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close this bookCommunity Participation in Problem-solving: Leadership (HABITAT, 1989, 35 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGuidelines for the trainer
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentA statement of principles
View the documentI. Styles of leadership
View the documentII. The power of leaders
View the documentIII. The maturity of groups
View the documentIV. Leading a problem-solving group
View the documentV. Using participatory problem-solving techniques
View the documentBibliography

III. The maturity of groups

Leadership style and group maturity

In this chapter, we shall explore the Weal relationship between leadership style and the maturity of groups. In a sense, we shall be exploring the kinds of "power" that can be found within a group. The more experienced, knowledgeable and skilled the group's members, the more mature the group.

The main question at Issue Is:

How should leadership-style vary according to the maturity of the group being led?

An exercise, if you, yourself, are working in a group, will highlight the key points.

TASK 3 The exhibition


To raise awareness of the varieties of "power" - experience and skills - within a typical work group.

To illustrate the leadership problems posed by such a group.


1. You are a project team charged with the task of mounting an exhibition in the capital to mark World HABITAT Day. You have been allocated an exhibition space of 30' x 30' in the National Cultural Centre. The exhibition will focus on the upgrading project you have been concerned with for the past three years but it can also highlight general issues to do with shelter in your own country.

2. Appoint a leader for the group.

3. Appoint two observers who will pay particular attention to noting the following factors that help in the decision-making process:

- Members who have particular knowledge and experience to offer;

- Members who have particular communication skills in the furthering of the discussion;

- The way the behaviour of the leader helped or hindered the group in reaching effective decisions.

4. Give yourselves at least 30 minutes to role- play this planning group's first meeting.

5. At the end of the allotted time, discuss the way the meeting went, focusing on what was discovered about the range of contributions from the members.

Some points for discussion:

1. To what extent did Individual members have useful experience and knowledge to offer (e.g., experience of photography, video, graphics, display structures)?

2. To what extent did the members have useful ideas to offer?

3. Did some members show particular skills in moving the discussion forward in a purposeful manner (e.g., drawing out the ideas of others, asking pertinent questions, "smoothing" disagreements)?

4. How was the role of the leader affected by the "maturity" of the group defined as the collective knowledge and analytical and communication skills of the members?


There is a book by Richard Adams called Watership Down which some of you might have read. It Is a story about the adventures of a group of rabbits. Though it can be enjoyed simply as a children's story, it can also provoke ideas about how we humans behave in times of stress and celebration.

There Is one passage In the book which links with what we have been exploring about the maturity of groups and the nature of leadership. A number of rabbits have left a warren which was going to be destroyed with poison gas. They encounter problem after problem. Who is going to be the leader? How are they going to cross a fast-flowing river or a railway line? In the following short extract, they have just escaped from a place littered with wire snares.

Hazel has emerged as the leader because he has common sense; and he is well liked because he shows concern for the well-being of others. Bigwig, who at first disputed the leadership, has earned respect for his strength, bravery and fighting qualities. Blackberry has shown intelligence and ingenuity in thinking of using a piece of wood as a raft to cross the river. Fiver again and again has demonstrated that he has remarkable qualities of insight and prophecy.

After a number of crises and triumphs, this is how they come to recognize their own strengths as a group:

"Since leaving the warren of the snares they had become warier, shrewder, a tenacious band who understood each other and worked together. There was no more quarrelling. They had come closer together, relying on and valuing each other's capacities. They knew that it was on these and nothing else that their lives depended, and they were not going to waste anything they possessed between them."

Sharing leadership

Perhaps to see leadership as belonging to only one person in any group is to have a rather limited view of what leadership entails. Someone - as leader or such other title - might have responsibility for maintaining order or pattern in discussion; but, at any given moment, any member may exert leadership from any one of the "power positions".

If leadership styles can be summarized as:

Directing, where the leader makes most of the decisions;

Consulting, where the leader joins with the group and either takes advice before making a decision or works to reach consensus decisions;

Facilitating, where the loader structures opportunities for the group to reach their own decisions;

The likely relationship between leader and group may be as presented in the following graph:

The leader who tries to direct a highly knowledgeable, highly confident group can expect rebellion. A leader who tries to facilitate a group lacking in experience, skill and confidence can expect a high degree of frustration. The latter is often the problem faced by the community -development worker whose task is to foster community participation in problem-solving and decision-making.

Signs of group maturity

What are the characteristics of a mature problem-solving group? In general terms, these maturity characteristics may be summarized as follows:

- The group clearly understands its goals;
- It is flexible in determining the procedures to be followed in reaching its goals;
- Members feel free to express their ideas;
- There is a sharing of group leadership;
- Many viewpoints are considered;
- Good use is made of the various skills and experiences of all members;
- Discussion is not dominated by any one member or subgroup or by the leader;
- The group assesses its own progress and adjusts its methods if necessary.

These characteristics might well be found in a project-staff group. However, they are not usually found in a newly-formed residents' group in the disadvantaged communities in which we are working.

Often, the priority task of the project worker is to help a residents' group to develop such characteristics.

The following chapters will, first, explore some general factors related to leading group discussions and, secondly, comment on the use of specific problem-solving techniques in group settings.