This essay provides definitions of community groups and examples of these with an analysis of their purpose and structure. Followed by group dynamics theory and the significance of communication within groups. The role of the community worker within groups and how the worker could manage difficult situations are also analysed.
There are various definitions for groups I have included one; “To put it simply they are units composed of two or more persons who come into contact for a purpose and who consider the contact meaningful.” Theodore M. Mills (1967: 2) Groups can be formed to serve various purposes types of groups include self help, welfare, representative, minority, action (or pressure), liaison, voluntary organisations and social groups.
In addition to the various purposes of groups they can also vary in their structure as they can have open or closed membership, be formal or informal, task or process orientated, regular or ad hoc and form for varying durations. The first example of a group is a youth sports team. The type of group would be an activity group and the structure is informal.
The membership would be closed as there would have to be trials etc prior to a new member joining the team. They would be task orientated as their main goal is to win matches and eventually the league they are a part of. With training and matches they would meet on a regular basis they could also exist for a long period of time. A second example of a group is youth club this would be an activity, educational, issue based or a social group. The structure would be informal with an open membership within a boundary as there would be an age limit.
The group could meet on a regular basis for a long period of time. The last example is a management committee they would meet regularly over a long period of time and be process orientated. The committee has a closed membership as the members need to be elected and it would also be formal as there are legal obligations on the members of the committee.
The most commonly used theory of group life cycles is Tuckman (1965) he proposed a 4-stage model to highlight the life cycle of a group. Tuckman's model was added to by Jensen in 1977 who stated that there should be another stage. In this essay for the details of the group life cycle the Tuckman and Jensen (1977) model will be used.
‘Forming’ is the starting point. Following this some groups may not go through all the stages or may revisit stages such as when a new member joins. The second stage is ‘Storming’ which can be a stage of conflict as people are establishing themselves but if it is well managed by the worker it can lead to a solid base for the group being established, it is also worth noting that some groups do not develop past this stage.
The third stage is ‘Norming’ this is the time in which the group start to be productive, develop trust and a consensus emerges along with clearer definitions of roles. ‘Performing’ is the next phase during which the group achieve the optimum performance level as they know each other, interact well, are cooperative and know how each member of the group works best. This stage is the ideal one for the group and worker to be in.
The final stage that Jensen came up with is the ‘Mourning’ or ‘Adjourning’ stage. During this the group is breaking up and the members may be feeling a sense of loss. The worker should support the members and highlight the options available when the group comes to an end.
The worker could also highlight the work that the group has carried out to help the participants recognise their achievements. If a team cannot get beyond the storming stage it is unlikely that they will ever be effective and the worker would have to assess whether it is productive to continue this group or if the issues can be resolved by training, drawing up a group agreement etc. Also groups may skip stages or re-enter previous stages.
This theory is helpful for a worker to know as it allows them to identify the stages at which it is helpful to intervene. An example of this is during the storming stage intervention may be necessary but a similar situation occurring in the performing stage may be dealt with effectively by the group this also prevents too much dependence on the worker.
Another useful aspect is that a worker can expect and if appropriate prepare themselves and the group for an impending change in stage such as the group re-entering the storming stage due to a new member joining and changing the group dynamic.
Within groups it is imperative to have a good level of communication as it helps increase group harmony and productivity. There are various theories about this the theory concentrated on here is Jaques ‘Arc of Distortion’ (1984). This theory has three models of communication and discusses that there are differences between what the sender is saying and what the receiver hears.
One reason for this is that non verbal communication plays a large part in what we convey according to Mehrabian (1967) 7% happens in spoken words 38% happens through tone of voice 55% happens via body language. In the first model below there is a basic sender and receiver interaction that doesn’t highlight any chances for miscommunication, this is the common perception held by many people.
The second model of communication highlights that there are things that can be communicated unintentionally, this then allows for an arc of distortion to occur between what the receiver hears and what they were intended to hear by the sender. A diagram highlights this below.
The third and final model below highlights that there is a difference in opinion between the sender and receiver in what has been said. This can be altered by what the receiver wants or expects to hear or if they have been distracted.
The diagrams above are taken from ‘Learning in Groups’ by David Jacques (1984, pages 46-49)
Knowledge of the communication theories highlights to workers the need to paraphrase and summarise when talking to people and also to be congruent. This knowledge also assists workers to develop groups as they can then highlight behaviours to people who are unaware of the mixed messages they are sending.
Groups can have various types of people in them. There are various roles these people can play and are suited to for example the person who brought the group together and knows everyone may not be the best leader but may be ideal in a role like marketing that involves meeting new people and interacting with others.
Workers need to be able to address barriers to participation. The ways in which this can be done are numerous and depend on the specific barriers but general guidelines to follow could be to meet with the person affected and talk with them.
During this discussion asking open questions that start with how, why and what helps to get more information. Another very important point is the worker needs to demonstrate active listening by not fidgeting and paying full attention to the other person. Summarising and paraphrasing during the discussion are also important as it prevents misunderstandings.
Workers can also play other supporting roles in groups such as keeping the group motivated possibly by developing the group or finding suitable training for the group members this would also assist with aiding the personal development of group members.
Due to community workers being reflective practitioners this means they could assist the group with reflective practice and also with methods of monitoring and evaluation such as LEAP etc, this assists the group in improving their performance and possibly securing more funding or resources as organisations providing funding would see a group operating effectively and providing evidence. Workers also have to recognise the boundaries and limitations of their roles and they shouldn’t try to take the lead if there in a consultative capacity this also leads to an increased feeling of ownership in the group.
Community workers also need to know how to address difficulties and the methods they should use recognising when to intervene is also an important skill. Difficulties could be caused by conflict, resources, disabled access, language barriers, power struggles or personal issues/agendas.
An example of a difficult group situation is in a staff team meeting one person speaks and doesn’t allow anyone else to contribute this goes unnoticed by the chair of the meeting. This can then create resentment in the rest of the team as one person is monopolising the meeting and the chair isn’t taking action another side-effect can be that communication in the team lessens as there is less knowledge about each other’s work areas.
Ways to resolve this include making group rules or a group contract and speaking to the person one to one. There are also other things that can be done such as having a “talking stick” etc.
Another situation which possibly could occur is on a management committee that people are unsure of their roles and responsibilities. This can be resolved by providing clarification and definition of roles and responsibilities with training/additional support (i.e. consultants etc) and it would possibly be a good idea to have team building exercises.
In both of the examples above providing training would resolve these issues and possibly providing the Chairs of both meetings with additional training in facilitation or leadership. Consultants may also be used to observe the problems and offer solutions.
As we have seen the roles of groups can be very diverse as can their structure. They range from local youth clubs to the management committees of national charities. Workers also have very varied roles within groups. Their role can depend on the stage of the group life cycle they are at, the group’s purpose and a lot of other factors. There can be so many diverse groups that knowing universal theories about group dynamics and life cycles along with communication theories are all imperative for community workers. Bibliography
Jacques, David (1984) Learning in Groups, Routledge, 46-49
Mehrabian, Albert, and Ferris, Susan R. (1967) “Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels,” Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 248-258
Mills, Theodore M. (1967) The Sociology of Small Groups. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Tuckman, Bruce W., & Jensen, Mary Ann C. (1977). 'Stages of small group development revisited', Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419- 427
Smith, Mark K. (2008) 'Groupwork', the encyclopaedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/groupwork/what_is_groupwork.htm].
Smith, M. K. (2005) 'Bruce W. Tuckman - forming, storming, norming and performing in groups, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/tuckman.htm.
Smith, Mark K (2008) 'What is a group?', the encyclopaedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/groupwork/what_is_a_group.htm].