Group process refers to how an organization’s members work together to accomplish their goals.
Typically, most organizations spend a great deal of time and energy setting and striving to reach their goals, but often give little consideration to what is happening among and to the group’s greatest resource – its members. While working hard to achieve results, it is critical that the members’ needs be addressed. Being part of an organization is as much an opportunity to develop self-confidence, refine your skills, and make friends as it is to support a cause, fundraise, or educate a community. All of these can be done simultaneously, but most likely will not just happen on their own.
Group process can occur from within the group, outside of the group, and at any time of year. Effective organizations examine just how members work together, which roles they fill, and whether all the members are contributing equally. Through group process, observation, and analysis you can identify problems early, thus alleviating the need for a major overhaul as the year progresses. Your vantage point as a group member provides a great opportunity to regularly observe how things are progressing. Depending on the frequency of meetings and with an understanding of what to look for, you can be instrumental in ensuring group and individual success.
Elements of an organization which typically influence group proceedings include effective communication, full member participation, excellent decision-making processes, and role and responsibility fulfillment for everyone. When observing these specific areas you will likely see several things happening simultaneously. That is to be expected, however, it can also be somewhat confusing. Initially, you may want to isolate a single aspect of the group. As you become more adept at observation, you can gradually increase your areas of focus.
Listed below are several questions to ask yourself as you begin observing your group.
One of the easiest aspects of group process to observe is the pattern of communication:
- Who talks?
- For how long?
- How often?
- At whom do people look when they speak?
- Who talks after whom?
- Who interrupts whom?
- What style of communication is used (assertions, questions, the tone of voice, gestures, etc.)?
- Who sits where?
- Do the same people always sit in the same place?
The kinds of observations you make will provide you with clues to other important issues which may be going on within the group (e.g., such as who leads whom or who influences whom).
II Full Participation of all Group Members
One indication of good group involvement is their verbal participation. You can look for differences in the amount of participation among members.
- Who are the high participants?
- Who are the low participants?
- Do you see any shift in participation (e.g., highs become quiet; lows suddenly become talkative)?
- What are the possible reasons for this in the group’s interaction?
- How are the silent people treated?
- How is their silence interpreted?
- Who talks to whom?
- Do you see any reason for this to be occurring in the group’s interactions?
- Who keeps the ball rolling?
- Do you see any reason for this in the group’s interactions?
III Decision Making
Many kinds of decisions are made in groups without considering the effects that these decisions will have on other members. Some people may try to impose their own decisions on the group, while others may want all the members to participate in the decision-making process.
- Does anyone make a decision and carry it out without checking with other group members (self-authorized)? For example, one person decides on the topic to be discussed and immediately begins to talk about it.
- What effect does this have on the other group members?
- Does the group drift from topic to topic?
- Who topic-jumps?
- Do you see any reason for this in the group’s interactions?
- Who supports the other members’ suggestions or decisions?
- Does this support result in the two members deciding the topic or activity for the group?
- How does this affect the other group members?
- Is there any evidence of a majority pushing a decision through over the objections of other member’s?
- Do they call for a vote (majority support)?
- Is there any attempt to get all the members participating in a decision, thereby getting a consensus?
- What effect does this seem to have on the group?
- Does anyone make any contributions which do not receive any kind of response or recognition?
- What effect does this have on that member?
- Does the executive board make all of the decisions or do all of the talking or do the members also get to contribute or do they seem to make the decisions?
IV Organizational Roles
A variety of crucial roles need to be filled to ensure that the group’s goals are accomplished and success is experienced in a collaborative manner.
Roles are distributed among three types:
These sorts of people are primarily interested in trying to accomplish the group tasks. Examples of those sorts of people: initiator, contributor, information seeker and giver, elaborator, energizer, or recorder. They are usually the doers.
These sorts of people are oriented toward improving relationships among the members. Examples of those types: encourager, harmonizer, or compromiser. They are usually effective communicators.
These sorts of people are focused on their own personal needs regardless of the group concerns. Examples of those types: aggressor, recognition seeker, dominator, or blocker. They are usually detrimental to a collaborative group approach.
Process observation requires a great deal of patience and the ability to focus on everyone in the group. Paying attention to the questions raised above and to the various roles also described can help you to better understand how the group is affecting its members and vice versa. Once you have determined how well the group process functions you will have more insight into whether or not it needs to be improved and in which areas the improvements need to be made. Effective group process is essential to the success of any high-performance team that wishes to fulfill its goals.