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This essay attempts to define and explain the purpose of groups within a community setting and to demonstrate how an understanding of group dynamics and communication can help a worker to succeed in their role of facilitating positive active participation from group members whilst at the same time offer support and guidance throughout a group??™s lifecycle.
In attempting to define a *community *group*, it* could be described as *consist*ing* of* a collection of* *people who come together to pursue a common cause or interest for the good of their community. These group members are linked through their social interactions with each other and their collective goals.
In a community setting, groups can be divided into two main types. Formal groups are arranged in order to achieve a specific function, whether it be a work group, student council or bowling club committee. A formal group has a structure, goals and activities are clearly defined, and rules determine how the group members behave. Temporary work groups are formed in order to solve a specific problem or to complete a predetermined task such as cleaning up the streets or fundraising for a youth club trip.
On the other hand, informal groupsare far less rigid in their structure. Many do not have an elected committee* **and lack organisation or required patterns of behaviour. Examples of informal groups include friendship or interest groups where members may come together to chat and relax **such as a youth club* or a knitting club.
*Both types of group can be either open or closed. Closed memberships restrict group members to thosewho are invited only whereas open groups are more flexible and allow anyone to join and attend at their convenience. Groups can also either be task orientated, created in order to achieve a specific outcome, or process orientated where the emphasis is on participation of the members. Groups meeting can be regular, a set time and place or ad hoc, which is more dependent on the availability of the members or importance of the task.*
It is important for the worker to be aware of group structure in order that they are able to know their roles and personal and group goals.* For example, if the worker is assigned a task involving working *with a youth council and having to attend meetings, it would be extremely helpful to know just how a committee is* set up, *convened* and structured*.* * The participants *could include*president, vice president, treasurer and secretary along with youth representatives and the structure of the group would probably be formal. This could impact on the dress code and how the worker has to act and respond to the situation.* In a committee situation membership is generally closed, however the meetings could take in a public hall with an open for all question time. The purpose of the meeting could be task orientated such as a write a dissertation proposal for me  to open a drop in centre or process orientated, which could involve the *development *and expansion *of an *existing youth forum and the worker has been asked to sit in on the meeting and give their input*. Knowing all this information in advance would allow the worker to plan in advance the best way in which to facilitate their given role. Another example could be for the worker to help with the *formation and*development of an activity club. In this case the group structure may be informal with an open membership, allowing people to attend*at their leisure. The role of the worker in this case, may be just giving information about available accommodation and* sources of possible funding. *This group may not have the same needs but it is important that the worker* is aware of how the *group is structured in order that their contributive effort is maximised and they *can perform appropriately.
Community groups can be categorised into various types which are dependent on their ???raison d??™etre??™. Some groups are set up in order to provide support and help to their members. These are ???self help groups??™ and tend to be maintained by volunteers including those who benefit directly from them and are often cause orientated,dedicated to a specific need. Examples in this category include: Arthritis Support Group, Abuse Survivors and Parent and Toddler Groups.
A second type of group is an ???Action??™ or ???Pressure Group??™. . These groups are self appointed and seek to influence existing government policy or legislation through campaigning. They are often known as Lobby or Protest groups and although they do not wish to hold political power, they seek to influence those who do in order to achieve their aims. Some of the ways in which a lobby group demonstrates community support include protest marches and petitions. Examples of Pressure groups include the Anti Poll Tax campaign and Keep our Local School Open.
Some group exists in order to provide a service for others. Welfare Groups can involve both volunteers and paid employees. They can be set up to satisfy a need in the community such as improved services and increased opportunities or to supplement existing services. Neighbourhood watch schemes and the Citizens Advice Centres fall into this category.
In order for a group to function effectively an understanding of group formation and dynamics is needed. One theorist in this field is Bruce Tuckman, an American psychologist who, in 1965, categorised this process into four distinct phases. In the Forming stage, the group is newly initiated. Members are unsure of their positions and insecure intheir relationships with other members. They are trying to harmonise and all deep emotions and serious issues are avoided. However they are also assimilating knowledge and forming their own opinions of other group members. Group productiveness at this stage is minimal.
The group then moves onto stage two, Storming.This is a turbulent stage in the group life cycle. Important issues such as power and group management begin to be addressed and this causes friction between group members. Clarification of group structures and rules may help to alleviate further discord.
Establishment of group norms and structure allow the group to begin to settle down to focus on their task in hand. In this third stage, Norming, group members have had their relationship struggles and are now more understanding of others and appreciate their skills and experience and are willing to offer support. Group cohesiveness increases, as does group effectiveness, however the calm may be volatile as group members may be nervous of a return to the storming stage.
After the group has settled, and rules of behaviour have been agreed, the group reaches its maximum potential and effectiveness. This is the Performing stage. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined andgroup morale is high. Loyalty, teamwork and trust develops amongst group members and role and responsibilities may change according to need.
A fifth stage was added by Tuckman in 1977 in order to explain group conclusion, when the group task has been completed and group members have to proceed through a period of ???Mourning??™ and move on.
Communication between group members is essential in order to develop cohesion and closeness. One theory of communication which would help to explainthis is the Johari window model. In this theory, each person is represented by their own window which is divided into four parts, open, blind, hidden and unknown. The open quadrant represents all the information that they know about themselves that they have allowed others to know. The blind quarter is information that they don??™t know about themselves but that others do such as how loudly they talk. As information is given to the person, their open window increases as their blind window gets smaller. The third quadrant is the hidden window. This conceals all the information that the person knows about themselves but is unwilling to divulge to others. The unknown window contains information which is hidden to both themselves and others. This model is extremely useful in determining an individual??™sreceptiveness to their group situation. Most new members in a group will have a small open window but as they get to know other members this window enlarges. Group work aims to increase member??™s public or open areas by decreasing their blind window. Strategies such as peer evaluation, constructive feedback, highlighting skills and focussing on areas of development, helpto do this. It also aims to enlarge their unknown window by broadening horizons, developing new skills and creating new interests.
Understanding group dynamics is essential when working in community groups in order to develop effective practise and allow the group to achieve its goals and objectives. On entering an existing group, it also allows the worker a comprehension of just where the group is at and allows for more effective decision making in how to balance individual needs against the needs of the group as a whole. Group workers may have to plan and allow time for group evolution as well as helping to facilitate and support the group??™s movement through each stage of its life cycle as quickly and smoothly as possible. Although a group may have reached a specific stage in development, the addition of a new member may alter this and groups may move forwards and backwards through the cycle. It is the workers role to guide the group back to the performing stage as soon as possible.
As well as theoretical knowledge as group worker must also put into practise physical communication skills. These can be divided into two groups, verbal and nonverbal. Verbal skills include the spoken word and written words; however non verbal communication can be just as informative about group membersand may convey hidden meanings. A worker must have understanding of how to implement techniques to promote communication such as how the tone or pitch of someone??™s voice can engage or alienate the listener, or how body language such as facial expression, gesturing or posture can convey a person??™s inner intentions or emotions as opposed to their spoken words. The use of open questioning in order to create dialogue, as well as the use of reflection when clarifying previous points, helps to demonstrate active listening. The Johari window can also be used reveal difficulties in communication such as those who vote with the group, but who make it obvious by their body language that they are in discord. Barriers to communication must be noted and addressed, whether they are environmental, intellectual or behavioural, including prejudices and disrespect.
An awareness of the significance of communication skills within a group context also assists the worker in developing strategies to keep members engaged and develop group cohesion whilst at the same time, validating each member??™s worth to the group in order to keep members attending, motivated and focused on the group objectives. It is also essential that the worker* is flexible* and *able to adapt to whatever role is needed at any time, whether it is task orientated such as project proposals, research , summarising and distributing information to group members in an understandable fashion or the maintaince of group morale and behaviour by encouraging positive attitudes through being open and friendly, guiding conversations, by actively including *members in *participation* or knowing when to redirect discussions in order that group harmony is maintained
Some difficulties may arise however while working in groups and it is important to understand and utilize intervention strategiesin order to maintain group moral and objectives. Perhaps some members feel that their workload is unfair in comparison to others within the group or that one member is not taking responsibility or role seriously. Levels of resentment are rising and are threatening to disrupt the whole group dynamic. Keeping a clear record of appointed roles and responsibilities before finding out where the problem lies will help to pinpoint areas to target. Solutions include checking with each member as to whether they are able to cope with their allotted role or task, possibly it is too difficult or they are unable to dedicate as much time as they initially thought. Perhaps a rearrangement of responsibilities or task sharing may alleviate the problem or a review of resources and whether they are equally available to all.
Another scenario which often occurs within group is difficult group members. Perhaps one member of the group is a ???compulsive talker??™ who refuses to allow others to state their opinions or refuses to listen when they do. Another member may be a ???disagreer??™ who is unable or unwilling to step back and allow democratic choices to be made within the group. The important thing to remember with disruptive or difficult members is that there may be an underlying reason as to their behaviour. Emotional defence mechanisms can manifest themselves in disruptive behaviour and it is important to find out the reason behind this. Nerves, boredom, anxiety or a lack of trust may be factorsand so by working at the source of these, the behaviour may improve. *Meanwhile dividing the workers time fairly and evenly* amongst members,* *ensuring the* time given over to tasks *is appropriate, working in pairs or, if the behaviour become so troublesome that group objectives are at risk, a direc*t conversation* on a one to one basis, explaining how and why their behaviour is disruptive to other group members* and asking if they have any ideas on how they might be able to change *or modify* *their behaviour* *, may help to alleviate problems.
Effective communication skills and knowledge of a group??™s life sequence are essential elements to a community learning and development worker??™s practice. The role of the worker is extensive covering, as Twelvetrees explains ???broker, advocate, fixer, trouble-shooter and expert??™ (Community Work, 1982, p7). Ensuring the group move smoothly through meetings and group objectives, whilst at the same time building confidence and empowerment within members, as well as developing and maintaining motivational strategies, is essential in order that community groups are run successfully and effectively throughout their life cycle.
Anniesland College (2009) Preparing to Work with Community groups: Course Notes, Glasgow, Anniesland College
CHANG, Richard Y. (1995) Success through Teamwork, London, Kogan Page
??? Chapter 5 resolving conflicts; 6-step system, with case studies
Tett, Lyn (2006) Community Education, Lifelong Learning and Social Inclusion, Edinburgh, Dunedin Academic Press Ltd ??“ second edition
Twelvetrees, A (1982) Community Work: What is Community Work London, Palgrave
Open University e218 Study Guide Part 3