Group work is an integral part of life, and in particular, an essential component of social work practice. Group work provides a myriad of benefits that individual work cannot provide, such as the synergy among members that group work provides over case work (Corey & Corey, 2006), and it is precisely why group work is applied in the social work setting.
Various theories affect how group work is practiced, affecting both group dynamics and the different stages of the group (Hepworth, 2013). In my paper, I will be sharing my experiences as a member of a group, focusing on the various stages, interaction patterns observed and my personal reflections on the entire process.
2. Group transition
Initial stage: Formation of group The formation of our group was an abrupt process, a mishmash of people who are interested in helping the same target group, which in this case was for schooling youths. The six of us came together as strangers to this project, signing up based on a mutual interest in helping schooling youths. At this stage, the objective of our group was to foster accomplishment of identified work goals (Hepworth, 2013), which was to meet the needs of youths facing esteem issues.
Broadly defined, a task group is the formation of a group to work on a single defined task or activity (Corey & Corey, 2006). In a task group, members are assumed to have various expertise on the subject matter, ranging from a diversity of skillsets. Our group comprised members who possessed an assortment of skills, with some gifted in linguistic ability, to others who excelled at concise summarizing and critical questioning skills which greatly aided our workflow. However, given a cohesive lack of trust and an initial degree of awkwardness between members who barely knew each other at this stage, it was difficult for us to get work done efficiently at the start.
Transition Stage: Conflict resolution Initially, as the group started to work on the task at hand, it was inevitable that some unfamiliarity and silence precipitated the sessions. At this stage, members would be unwilling to share or have some sense of animosity towards each other, a trademark of this stage (Hepworth, 2013). There were times when awkwardness set in as we had a lack of common topics to talk about, which gave rise to uncomfortable pauses In addition, other troubling issues arose, such as our conflicting schedules, which created even more confusion as we started to work on our project,.
Groups at this stage are navigating through formation of bonds, building trusts and focusing on current issues (Toseland & Rivas, 1984). Being the only male in the group, I had to seek ways to form bonds with my groupmates, establishing communication pathways in order for the group to function well. Only through a constant effort on everyone’s part did I slowly become attune with the group’s communication pattern, an acclimatization which facilitated our transition to the next stage.
Working stage Having gained a closer working relationship after forging closer bonds, a trademark of moving into the working stage (Toseland & Rivas, 1984), our group managed to work more efficiently and productively. With a greater understanding of each others’ working habits, we proceeded on to churn out the paper at a far smoother pace. Delegation of work was much more efficient, as we were more comfortable in taking on our various jobscopes all for the common cause of designing the programme for the project.
In addition, members now were more poised to confront each other about potential conflicts on the issue at hand (Corey & Corey, 2006). For example, discrepant ideas on which parts to include for the paper were aired openly, whereas prior to this everyone shyed away from direct confrontation of differing views. This can be perceived as a willingness to trust and take risks among members, as the level of cohesion and trust between members is high enough for us to be forthcoming about our varying views (Hepworth, 2013) – a key to achieving success in the working stage.
With any group, there has to come a point where groups have to end. In our group, this stage was reached towards the conclusion of our group proposal. Dealing with feelings of separation and any unfinished issues is key in this stage (Corey & Corey, 2006). On one hand, members felt happy that the whole ordeal was over, as it was taxing to come up with a group work proposal that deals directly with youths who have esteem issues. On the other hand, although unspoken, I could sense that the group felt a tinge of sadness at the termination of the group as the process, albeit tedious, was an enjoyable one. However, the very fact that we still had success in the project with our proposal was a result of active steps undertaken (Corey & Corey, 2006), and this allowed us to take pride in our work, softening the blow of separation.
3. Group Culture and Leadership patterns
Communication and Interaction Patterns With all of us being equipped with knowledge coming into the group, it was inevitable our communication pattern was that of a group-centered open communication pattern, with ideas being shared freely and discussed openly (Toseland & Rivas, 1984). Conflicting ideas were aired out in the open with no withholding of feelings and concerns, which made the group work process easier, key characteristics of open communication among members.
In addition, it was worthy to note the ease of communication was possible only towards the working stage of the group, when members became closer and more comfortable with each other. Group Culture Group culture are values, beliefs and customs held by the group (Corey & Corey, 2006), and our group had its own unique culture. Norms, defined as shared expectations and beliefs about appropriate ways to act in a social situation (Toseland & Rivas, 1984), were more often than not unspoken yet adhered to in our group. Punctuality was a key virtue that our group valued, of which more often than not I had been the culprit guilty of violating it. As a result, a rule was imposed for the latecomer to buy drinks for the rest, which was adhered to subsequently without any violent objections.
Leadership and social structure With every group, there has to be a person taking charge at any point of time, to steady the group back on course when the direction of the group goes awry. Our group displayed a distributed-function approach of leadership, which states that every member of a group will be a leader at times by taking actions that serve group functions(Corey & Corey, 2006).
In our group, this was true almost all the time, as our group had leaders all waiting to take charge at every suitable moment. With Shannon being the more artistic one in the group, she would automatically be the one to lead the discussion when artwork related materials were discussed. Similarly, when language issues were brought to the fore, it was either Maisurah or me who took over and helped guide the group towards the correct direction. In such situations, the other group members agreed without protest on the opinions of the ones who were better equipped, supporting whenever they could. This helped to facilitate the movement of the group much more efficiently.
4. Reflections on the process
Having been in groups prior to this, group work used to be simply just a mode of assessment for my studies, which allowed me to gain social skills intellectual stimulation simultaneously. However, in this project, I took heed of the transitional stages of our group and observed the interaction patterns as we worked on that one project, allowing me to realize the application of social work group work processes in real life.
Theories were bandied around in class, with terms such as “Tuckman’s model”, “Group Norms” and “Self-Disclosure”, being but academic terms devoid of any real meaning to me initially. With progress made throughout the group process, I realized that these terms were not simply just terms academics utilised for their dissertation, but rather terms applicable to real-life. Being aware of these expression and observing throughout the process made me see how they came to life and played key roles in shaping group work practices. Self-awareness was key here, as it allowed me to see in detail what went on in groups, potentially improving the quality of my practice in future (Brown, 2011).
In addition, by penning down reflections for each session, I came to the realization of the various methodologies and how they could help me in my future practice. Clients would also look towards the social worker as the de facto leader, and it would be imperative for me to gain skills at this stage that would place me in good steed as I head to the field in future to serve my clients better.
The process of being more aware of the group transitional stages allowed me to witness first-hand, the importance of the various stages that group work has on not only the individual, but also the group as a whole, a process that I have benefitted from greatly.
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- Hepworth, D. H. (2013). Direct social work practice: theory and skills. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
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- Toseland, R. W., & Rivas, R. F. (1984). An introduction to group work practice. New York; London: Macmillan ; Collier Macmillan.
- Zastrow, C. (2009). Social work with groups: a comprehensive workbook. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.