Practicing Group Life

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.

Today’s workshop was speedy, but it featured introductions to several techniques we might use with groups. Some will stimulate thought on how groups work. Some will be readymade for learners to use as they work on group facilitation skills. Here’s a brief description of each one and how they might align with stages of maintenance on The Waterline Model.

Prop To Y: Give a group early confidence in its ability to succeed by providing low-stakes tasks they can easily master. Prop To Y requires a set of props and a pile of notecards, each card with a verb phrase on them. Then, groups are randomly assigned a prop and a notecard and asked to answer this question: How Can You Use this Prop to Do Y. The group will have five minutes to create a plan to share with another team.

Task-Maintenance Spectrum: Groups should perform continual maintenance to understand each individual better. In the early days of a group, it’s useful to understand where each member falls on a spectrum between task and maintenance. Who cares more about how the group works together? Who cares more about getting stuff done? Arrange yourself along this spectrum (it’s not necessarily a polar choice), see where your teammates fall, and talk out why you’ve placed yourself where you have.

Roles & Goals Fishbowl:  After reviewing the Waterline Model, have one of the many groups in the room sit in the middle of the room with everyone else watching. Then, ask that group to discuss how they want to work together as a team. You can pepper that group with questions, but you should also write acts of Task and Maintenance that you witness the group performing. You might even ask others watching the interaction to do the same just so we come to an operating understanding about how to view Task and Maintenance occurring in a group. Of course, the entire conversation is pointed towards maintenance, but there are tasks that always be seen when the group will converse.

Signature Presence: How do I look/talk/act/think when I’m performing at my best in a group? How do I look/talk/act/think when I’m at my worst in a group? Your Signature Presence is your special uniqueness you bring to a group situation. By asking and answering these questions and letting your teammates know, you’ll enhance the support your group can offer you. Bill will know when Mary’s on fire and when he should stop and listen for a bit. Or, Bill might notice that something’s bothering Mary, so he’ll stop task and perform maintenance to bring Mary back to her signature presence.

Speedback: On the count of three, point to the leader in your group. Discuss. On three, point to the person you feel most comfortable with right now. Discuss. On three, point to the person you’d like to hear from next. Finger-vote: on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being “beta-fish collaborate better than we do” and 5 being “we’re thoughtful, considerate all-stars!” show how you feel your group works together.

The goal of speedback is to get quick reads on how the group feels about its process. Some speedback can clarify roles and goals, while some speedback helps analyze group dynamics. Some speedback even points out the elephant in the room. Hey, the elephant is there: we might as well point it out so we work together to usher it out the door.

Johari’s Window: 

Graphic from’s article, “The Johari Window: Using Self-Discovery and Communication to Build Trust.” Click the graphic to be transported to the article.

When you push this far into the Waterline Model, maintenance will dive deep, but maintenance will also become highly productive. Johari’s Window asks all group members to acknowledge what they think they know about themselves that no one else knows, what they know about themselves that they think everyone else knows, and finally, the blindspot: what others know about an individual that that individual doesn’t know. Group members should actively strive to close their blind spots in order to improve group functionality. This last one I didn’t ask the entire faculty to complete. Instead, I passed a Johari Window about myself to let faculty fill out, and I made copies of the Window in case a brave group wanted to take this next step.

We practiced several other group process techniques, and not every group practiced every single technique. However, these are a sampling of the techniques that were introduced. Some are tools that we can all implement in our group experiences, and some are experiences that ask individuals to reflect more deeply on how they operate in groups.

We ended the workshop wondering: which techniques, tools and language should we help our students adopt and use, and which techniques, tools, and language should we adults facilitate for our kids?

The Next Post: Why Library, and Why Inquiry?

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2 thoughts on “Practicing Group Life

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

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

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