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:

Read Section 1 - What makes an effective group leader

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.

Read Reflection on evidence based group work practice

2. Be a leader.

Being an effective leader stretches most people towards areas of new learning and experiences. The effective development of leadership roles involves three components:

a. Flexibility in leadership

Group leadership consists of a variety of roles. These roles address two primary concerns:

Read Section 2 - Balancing the task and maintenance needs in your group

b. Role differentiation

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.

Read Section 3 - Key attitudinal tasks that leaders attend to at the commencement of a group

c. Self-presentation as a leader

“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:

Read Section 4 - Advantages, specialisations and uses of group work

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4. Be informed by the stages of group development.

Being informed by the stages of group development can assist group leaders to predict likely patterns of group behaviour. Schwartz (1975) identified four task stages of group development:

Read Section 5 - Stages of group development

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.

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5. Change within the group occurs when participants learn from others' experiences.

Learning is more than information (Morrison, 1993). Make sure that your group and the exercises you use balance the four learning styles. Adult learning can help people to think creatively about ways of organising their world, provide them with a sense of their own self-worth and power and see that change is possible (Brookfield, 1986).

What adults bring to group learning situations?

Adult learning is:

Read Section 10 - Different learning styles.

Also read Section 11 - Open or closed groups?

6. Successful, creative, and open-discussion groups involve planning and preparation.

Good group work is actually quite complex. Read the following section for an overview of how to make your group happen. It covers the following topics:

1. The Initial Purpose Establishment Stage

2. Group formation and identification of secondary (individual) purposes

3. Formation of the group program

Read Section 7 - Making your group happen.

Also read Section 8 - Choosing exercises for psychoeducational groups.

A useful process to use in your group is the campfire, click here to read - Transformative group work - Using the Campfire Process.

Read Useful exercises for group leadership.

7. Creative groups need a common purpose.

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:

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8. The foundation of creative groups is a blend of allonomous and autonomous communication patterns.

Good communication in group work is essential. Primarily this balances Allonomous and Autonomous communication pattern in your group. Read the next section for an overview.

Read Section 9 - The pattern for communication interaction.

A useful tool for managing conflict is ANEC, click here to read - Ways to manage conflict situations - ANEC

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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.

Read Section 12 - Evaluation

10. To improve your creative group work practice, you need to be receiving good supervision!

Read Section 13 - Supervision.

Section 14 - Useful reading

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.

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