I realize I only had a superficial understanding of group dynamics before I attended the Leicester Conference and started to explore the Tavistock tradition concept of group relations. It enhanced my awareness of boundaries, authority, roles and tasks, and my responses to them; and the oscillation between primary task and the survival task when working in groups. You can read more about BART and the Tavistock concepts in the Tavistock Primer linked to below.
In client settings, I think of working with group dynamics in two modes:
The first mode is to work with the behaviors we see and hear in the moment. To consider the iceberg analogy: work with only what can you see and hear around you. There are useful tools for understanding and interpreting what is visible, and for crafting interventions to unravel knots in the group functioning and enable the team to make a more inclusive, efficient, satisfying, or effective working experience. No prior knowledge of the group or additional context is needed to work in this way. You can walk into a meeting with people you've never met and assess what is visible in the moment and, with permission, intervene.
The second mode is to explore what is beneath the surface in the iceberg analogy. What histories do those people bring into the room; pre-existing one-to-one relationships and experiences of functioning as a group. Those memories may be conscious and very present or unconscious; they influence the way the team interacts in the moment. This is deeper work to do and usually takes a sustained period of group coaching to work productively.
It is worth paying attention to Group Dynamics because it can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of groups. When group dynamics are positive, groups are more likely to achieve their goals, be more productive, and be more satisfying for their members. However, when group dynamics are negative, groups can be less effective, less productive, and less satisfying for their members. Some of the key factors that influence group dynamics include:
- Group size: Larger groups tend to be more complex and less efficient than smaller groups.
- Group composition: The diversity of the group, in terms of factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, and experience, can also influence group dynamics.
- Group goals: Groups with clear and shared goals tend to have better dynamics than groups with unclear or conflicting goals.
- Group leadership: The quality of the group's leadership can also have a significant impact on group dynamics.
- Group norms: The norms of the group, or the unwritten rules about how members should behave in the groups culture, can also influence group dynamics.