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close this book Agricultural extension
close this folder Organizing cooperative activity
View the document Introduction
View the document Assessing self-interest and problems
View the document Defining issues and tasks
View the document Clarifying roles and responsibility
View the document Meetings
View the document Group dynamics
View the document Training leaders
View the document Forming associations

Group dynamics


Groups exist for a variety of reasons and have different methods of pursuing their purposes. Often, several of the functions described below are performed within one group. For example, an educational group may impart information and give practice in skill acquisition. Rarely does a group concern itself with a single function. These functions of groups are:

• Imparting information. A group performing this function emphasizes passing information among group members, or between a resource person and the group.

• Skill acquisition. A group concerned with this function emphasizes the acquiring of abilities. While an information imparting group, as described above, would stress the knowledge of theories or techniques, a skills acquisition group focuses on the practical application of this information. An example of this kind of group is a workshop where participants learn and practice new counseling techniques.

• Actualization. This group focuses on the members themselves. It stresses feelings, awareness, and self-expression. Consciousness-raising groups and groups practicing values clarification are two examples of actualization.

• Setting objectives. The focus of this kind of function is on choice and commitment--on making a decision. The group is choosing among alternatives in order to take a stand, develop a policy, or select a specific direction of action. An example of setting objectives is when a group passes judgment on recommendations of a subcommittee.

• Task performance. A task group is one whose function is to do a job, whether it be a specific job (develop a new curriculum for a new school) or a general job (increase public understanding of pollution). The first three kinds of functions are education; the fourth kind of function (setting objectives) involves characteristics of both educational and task groups.

Dividing lines between these categories are not always sharp. A group's purpose may vary from meeting to meeting, or may involve a combination of the above types. For instance, a committee appointed by a mayor to recommend guidelines for developing youth programs in the city may act first as an information-imparting group as it studies existing programs. It may resemble an actualization group when members try to identify and understand human needs. It is setting objectives when it selects which needs are most relevant and what programs are most worth supporting. Finally, it is a task group as it prepares a proposal to return to the mayor. As leaders plan for facilitation, it is valuable to keep in mind the functions of the groups they will be working with.

All human interactions have two major ingredients--content and process. The first deals with the subject matter or the task with which the group is working. In most interactions, the main focus is on the content. The second ingredient, process, is concerned with what is happening between and to group members while the group is working. The group process, as it emerges in this course, encompasses tone, atmosphere, participation, styles of influence, leadership struggles, conflict, competition, and cooperation. In most interactions, very little attention is paid to process, even when it is the major cause of ineffective group action. Sensitivity to group process will better enable trainers to diagnose group problems early, and deal with them more effectively, and will enable trainees to be more effective participants.

Verbal participation is one indication of involvement. Leaders should look for different participation within the group.

• Who participates more than others?

• Who participates less?

• Do you see any shift in participation, e.g., frequent participators becoming quiet, infrequent participators suddenly becoming talkative? Do you see any possible reason for this in the group's interaction?

• How are those who remain silent treated? How is their silence interpreted--content, disagreement, disinterest, fear, etc.?

• Who talks to whom? Do you see any reason for this in the group's interactions?

• Who keeps the ball rolling? Shy? Do you see any reason for this in the group's interactions?

Influence and participation are not the same. Some people may speak very little yet they capture the attention of the whole group. Others may talk a lot, but are generally not listened to by other members.

• Which members are high in influence? That is, when they talk, do others seem to listen?

• Which members are low in influence? Is there any shifting in influence?

• Do you see any rivalry in the group? Is there a struggle for leadership? What effect does it have on other group members?

Influence can take many forms. It can be positive or negative; it can enlist the support or cooperation of others or alienate them. How a person attempts to influence another may be the determining factor in the other's receptivity. There are at least four styles of influence that frequently emerge in groups.

• Autocratic--Does anyone attempt to impose her will or values on others or try to push them to support her decisions? Who evaluates or passes judgment on other group members? Do any members block action when it is not moving in the direction they desire? Who pushes to "get the group organized?"

• Peacemaker--Who eagerly supports other's decisions? Does anyone consistently try to avoid conflict or unpleasant feelings from being expressed by pouring oil on the troubled waters? Is any member typically deferential toward other group members (thus giving others power)? Do any members appear to avoid giving negative feedback, i.e. will they level only when they have positive feedback to give?

• Laissez-faire--Are any group members getting attention because of their apparent lack of involvement in the group? Does any group member go along with group decisions without seeming to commit herself one way or the other? Who seems to be withdrawn and uninvolved? Who does not initiate activity, or participates mechanically and only in response to another member's question?

• Democratic--Does anyone try to include everyone in a group discussion or decision? Who expresses her feelings and opinions openly and directly without evaluating or judging others? When feelings run high and tensions mount, which members attempt to deal with the conflict in a problem-solving way?

A major concern for group members is the degree to which they are accepted by the group. Different patterns of interaction may develop in the group that give clues to the degree and kind of membership.

• Are there any subgroups? (Two or three members may band together for a period of time during which they consistently agree and support each other. Or several members may consistently disagree and oppose one another.)

• Do some people seem to be "outside" the group? Are some "in?" How are those "outside" treated?

During any group discussion, feelings are frequently generated by the interactions between members. Although these feelings are rarely discussed, the tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and many other forms of nonverbal cues can help observers understand what participants are feeling.

• What signs of feelings do you observe in group members (anger, irritation, frustration, warmth, affection, excitement, boredom, defensiveness, competitiveness)?

• Do you see any attempts by group members to block the expression of feelings, particularly painful feelings? How is this done? Does anyone do this consistently?

There are certain functions that should be carried out in order to get work done. The leaders will improve their understanding of the process if they take a look at how these functions are accomplished.

• Does anyone ask for or make suggestions as to the best way to proceed or to tackle a problem?

• Does anyone attempt to summarize what has been covered or what has been going on in the group?

• Is there any giving or asking for facts, ideas, opinions, feelings, feedback, or searching for alternatives?

• Who keeps the group on target? Who prevents topic jumping or going off on tangents?

These functions are important to the morale of the group. Their performance (or the lack thereof) can maintain or destroy good and harmonious working relationships among the members. When properly carried out, these functions can create an atmosphere that enhances each member's ability to contribute maximally.

• Who helps others get into the discussion (gate openers)?

• Who cuts off others or interrupts them (gate closers)?

• How well are members getting their ideas across? Are some members preoccupied and not listening? Are there any attempts by group members to help others clarify their ideas?

• How are ideas rejected? How do members react when their ideas are not accepted? Do members attempt to support others when they reject their ideas?

The way a group works creates an atmosphere that, in turn, is revealed in a general impression. Trying to capture this impression in words will give the leader some insight into what people do and do not like about the group environment.

• Who seems to prefer a friendly congenial atmosphere? Is there any attempt to suppress conflict or unpleasant feeling?

• Who seems to prefer an atmosphere of conflict and disagreement? Do any members provoke or annoy others?

• Do people seem involved and interested? What is the atmosphere like?

• Are group members overly nice or polite to each other? Are only pleasurable feelings expressed? Do members agree with each other too readily? What happens when members disagree?

• Do you see norms operating about participation or the kinds of questions that are allowed (e.g., "If I talk, you must talk," or "If I tell my problems, you have to tell yours")? Do members feel free to ask each other about their feelings? Do questions tend to be restricted to intellectual topics or events outside of the group?

What the group is talking about is content. How the group is handling its communication, i.e., who talks how much or who talks to whom, is group process.

In fact, the content of the conversation is often a good clue to what process issue may be on people's minds when participants find it difficult to confront an issue directly.

When an extensionist and the local leaders who act as her counterparts in organizing group activity have a clear understanding of groups dynamics, they stand a much better chance of facilitating successful group endeavors and maintaining harmony among those involved.


The island people have been meeting on the first Wednesday of every month at two o'clock for the few years since it had been organized by Ernie Camphill, the dynamic leader who used to work here. It had been some time since he had the time to work with island folks. Rachel, the new county agent, comes over on the county boat wondering what to expect.

At fifteen minutes to two the children begin filing out of the one room school house where the meeting is to be held. Slowly some of the island folks drift toward the school. The chairman and the secretary sit in the front. County community service workers like Rachel sit in the school chairs facing them. Nothing happens for a while. Finally, the coop meeting being adjourned, a few more island folks come in. The chairman opens the meeting in his soft voice and the secretary reads the minutes of the last meeting. After a few moments of silence, the secretary asks if someone from the island would please move to accept the minutes. The majority of those attending the meeting are visitors and don't realize that is what should happen next. Finally a motion is made and seconded.

The chairman asks if there is any ''old business". A woman asks a question about land taxes, even though neither the old minutes or present agenda mention taxes. A ten minutes discussion of taxes sidetracks the meeting. Finally, the chairman asks for any new business. After a pause, several of the community service people rise to speak about the purposes of their visit and items of interest to them. Two islanders leave. Of the remaining islanders present, three stand against the wall near a side door. One sits in the front row attentively, but she is on-call with an emergency unit so she looks worried.

An older woman who is president of the island co-op reports that the coop needs a considerable loan. She asks the island association for help. This prompts a tall, angular island woman to rise from her position leaning against the far wall. She proceeds to speak eloquently and sarcastically about the poor motivation of the co-op and organization members. She asks how the organization can extend a loan when members do not even pay their dues. She pulls out her five dollar dues and give it to the secretary dramatically.

The secretary proceeds to call the roll of members dutifully. Several islanders leave before their names are called. Only a handful pay their dues. See what I mean? the tall women declares. The president of the coop wearily asks the meeting for a clear decision on her loan request. After another pause, the secretary reports that there is not enough money to loan even if members agreed to do so.

Rachel is confused. She is not even sure what the purpose or function of this meeting is supposed to be. Some participants came to impart information while others came for action. Rachel herself wonders, after seeing the islanders exhibit such alienated behavior, what the group's feelings are about their group. She notices that participation seems haphazed and limited; there is rivalry in the group; decisions are not made clearly; membership itself is in question. The group atmosphere seems vague and uncomfortable, and no one seems to be maintaining group cohesion or purpose very well. She wonders how open the chairman and secretary are to some suggestions about how to facilitate their group activities better. Even on an island where everyone is very close to begin with, Rachel realizes that groups do not necessarily work well together. She leaves, resolved to plan a way to help the island group function more effectively.

Group Growth Model

(Training of Trainers Manual )


(TOT Manual)

As a group begins its life and at several points during its growth, the loeader and members might individually fill out the following scales and then spend some time sharing the data that is collected. Through these scales, it is possible to get a general picture of the perceptions which various members have about the group and how it is growing. It is also possible to pick up areas in which there may be some difficulties which are blocking progress.

Group growth

Group growth - continue