27 September 2017
A group is a collection of people, who may be aware of each other, such as colleagues or friends, or who have joined the group individually for a specific purpose, (such as a group weight reduction session). Many different factors influence how a group forms, develops and performs (we could write a series of blogs on that topic alone). The key influences tend to be relating to organisation, purpose and frequency.
If you are asked by an organisation, corporate client, sports club, (etc.) to talk to a group, it is likely that the group knows each other. Whether they have ‘formed’ as a group or not, they will already have a sense of familiarity and commonality and may be quicker to get working as a cohesive group. If you organise a group meeting and individuals book on to it, they are much less likely to know each other and may take a while to develop a sense of commonality.
How focused or general the purpose of the meeting is, can also influence how the group forms, develops and performs, as different personalities may get more or less opportunity to emerge, as is explored further on in this blog.
Whether a single session, a fixed series or as an ongoing group will also have an impact upon group dynamics. With single sessions, group formation and development tends to be sped up, although it can be on a more superficial level. With a fixed series of sessions, personalities have more opportunities to evolve, yet the time-limited aspect can have a moderating effect on very strong personalities. The ongoing group is most likely to go through the full group formation process, perhaps even to reaching a natural end point.
Group stages – from forming to performing…
According to Bruce Tuckman, a psychology professor who extensively researched group dynamics, groups tend to go through a four-stage process: forming, storming, norming and performing, with a potential fifth stage of ending.
When a group is newly gathered, it goes through a ‘forming’ stage; the ‘feeling your feet’ stage where everyone gets to know each other. Some of the group, those more rule or role oriented, will be focused on understanding how the group will run. Whilst most are likely to be cautious or on their best behaviour, seeking acceptance, some personalities will be looking to generate conflict or controversy, or gain attention in other ways…
Others, those more ‘process’ focused, will be keen to get the group up and running and on to the business as quickly or efficiently as possible. For a single session group, activities to encourage a group to work together can be useful here. As a group leader, being aware of the different roles that people adopt in the forming stage of a group (which are discussed below) can be valuable, as you can assign tasks and roles according to people’s natural preferences. This can help ease the group though the next stage of ‘storming’.
The ‘storming’ stage can be smooth, especially if the forming stage is well-managed. However, here, as people become familiar with each other, they come away from their best behaviour (which is more consciously controlled) into their ‘comfortable’ behaviour (subconscious emergence of previously suppressed personality traits). Here, there is the potential for personality clashes and challenges to the authority of the group leader or facilitator. There may be competition for dominance in the group, with some less confident group members becoming quieter and less participative, with others seeking to enforce rules and some looking to develop procedures or approaches to generate effective work. As a group leader, it can be helpful to maintain your role as leader, as established during the forming phase, keeping calm and using your judgement as to whether to let the group settle within itself, or whether adjustments are needed. If there are any particularly strong characters that are not effectively channelled into productive participation, then a quiet discussion privately can be helpful. Over time, when well-managed, the group will naturally settle into a ‘norming’ working group.
With ‘norming’, a normal functioning of the group emerges, personalities and adopted roles within the group become clearer to observe. It is at this stage that a group leader may wish to encourage individuals to contribute according to their strengths and abilities and to support others within the group, as opposed to individual entities who happen to be grouped together. This can then lead to a fourth stage, that of ‘performing’.
Some researchers, including Tuckman, consider not all groups reach this ‘ideal’ stage of ‘performing’. Certainly, there are many potential pitfalls along the way, until the group can reach this stage. Managing strong personalities and encouraging participation of quieter ones can take careful observation and effective communication skills. As a group leader, getting the group to a point where they function, as a group, can give you a stronger outcome that individual efforts. The group, as a whole, can produce a ‘group energy’ that will drive productivity with focus on group functioning and agreed goals. At some point, those goal may be achieved. This can result in the group reaching a natural end point.
Ongoing groups with no defined time periods can reach a point where ‘the magic stops’. Dynamics will change and the effective functioning of the group will diminish. At other times, the end point is already known (single session, defined series). As a group leader, how you handle this ending of the group is as important for all participants, as for any other stage. Hopefully, the ending will be planned, rather than as a result of the group fracturing or ‘fizzling out’. It can be good to schedule time on acknowledging and reflecting on the group’s successes. This can leave participants with positive perceptions of group work and far more likely to be a good contributor to future groups.
Groups are also influenced by size dynamics. Small groups, of 2-8 people are vulnerable to loss or addition, which will change the dynamics of the group. Groups of 9 of more are less vulnerable to changes but group roles start to become more evident. Generally, 7-8 people is a good number of participants for a therapy group, with sufficient variety and contact with group members. Medium-sized groups will generally benefit from a helper as well as a group leader. There is a risk of group splintering and above 20, it becomes more ‘class-like’. Large groups (5o plus) are really more of a seminar than a group, however, having ‘breakout groups’ can be useful.
Here, each breakout group can emerge as a separate group, with individuals emerging into specific roles (note: where those groups are then merged, it can cause conflict or confusion). Rotating membership between breakout groups (e.g. forming new breakout groups each time) can avoid the strong emergence or strengthening of specific group roles. However, you may wish for certain roles to develop, so may plan your activities or presentation accordingly.
Group roles – who does what?
Within a group, there can be many different roles… When the intention for the group is exploratory or creative, a ‘contributor / initiator’ starts discussions and new areas of exploration, offers original ideas and alternative ways of approaching problems or goals. They can work well with an ‘elaborator’, someone who takes others’ initial ideas and develop them and/or considers the consequences of ideas and actions.
When those in the group have joined with a specific and personal purpose, such as joining a stress management group, they may emerge as an ‘information seeker’ who looks for expert opinion or information relating to the problem, identifying what is missing and needed in order to proceed. They are complemented by an ‘information provider’, someone who presents as, or is regarded as an authority of the subject and relates their own experiences when relevant. A group leader may wish to ensure that the information provided by them is accurate and relevant to the needs of the group.
Within groups, there will often also be someone who is an ‘opinion seeker’, asking for values, opinions and attitudes of others, and looking for different perspectives. They are a perfect target for an ‘opinion provider’, who gives their own beliefs and opinions on what ‘should’ be done. This may detract from the overall intention of the group, particularly if the individual has their own agenda for which they are seeking a platform or audience. An ‘orienter’ can be helpful here as they like to keep on track, and may remind the group of what is desired and how to get back on target…
Also, helpful with ‘provider’ roles is the contrast of a ‘critic / evaluator’ who assesses the reasonableness of material, is fact-based and often solution-focused. These can all be quite dynamic roles and the emergence of a ‘co-ordinator’ can be beneficial as they aim to draw together different ideas into a cohesive whole.
Personality traits within group roles
The more ‘dynamic’ roles mentioned above are also supported and balanced by a range of other roles or personalities. The practical functioning of the groups can be enhanced by a number of different aspects. An ‘energiser’ can focus group attention and energy, with an ‘encourager’ who praises, supports and encourages group members, demonstrates warmth and a positive attitude. Whereas a ‘harmoniser’ tends more to seek ways to diffuse tension, reduce tension, and reconcile differences between parties or individuals, and might also use additional information or humour. These are more defined roles than a ‘compromiser’ who is willing to yield their position in order to meet others part-way.
A moderating role can be provided by a ‘gatekeeper’ who regulates the flow of discussion and communication, and attempts to limit dominators whilst promoting group rules for all to have a voice. They work well in response to a ‘commentator-observer’, who reflects back to the group how it is functioning. Their role is supported by a ‘recorder’ who keeps a record of ideas produced in a group and someone who is ‘procedurally responsible’ liking to keep to plan for sessions and will often address logistical concerns such as about the location/venue, facilities and supplies.
The least active of all of the group personalities or roles is the ‘follower’, someone who doesn’t contribute or express their own thoughts and accepts what others say and decide. Generally, by the group, they are regarded as a listener rather than a contributor and there is a risk that they may become excluded from the dynamics of the group as it evolves.
Groups and hypnosis / hypnotherapy
Now you might have noticed, as you read this, that it didn’t mention hypnosis or hypnotherapy very much… That was deliberate! There are SO many different opportunities for hypnotists and hypnotherapists to work with groups that we didn’t want to limit you in any way. You may be going in to an organisation to present a one-off session to an existing group (e.g. staff wellbeing, a university group, a sports club) about performance or stress management. Alternatively, you may be setting up your own group, such as for weight management, and gathering people together as a result of advertising. There are a huge number of group-hypnosis possibilities to explore. The ‘MeetUp’ website is good for this, as is promoting it within relevant Facebook groups and other social media sites.
Whatever your focus, groups are an excellent way of becoming more visible as the ‘obvious expert’ and a good way of generating ‘word of mouth’ recommendations as people become familiar with who you are and what you do…
It can be good to start small, and develop your skills, reflecting on what you do well and even exploring what you could do differently. It does take a different skill set to work with groups. If group work and presentations are something you’re interested in, do take a look at our blog on ‘5 tips on how to deliver a good group presentation’. We hope this blog has been helpful, and if you have any questions relating to this blog or the subject of group demonstrations / presentations in general, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks