A group of five newly affiliated professional colleagues is tasked with creating a children’s game out of a set of disparate objects: a box of crayons, Chinese yoyos, a packet of chocolate bars, plastic clapping hands, and other assorted games and toys. While the group sets out on their task, nearly 20 other observers watch, chart, and note the group’s interactions along the way. Some observers are looking for roles that the five people are taking on, such as gatekeeper, facilitator, leader, observer, and participant. Others are noting the nature of the dialogue and interaction, who is asking and answering questions within the group, how the group is using humor, and their decision-making style. Still, other observers are literally charting the comments, questions, and answers between the group members to see where the energy flow is coming from and moving toward.
This relatively simple assignment for these five professionals actually reveals a very complex group dynamic and team development process unfolding in real-time. For the OD consultant, who is often responsible for helping bring to light what types of group processes are occurring within client systems, the task can be daunting to keep track of what is happening at the content, process, and participant levels of group interaction. With practice and focused concentration, one can, however, learn to see and make sense of situations on multiple levels.
Russ Brock of Inquiry at Work reminded me of an important lesson tonight: the facilitator should avoid as much as possible injecting him or herself into the group process. Instead, a good facilitator will help manage the energy of the group towards safe, productive, and purposeful outcomes. There are process oriented strategies we can use to do so such as: inviting someone into the conversation, suggesting a rule or norm for the group, paraphrasing back to the group what they’ve said or decided, checking for consensus and asking the group how to move forward when they seem stuck. However, we can only employ the right strategy at the right time if we are fully present, aware of both the group dynamics and our own impact on the group, and truly “hear what is unsaid, and see what is unseen.”