The Waterline Model

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.

The Waterline Model

“Let’s take a break. Would anyone like some coffee?” You’ll see individuals and groups make early efforts at performing group maintenance by fulfilling human needs, and maintenance can and should be even more complex. The Waterline Model offers an action plan for how we might perform group maintenance proactively and productively.

From “Positive Goals, OD Resources: Supporting Positive Transformation for Organizations”

Here’s how it works: you and your group are sailing along the sea of performing tasks. At some point, your group will encounter a problem, and you’ll have to lower sails on task to perform some maintenance on the group.

Oftentimes, our first step towards solving a group’s problems is to blame an individual: “Joe’s a real boor to work with!”

However, the Waterline Model is much more sagely. Hit a group challenge? Our first priority should be to clarify roles and goals.

That didn’t work? Let’s analyze whether we’re all included in the discussion or whether we’re operating with the optimum procedure for making decisions.

So, the model encourages us to hold off questioning interpersonal problems or an intrapersonal problem until all else has failed. After all, if your group has to focus on a conflict between two members, you’re completely off-task. Be proactive, perform easier and earlier maintenance, and lay the foundation for a successful, confident, functioning group.

Want bonus points for group facilitation? Too often, meeting facilitators start sessions on task, rather than on maintenance. Or, if we do start on maintenance, it lacks authenticity or surprise.

Don’t assume roles and goals are clear with everyone, and be conscious to group dynamics, how they might have changed since your last session, and how they might evolve throughout.

So, perform Group Maintenance. Always First.

Next Up: Techniques & Tool-Kits for The Waterline Model

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3 thoughts on “The Waterline Model

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

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

  3. […] 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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