An understanding of group dynamics can help us to hold groups together. It is important to understand the three major actions of groups. The first two are primary, and the third emerges as a means to balance these two.
Groups come together to perform tasks. They form in order to achieve something, to reach a goal, to create something, or to learn something.
Groups are composed of individuals, each with their own particular personality, ideas, experience, knowledge, and therefore needs. Personal needs could vary from a need to belong through to a need to contribute. Maybe there are needs to be creative, or perhaps to impart a skill.
Holding a group together requires maintaining the balance between task needs and personal needs. The analogy of a see-saw is helpful. Task are at one end of the see-saw, personal needs at the other. The fulcrum that balances these two is the Maintenance Needs of the group. (see diag)
It is the task of the facilitator of the group to ensure that the maintenance needs of the group are met, so that the tasks of the group are kept in mind and are continually worked on, yet also ensuring that personal needs are met. If individual personal needs are not met, then people may lose interest and drop out of the group, perhaps taking with them some important skill, knowledge or idea. It has been said that people join a learning group in order to learn something, but that what keeps them there are the relationships that they make. This is no different for a group that has a more external, or social change purpose.
So, what are the Maintenance Needs and how does the facilitator ensure that they are met?
Maintenance Needs and Functions
A few of the things that a facilitator needs to be aware of in order to maintain the balance between task and personal needs include:
- Ensuring that all participants are encouraged to participate. This means that the facilitator must be encouraging, have an open and receptive manner and is aware of equity issues.
- Is able to maintain an open and full communication between participants, including the ability to draw out silent members. This means being comfortable with different styles of groups working together (including individual time, pairs, small groups, interactive movement, as well as the more traditional full group discussion).
- Being open to the full range of human expression, including feelings, emotions and intuition, as well as intellectual expression. This may mean specifically allowing for or even promoting the expression of heart and gut “thoughts.”
- Helping to relieve tension by recognising the importance of humour (although ensuring that the humour is not of a disrespectful nature). The use of ice-breakers and other forms of “time out” activities can be helpful, not just to relief tension, but also to reduce the possibility of boredom or inattention.
- Reminding the group of their goals and direction. Being able to summarise where a group has got to and then suggesting the next steps is a useful function of a facilitator.
- Being able to work with disagreement or differences of opinion in a way that respects the individual needs of all yet also recognises the task needs of the group. An understanding of techniques for doing this are useful skills for facilitators to have in their “tool box.”
- Testing for consensus or agreements. This helps groups to recognise when and where progress is being made. If agreements are not reached then it may be necessary to restate the problem. issue, or concern that the group are working on. It is then important to summarise the steps that have been made along the way, thus being able to clarify sticking points.
- Most of all, the primary function of a facilitator is to listen. Listen for new ideas, areas of agreement, areas of disagreement, to those who are silent. Listen for signs of restlessness, misunderstandings, or for discussion dominators.
These are just very very brief explanations of some of the roles of a facilitator who is trying to maintain the balance between task and personal needs. Each of these roles can be expanded on and the reader is encouraged to discover some of the excellent books or on-line resources on facilitation tat are now available.