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The group studied is a group of preschool teachers and child workers in my daughter's early childhood center in a suburban village. It was a planning session for a special event for the children as they learned about taking care of the environment. The ongoing plans were for the children to visit a rainforest park where there are some animals in cages for them to see, an aviary, a butterfly farm and flower garden. They have invited a storyteller to read them the book she has just launched about saving the rainforest.
Groups are important to study because it is comprised of individuals with different personalities and coming from various backgrounds. It is interesting to learn how they will agree or disagree with ideas brought up in their discussions and how they finalize their decisions as a team.
It is also important to observe how some people can dominate the group and influence group behavior and decisions. Studying groups with diverse membership, which is defined by Rothwell (2010) as the "proportional representation by culture, ethnicity, gender and age" (p. 75), is very beneficial because so much can be learned from each unique member. How each contributes to the group is important to study, as they may be responsible in the creation of group norms.
Leadership style is another thing that can be learned from studying groups. There have been several leadership styles identified, and some styles may be suitable in some groups and not in others. Since the group being studied is concerned about the welfare of young children, it is also interesting which leadership style would work for such group because the members may adopt them with the young children, so it should be something positively influential.
Description of the situation
What kind of group was this?
This was a group of professionals and staff working with very young children in my daughter's early childhood center. They are tasked to care and educate them in the period when they are in the early childhood center which.
Who were all the players? Why were they involved?
The players are four preschool teachers, two teacher assistants and the directress of the early childhood center. These people have been working together for more than 3 years and they have various work experiences and length of service to the center. The teachers have been working professionally for 2 to 10 years, the teacher assistants from 3 to 5 years and the directress has been working in the center for 12 years. She is a seasoned early childhood professional with 20 years working experience. It is obvious that she is the leader of the group. I was a parent of a student in that early childhood center and continue to be a friend of the teachers and have joined some of their past events to assist them with the children. This is my first time to attend a staff meeting with them and am honored to witness how they planned for the children's activities.
What was the purpose of the particular meeting?
The purpose of the meeting is to finalize the details for the upcoming environmental event of the children to be held at the end of the following week. This was their fourth meeting regarding this event and it seems things are falling into place. They need to delegate tasks to the teachers and staff so that the event will flow very smoothly.
Was there an agenda for the meeting? did the group stay with the agenda? if not, what did you perceive caused the deviation?
Yes, there was an agenda. Beforehand, the directress distributed a written agenda of the meeting to help them stay focused on the items to be discussed. Because of this, the meeting was very productive as they focused on each item before moving on to the next.
Did most members seem prepared for the group session? Why or Why not? What effect did the level of preparation have on the group process.
The teachers seemed to be prepared as they held notebooks filled with details to discuss. Since they were picking up from where they left off last week, they had knowledge of the flow of events from one week to the next. The teacher assistants did not have any notebook on hand, but it seems they were also into the details of the event. The directress was on top of things and she knew all the details as she facilitated the meeting.
Did everyone who wanted to get a chance to speak about the issues being discussed get a chance? Why or Why not?
Each member was delegated a task in the past week and they were expected to report on it in the meeting. They each spoke of the status of the delegated task. While each member was reporting, discussions ensued on certain issues that went with it. One issue was if the children were supposed to bring food or if they will just purchase food ahead for everyone so that it will be more organized. Pros and cons of each option were discussed and in the end, they decided to allow children to bring their own food since they will be coming with their parents anyway, and the parents can take care of feeding the children instead of the teachers and staff. They all agreed they had much to do while they were outside the center's premises.
What kind of leadership style was exhibited by the leader? Why would you label it as this kind? Was the style used effective for the purpose of the meeting?
The directress' leadership style was democratic, in accordance to Lewin's leadership model (Rothwell, 2010). She was very open to the ideas of the teachers and staff and gave them her full attention when they spoke up. On her own, she also contributed much as she reported the status of all her tasks - what the people she coordinated with told her, the storyteller's ideas for the children, the park administrator's guidelines for the trip and the manager of the bus company they have selected to ferry the children to the park. She encouraged the group members to give their own ideas and if they agree that those ideas are better, then she has no reluctance to change plans. However, she is also realistic with time and resources. Her democratic style is very appropriate to the group because planning for such a great event taking children out of the center entails several considerations and risks, and it is best that they all put their heads together so that they do not leave any loose ends.
Were any creative problem solving methods used ?
Because this was a group of conscientious and practical teachers, they were concerned with saving resources. When issues that pop up touch on problems that may cost a lot of money and energy, they would use much "bridging" as a creative problem-solving method. One example is the need for more people to watch over the children since the population of students ballooned to 60 from 45 in just a matter of three months. They bridged this problem by inviting parents and siblings to join the event so that there are more people to watch over the children. At the same time, it can be considered a family bonding event.
What were the power dimensions apparent in the group?
Although the facilitator is the established leader in the group and is imbued with much power, she did not throw her power around, but instead, made herself approachable and easy to deal with. However, when the members argue so much about different stands of the issue, she is on hand to make the final decision and regain the harmony of the group.
What are the short-term and long-term consequences of this experience?
When the meeting adjourns, the group would have been very productive in planning the details of the event for the children. The hour-long meeting was filled with insightful talk and side stories about the children. Even if the teachers shared anecdotes about them, the directress was effective in steering them back to the agenda on hand. Thus, the short-term consequences of this experience is that planning for the event is shaping up and hopefully, everything would go as planned. The children would learn much from the experiences planned out for them. Long-term consequences would be the acquisition of good communication skills, organization skills, negotiation skills, time management and interpersonal skills as well as knowing how to be good team players for the teachers and staff. On the part of the beneficiaries of the planning, the children will gain rich learning experiences from the event and hopefully implant in them a deep love and commitment to the environment.
A consultant called in to help improve the dynamics of a certain group needs to be knowledgeable of general growth patterns that groups go through. Wheelan's (1994) Integrated Model of Group Development describes the first stage as a period of member dependency on the leader and powerful group members to lead and to provide guidance and direction. This is the stage when members are having a feel of the group culture and are trying to adjust to norms, so they look up to more experienced members to help them out. The second stage is referred to as a period of Counterdependency and Fight, where members begin to disagree among themselves and assert their own individual opinions about group procedures and procedures. At this stage, members have gained a sense of belonging and confidence to express their own feelings and ideas. Since the group's task is to develop a unified set of goals and operational procedures, this stage inevitably develops conflicts. Such conflict tests the strength of the member's trust in each other, and if they are successful in overcoming the conflicts, a climate of trust and safety in expressing oneself is established. This paves the way for the third stage, which is the Trust and Structure phase, wherein commitment to the group and willingness to cooperate is very much evident. Mature negotiation about roles, organization and procedures are transacted, and members work to solidify positive relationships with each other. The fourth stage, which is the Work stage of group development lives up to its name as team productivity and effectiveness are intensified. The members of the group are assumed to have resolved many of the issues of the previous stages and are more ready to work towards the achievement of group goals and task accomplishment.
Wheelan's developmental description of the integrated model somehow parallels Tuckman's model (1965), which is one of the most commonly cited models of group development (Cassidy, 2007). It was formed from a meta-analysis of 50 research-based studies of group development and identifies the stages as Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Tuckman and Jensen (1977) later added the stage Adjourning, as they wanted closure in the life cycle of groups (Cassidy, 2007).
Since groups are comprised of members with individual personalities, conflicts are bound to happen. Conflicts may arise from a variety of sources. Cassidy (2007) explains that some members try to establish independence from the group while others seek to control the group and be the leaders. Disagreements about values and individual expressions of their own ideas may also be root causes of conflicts as well as complaints about the tasks and goals of the group and those delegated to members. However, what is usually emphasized in groups is conformity to its culture. David Armstrong, commenting on Bion's work, concludes, "To achieve a full understanding of human behaviour in the round called for what Bion came to refer to as "binocular vision": the ability to view the same phenomena: human experience and behaviour, now through the vertex of the individual, now through the vertex of the group." (Armstrong, n.d.)
In resolving group conflicts, and to eventually progress to the next stage in group development, the consultant calls upon the groups' compromising, consensus-making and dialoguing skills. Coming up with group guidelines is an essential part of group work. William Isaacs (n.d.) discusses the importance of dialogue in group processes as an important intervention in facilitating group growth and development. Dialogue is defined as "a sustained collective inquiry into the processes, assumptions and certainties that compose everyday experience." (Isaacs, n.d.). In the group setting, dialogues are used to have a "meeting of minds", extracting what each member believes and coming up with an agreed decision that takes into account those beliefs. Members think together, analyzing causes and effects, and end up understanding a shared meaning. Usually, they reach greater heights in idea-storming that as individuals, they could not have thought of. This is contrasted with the construct of consensus building wherein people "seek some rational means to limit options and focus on the ones that are logically acceptable to most people" (Isaacs, n.d.). Most of the time, the final consensus is reached if only to end the discussion, and that is what the group can "live with for now". There is no guarantee that whatever factor initially leading some members to disagree will just vanish after the consensus has been made. It is likely that some members walk away in resignation but not in total satisfaction.
The consultant can recommend Wheelan (1999) keys to successful team intervention. This includes an accurate, detailed assessment of a group's current developmental level. How much do members know each other? What is their commitment level? Successful intervention is guided by information. Members should be aware of group development and the traits of effective teams and how they should manage group problems. If the members can share the same vision for the group, then, they are capable of working together to improve their team's functioning, processes and procedures.
The consultant can also point out that another important thing to consider is the role of the leader. Leadership is a continuous process wherein a leader tries to move from accomplishing one goal to another for the good of the whole group. Another definition is "Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Leaders carry out this process by applying their leadership attributes, such as beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge, and skills" (Clark, 2008, para.3). This means that a good leader has a clear vision of where he is going and sets directions to others towards that vision. He collaborates with other people regardless of their backgrounds on ways and means to reach their goals and not focus the authority on himself. In doing so, he empowers them to be confident in their abilities and motivates them to welcome challenges and opportunities. Because of his positive influence, he gains the respect of everyone to follow his lead while pursuing a common mission for the growth and development of the group (Leithwood & Riehl,2003).
Groups now consist of members from very diverse backgrounds. This current trend of embracing of diversity has given birth to the concept of "the inclusive workplace". Mor Barak (2000) defines it as one that: "values and uses individual and intergroup differences within its work force; cooperates with and contributes to its surrounding community; alleviates the needs of disadvantaged groups in its wider environment; and collaborates with individuals, groups, and organizations across national and cultural boundaries" (pp. 339-340).
Creating an inclusive environment involves group culture and group change (Young, 2007). It takes re-evaluation of long-held beliefs and practices to accommodate such change. For instance, power distance may intimidate some minority groups from being participatory in the group. In a typical hierarchal group, the dominant members control the resources and hold the power to set rules. Organizational change shortens the power distance from the top to the bottom of the pyramid (Young, 2007). In work settings, the advantages of a culturally diverse group are manifold. The employees get to know each other better and thus experience the highs and lows of business whilst working hand in hand with one another.
The consultant can also recommend an effective strategy of unknowingly rotating of the role of leadership among the members. Even if there is a designated leader, each member can take up the role voluntarily in their areas of strengths. This goes without being appointed, in the desire of each member to be contributing parts of the whole. It gives them a taste of being both leader and member and develops a healthy respect for each member of the team.
The cliché 'No man is an island' is very true in groups, as each member plays a significant part in the group's growth and development. The consultant should make this clear so each one should be appreciated and valued.