I Love Group Life. I Hate Group Life.

In the coming week, I’ll be leading a workshop on group process with our US faculty as they explore inquiry and its best practices. The Library Co-Lab will also feature its Grand Opening Event with the AWSPA. In celebration, I’ve written a series of posts on group process  and its important to inquiry and, in turn, library. In advance, I’d like to credit Greg Bamford and Ryan Burke for introducing me to many/most of the ideas and techniques expressed in this series. My experience working with the Leadership + Design Studio was invaluable for having the time/space to take risks with putting these ideas into practice. 

I love group life. I hate group life. That’s the paradoxical reaction each and every one of us face on a daily basis, and it’s one that we are too often ill-equipped to navigate.

This week, the Upper School faculty and I will be using our Late Start to demonstrate how lessons and exercises on group dynamics might be woven into inquiry-based learning. Collaborative Skills are one of many 21st Century Skills* we’re working to develop with our learners at AWS. Often, you’ll see curricula that weaves group skill growth into “Life Skills,” or you’ll even see entire courses commited to growing leadership, especially at the college or professional school levels.

However, we’re looking to find avenues to integrate that skill set as one of the core literacies we help students develop. That way, learners will see transfer: how group skills matter for any pursuit we undertake, whether it’s biology, chemistry, world studies, or business (but really, don’t we all pursue a concoction of them all?).

So, what’s up with group life? Why’s it so hard? In the week’s posts, you’ll find how the Upper School will be working through these issues and ideas on Wednesday. After all, our Upper School faculty are in the midst of their own collaborative inquiry project focused on stress, and we have an inkling there’ll be opportunity to resolve distracting group tension and raise productive group tension as we complete our own inquiry work.

Task and Maintenance

Too often, we’re left without a vocabulary with which to frame our group experiences.

To solve this problem, we’ll introduce an easy dichotomy to use with each other and also our students:

Task: the action items a group accomplishes in order to reach a goal.

Maintenance: the actions a group undergoes to maintain its harmony or functionality.

Groups perform tasks (we must do x and y), but groups also perform maintenance (how might we work best together?). Just as tasks are consistently completed and morphed by groups, maintenance needs to consistently occur, even among those groups that have been established for long periods of time.

Each participant in a group sits somewhere on a spectrum between being completely task-oriented (“I pride myself in getting stuff done”) and maintenance-oriented (“I’m always worried about how we work together on this stuff”).  Even though there are specific task-maintenance roles individuals might feel more comfortable in, everyone should learn to adopt several roles responsively, as roles can change from group to group, from project to project, or even from day to day.

Unfortunately, we all exist in environments that reward tasks, while successful maintenance is much more difficult (although possible) to identify and incentivize.

Can we stay on task? Might we stop for maintenance?

Even though we might teach such terms to those who won’t always transition into environments that also use this same language, at the very least, we’ll provide two terms that’ll help our learners step into the murkier, more ambiguous areas of group process: how might we perform maintenance to assure successful completion of tasks. Once we’re equipped with a basic, operating language of groups, we can start to take control of how we process groups. Nothing is more empowering to navigate group life than knowing terms we can attach our feelings and experiences to. Task and maintenance helps just that.

Next Post: The Waterline Model & How Maintenance (Should) Work.

*I know, I know: the term “21st Century Learning” or “21st Century Skills” can receive a bad rap: aren’t these the skills we’ve always instilled in our learners? I’ve seen “New Knowledge Skills” gaining momentum, as these allude to the skills we need to develop when we work in environments where information is easily accessed and we need to learn to navigate that increasingly complex web of information to create knowledge and action within our communities.

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4 thoughts on “I Love Group Life. I Hate Group Life.

  1. […] Here’s the second of our five post series on Group Process. For the first post outlining the importance of group skills and the basic language of groups, do click here. […]

  2. […] is the third post in a five-post series on Group Life. For the first post, click here. For the second post, click […]

  3. […] is the fourth post in a five post series on helping learners navigate group life. Here are the first, second, and third […]

  4. […] of our five post series on group process and collaboration. For context, here are links to the first, second, third, and fourth […]

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