* GROUP PROCESS: THE THEORIES

Group Process; the theories

Occasional paper

GROUP PROCESS

by David Brazier

 
FRAMEWORKS FOR THE ANALYSIS OF GROUP PHENOMENA 

Theoretically there are many different ways of looking at and trying to make sense of group phenomena. Each way of seeing adds, as it were, a new dimension to our understanding. They are complementary rather than exclusive and the group-worker needs to be able to perceive what is happening in a group from a number of different angles or perspectives. These include the structural, interactional, dynamic, and process dimensions of group life. In this paper we are concerned primarily with the last of these. I will begin, however, by briefly sketching out the distinction between these different dimensions in order to show where group process theory fits into the scheme of things.

Structural
This refers to the present relationships which exist between the members of the group. Role theory is useful here, as are sociometry and systems theory. The groupworker should be able to think in terms of the relations between individual and sub-groups, understand the different kinds of leadership exercised in a group, recognise isolated members and "stars", and understand the difference between the formal or "official" structure and
an informal structure, seeing how these seldom coincide and how the tension between them forms an important dynamic factor in groups. 

Interactional
The groupworker must appreciate that many different kinds of interactions are taking place in the group. Some are functional and some dysfunctional in relation to the group task, but all meet some human desire or need and reveal information about power and influence, attraction and avoidance. Theories which help us understand these patterns include transactional analysis, Bales' interaction analysis, social psychology and functional sociology 

Psycho-dynamic & Psycho-analytic
These approaches concern themselves with the motives behind the behaviour of members, with the emotional currents in the group, with the way in which group life recapitulates or represents past family experience for members. In using these theories the groupworker becomes interested in processes of identification, rivalry, jealousy, defense mechanisms, boundaries, projection, transference, and dependency. The group is seen as representing a matrix within which old scripts evolved through early experience are played out. Relevant theories include the group analytic approach, the theories of Wilfred Bion and focal conflict theory.

Process
The structural, interactional and psycho-dynamic approaches are all attempts to understand what goes on between individuals who are members of a group. It is important, however, for the groupworker to be able to conceptualize the group as a whole, and not simply as an aggregate of its component members. This is the real province of group process, as distinct from group dynamics or sociometry or role theory. Group process theory, in this narrower sense, refers to those approaches which try to look at the group as a whole over the period of its life-span, defining stages and processes which occur as the group matures and which, if they consider the behaviour of individuals at all, do so by trying to understand it as a function of the group process rather than the other way round. Group process theory suggests that it is possible to think of the group as if it were an organic whole, which has a constraining, or even coercive, influence upon the moods, behaviours and preoccupations of the members. There are a great many theories of group process and we will here review a representative sample of the most influential of these.


AGAZARIAN & PETERS: VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE GROUP

Agazarian and Peters point out that our attention can be focused on any one of three levels of analysis, viz: the individual as a person in his or her own right; the individual as a member with a role in the group; and the group as a whole. The important point is not so much that a group is "more than" the sum of its individual members, as that "a group" is different from its members. It has characteristics that the members do not have and vice versa. Most basically, the group has a different life span from any of its members. "By changing perspective it is possible to shift backwards and forwards between observing group level phenomenon that is 'not' individual, and individual level phenomenon that is 'not' group" (Agazarian and Peters 1981, p.29). From a common sense point of view, people generally tend to observe the behaviour of individuals, but do not see how this is actually a manifestation of the life of the group as a whole. The individuals, therefore, constitute the "visible" group while the "group as a whole" constitutes the "invisible" group. 


EQUILIBRIUM OR PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT

Theories of group life tend to be either equilibrium models or developmental models. Much common sense thinking tends to assume that groups have, or should have, an equilibrium state in which everything is "alright". Conflicts and tensions are then seen as a departure from this assumed norm. Equilibrium models are those which conceive of the group as tending toward an equilibrium state. Attempts to understand groups in terms of systems theory tend to make this assumption: a group is then seen as a self-regulating system which will, by processes of feedback, tend to correct any tendency which would threaten its equilibrium. Theories of this kind do help to explain the strong pressure which individual members of groups often feel to conform to group norms. 

Equilibrium theories are essentially "steady state" models of group life, in contrast to developmental theories. Most theories of group process are developmental, however. They seek to show how a group changes over time in a manner which is to some degree predictable. In this paper we will begin by reviewing some equilibrium theories and then look at developmental ones.
Some combination of steady state and developmental thinking is also possible and probably desirable. Psycho-analytic thinking, for instance, suggests that an organism in the short run seeks to return to a quiescent equilibrium state and creates defences to ward off change, yet, in the longer run, may be shaped by developmental necessities and the gradually shifting balance between life and death instincts. Groups do exercise considerable pressure upon individuals to prevent them departing from group norms, but the norms may change and evolve over time. So equilibrium theories and developmental theories are not mutually exclusive.


PULSES AND TRACKING 

The equilibrium concept accords with the everyday experience of group facilitators that the life of a group proceeds in a series of "pulses" of energy or activity, which build up and then subside. Some are very short, some may consume most of a session or even longer. A basic skill of the facilitator is to "keep track" of these pulses. Each pulse has a starting point and the facilitator should remember these landmarks, at least until they are resolved. When the group activity subsides after a pulse of activity, it may be the facilitator's task to remind the group where the latest surge of energy originated. Sometimes, also, a pulse of activity may be disrupted or may never really get going in the first place. These incomplete cycles constitute "unfinished business" for the group and the facilitator should be aware of them and, at an appropriate moment, draw attention to them, if this is not done by a group member. Each pulse of activity is set off by an initiative taken by a group member which "catches on". Eventually the matter is resolved or the group tire of it. The energy level subsides until a new starting point is found. Equilibrium theorists are attempting to explain this cyclical phenomenon.


KURT LEWIN: FIELD THEORY 

One of the most important theorists in the history of group theory was Kurt Lewin. His theory is basically an equilibrium theory, but it allows for goal seeking behaviour either by individuals or by groups acting together. In Lewin's (1936; 1948; 1972) model, called "field theory", the equilibrium is seen as a balance between "driving" and "restraining" forces which in turn are related to the tension between the group goal and the group environment. Lewin was inclined to use quasi-mathematical symbols to represent his ideas in succinct form. Thus the behaviour, B, of a group, g, is a function of its goals, G, and its environment, E.

Bg = f(G,E)


Sometimes, however, a goal may be out of reach. There may be an obstacle, O, in the way. The original goal, G1, may then be displaced either by a subordinate goal, G1a, such as working toward removing the obstacle or preparing for the time when the obstacle will not be there, or by an alternative, less desirable but more attainable goal, G2. This was how Lewin described what other theories call "regression". Lewin's theory suggests that when faced with this choice between two behaviours, B1a and B2, neither of which is entirely satisfactory to the group, the balance between them will be tipped by environmental factors.

Factors in the "life space" of a subject (individual or group) are seen as having positive or negative "valence", i.e. as being attractive or aversive and behaviour is seen as a function of the constellation of factors, positive and negative, operating at a particular time. These are quite simple concepts, but Lewin was able to use them in quite sophisticated ways. Goals and environment were, therefore, in Lewin's theory, the main elements defining the group's (or the individual's) "life space" and he often represented the life space and the forces within it in diagrammatic form. These life space diagrams can be a very useful aid to clarity of understanding. 

Lewin (et al 1939) also made an important study of leadership styles, contrasting "laissez-faire", "democratic" and "authoritarian" approaches which seemed to demonstrate the superiority of the democratic approach. Lewin's theory does not offer any normative model of group development since it assumes that different groups might have quite different goals and different environments and so might develop in quite different ways.


WILFRED BION 

Bion (1961) was influenced by Lewin and by Melanie Klein. He consequently describes groups having two levels. The conscious level, which follows Lewin's basic idea of interplay between goals and environment, he called "the work group". The unconscious level, which was suggested to him by the ideas of psycho-analysis, he called "the basic assumption group". At this second level he saw the group as operating on one out of three "basic assumption cultures" after another. The three "basic assumptions" are called "dependency", "pairing" and "fight-flight". The idea of a basic assumption is not that the group members are necessarily in any way consciously aware of such an assumption, but rather, simply, that we can make some sense of their behaviour if we consider that they are acting "as though" they had such an assumption. Bion is thus suggesting a construct something like an "unconscious group mind". The fact that this is a purely hypothetical construct does not mean that it is not useful. 

The dependency assumption operates when the group members act as though they expect the leader to do everything for them. In this state, they are likely to express ignorance saying "why are we here?" or "what are we supposed to be doing?" in ways that invite the leader to take charge, though if the leader does so, they may then also expect him or her to do all the work.

The pairing assumption operates when the members act as though the whole purpose of the group was social rather than work related. The interest focuses upon who is relating to who and the energy and excitement of the group revolves around direct or vicarious participation in relationships. This can go so far as to generate fantasies that two members of the group in particular are going to get together and aiding or hindering this process can absorb much of the group energy.

The fight-flight assumption operates when conflict between personalities looms. There may be challenges for leadership of the group or rebellions against group norms. Sometimes the conflict is between group members. Sometimes the group goes into flight and interactions become very difficult as everyone studiously avoids saying or doing anything that could give offense to anyone.

All three basic assumptions are conceived, in Bion's model, as resistances to task related behaviour. In a task focused group, the leader will be interested in minimizing the effects of these under currents. In a therapeutic group, however, studying them may give access to much important information about the resistances members have to living purposefully, not just in the group, but in life generally.

By implication, Bion's model is also an equilibrium model. Each of the basic assumptions designates a phase in the group's emotional climate. These phases each involve some inherent satisfactions and some element of threat to the well-being of the group. Each basic assumption culture therefore tends to build up and then subside and give way to another one. Bion did not see these different cultures as forming any particular kind of sequence. Bion suggested that groups move from one mode of working to another, and then to another, and then perhaps back to the first mode, or the second, and so on. In other words, they do change but not necessarily in accordance with any predictable sequence. 


DOROTHY WHITAKER: FOCAL CONFLICT THEORY 

Whitaker and Lieberman (1964) developed Lewin's idea of driving and restraining forces into "disturbing motives" and "reactive motives". Their approach is called "focal conflict theory". In focal conflict theory there is also the idea that the "solution" to a conflict may, itself, constitute a further disturbance, thus giving rise to continuing change. The theory is summarized in the following diagram:


Focal Conflict Theory: 

DISTURBING
MOTIVE
–––––O–––––
¦
¦
¦
REACTIVE MOTIVE
fear of abandonment,
ridicule, criticism,
loss of control,
over–whelming feelings etc.
  ¦  
  ¦  
  ¦  
  SOLUTION  
  /       \  
ENABLING
SOLUTIONS
  RESTRICTIVE
SOLUTIONS
   /    \
Denial    Displacement


When a disturbance of the group equilibrium occurs through an initiative taken by a group member ("disturbing motive") which, say, breaks one of the groups norms or threatens an established boundary , there will be a reaction. This action and reaction constitute a "focal conflict" to which the group will always find a solution. Some solutions are better than others, however. An "enabling solution" involves creativity and acceptance of differences. It enables problems to be resolved or differences to be used to the advantage of the group. It has the effect of opening up new possibilities for future behaviour in the group. Thus, if a person broached a subject never before talked about, this would constitute a disturbance. There might well be an anxious reaction. An enabling solution might be for the group to find a way of discussing the new subject matter in an honest and open yet sensitive way. If this can be achieved, it will probably pave the way for the group to be more adventurous in its choice of topics in the future. An enabling solution might also provide opportunities for members to experiment safely with roles they had not previously experienced. New insights might be attained and new levels of relating might be discovered. 

"Restrictive solutions" on the other hand, overcome the discomfort of the conflict at the cost of curtailing some of the group's potential. They can be classified into two kinds, denial and displacement. Examples of denial might be that a member leaves the group rather than participate, or the group avoid the subject by talking about something else or use dishonesty or make a joke out of something serious. Another common form of denial is the way that groups often avoid facing the pain of separation when a group is coming to an end, for instance, by making plans for reunions which are not actually going to happen. Examples of displacement include blaming or scapegoating, making one member of the group into the "sick member", talking about other parallel situations without facing the issue squarely, or uniting by finding an outside enemy.


EQUILIBRIUM MODELS: DISCUSSION

The three equilibrium models we have looked at have some similarities and some contrasting features. They all attempt to provide an explanation of how groups change without suggesting that such change follows a preordained blueprint. Their explanations are different, however.

Lewin presents the idea that the group is free to evolve in any direction and that the way it behaves will be a function of its goals and its environment. Environment, in Lewin's sense, means "life space". The life space is made up of the factors we perceive and each of these will have a positive or negative valence for us. Lewin's theory is thus phenomenological. Actually, "goals" are, in this approach, simply further environmental factors, since the environment we are talking about is subjective. The constraints upon the group's behaviour, in Lewin's theory, are imposed by the horizon of perception and the valencies given to the different features of the subjective landscape.
Whitaker and Lieberman's theory suggests that the group is rather less free than Lewin's model implies since they suggest that the group tends to remain in a steady state unless this is disturbed and that any such disturbance will meet resistance. How the resulting conflict is resolved will have lasting effects upon the functioning of the group. Change, in this theory, therefore, is conceptualized as hinging upon the manner in which "focal conflicts" are "solved".

In Bion's theory, a group may indeed progress toward task accomplishment in the way Lewin described, but there is always an under-tow. This model is built on an analogy with the psycho-analytic model of the individual where conscious purposes may be undermined by sub-conscious preoccupations. Bion hypothesized that there are three basic modes, or "basic assumptions", governing how this hidden layer of group functioning operates. They do not, in Bion's model, follow any particular sequence, but occur as modes of resistance to the group's official purpose.

The three models are not mutually exclusive. All could be true. Each throws a different light on group process and offers some implications for group facilitation. Lewin's model suggests that facilitators may be interested in helping groups "see further" by including new elements into their life space and "see deeper" by re-evaluating what they are aware of already. Whitaker's model suggests that the facilitator may be able to influence the group to adopt relatively more "enabling solutions" to the conflicts that inevitably arise. It tells us that conflicts are opportunities as well as risks and that a group cannot advance without them. Bion's model suggests that facilitators may help people to gain greater insight by examining the collective life of the group and his work provides much of the under-pinning for the analytic approach to group therapy.


PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENTAL MODELS OF GROUPS 

Developmental models are those which suggest that there is a necessary progression of stages which groups typically go through in the course of their life span, irrespective of goals or environmental factors. There are a variety of such theories, each offering a different number of stages and different terminology. There is, however, a broad similarity between the different theories. 

Developmental models are potentially helpful to the groupworker in the following respects: 
1. they help us predict the future development of a group and reassure the worker that it will not always be as conflictful, or as lethargic, etc., as it may have been in a particular session; 
2. they assist decisions about what types of intervention or contribution are likely to be acceptable to the group at different stages of its life; 
3. since the stages of group life replicate those of the individual life, the group process provides particular therapeutic opportunities as members re-experience particular life stages and having a model which illuminates this helps the worker to make well timed interventions.

The basic idea in the equilibrium models we looked at earlier is that the group has an inbuilt tendency to return to a state of stability, like a pendulum. The pulses of activity in the group are seen as swings away from this central point rather than as stages in a sequential development. Development may occur cumulatively, as when a group, having achieved one goal, sets up a higher one or when a group, through solving conflicts in an enabling way, empowers itself to reach a higher level of functioning, but the opposite possibilities are also open. The group might degenerate to a regressive goal or adopt ever more restrictive solutions to its problems. 

The basic idea in progressive developmental models, by contrast, is that there is a predictable sequence of phases in a group which come about as a result of the group having a lifespan which has a beginning and an end. The progressive and the equilibrium models can be reconciled with each other in various ways and the Bennis and Shepard model we will look at in due course offers an interesting way of marrying the concepts of Bion with those of theorists like Tuckman.


TUCKMAN

In 1965 Tuckman published a review of 62 theories of how groups develop over time. He reported that when you make allowances for differences of terminology, there was a fair degree of consensus among many theorists and practitioners that there is a moderately predictable sequence of stages in the development of any group which has a fixed lifespan. He suggested a mnemonic for the common stages of group development proposed by the majority of theorists and this mnemonic has become widely used. He said that groups go through stages of "Forming", "Storming", "Norming" and "Performing". We might also add, as a fifth and final stage, "Mourning". 

The fact that "mourning" is not included in Tuckman's original paper is because the motivation for most of this research was to find out how to get groups operational in the shortest possible time, ie how to get to "performing". This utilitarian motive ignores the fact that psychologically ending is, arguably, the most important group stage. It is the fact that a group has an end point and the fact that it could end at any time which underlies much of the psychology of group process. 

Tuckman's stages work like this:

Forming:
Initially the group members are unsure of each other and of their purpose. However well briefed they may have been, the reality of meeting together inevitably throws up feelings which cannot be avoided. There is thus both anxiety and anticipation at the beginning. The first group task is to form itself into a group. Some may assume that this is achieved just by the fact of being in the same room together, but that ignores the psychology of the situation. People may begin by making statements as though the group were a homogenous whole: "I think we are all here because..." only to discover that they are speaking only for themselves. Initially, other members may let such statements pass, keeping their dissent to themselves in case they turn out to be a minority of one. The forming stage may thus be characterized by a pseudo-unity in which there is an appearance of agreement about many things which are, in reality, not yet agreed at all. This stage is also likely to find the group members looking for direction and feeling dependent upon the group leader. They do not yet know what is going to be possible and this leads to anxiety which they would like allayed by a show of purposefulness by the leader. If this is forth-coming it will reduce the level of tension. It may also, however, result in group members relating one to one with the group leader rather than coming to terms with each other and this may slow down the process of achieving group cohesion.

Storming:
In due course, the false consensus begins to be challenged. members of the group begin to air their differences. Mild anxiety may now give place to outright shows of hostility as a power struggle develops for the soul of the group. The position, ideas and authority of the leader may be challenged. The members become aware of clashes of personality and differences of opinion. Individuals are caught between, on the one hand, the desire to assert their sense of what the group (and life in general) is about, and, on the other, their fear of reprisals from other group members. There may be confrontations and stand-offs. All this may happen overtly or it may take place beneath the camouflage of a veneer of social manners. The atmosphere of the group has noticeably changed from the forming stage and many may feel this as a change for the worse. There may be an attempt to find scapegoats. Likely candidates for this role might be new members joining at this stage, the group leaders themselves, members who have challenged the leader over forcefully or anybody else whose behaviour or value system have appeared out of line. The manner in which this phase of group life is negotiated may be substantially influenced by the model of behaviour and style of communication offered by the group leader.

Norming:
Eventually, the group begins to establish some norms by which they are to relate to one another. This is partly an exercise in damage limitation. In the storming state, feelings get hurt and people become motivated to prevent a repetition. It is also a consequence of working through the lively discussions and interactions characterizing the storming stage to a point where some degree of consensus does emerge. There is some give and take. The realities of the situation have become apparent. By this stage people feel clearer about what the group can and cannot hope to achieve. They have begun to know each other "warts and all" and so feel more secure. Some differences which initially seemed sharp have by now been ironed out and others have been set aside. The atmosphere in the group is likely to be markedly different at this phase. People who had moved their chairs back may now move back in toward one another again. There is a renewed sense of harmony and this seems better founded than the brittle uniformity of the group's opening stage. The norming phase can have an air of complacency or one of intimacy.

Performing:
Having established some norms or rules of play, it is easier for the group to apply itself to task oriented behaviour. Norms may, of course, as we have seen, be restrictive as well as enabling. The performing stage is the time when the group gets most of its work done. Members are beginning to be aware of the deadline. The group will come to an end and there are things they want to get done. Where the norming stage imposed a discipline on the group, in the performing stage this may ease somewhat as the group takes on new activities. Also, having come to terms with one another, the group members now feel safe to reach out beyond the group itself. They may even, through the work of earlier stages have reached a point where they feel they have something special to offer to others. The performing stage may thus be characterized by a new interest in inter-group relations, not all the energy being absorbed any longer by intra-group dynamics. 

Mourning:
All things come to an end. As the time limit for the group approaches, members begin to anticipate the emotions associated with separation. The early stages of the group have generated a sense of cohesion and now this is to be dissolved. Members may try to avoid this imminent hurt by various forms of denial or they may find ways of sharing their feelings and, perhaps, ritualizing the ending into a suitable ceremonial form which celebrates both the personal and the universal aspects of the ubiquitous human phenomenon of bonding and loss. members of the group are all likely to have experienced previous losses of one kind or another and traces of feelings from those earlier times are likely to be reawakened. The ending phase of a group may offer an opportunity for individuals to rework some of their unfinished business and for members to help one another come to terms with the process of change and growth. Members may look forward as well as back: reviewing the experience of the group and affirming what they have learned and achieved, what they want to take with them and what they have been able to let go of.


Table 1: Models of group stages
Whitaker Tuckman Lacoursiere (1980) Mackenzie & Livesley (1983) Bach (1954) Bennis & Shepard (1956), Agazarian & Peters (1981)
FORMATIVE FORMING ORIENTATION ENGAGEMENT TESTING DEPENDENCE
(Flight)
DEPENDENCE
STORMING DISSATIS-
FACTION
DIFFERENT-
IATION
FAMILIAL
REGRESSIVE
COUNTER-DEPENDENCE(Fight)
INDIVIDUATION RESOLUTION
ESTABLISHED NORMING RESOLUTION INTIMACY ASSOCIATIVE
ENCHANTMENT (Flight)
PLAY
DISENCHANT-MENT (Fight)
PERFORMING PRODUCTION MUTUALITY IN-GROUP CONSCIOUS-NESS
INTER-DEPENDENCE
WORK
  (MOURNING) TERMINATION TERMINATION    




OTHER THEORIES

The basic pattern illustrated by Tuckman's theory is fairy widely accepted. Other theories offer differences of detail, of explanation of how particular stages occur or get resolved, and differences of terminology. Some of this terminology is illustrated in table 1. 

The table reveals the close parallelism between different theories. In many cases the differences of language are readily recognizable as different words for the same thing. In some cases a phase of group life which is recognized as one stage by some theories is further subdivided by others, but the general sequence remains the same.


BENNIS & SHEPARD 

A sophisticated version of the developmental approach to understanding group process is the model of Bennis and Shepard. Bennis and Shepard adapted the ideas of Bion as a result of their studies of T-groups (a method originated by Lewin). They suggest that there is a progression between the different types of basic assumption group and that, in particular, the dependency and fight-flight groups tend to occur in the first part of a group's life while the pairing and work groups occur later and these two halves are divided from one another by what they call the "barometric event" which is an occurrence in which the relationship of the group to its leader/facilitator is irreversibly changed. Inter-member relations in the early phase are characterised by considerations of power whereas in the later phase the group becomes more personal (see table 2)


Table 2: Two main Stages of Group Development (Bennis & Shepard)
Dependency -- Fight-flight Power relationships
Barometric event
Pairing -- Work group Personal relationships


The concept of flight-fight can, however, be used to give some additional sense to what Bennis and Shepard are talking about in both halves of the group's life. Also, Bennis and Shepard use different terminology in different parts of their work (see table 3)

What Bennis and Shepard are saying, therefore, is that the group has two main stages which each have sub-stages. In the first main stage, the group members are preoccupied by their relationship to the group leader. At first the members feel dependent. They are anxious and in flight from responsibility, so they rely upon the leader to give them direction and provide nurturance. Inevitably, the direction, if any, given by the leader does not satisfy everybody and some resistance arises. The group moves into the phase that Tuckman calls storming. This is, in Bion's terms, a fight-flight mode. Bennis and Shepard call it counter-dependency or, simply, rebellion. A struggle ensues. Eventually some resolution to this tension is achieved and this is cathartic for the group. Bennis and Shepard believed that the resolution of this first half of the group was a crucially important event and so they gave it the portentous label "barometric". Ideally, the outcome of the barometric event is that the leader becomes, to a much greater degree, a group member, and the members assume enhanced responsibility for the group's behaviour and direction. The leader is dethroned. Not all groups achieve this, however. If, through the weakness of members or the intransigence of the leader, the barometric event is not achieved, the life of the group will stagnate and members will not find the group to be an environment in which they can mature. They will remain in a dependent condition and the group will never reach what Tuckman called the performing stage.


Table 3: The Bennis and Shepard Model
Dependence Submission (dependence) Flight
Counter-dependence Rebellion (fight-flight) Fight
Resolution Catharsis  
BAROMETRIC EVENT    
Inter-member identification Enchantment (pairing) Flight
Individual Identity Disenchantment (work) Fight
Resolution Consensual validation  


In the second half of the life of the group, members are preoccupied with their relationships with each other. Immediately after the barometric event, the group is likely to settle into a degree of complacency. What they have been struggling with now no longer seems like an important issue. This roughly corresponds to Tuckman's "norming" phase. Members agree with each other more readily. The group feels smooth, agreeable and unpressured. Bennis and Shepard regard this as a "flight" phase, and it may well be, in Bion's terms, a time when the group is unconsciously working on the "pairing" assumption. Relationships have become more important than work.

As this goes on, however, time pressure once again begins to be felt. Members begin to be aware that they do not have forever to do things. The original goals and purposes of the group begin to be remembered. A new phase of struggle results. This time, however, members do not assume that it is the leader's responsibility to get things done. The consequence of the barometric event is now felt as "It is up to us". This then is a phase of inter-dependence, of work, and of reaching out: the most productive phase of the group life. Finally, if all goes well, the group reaches a phase in which there is a sense of completeness and mutual affirmation for work completed and the bitter-sweet feelings of parting have to be lived through.

The group thus progresses through a series of stages which involve increasing maturity and responsibility as time passes. Each stage offers a new challenge and different group members are likely to find themselves drawn into prominence at different phases as the group has need of their particular strengths. The transition from one stage to another may be facilitated by the contributions of people who act as catalysts at the transition points. Such catalyst people are not necessarily those whom one would easily recognize as exercising a leadership function, but their well timed contribution can make a vitally important difference to the group atmosphere.


A LIFE CYCLE

When we look at the progressive developmental models, we see that there is a parallel between what they suggest happens over the time span of a group and what happens over the lifespan of an individual. This is shown by table 4.


Table 4: Group and Individual Life Span Stages
Dependence Childhood Forming
Counter-dependence Adolescence Storming
Resolution Coming of age Norming
Barometric event Leaving home
Inter-member identification Marriage Performing
Individual Identity Maturity
Consensual validation Old age Mourning

This parallel helps us to remember and understand the stages of group life. It also helps us to identify the kinds of issues that individuals are likely to work upon at particular stages of the group and the kinds of topics which groups are likely to be receptive to at different stages.


CONCLUSIONS

The equilibrium and the progressive developmental theories of group process both provide us with important insights into group life and help us understand what is going on when we are in the midst of a process which, without such insight, might at times seem chaotic or ill fated. It is very important that groupworkers have a sense of the life of the group as a whole and do not rely simply upon their knowledge of individual psychology. The group process has a strong influence upon how individuals behave and how they feel. If the group needs an individual to act out of character, they probably will. It is important, therefore, to develop a clear sense of the life pattern of the group and the various processes, conscious and unconscious, which contribute to it.

We have seen how the life cycle of a group has some parallels with the life cycle of an individual. We should not assume from this that all groups follow this pattern closely. Some do. In others, the pattern may be harder to discern. From Lewin, we know that the circumstances in which the group operates and especially the way in which these are perceived by group members, can have a major effect upon the character of the group. In particular, factors operating at the time the group comes into being can have a disproportionate effect upon the group's sense of identity, purpose and scope. Not all group solve all their problems in the best way and some do become stagnant, circling around unvoiced preoccupations and never coming to the task in hand with full energy. Some never achieve the barometric event, just as some individuals never really grow up. Nonetheless, the study of group process theory also shows us the great potential groups have both for collective action and for helping their individual members. In groups people can help one another and gain deep satisfactions from close relationships in which the process of what is happening becomes more transparent than it generally is in everyday life. With skilful facilitation, the "invisible group" may become visible and the potential of members be brought to fruition through a collective experience on the one hand of reciprocated care and respect and on the other of shared purposeful activity.


REFERENCES

AGAZARIAN Y. & PETERS R. (1981) The Visible and Invisible Group. London: Routledge Tavistock*
BACH G. (1954) Intensive Group Psychotherapy. New York: Ronald Press.
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D.J. Brazier
1996

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Transmutation

Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on November 29, 2020 at 11:30 0 Comments

It struck me, while watching the steam rise off my pan of hot water earlier, that the universe, in physical terms, behaves in the same way today as it did 4 billion years ago. Before life even existed in any conscious form. When the earth was busy shaping itself from its own internal pressures. Spewing out toxins and branding itself with molten rock. Change comes from within, and is nurtured from external sources...  

Early this morning I picked up a…

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Perspective

Posted by Tineke Osterloh on November 26, 2020 at 20:30 0 Comments

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