines USA and Australian research regarding group work practice.
Role differentiation involves the amount of flexibility that the group members have in acting out a variety of roles. Most groups that operate on a democratic leadership structure will value the sharing of roles between group members and the group leader. The amount of role differentiation is used to measure a group’s health. When groups have little role differentiation, group members act out a specific role with little variation. The difficulty of little role differentiation is that a group is less flexible, less creative and could find difficulties or threats hard to manage.
In leadership the guiding principle is: A group leader needs to play the roles that a group is unwilling or unable to enact at any particular point of time.
“Many facilitators are couching unwarily, forgetful and half-asleep in their experiential bodies and their physical posture shows the unmistakable signs of this. The head and jaw are too far forward, stature is reduced, the anterior thorax too concave and withdrawn, the pelvis and thighs posturally negated. Such a person is about to talk too much, exhibits anxious over-control and is missing a lot of what is going on in the group energy field“(Heron, 1999, p. 222).
In this posture the body stops moving freely, the amount of information that the group leader can attend to is dramatically reduced and the leader’s body becomes static. John Mason referred to this stasis as a waking sleep.
"Unfortunately, waking sleep, applies not only to driving, but also to meetings and to teaching, indeed any aspect of life. I am in an event of some sort, perhaps in a meeting, or in front of a class, and I suddenly realise that I have just interrupted a pupil, or just repeated what they said back to the class: something that I had resolved not to do again. In a meeting, I spoke out when I intended to remain quiet and listening, or I didn’t speak out when I intended to participate. But I notice this only after the fact, retrospectively" (Mason, 1993, P118).
The alternative approach to group leadership is for leaders to develop a greater sense of presence with the group members.
3. Know the advantages and limits for group work.
There are many sound reasons for using groups to deal with individual and social problems. As a group leader, it is important to know the advantages and limits for group work. A key part of this assessment is based on the type of group being facilitated. All groups can be classified as one of the following specialisations:
Also if you are interested in group work’s history, read Section 6 - Significant developments in group work's history
Check out the Groupwork Solutions resources (free downloads and low cost tools) Downloads
Survival Cards (Downloadable PDF or Pack) are a tool for discussions
with individuals or groups that name the positive and negative solutions
people use to cope with life challenges. People often use negative
coping strategies, even when they detest those responses. The difference
between these choices is more governed by the interaction between our
significant hopes and dreams and our fears/anxieties. Click here for more information.
The development of a clear and common purpose for a group is essential to motivate group members to first attend your group and also to retain their interest. The reason that group members may attend can vary over time. Group leaders play a key role in evaluating if a group is achieving its purpose. In psychoeducational groups the common purpose is the educational content of the group program. In counselling groups the common purpose is more individual with common themes that group members share, for example, group participants want to make changes to the way they are dealing with the loss of a family member, however each person will identify different issues to change.
Various issues to be considered as group leaders develop a common purpose are:
reviewing the group’s common purpose at the end of each session as a way to focus group members
group members may challenge the group leader by attempting to alter the purpose of a group’s existence
clarify the overall purpose for the group, as well as identifying individual purposes that may be similar or different
when a group feels like it is stagnating, consider if the group:
9. Creative groups are most effective when frequently and transparently evaluated.
Evaluation is a key component of service provision. If you want to still be running groups in five years’ time, you need to be evaluating them now. Groups that utilise interpersonal processes as part of learning are usually harder to evaluate than cognitive behavioural groups. However, evaluation is important as it contributes to program improvements. In this current funding climate, any program that is not evaluated regularly struggles to maintain funding.
Enjoy the opportunity of helping people learn together in a group situation. As questions arise, opportunities occur or challenges are faced, use the forum below to explore different ways that you can respond.