Friday, June 09, 2006

Groups that work

Laura Szmuch and Jamie Duncan have just released their latest issue of RTNews - A magazine on Neuro Linguistic Programming in Education. In this month's article, they discuss: what makes a group function well together? Reading them, I thought of Learning with Computers, and felt eager to share the following extracts with you:

Using an NLP perspective, we can observe what works in productive and positive teams. In these, the members share a common purpose, which provides the motivation and sense for being together. They are often homogeneous groups, at least on the surface. We tend to work better with people that are like us, that we have things in common with and who we feel understand us. Groups where the members consider they have a voice and equal rights combine better than those in which the power is concentrated in the hands of a few. Perhaps the few have the power today, but there is the expectation that it will be shared around on a regular and systematic basis ... At a more sophisticated level, most students of group theory also point out the need for a group to contain people playing diverse roles – like the initiator, the details wizard, the motivator, the mother or father figure, etc.

And here comes the most interesting part (to me!). They tell us group cohesion does not depend exclusively on the teacher/moderator, but all members can contribute to it! How? Have a look at some tips for us all to bear in mind!

  • Be really aware of all the members of the group. Make sure everyone feels part of the bigger unit and that their contribution is recognised not only by group leaders but fellow members as well.
  • Ensure that the group has time to be together alone to work on the task in hand. If there is no stability of membership, it makes it very difficult to forge a working team.
  • Check if the members are happy with the progress. If discontent is related to something to do with the functioning of the group, the quicker this is acknowledged, the better.
  • Where appropriate and possible, foster a sense of equality. A good attitude to develop is that we are all equal shareholders in the outcome of the group’s work, we are all contributing to the task and each has a role to play. It helps to establish how each member will be better off or satisfied by the group achieving it’s goal. If the accountability falls on the shoulders of one or two people or if only they are to reap the rewards, these people have to recognise the help they have had. As flat a hierarchy as possible tends to function better.
  • Maintain a flow of communication and clearly establish how and when members can talk to each other as a group.
  • Be open about difficulties and obstacles facing the entire team and its project. If there are constraints of time or resources, these should be admitted openly. History has shown many examples of people working together in adversity when they know what they are up against (perhaps you've heard of the Dunkirk spirit?) .
  • Groups often stick together because of the shared humour, the jokes, the nicknames and the experiences they have in common. Encouraging this as a group member can be very rewarding.
  • Play to the strengths of the individuals. If one person is the mothering type and the others respond to this, let it happen. If someone is the bossy one and the group appreciates this, great.

And they finish telling us:

Groups are like individuals. Every one is different and they are always constantly changing. Nonetheless, much of what we have successfully achieved on this planet is the result of group work and it makes sense to nurture a positive and cooperative group spirit. Most of all, the sense of achievement gained from having worked together on a project can be one of the most enriching human experiences possible.

Good time to say: Thanks for the enrichment you've brought to my life, group members!


NOTE: RTNews is emailed monthly for free. You can subscribe by sending a mail to: with your name and city stating 'subscribe' in the subject box)


Isabel Teixeira said...

This is certainly interesting! I think our groups has most of the features they list and they present good tips on how we can improve this sense of group work.I think you ( Gladys)are happy to see that your idea to share has become a successful experience!

Claudia Bellusci said...

Many (not to say all) of the points Szmuch and Duncan mention in their article do certainly apply to LwC. But I would like to refer to a couple of them in particular, and leave the discussion open for other members to express their feelings.
One point is working with a concrete goal in mind, which keeps the ball rolling along the week. This has certainly to do with motivation. The role of the motivator in this group is mainly played by Gladys (brilliantly played, I'd say, both as a planner, designer and evaluator), but has also been in the hands of Teri and now of Illya, with their contributions about widgets and wikis respectively. This alternacy of leading roles -which depends exclusively on each one's desire and availability to commit -makes for the democracy of the group "where the members consider they have a voice and equal rights." I particularly liked the metaphor of the shareholders. This is the role each of us play in this kind of community: "All for one and..."

Illya said...

Claudia- I think you picked up on very valuable points. The concrete goal has been an amazing motivator. The personal profit gained by contributing, both actively and passively, has surely contributed to the success of this group.

Another point I'd like to emphasise is the caring attitude prevailant in this group (hugs!). I have experienced the feeling of joy you get when when others respond to something you do or write, and it is this feeling that is particurly nurtured here, and which also acts as a strong motivator. This group is an excellent model of how effective positive input and feedback in learning can be!

Dennis said...

Gladys, Isabel, Claudia and Illya.
I, too, agree with what the article says, but I still find that lwc has a secret ingredient X.

I think it is important that several of us "know" each other from bwebheads and BaW06. Beyond that I think that what is operating is that because many lwc-ers are the sort of people that joined BaW06 and similar lists, because lwc-ers appear to be people passionate about their profession , we have created a group that is truely a CoP, to use the jargon, a community of practice. I'd rather say we've stumbled across a group of like-minded people. My guess is that if we ever did a survey, we'd find that we share many opinions about life, relationships, and education.
I must now demonstrate my CoP by catching up. We had a visitor from England for a week, and I was not able to get to my PC.

Anonymous said...

Very pretty design! Keep up the good work. Thanks.

sheilav said...

Hi all
Great to read your comments especially on this article as this is a current interest of mine ad Valentinas. We are working on a project to study this phenomena.
We would be very iterested in hearing from members on this subject.


Elizabeth H-S said...

Just wanted to mention that the article is now archived at RT News, No 83, June 5 2006, in case anyone had trouble finding it.

There is also a headliner article in one of the front frames--gee, I hate frames...

thanks for the good resource, and for keeping our group together. As Dennis says--we have ingredient X, but I think it is actually Gladys and Claudia who make it spin!


Claudia Bellusci said...

Thanks,Elizabeth, once more for supporting our work at LwC. This group has, as Dennis put it, that ingredient X that ties us together. Whether it is the fact that some of us know each other from BaW or that we share common interests,or that we really care for each other and enjoy everybody's achievements as our own, or a mixture of all that, the truth is that I feel deeply engaged and committed to this group as I've never been before. Needless to say, LwC is an offspring of BaW and the annual EVO sessions, which I joined this year for the first time. There I learned how a warm and caring environment can foster participation and learning. Then I had the chance to meet Gladys in person and talk to her about our common interests. She's one of the most amazing people I've met in my life and I wouldn't hesitate a second in backing her up in whatever she proposed. For all she does with great effort, skill and generosity with the only aim of spreading the word of technology in education, she deserves all our admiration and recognition.
I've just happened to read this phrase in one of my friends' MSN nick: "Don't dream your life, live your dream". Gladys's had the courage to make her dream come true. And reality, in this case, has exceded virtuality.