#grumo_01: Working with groups

The new #GroupMonday series on the REFAK blog is on!

What do I get out of knowing how to work with groups?

In the #grumo, Gerda Kolb and Irene Zavarsky deal with groups and everything that entails: expectations, getting to know each other, conflicts, disturbances, dynamics, good beginnings and fast finales. The aim is not to articulate absolute truths, but to point out possibilities for (re)acting in the respective situations and therefore to expand the readers‘ repertoire of actions and to promote productive exchange. Comments on your own experiences and strategies are very welcome and encouraged!

The topic is groups that we have to deal with: as workshop leaders, as speakers, as participants in further education, as team members, in a leadership position or also self-organised groups. One such group is the one that got to know each other at the REFAK seminar and has been meeting regularly to exchange ideas ever since. They will be discussed in the following.

Our case group

First of all there is Beate: She is an economist and has been working in a chamber of labour for several years. She is not only the youngest member of the group, but also quite pragmatic. When she leads a seminar group, she focuses on the content. Beate is mainly interested in tips on how to better deal with disturbances and conflicts in groups.

Paul is an employee of a trade union and works there as an administrator, at the same time he is also a training coach at the trade union school. He loves his work and does everything for the groups he accompanies. Dealing openly with friction and conflicts is not his greatest strength.

This is in stark contrast to Yasmine, a specialist trainer and independent entrepreneur. Group dynamics is her thing, she loves challenging situations and „tense atmospheres“ and is often annoyed by the feedback that the group would have expected more content.

Rudi, a psychotherapist and supervisor by profession, is also part of the regular meetings. He is the oldest member of the group and therefore has a lot of experience. He mainly focuses on individual persons in groups and their functions, roles and concerns.

Maria, course leader of a works council academy, completes the group. She has had a lot of experience with groups and knows that it is not always without friction. She finds that quite exciting, but at the same time she knows that most of the participants are more interested in content communication.

The five got to know each other during a training on the topic of – what else would it be? – working with groups. They hit it off right away and decided to make their experiences accessible to each other and have therefore been meeting every two weeks for some time to exchange and reflect. They have often supported each other with hints and tips and for the next few months they will also share their professional exchange with us.

The first meeting of the case group

At their first meeting, Beate and Yasmin almost collide because Beate makes fun of the fact that it is not necessary to know anything about group dynamics in adult trade union education: After all, the content is in the foreground and everyone could behave sensibly and maturely. Phew. Things got very heated for a moment. Paul was already despondent. Fortunately, Rudi can calm things down a bit with his composure and experience. He explains what groups are all about:

„As soon as three or more people form a group, certain dynamics and behaviours emerge. Whether we like it or not. Not only is that terribly exciting and easy to observe, but knowing what happens in groups is extremely helpful when we work in and with groups.“ – „But what is that anyway, a group compared to a bunch of people?“ interjects Beate impatiently. Rudi nods: „The current theories assume that it is at least three people who have common goals, are in regular contact with each other and also feel that they belong to the group, that is, they see themselves as „we“.

Only when certain conditions are met does a gathering become a group.

Only when all three conditions are fulfilled do we speak of a group. An accumulation of people waiting for the tram, for example, is not considered a group in a sociological or psychological context. The maximum number of people also plays a role. In a group, it should be possible to keep track of who belongs and who doesn’t, who is there or missing, or even what the concerns are. In literature, 12 is often mentioned as the ideal number of people for a group. Other group dynamics experts, i.e. those who work with groups in theory and practice and research their dynamics, speak of a maximum of 16 or even 30 people as a group, in the sense described above.“

Rudi leans back and Yasmin looks at Beate: „We are also a group – at least if we continue to meet regularly. We’ll see some dynamics there.“ Beate looks a little sceptical „It’s alright. But I don’t start every meeting with a how-are-you-round! It gives me a rash!“ Yasmin laughs and says, „No, we don’t have to. But if you want, I’ll prepare something for the next meeting on the topic of „What do longer-term groups need at the beginning so that they can work well?„. Then we can try it out on ourselves to see what suits our group culture.“ – The suggestion is accepted and everyone is happy that Yasmin has agreed to prepare something. As they leave, Beate nudges Yasmin again: „I didn’t mean to get so violent before.“ – „It’s okay“ Yasmin winks „I like it when a few sparks fly. It livens things up.“

Next time: „What do groups need at the beginning to work well?“

Authors: Gerda Kolb and Irene Zavarsky

German version

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