Roles within a group

Support workers and others involved in group facilitation need to have a working knowledge of group processes, and the skills and knowledge to support the group in achieving its objectives. Groups can also have secondary benefits such as helping to develop interpersonal skills and new social relationships.

Individuals within a group may have differing approaches to the purpose and functioning of the group. Task-oriented members may simply want to get the job done. Relationship-oriented members are more concerned with feelings within the group and direct their efforts towards maintaining relationships.

Effective facilitation can assist in achieving an acceptable compromise between task and relationship needs and behaviours necessary for the group to function. The task and maintenance roles should not be confused with formal roles allocated to group members.

Task roles

Task focus is about getting the job done, achieving the goals – development of a structure appropriate to the group task.

Initiating: Suggests or proposes new ideas.
Clarifying: Clarifies, pulls ideas together, and coordinates activities.
Expediting: Prods the group to action or decision or higher goals.
Information: Gives and seeks information and opinions.

Maintenance (relationship) roles

Relationship focus is about concern for feelings, caring for each other – development of a structure appropriate to the emotional needs of members.

Encouraging: Understands and accepts others' views.
Harmonising: Reconciles disagreements and relieves tensions.
Observing: Offers a perception of how the group is operating.
Sensitising or Gate-keeping: Supports communication and involvement. Maintains equilibrium.
Standard setting: Sets standards.
Following: Goes along with the movement of the group, accepts the ideas of others and indicates support for the action being taken.
Court jesting: The court jester relieves tension by the responsible use of humour.

Group behaviour

Behaviour in groups is guided by many factors, including:

  • leadership and modelling of behaviour by the leader and other members
  • group members' expectations
  • group leader/facilitator's expectations
  • group purpose and goals
  • group context and environment
  • time frames to achieve group purpose
  • resources available, including funding
  • group norms
  • group rules
  • past relationships between group members
  • size and make-up of the group.

As the leader or facilitator of a group, your behaviour and expectations will have a significant impact on the behaviour of other members. If you are the leader, it is wise to communicate your expectations and encourage others to share theirs.

Establishing group rules

Group rules are the guidelines for behaviour and participation in the group's activities. The group can establish group rules in formal or informal ways; these may be clearly articulated by the group members or may be unspoken or assumed.

Rules that are clearly articulated and agreed upon by all group members from the outset will help the overall functioning of the group. Unspoken rules are less satisfactory, as they assume that all group members have the same view of how the group will operate. Clearly articulated rules can help to:

  • guide the interactions of group members
  • determine how the group makes decisions and achieves its outcomes
  • set boundaries to individuals' behaviour within the group
  • assist with the group members' maintaining a commitment to the activities of the group
  • define the uniqueness of the group and its culture.

As a support worker, your role may include facilitating the discussion and agreement of group rules. Facilitation will help the group identify what is important to each member in terms of how the group goes about achieving its purpose. Examples of rules include:

  • No swearing within the group.
  • Wait for others to finish before speaking.
  • Respect the opinions of others.
  • What is spoken in the group is confidential.
  • No-one is to speak for others.

These rules will need to be reviewed as the group takes on more activities or challenges, or when new members join the group.

Individual differences

Groups can be most effective when members recognise and respect the differences between themselves. To every group the individuals bring themselves – their different personalities, backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, languages, beliefs, attitudes, values, ages, physical and mental abilities, support needs and communication styles.The group may need to make allowances for some of these differences and be made aware of how their own values, attitudes and beliefs may negatively affect others.

When the group first gets together, the differences may cause conflict. This should be seen as an opportunity for the group to learn how to accommodate the differences and make them work for the group. As the group works through this and grows familiar with one another, its members there will usually have greater acceptance.

Respecting difference

The support worker should model the acceptance of differences to other group members. Ideally, you should demonstrate a clear expectation from the beginning that discrimination is unacceptable. It often helps to set up certain group rules around this area, e.g. not allowing nicknames.

It is important to demonstrate respect for others' points of view or opinion regardless of differences. This could include:

  • listening to their ideas and points of view
  • talking about your feelings and opinions
  • using a tone of voice that is calm and moderate
  • being aware of your body language, e.g. maintaining a pleasant expression
  • attempting to find areas you can agree on.

Personal goals

Each individual within a group has personal life goals, and the group should be encouraged to recognise and respect these goals. Individuals may not always want to share their goals with group members and should not be put under any pressure to disclose them. However, acknowledging that all members bring these to their experiences with the group is important.

Needs and expectations

Each group member will have their own sense of what they need and what they expect to gain from the group experience. Groups that do not recognise the goals, needs and expectations of each group member rarely form any sense of a shared vision or purpose.

If you are running the group or supporting it, it helps to consider individual needs and expectations in the early stages. You may have an idea from personal contact before group meetings start, or you may ask the group as a whole to brainstorm their needs and expectations. At the closure of the group you may like to revisit some of these to make sure that the group and its activities really did meet those needs.

Skills and knowledge

The skills and knowledge of the individuals in any group contribute to the overall success of group interactions. You may find that as a facilitator you do not need to contribute much at all if you can tap into the resources that are present in the group. The benefit is that often group members like to hear from one another. They may rather learn from someone who has lived through similar experiences.

Where individuals feel that they are listened to and their needs are being met, they are less likely to cause disruptions in the group. In any group, people can negatively influence the process in various ways if they feel left out or isolated. Withdrawal can seriously affect a group.

Encourage participation

Groups can achieve better outcomes with all members actively engaged. Involvement of all group members in activities and decisions of a group is essential if members are to feel motivated and committed to the group.

How people involve themselves will depend on factors such as:

  • level of commitment to the group and its purpose
  • past experiences with groups
  • familiarity with group members
  • whether their participation is invited and encouraged.

To have effective group decision-making, it is important to acknowledge and respect all views. These reflect the personal values, attitudes, concerns, cultural conditioning, and skills of the individuals; the support worker must demonstrate that their contribution is valued.

Allowing everyone's views to be heard means that the group can consider a wider range of factors, and that team members are more likely to own any decisions made. With all members working towards this shared vision and purpose, the group will achieve more.

Facilitation

As a facilitator you will need to be flexible in your expectations of group member participation levels. You may need to negotiate for members to take on or decrease their levels of participation, depending on the overall activity levels of the group as a whole.

At times members may need to be encouraged to participate at levels that are within their skill, knowledge and confidence levels. It is important that you and other members of the group avoid coercion at all times. This may only serve to decrease the members' participation levels and commitment to the group as a whole.

People who feel empowered will be more willing to take risks and engage in activities that challenge them. A sense of a common goal or a shared vision also helps to motivate people within groups and encourage their full participation. Clear roles, responsibilities and people's active participation in establishing the group's rules will help group members feel comfortable about participating at their optimal level.

Empowerment

People who are empowered have a measure of control over their own lives and decisions, and generally feel better about themselves. In any group activities you are involved in as a support worker, the aim is to ensure that the people you work with are empowered by your support or facilitation techniques.

Wherever you take over, rather than support, the decision-making power of a person or a group, you have, to some extent, disempowered them.

Understanding roles

An understanding and appreciation of group roles will help involve group members in activities and decision-making. In any group context people need to have clarity about their roles and their role boundaries: what they are doing, what is expected of them and who they should relate to on certain issues.

A committee is one example of how formal roles can contribute to effective decision-making and participation. The chairperson's role is to encourage discussion and to allow all members to have a say. They will commence and wind up the proceedings. A general committee member's role is to represent the opinions of their fellow workers. The treasurer's role may be to ensure that any decisions made fall within budgetary requirements. Each role contributes to the final decision-making of that committee.

Not all groups have such clearly defined roles and, as a support worker, you may need to help individuals identify their roles.

Organisational group meetings – team meetings, etc.

Team meetings are a regular part of any worker's life, and they can have a great impact on work practices and job satisfaction. Objectives and agendas for meetings and discussions should be routinely set and followed.

The key to successful meetings is planning. The following steps are necessary:

  1. Decide if the meeting is necessary.
  2. Define the purpose of the meeting.
  3. Decide who should be invited.
  4. Develop and distribute the agenda.

Setting objectives

Most organisations have standard agenda items that match the priorities of the organisation's administration. These are called standing items and are usually covered first before the more urgent current business is discussed.

The agenda

The meeting agenda is typically a list of items to be addressed in a formal meeting. These are presented as brief statements in the order in which you plan to deal with them. Some items are standard: that is, they are present in almost every formal agenda.

  • Meeting details (title, date)
  • Welcome
  • Apologies (for those unable to attend)
  • Previous minutes (an overview of items dealt with at the previous meeting)
  • Items for discussion (e.g. project updates, changes to policy)
  • Other business (an opportunity to introduce additional items)
  • Date of next meeting

A copy of the agenda should be provided to each person who is invited.

Providing information

The facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the group meeting is as productive as possible. This may include preparing materials, providing information in advance, and perhaps arranging for others to provide specialist information.

  • In a formal setting, agendas can be an excellent starting point for ensuring that relevant information is provided and shared to facilitate outcomes when a work group meets.
  • Handouts are also a good method of providing information to a group of people. However, it is a good idea to send these to members prior to a meeting so that they have time to read and mark sections for comment.
  • Charts, diagrams and other graphics are also very good tools for providing information in a visual form. Often a great deal of information can be provided on a single diagram or chart. These can be more interesting and understandable to participants than one person speaking for a lengthy period of time.

Regardless of how and when the information is provided, it must be relevant to the outcomes.

Evaluation of group communication strategies

Participants in any type of group have their own sense of what they need and what they expect to gain from the group experience. These expectations can often be in addition to the stated group outcomes, so it is very useful to find out what these are in the early stages of the group forming.

At the closure of the group you may like to revisit some of these to make sure that the group and its activities did meet those needs. Questions that will help in this evaluation include:

  • What did we achieve? Did we achieve our goals? What worked and what didn't work for us?
  • How did we do this? Did we enjoy the experience? Did the group members respect each other? Were people acknowledged and empowered in the process?
  • What could we have done differently to enhance the experience?
  • What have we learnt from this experience to take into our next group experience?

Dealing with disruptive behaviours

You may have experienced many group activities and you may have been quite bewildered by the way some people have communicated and behaved in those groups.

You will continue to come across a wide range of specific communication styles and needs in your work as a support worker. To be able to address these, it is important to understand some of them.

Disruptive behaviours may include:

  • interrupting others
  • talking too much
  • making statements which are too general or excessively firm
  • repeatedly telling others what to do
  • talking down to people
  • asking loaded questions
  • sarcasm
  • blaming others

These behaviours and communication styles are often consistent with particular personality types within the group.

As a group facilitator or as a support worker when someone else is facilitating, you may need to step back from the way people choose to communicate in the group, and understand that it is the best they can do at that time.

Activity

Respecting others' views

Section 3 activities (Word Document 59KB)

Last modified: Monday, 11 November 2013, 2:55 PM