Group Problem-Solving Strategies, Part 3

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Group work and team building are vital at the performing stage of group development. In psycho-educational groups, teamwork and learning are promoted by emphasising how groups can achieve tasks that cannot be accomplished by individuals alone (Gladding, 2003). Groups that work to achieve consensus, promote interpersonal relationships and minimise conflict perform best. Some of the common problems that are more likely to arise during this stage of group development include the following.

Racial and gender issues: Issues around race and gender can manifest in some groups more than others and can occur in both subtle and blatant ways. Individuals who hold stereotyped views and act in accordance with those views will behave in a rigid and stereotyped manner towards others thereby affecting the performance of the group. Group therapists must work with the group to prevent or limit negative outcomes among members with stereotypical views by increasing sensitivity and decreasing any escalation of conflict.

Group collusion: Group collusion involves cooperating with others unconsciously or consciously to “reinforce prevailing attitudes, values, behaviours or norms” (Gladding, 2003). The purpose of such behaviour is self protection and to maintain the status quo of the group. Extreme group collusion may prevent open discussion, critical thinking and problem solving. To prevent group collusion from occurring to any great extent, group membership should be diversified, open discussion should be promoted, goals and purposes should be continuously clarified and interpersonal relationships should be strengthened (Gladding, 2003).
 
When groups are not doing well in the performing stage, several approaches can be employed to rectify the situation. These include:

  1. Modelling
  2. Exercises
  3. Group observing group
  4. Brainstorming
  5. Teaching skills

1. Modelling
 
Modelling can be used to teach group members complex behaviours in a relatively short time by copying or imitating. Group therapists can model appropriate behaviours; for example, self disclosure.
 
2. Exercises
 
Exercises refer to activities that the group does for a specific purpose. Working through an experiential exercise may help group members learn something specific that they can transfer to their lives outside the group. A common mistake that group therapists can make is planning an exercise for which members are not ready.
 
For example, during the second session of group therapy members are not particularly ready for an exercise that involves sharing about sexual concerns nor are they ready for certain kinds of feedback exercises. It is also important to note that too many exercises can prohibit members from having enough time to learn from the exercises. So timing of exercises and the number of exercises employed is important to monitor.
 
Exercises like ice breakers, warm ups, feedback and energisers can be used. The benefits of using group exercises include the following: 

  • Creates a positive group atmosphere
  • Helps people to relax
  • Breaks down social barriers
  • Energizes & motivate
  • Helps people to “think outside the box”
  • Helps people to get to know one another

When conducting exercises, there are considerations that the group therapist should be aware of. These include:

  • Making sure members follow instructions
  • Allowing members not to share
  • Handling emotional reactions
  • Changing or stopping the exercise
  • Informing members of the time
  • Deciding whether the leader will participate

(Jacobs, Masson & Harvill, 2006).
 
3. Group Observing Group
 
This strategy requires the group to break up into two smaller groups whereby each observes the other functioning while the group therapist observes. After group observations, the group reunites to discuss and reflect on what was observed. The intent of this activity is to help members focus on common concerns that outweigh differences thus encouraging ongoing cohesion to common goals and to enhance the group’s performance on and commitment to set tasks and goals (Gladding, 2003).
 
4. Brainstorming
 
Brainstorming is a way of stimulating divergent thinking and it requires generating ideas in a non judgemental manner. Critical evaluation of ideas and actions can sometimes hold back creativity and member participation. Thus brainstorming aims to allow every member of the group to present their ideas first before any comments are made.
 
Quantity is emphasised in this activity, the more ideas, the more group members get involved and contribute to achieving the objectives of the group therapy. It is only after a larger number of ideas have been collected that the members are asked to collectively evaluate them and decide which to apply.
 
5. Teaching Skills
 
Sometimes group members can struggle through the group process due to a lack of skill in some key area that they need to apply. For example, they may be limited in their ability to relate well with others and as a consequence they may struggle to make the group process work for them and inhibit the greater potential of the group as a whole.
 
In such circumstances, to improve group performance, the group therapist may need to incorporate some teaching of new skills to bring certain group members or the whole group up to speed with an important skill set. By doing so, the group therapist is skilling up the group members to enable them to perform more effectively. Some of the skills that often need to be applied at the performing stage of the group include:
 
Embracing Individual responsibility and accountability: All group members must first agree on what needs to be done and by whom. Then, each member determines what he or she needs to do and then takes responsibility to do it. Each member is held accountable for their tasks, and they hold others accountable for theirs.
 
Giving and receiving constructive feedback: Group members need to know how to give and receive constructive feedback. Giving constructive feedback requires focusing on ideas and behaviours, instead of individuals, being as positive as possible and offering suggestions for improvement. Receiving feedback requires listening well, asking for clarification if the comment is unclear, and being open to change and new ideas.
 
Problem solving: Group members need to be able to help the group develop and use strategies central to their group goals. As such, group members need to play a part in facilitating group decision making and also need to know how to deal productively with conflict.
 
Manage and organize: Group members must also know how to plan and manage a task, how to manage their time, and how to assist in the smooth running of group meetings. In the performing stage of the group, members need to help ensure that meeting goals are set, that an agenda is created and followed, and that everyone has an opportunity to participate. They need to know how to stay focused on the task and how to help others to do so too.
 
Have a clear knowledge of everyone’s roles: When performing, group members need to know which roles can be filled within a group (e.g., facilitator, idea-generator, summariser, evaluator, mediator, encourager, recorder) and need to be aware of which role(s) they and others are best suited for.
 
Termination
 
While termination is considered the last stage of the group processes, in reality it marks a new beginning for each group member. Termination provides group members the opportunity to clarify the meaning of their experiences, consolidate the gains they have made and make decisions about the new behaviours they may want to take with them from the group and apply to their everyday lives. Within termination, there are numerous issues and processes to consider.
 
Often there are feelings of loss, sadness and separation anxiety. Frequently these feelings are mixed with those of hope, joy and accomplishment. There are also feelings of unfinished business, transference and counter transference. As such, it is crucial for the health and wellbeing of everyone that termination is handled correctly.
 
The process of termination needs to be facilitated intentionally by the group therapist to ensure it is positive and productive. One clear strategy that the group therapist should employ is in setting a clear time limit for the group (i.e. announcing in advance the number of meeting times that are left). The timeframe for the group should be clear from the commencement of the group and be flagged on occasion to ensure all group members know.
 
Capping, a process of emotional interaction and cognitive reflection among group members, should be encouraged as the group moves into disbanding (Gladding, 2003). Some of the areas covered in the process of capping include:

  • Reviewing and summarising the group experiences
  • Assessing members growth, change and achievements
  • Finishing business
  • Applying change to everyday life
  • Providing feedback
  • Handling good byes
  • Planning for continued problem solving

References

  • Gladding. G.T. (2003) Group Work: A Counselling Speciality (4th Ed). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Source: www.mentalhealthacademy.com.au