extensive reference to appropriate theoretical literature, and supported by
examples from your own experience, describe in detail how a group focused around
either a youth centre or community centre develops from its inception. Consider
the effect of group size on the requirements for group leadership style.
Consider the effect formal (appointed) and informal (personality-related) roles
can have on a group. Consider possible explanations for oppressive behaviour by
individual group members at different stages in the life of a group."
In this essay we will examine
how certain theories of group work and group dynamics may be applied within a
youth work setting. We will first briefly describe what may be understood by the
terms `group`, and `group work` with specific regard to groupwork theory. We
will then look at Tuckman’s theory of group stage development, describing each
stage and relating this theory to practical examples from my own experience and
look briefly at the potential for oppressive behaviour in each stage and how
this can be minimized. Next we will look at what is understood by group
leadership, looking at three broad styles of leadership and how these may be
applied effectively within a youth work setting. We will then look at how
individual roles can develop and inhibit group development.
This essay is illustrated
throughout with examples from my own practice experience. These examples are
drawn from two particular groups with which I have been involved in a leadership
The first group was a very
small group of ten and eleven year olds from Youth Action Middlesbrough (YAM).
The group never consisted of more than eight and was often as low as four or
five. This evenly split mixed sex group was set up for long term activity based
work one evening each week, which would encourage social interaction and thus
help to develop positive social and interpersonal skills. This was a long-term
group and was only terminated after four years of activities, planned and
delivered by two female co-workers and myself.
The second group I have made
reference to in my examples, is that of a group of ten Prince’s Trust
Volunteers (PTV). A distinction which may be made between a group and a team is
that `Teams are co-operative groups in that they are called into being to
perform a task or tasks that cannot be attempted by an individual` (Douglas,
1983, p. 123). The all male team of sixteen to twenty three year old unemployed
volunteers was set up to deliver a sixteen week full-time personal development
programme. This was the first team that had been run by Cleveland Youth
Association and ran to a set PTV skeleton programme that was fleshed out by a
co-worker and myself.
is A Group: Defining Groupwork
Groups may be defined in many
ways, indeed providing an absolute definition of a group, as with much of the
theory around group work, is highly problematic and contestable. However for the
purposes of discussing groupwork within a context of working with young people
we may define a group as a small gathering of young people. Group work may
simplistically be described as the study and application of the processes and
outcomes experienced when a small group comes together.
Konopka (1963) defines
groupwork as a method of social work that is utilised in order to `help
individuals to enhance their social functioning through purposeful group
experiences, and to cope more effectively with their personal, group or
community problems`. This definition shows a tradition within groupwork of
helping individuals with problems. Brown provides a modernised and more
comprehensive definition of group work (1994, p.8). He states that `groupwork
provides a context in which individuals help each other; it is a method of helping groups as well as helping individuals; and it can enable
individuals and groups to influence
and change personal, group,
organisational and community problems` (original emphasis). He goes on to
distinguish between `relatively small and neighbourhood centred` work and
`macro, societal and political approaches` within community work, explaining
that only the former may be properly classified as groupwork.
Thus the role of groupwork can
be seen as one which places emphasis on sharing of thoughts, ideas, problems and
of Group Development
Groups, like individuals are
each unique with their own experiences and expectations. However many
commentators studying group development and dynamics have recognised that group
development, as a generalisation, is more predictable than individual behaviour.
Thus many theories of group stage development have been cultivated, some linear,
others more cyclical, and it must be stressed that no definitive model of group
stage development exists.
Two of the most useful theories
of group stage development are those discussed by Tuckman (1965), and Rogers
paper on encounter groups (1967). These models, like others (for example Heap,
1977) propose that as groups develop and change they pass through stages which
may be conceptualised. Tuckman’s model has been used extensively within youth
work theory and practice and is an excellent model for attempting to analyse
individual and group behaviour. A brief synopsis of each stage is outlined
below, with examples from personal practice.
The first stage of this group
process is joining, referred to as engagement
by Rogers. This phase involves significant testing, and trial and error. Initial
concerns about openness and support within the group are manifested by a lack of
cohesion and a difficulty in sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences with
each other. An internal appraisal of group value and how each individual belongs
to the group are key features of this stage. Anxiety, isolation, inadequacy and
frustration are common emotions felt by group members at this early stage in the
life of a group, as well as being emotionally threatened by members of the group
who are perceived to be stronger or better. Thus the group seeks to create a
comfort zone in which individuals are not keen to upset the status quo for fear
Oppressive behaviour is least
likely within the formation stage of a group as individuals generally look to
create a comfort zone and do not wish to rock the boat. Often frustrations will
be built upon between individuals who disagree strongly, but this will generally
not surface until storming begins.
A knowledge and understanding
of the feelings and emotions felt by group members in this stage is helpful, if
not essential, to the effective structuring of a programme to work towards the
desired outcome for the group. For example both the YAM and PTV groups I had
experience with were set up to encourage social interaction and personal
development. Having an awareness of group stage theory enabled my colleagues and
myself to structure the early encounters for the groups to be;
a) fun and enjoyable – to
encourage continued attendance;
relaxed - offering the promotion of effective communication and allowing
members to get to know each other a little whilst gaining in confidence and
To this end ice breakers,
introduction and communication exercisers such as those provided by Brandes and
Phillips (1979), Bond (1986), Leech and Wooster (1986) and Dearling and
Armstrong (1994) were used. As Dynes describes
`[games] stimulate the
imagination, make people
resourceful and help develop social ability and co-operation` (Dynes,
This stage sees group members
begin to confront each other as they begin to vie for roles within the group
that will help them to belong and to feel valued. Thus as members begin to
assert their individual personalities, the comfort of the forming stage begins
to come under siege. Members experience personal, intra and inter group
conflicts. Aggression and resentment may manifest in this stage and thus if
strong personalities emerge and leadership is unresponsive to group and
individual needs, the situation may become destructive to the group’ s
development. Indeed there is a high potential for individuals to abandon the
group during this stage, as for some the pressures created by the group may
become too much of a strain.
The potential for oppressive
behaviour is strong within the storming phase as group members vie for preferred
roles and release frustrations built within the forming period. This personal
oppression should be discouraged whilst it is understood that a degree of
conflict is necessary if the group is to further develop.
In the YAM group this stage was
represented by a rebellious streak within the young people and much of the
storming was directed towards the adult leaders. Boundaries within the group
were tested as the group explored how far they would be allowed to go and what
they could get away with. One or two individuals in turn challenged this
behaviour as they felt it was unfair and could jeopardize future activities.
The PTV group’s storming
phase was altogether different. Two of the group with strong personalities began
to vie for intra-group leadership. Each used their own abilities to strengthen
their claim to lead the group, whilst also sabotaging and undermining the
other’s efforts in an attempt to usurp the leadership role. This situation
caused a degree of infighting and at one point created two sub-groups, one
following each of the `pretender` leaders.
It is important to be aware
that conflict will take place within all groups, and if handled well this
conflict can produce benefits for the group in terms of development, objective
and task setting, and ultimate outcome. Thus conflict is not inherently
something to be feared or avoided.
During this stage the group
begin to work more constructively together towards formal identified or informal
tasks. Roles begin to develop and be allocated within the group and although
these may be accepted, some members may not be comfortable with the role or
roles which the have been allocated. During this stage sub-groups are likely to
form in order that a supportive environment is once more created. Acceptable and
unacceptable behaviours within the group are created and reinforced and thus the
`norms` for this group become fabricated.
The storming and norming phases
of group development are inextricably linked, as it is often through the
storming and challenging that acceptable group norms become set.
It is important that a youth
worker works hard during this stage to ensure oppression against individuals
within the group do not become the acceptable norm, as then all group members
will oppress these individuals. Thus, individual oppressions must be challenged
and emphasis placed on challenging attitudes and opinions but not group members.
The YAM group settled into
group norms quite quickly, however some of the roles that were adopted were
challenged by the co-leaders as they were seen to be obstructive to the group
and individual’s objectives. One young person (J.) who was often badly behaved
at school, was previously known to other group members. As these young people
expected poor behaviour from J. this was the role which he adopted. This was
challenged within the group context and it was pointed out that alternatives to
this behaviour were available.
This stage sees the group
performing effectively with defined roles, in fact at this stage it could be
said that the group has transformed into a team. It is now that decisions may be
positively challenged or reinforced by the group as a whole. The discomfort of
the storming and norming phases has been overcome and the group has a general
feeling of unity. This is the best stage for a group to complete tasks, assuming
that task, rather than process and individuals, are the focus of the group.
An excellent example of
performing within the PTV group came during a residential week. One of the group
(A.) admitted to a fear of heights and thus did not want to take part in an
abseiling exercise. The whole group supported this decision but offered
encouragement and support in order to promote participation. One individual (M.)
spent time and energy showing leadership and helped A. to overcome his fears. A.
took part in the abseil, being assisted by M. and encouraged by the whole group.
Potential exists within this
stage for oppression to begin if one or more group members does not appear to
fit in with the group’s view of its task, or is not performing as effectively
as expected. Again it is important to challenge this if it occurs and to show
how each member can benefit the group, through achievement of task, leadership,
reviewing, moving on, or by monitoring the groups process.
The final stage in the life of
a group ultimately is its termination. Though often overlooked, this stage in
group development is equally important to positive outcomes. The ending of a
group can be a very unhappy and distressing time for some members, as they may
feel some extent of dependency on the group. Garland et
al. describe some of the typical responses to the ending phase as:
Denial – `forgetting` the time of the groups termination.
Regression – reverting to a less independent state of functioning.
Need expression – in the hope the group will continue.
Recapitulation – detailed recall of past experiences within the group.
Evaluation – detailed discussion on the value of the group experience.
Flight – destructive denial of any positive benefit of the group, or a
positive disengagement towards other interests.
Potential exists within this
stage for members to be oppressed as scapegoats, that is blamed or at fault for
the ending of the group. This can be minimised by constant focusing and
refocusing on group end points and staged celebrations of group achievements.
With the PTV group it was
relatively easy to develop strategies to minimise the effects of the groups
termination. The group’s life span was structured to a tight time-scale and
end point from the outset. This was reinforced by getting the group to maintain
a counting down chart which was marked off each day. The end of the group was
marked by a large presentation to which friends and relatives were invited. The
presentation marked a clear ending for the group from day one, whilst also
serving as a celebration of all the groups achievements during its existence.
Thus the end did not come as a `surprise`, and was something to look forward to.
As we have seen the value of a
theoretical understanding of conceptualising this group stage theory in youth
work and other helping professions, lies in enabling group workers to `tune into
the group’s processes and respond appropriately` (Preston-Shoot, 1987).
Effective groups should promote
the value of all of its constituent members. One of the keys to establishing
this end is competent leadership.
can be and has been defined in many ways. It
is seen as ` the act of commanding and directing, the actions of leaders, the
process by which groups achieve their goals, the antithesis of followership` (Sessoms
and Stevenson, 1981, p. 5). Leadership can be seen as the act of `moving people
towards goal achievement`, and may be viewed as an interaction
between leaders, followers and
goals (see Fig. 1, above), thus it may be described as a process (Sessoms and Stevenson, ibid).
1. - Source:
Sessoms and Stevenson (1981)
So `In a broad sense,
leadership may be described as influence` (Barker et
al, 1979, p. 224), thus the individual who will often be seen as the leader
of a youth group, that is the adult, often may in fact not be the most
influential member of the group.
leadership depends on the balancing of the three variables in diagram Fig. 2.
(left), thus the groups task, individual needs and group maintenance must all be
2. - Source:
Adapted from John Adair (1988) Effective Leadership
Fundamentally within youth work
we must recognise the `possibility of all members contributing to the process by
which groups seek and achieve goals` (Barker et
al, 1979, p. 226-229). Thus leadership is a dynamic variable and any `person
who performs actions which move a group toward its goal and/or maintain the
group more frequently and more effectively than other group members` may be
identified as group leaders (Barker et al,
Leadership is often described
within a context of three differing styles, laissez faire, democratic and
autocratic (or authoritarian).
Simplistically the three styles
can be described as;
faire – letting members do pretty much as
they please without the leader offering judgement on other members decisions.
This works best when a well functioning group, i.e. one than may be in a
performing phase, is working towards a well defined task. This method is
exceptionally difficult if more than a handful of group members are present and
is often used within sub-groups developed to perform specific sub-tasks. For
example the PTV team would use this style for brainstorming specific ideas for
projects, as the non-judgemental attitude facilitated more group responses.
– consultation and discussion takes place before decisions are made. This
allows group members to have their say but does not guarantee that these
feelings will be acted upon. This style is an ideal method of leadership within
youth work as the group is more likely to contribute to the decision making
process and also the group is more likely to buy-in to decisions which are made.
Again this style works best with smaller groups, the larger the group the longer
the decision making processes will tend to become. It is often preferable to
separate a very large group into sub-groups to ensure all have a chance to input
into decision making and then reconvene all group members into a plenary session
where all ideas can be fed back and shared, resulting in an ultimate group
decision. This style was used within the PTV group in order to achieve a shared
sense of belonging within the group and to get all the members to `buy-in` to
completing the tasks in hand.
or authoritarian – one leader is the
sole person involved in making decisions within the group, the information is
passed on to the group rather than options being discussed openly. This is a
style that I have personally seldom used as it is not ideal for achieving the
educational aims of youth work. However I am aware that very large groups may
find an autocratic leader can speed up a decision making process. This can be
important when issues such as the group’s physical safety are involved, for
example if a group is on expedition on the side of a mountain and the weather
becomes rough, it may become necessary to enforce a quick decision to retreat,
to ensure group safety. The process of this decision making can then be
evaluated and debated once the group is in a safe setting.
Each individual within a group
has a role to play in the development of that group to a greater or lesser
extent. Through observation, understanding of difference,
awareness of personal resources and
effective communication (Douglas,
1995), each member may affect group processes and individual emotions. Roles
develop within groups both through formal appointment and because of the
personal characteristics and interpersonal relationships that develop between
members. Roles which develop can be constructive and support the group and its
members in achieving its goals, or can be destructive and work against the
overall group aims. Individuals within the group can develop several roles and
at times these may conflict. For example a PTV member who was designated as leader
for a specific task, also played a clown
and was fond of practical jokes. The fooling around led to a lack of trust from
other group members creating a conflict with the leadership role.
As the group begins to develop
an understanding of four things can be observed:
the way we behave is based upon what we observe of ourselves, and what we make
of others and their reactions to us.
personally and socially generated; the effects they have on behaviour and
frequently stemming from difference but are the source of potential power for a
group and an individual.
considered to be natural but subject to many barriers that remain largely
unknown unless a conscious effort is made to find them:
1995, p. 80-97)
Through supportive roles,
groups may play a part in reducing oppression generated externally to the group.
Groupwork can be used as a medium for oppressed groups to `help these groups
adjust in society`, and moreover to help society to adjust towards these groups.
This can be achieved by `individual rehabilitation` in which we can `help
individuals to adjust to social life and manage … tension … gain confidence,
high self esteem`, and in `getting and keeping employment etc.`. `Societal or
community rehabilitation` involves `helping the society to have meaningful
contact` with individuals and groups which are discriminated against and
oppressed (Osei-Hwedie, Mwansa, and Mufune, 1990, p. 188).
groupwork creating a `sense of belonging and mutual identity` encouraging `the
formation of relationships which foster mutual identification and influence`,
thus feelings of isolation and singularity with issues of difference and
oppression may be reduced. Also, the group may be encouraged to use its internal
resources to move towards individual or group `problem-resolution`, reducing
feelings of helplessness, building self worth, and discouraging worker
dependency (Preston-Shoot, 1987, p. 6-28). Smith concurs with this view of the
suitability of groupwork, stating `Groups are obvious sites of interaction and
within them a sense of connectedness or community with others can be fostered`
(Smith, 1994, p.111). This `connectedness` is a valuable tool with which to
challenge discrimination and oppression, for as Piven and Cloward argue, it is
only when we act collectively that change can begin (Piven and Cloward, 1993).
Group Work – Double Edged Sword?
To state that group work is not
an exact science is something of an understatement. As we have seen, it is
problematic to even define what is meant by a group as no absolute definition
exists. Similarly most, if not all, concepts within group work theory can be,
and are, contested.
Groups are extremely important
in the lives of all individuals. Johnson and Johnson (1975, p1-2) state `many of
our goals can be achieved only with the cooperation and coordination of others`.
However `the success of any
group depends on the ability of its members to exchange ideas freely and to feel
involved in the life and decisions of the group` (Massallay, 1990). All groups
within youth work have goals, i.e. a future state of affairs. It is important
that short term and long term goals are set realistically if the group is to
develop and function effectively. These functions are achieved through the
direction of leadership and the development of individual roles within each
A group is said to be
successful if it:
accomplishes group tasks
maintains the group internally, and;
develops and adapts to improve effectiveness.
Groupwork can be used as an
effective tool for many youth work situations, not least of which is as a medium
for challenging oppression both within groups and individuals. Thus, we have
seen the emergence and development of girls issue groups and black young
people’s projects that offer mutual support as well as working to challenge
oppression. Yet we have seen that through the development stages of a groups
life there are many opportunities for individuals to develop and focus
oppressive behaviour internally within a group.
A grasp of theoretical
understanding of group behaviour and functioning can help to explain individual
and group behaviour, and help us to achieve our ultimate aim as youth workers,
that of informal education. It is important not to treat group work as an exact
science with definitive answers. Indeed many of the questions
we must ask ourselves are unclear, thus the answers
are a best guess, or a benchmark that we can develop on and work around.
Finally, let us consider
briefly the historical context of group work development and the purpose it has
not only within youth work, but society at large. As Taylor reminds us `A
moment’s reflection shows that the social groupwork beloved of liberalism is
the product of the American capitalist concern to develop more sophisticated
management techniques` (Taylor, 1987, p. 140). Let us be careful to use group
work to promote democracy and not fall into the trap of using group work as yet
another tool for promoting social control in a capitalistic state.
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