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)