|Management Self-Development - A Guide for Managers, Organisations and Institutions (ILO, 1985, 282 p.)|
In this appendix we will describe some of the things to take into account when running action-learning groups, self-development groups or self-help groups. (With the latter, it will be the managers themselves who run it, without a professional trainer as such.) An outline of these three types of group has already been given in chapter 8. This appendix should be read in conjunction with that outline.
It will be useful to relate the guidelines to the main group phases, namely
(1) forming and recruitment;
(3) sense of purpose;
(5) overall strategy;
(6) implementation of strategy;
(7) closing down;
(8) decision making;
(9) basic processes.
1. Forming and recruitment
It is most important that members join a group with a good understanding of what it is likely to be about, and what will be expected of them. Although the final approach to be taken (that is, the strategy to be adopted, see (5) below) will probably be decided by the group itself, none the less an attempt should be made to describe the various options and possibilities that are available.
It is therefore a very good idea to hold a pre-group briefing meeting. This would be open to anyone who might want to join a group, although at this stage they would not have definitely made up their mind whether or not to do so. Indeed, one of the main purposes of this meeting would be to help them to decide.
Another point to stress at the meeting is that membership of a group would require commitment - both to their own development, and to others. This will mean hard work, and quite a high level of sharing information with other members.
You might prefer to hold a series of smaller briefing meetings - or, indeed, talk with potential members individually. It might also be a good idea to talk with their respective bosses, to explain the idea and get their reaction to it.
It is important to stress that membership of one of these groups should be entirely voluntary. No one should be forced to attend one, or be sent on one, even if it is thought that this would "do them good"!
One of the first things that a group needs to do is to start to build a trusting climate amongst its members. This is necessary if participants are going to be willing to talk about themselves, share their concerns, give and receive feedback.
Like all these phases of a group, trust-building is in reality not a separate, distinct stage. It continues gradually throughout the life of the group. None the less, it is one of the first group issues that need to be tackled.
Much of the trust within the group will gradually unfold, as people do in fact take risks, share concerns, and so on. However, some first steps have to be taken to trigger off this process.
There are all sorts of ways of doing this, four of which are briefly described below.
Glimpses. Each participant is asked to write down, on a piece of paper, ten important things about himself. The participants then take turns to come to the front of the group and write these items on a blackboard, or on flip-chart paper.* They can explain their items if they want to do so.
* Flip-chart paper is really extremely useful for group work. Used with suitable felt pens, it is cleaner than a blackboard, lots of different coloured pens can be used, and the results can be kept for continuing reference. That is, whereas you have to rub things off the blackboard when it is full, the separate sheets of paper can be kept. Often it is very useful to stick them up on the wall, to remind members what has been said.
Suitable paper is sometimes difficult to find. It should be a reasonable size - 12" × 24" as a minimum. If you have no readily available source of supply, you may have to import it, with all the difficulties that that implies. On the other hand, you might find that your local newspaper will let you have end rolls of blank, unused newsprint, which makes excellent, cheap flip-chart paper.
Sometimes you will find suitable paper - or thin card - from a printing outlet, either a private one or, in the case of government agencies, from the Government Printer. Educational establishments (e.g. teacher training colleges) or ministries sometimes can get it, too.
Another useful type of paper - although rather expensive - is brown wrapping paper: it seems to enhance the colour of the ink.
You will probably have to either import the pens or get them from educational suppliers, although some stationery stores may stock them. For flip-chart work a broad-tipped felt pen is needed.
If you can get it, there is a special substance that is very useful for sticking sheets of paper on walls. When they are taken down, it comes off without damaging the wall, and can be used again.
If you do not have a special flip-chart stand, you can use a blackboard easel. Paper can be clipped to the board, or stuck on.
A variation of the exercise is to ask members to write (on their own pieces of paper) two lists, namely "ten important things about myself that I would find quite easy to tell others about" and "ten important things about myself that I would find difficult to tell others about". They then think about their two lists for a few minutes, and when it comes to writing up in front of the group they can choose any ten from the combined 20 items.
A letter to the group. Participants each write a letter, addressed to the rest of the group. This letter can take various forms. It can be in the first person, introducing oneself (i.e. "my name is -------, I am -------, etc.), almost as though you were giving a reference for another person. In fact, this is probably better than the first person approach, as it gives practice at viewing yourself objectively, which is in itself a useful self-development process.
When the letters have been written each participant can read it out to the group. Alternatively, the trainer can collect them in and read them out, omitting the person's name. Or letters can be shuffled and dealt back at random; each person then reads out the one they now have, omitting the name. Members then have to guess who wrote which letter. (This might be a useful exercise after the group has met for a day or two, so that people have had a chance to get to know something about each other.)
Significant development events. This involves each participant recalling a number of developmental events from their lives, and then analysing them as described in chapter 1 (figure 2). When they have done this, they share their information and discuss it, either in pairs or groups of three. This discussion will require at least an hour.
Further discussion can then take place in the whole group.
At all times it must be stressed that each member is free to share as much or as little as they like of what they have written. There must be no compulsion to reveal more than they want to.
Blind walk. This exercise aims to develop trust by physical means. Members form pairs. One of each pair closes his or her eyes (or is blindfolded), whilst the partner leads him or her by the hand, going for a walk, either indoors or outdoors. The guides have to ensure that the unseeing persons come to no harm. Further, they can make the walk more interesting by getting the "blind" ones to touch various objects (e.g. furniture, plants, trees, soil, cups, liquids, other people.)
After about five minutes, the pairs swap over, so that the previous guide is now "blind".
After the second walk, the group reconvenes and discusses the experience.
3. Sense of purpose
This phase is concerned with trying to sort out more clearly what it is that members hope to gain from the overall experience.
It is important to recognise that individual aims are very likely to change as time goes on. New aims may emerge, or old ones may be seen differently.
So, like all the other phases, although this one might start as "third thing to do", it should also be looked on as a continuous process.
Bearing that in mind, three methods of homing in on purposes and aims are described below.
Self-assessment techniques. Any of the self-assessment techniques from chapter 2 can be used. The questionnaires can be answered individually (perhaps in the time between meetings) and then the answers shared and discussed. Alternatively, the open-ended type questionnaires, based on the qualities of an effective manager, and on the effects of self-development (appendix 3) lend themselves to being answered in pairs, although this would take quite a long time.
A letter to the group. Similar to method (b) in the previous section ("trust"). In this case, the letter should include reasons for the person being there; why he or she thinks that the group will help their self-development, what they hope to achieve, and what they are prepared to contribute.
This last point is important; it is always useful to remind members that they are likely to get more out of the group if they are prepared to put more into it.
Who am I, why am I here? Although this looks quite a simple method, it can be quite confronting and threatening.
The trainer announces that he or she is going to put a series of questions on the blackboard or flip-chart.
You then write up the first question, which is:
"Who am I?"
Members write down their answer on a piece of paper. Then you put up (or read out) the second one:
"Why am I here?"
Again, time for answers. Then question three:
"Who am I?"
This will probably cause quite a surprise! Do not answer any of their questions, or make any comments.
Question four is:
"Why am I here?"
"Who am I?"
"Why am I here?"
And so on. Usually about four pairs of questions (i.e. eight in all) is enough. You then discuss the answers, either in the whole group, or in pairs, or small subgroups.
You will normally find that the answers started with names and then general statements about "I am here to develop myself". By the time the fourth or fifth pair of questions has been answered, much more specific purposes are coming out.
Be careful, though. Some people do not like this exercise at all. It is important to help them, rather than punish them.
Paintings and collage. This is another slightly "unusual" way of getting into members' aims. Unlike the others, it does not rely on words and one's powers of verbal self-expression.
Members are given a large sheet of paper and asked to illustrate themselves (a) as they are now and (b) as they would like to be. This illustration can be in the form of a painting (for which you will need paints, of course, and brushes, water, mixing pots; alternatively, you can use crayons) or a collage.
A collage is prepared by cutting out pictures from magazines and newspapers, and then sticking these onto the sheet of paper. For this method, then, you need to provide as many old magazines, newspapers, catalogues, brochures, etc., as possible, as well as scissors and glue.
This is not so much a phase as a continuing issue. Members need to be willing both to work on their own issues, and to help others with theirs.
There are not any specific techniques for maintaining commitment. As trainer, you will need to look out for signs of flagging energy, enthusiasm and willingness to do things. Occasionally an ad hoc activity might come in useful, such as those related to risk taking. The main thing is to try to decide why the commitment level is low. Thus, if it is due to insufficient trust, you might have to work on that again.
Commitment to others means being prepared to work on their issues too, even if at times this means doing something you yourself are not very interested in - or even something that you are afraid of. Again, as trainer you will have to help the group with this.
Respecting other people's boundaries is also important. By this we mean recognising where to draw the line, when someone really does not want to pursue an issue any further.
Respecting other points of view is also important. If this seems to be a problem, you might try an exercise such as those related to remaining open.
5. Overall strategy
As trainer, you can either decide the overall strategy or allow the group members to participate in this decision. The latter is probably preferable, if you can manage it, although it must be recognised that it is a difficult process.
A range of possible strategies has already been described in chapter 8. However, the group itself might well generate some more, and it would be a useful idea to list these on a flip-chart, along with yours, to help make the decision.
Of course, you may well adopt a mixture of strategies. In any case, very often you will find that starting in one particular way inevitably spills over into some of the others. Also, as time progresses you might want to switch to another one.
6. Implementation of strategy
There are various alternative ways of actually carrying out the strategy. In particular, members may
- do things in pairs;
- work in subgroups;
- work as a whole group;
- do various things in the time between meetings and then discuss what happened when they next get together - again in pairs, subgroups or the whole group.
7. Regular review of progress
It is very important to keep a regular check on the way the group is going, so that you can know you are on the right track or, if not, so that you can take appropriate action.
There are a number of ways of checking out progress. The simplest just involves asking members for their views. Another, similar, way is to get each member to write down good and bad things about the group so far, and then either ask them to read out what they have written, or stick the bits of paper on the wall.
You can also use a simple rating scale. Lots of these are available, but you can devise your own or use the one presented here, which is based mainly on the phases of a self-development group as explained in this book. With this scale, each member puts a mark where he or she thinks the group is now.
When each person has completed the scale, the scales can be stuck on the wall, or scores collected and marked on a flip-chart. This can then lead to discussion.
Here is the scale:
2a. Sense of purpose: mine
2b. Sense of purpose: group as a whole
3. Commitment and respect shown to other group members
4. Overall strategy
5. Decision making
6. Level of basic processes and skills
8. Closing down
A group should not be allowed just to peter out, but should eventually come to a definite end. It may be that when it started a specific number of meetings was agreed on. On the other hand, if an open-ended approach was adopted, you will need to sense out when most people have had enough.
This is actually quite difficult - particularly as you will probably find that some want to continue, others to stop. An agreed, predetermined length is therefore probably preferable. After all, you can always start again with those who do want to continue.
Some sort of review of what people have gained, how they have developed, and what the effects are likely to be for them in the future, is usually called for as part of the closing down meeting. You might also ask each member to write an "obituary" for the group, and read it out.
It is also helpful to ask each person to think carefully if there is any last thing they want to say to any of the other members; this may help to resolve any "unfinished business".
9. Decision making
Deciding "what to do next" always poses a problem in these groups. Although you, as trainer, can take it on yourself to make all the decisions, this will tend to make the other members dependent on you, and will almost certainly lower the effectiveness of the group.
Some sort of consensus approach is to be preferred. This always takes quite a long time, and people often become frustrated and impatient. However, it is worth while in the long run.
To help with this process:
- do not assume that silence means consent;
- check out with every member to see if they agree or disagree, even though this takes quite a long time;