RE: improving group dynamics?
From: TR Ruddick (
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2003 11:32:11 -0700 (MST)
> > >That [groupthink] is a trap for
> > > consensus-based groups is my own conclusion, ... > > Kay
> > So what is the way out of that trap you think?  > Elaine
> The first step is to be aware of and monitor for the signs.
> Further, the person who points groupthink out needs to be someone the
> trusts to lead it on process matters.  Unfortunately, it is often the
> maverick who is most likely to notice it. If the maverick points it out,
> s/he may just be punished for (again/as usual) breaking group solidarity.

Kay's identified the main sticking point in most group development patterns.

People who study group development note that groups generally go through
four phases of development.  How quickly they go through those phases (or,
whether or not the group survives past a particular phase) depends on the
way the group members can relate and adapt to one another.

The phases involve:

(1) initial formation [or re-formation if there's a sudden large turnover
in membership].  At this stage a few members will serve as the strong
leaders, and others will defer to their judgment.  Decisions are made by
those leaders with the passive consent of the others.  This phase doesn't
last long if new members are rapidly incorporated into the group's function.

(2) greater participation and conflict.  At this stage more people start to
feel committed and involved; at the same time, the authority and direction
of the "strong leaders" from stage one will be challenged by the interests
of the newly-committed members.  At this stage the group often experiences
coalitions and factions, and decisions are made via political
processes--influence-swapping, vote-counting, procedural tricks, etc.  This
stage doesn't last long if the original "strong leaders" are open-minded
individuals who embrace broader participation.

(3) conflict avoidance.  At this stage the members try to avoid conflict at
all costs.  Here is where "groupthink" breaks out, and where the mavericks
(we call 'em the "central negatives") are most vulnerable to ouster. 
Decisions at this stage as made by a process called "assumed consensus"--no
one will dispute big decisions, but debates might go on for a long time
over minuscule details (case in point: a communication scholar once
reported observing a church council that took no time at all agreeing to
spend $35K on a new van--but then argued for several hours over what
restrictions should be placed on the types of music to be played on the
radio or cassette).  If your cohousing group constantly carps on people who
"block consensus" then you're probably stuck in this phase.  Groups don't
last long in this stage if the membership tends to be open to rational

(4) full function.  At this stage, disagreements are seen as opportunities
to refine ideas so that they accommodate everyone concerned.  Strong
leaders emerge for certain projects, but they're temporary and when the
project is complete they become regular members again.  In the best groups,
the strong leaders are chosen on the basis of their expertise in the
project.  Decisions are made by true consensus.  The group tends to keep
working at this level until there's a great turnover in membership, at
which time the phases start all over again.

If people understand this pattern of group development and adopt the kinds
of attitudes and behaviors that promote getting to full function, then you
surmount those "traps" and several others that might litter your path.  Of
course, the devil is in the details--getting people to understand
principles and to change to more flexible behaviors is tough, tough, tough.

TR Ruddick
Dayton Cohousing

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