Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 4
Analyzing the Group's Process
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
An essential skill in leading groups is the skill of analyzing the group’s process. To be an effective and helpful small group leader, it is necessary to analyze whether or not the group is headed in the direction of the group purpose and working on those tasks that will lead to accomplishment of that purpose. What is the group doing? Where is it headed? What should the group be doing? How can the leader help the group understand both the positive and negative aspects of its process?
The successful small group leader will watch carefully how the group is operating, what is called the group’s PROCESS. Much less attention is given to the words said, what is called the group’s CONTENT. This is a helpful oversimplification, since process includes content, but content does not include process.
Process is the big picture. What is happening in light of the group’s purpose? In contrast, the content of what is said during a group meeting is the smaller picture. Few group leaders know this. Talk seems to be what makes a meeting, but it is not. Smiles, glances, fairness, inclusion, rapport, and a host of other things are also significant parts of a group meeting. What counts is how all of them together make up the group’s process – what is really happening.
Let’s imagine a group of six men who have all agreed to meet weekly with the help of a small group leader for the purpose of helping one another rapidly become more like Jesus Christ in relation to their families.
At their sixth meeting, the group discusses how gentle Jesus was with women. The members then brainstorm what this means for treating their wives correctly. This is the group’s **content**. The small group leader would conclude the group is in the **process** of thinking of ways each man might treat his wife as would Jesus. The content of this sixth meeting would be exciting.
Then during the seventh, eighth and ninth meetings the men discuss respectively how Jesus treated his disciples, strangers and authority figures. Again **content* would be extremely exciting. Each meeting the group would be discussing Jesus’ interactions with people. Fabulous ideas would be shared, members would be active and motivated. Earth-shaking concepts would be written down.
However, group **process** would be failing when analyzed in light of the group purpose to help one another rapidly become more like Jesus Christ in relation to their families. Only the content of the sixth meeting is clearly related to the group purpose. That discussion and brainstorm of applications was a starting task in accomplishing the group purpose. The discussions of the other meetings were likely not related to the specific purpose and interrupted a positive process.
If the group purpose was to discuss ways to be more like Jesus, not necessarily related to the family, then each of the four meetings’ content would have been appropriate. But since activities such as “discussing” do not make effective group purposes, the group would get a lot of content done, but it would not result in process that would yield significant results.
The group we are discussing hypothetically has a powerful purpose stated in terms of results. It is to help one another rapidly become more like Jesus Christ in relation to their families. Therefore, the astute small group leader would know that this group’s process was failing. Discussion alone would not lead to significant change. While the typical small group leader would be very satisfied because of exciting content, the competent small group leader would not. He would help the group go from mere discussion of gentle treatment of wives all the way to consistent behavioral change.
So you see that content can be fascinating, yet sometimes destructive to group process.
Still, content is an important ingredient in a group’s process. Content is what people say and must be analyzed as to whether or not it helps the group toward its purpose. What people say may be smart, funny, wise, or naive, and either hinder or help the group’s process to accomplish the group purpose. For example, joking at a church leadership meeting might be helpful in building a sense of friendship. But once the leadership group is a team, that same joking might be unnecessary and rob the group of valuable time needed to work on its purpose. If that joking ever became offensive, then it might actually become destructive to the purpose of the leadership team.
Another key ingredient of a group’s process is the interaction between members. Is there synergy? Is more happening than merely the sum of the behavior of the individual group members? Are verbalizations and actions interactive and interdependent or merely independent and autonomous? Almost all groups will start with independent and autonomous communication. Only with the group leader’s help will a group develop interdependent and interconnected content. An example of autonomous and independent content would be a group member saying, “I think this Bible passage is saying such and such.” Interdependent and connected content would be that same individual stating, “I think this Bible passage is saying such and such. What do the others of you think? Am I right? Am I wrong? Is there more to see in this passage than I see?”
To illustrate how a group leader can encourage the development of interactive and synergistic communication, the group leader might say to a person, “Do you want the group’s help to see if you fully understand that passage?” When the person acknowledges that he or she would like such help, then the group leader merely says, “Why don’t you ask the group for its help?” If done consistently, this group leader behavior will amazingly open new paradigms of living together in community.
The small group leader asks himself or herself, “What is happening in the group?” He or she is thinking about what has been said interactively or independently and what each person has done or not done. Even sitting still and saying nothing, what we often call inaction, is analyzed. Then, the small group leader asks himself or herself, “In light of the content (what is actually being said), what are they actually doing as a group?” In this way the small group leader is asking about process. Beyond what is being said and done, how does it fit together into a course of action or tasks to be accomplished? Will it be an effective process that will eventual lead to attainment of the group purpose?
To illustrate, let’s envision a certain section of a group meeting where three people are destructively arguing a point of Scripture. The group leader is watching all eight people, not just the three arguing. One person is fidgeting, indicating anxiety about the conflict, and four people are sitting passively, two of them not even looking at those who are speaking, indicating that they would rather not deal with what is going on.
The correct analysis will be that the group is not working as a group, and that everyone has shifted into individual, autonomous behavior, either for self-protection or for victory in the argument. In other words, the group process is avoidance of its responsibility to bring the argument into line with the group purpose. The group is avoiding dealing with what is going on. In this case all of the individual members are also avoiding dealing with what is going on, which is that the group purpose is being ignored and the group’s cohesion is being threatened. But, one of the group members might comment, “We cannot let this argument lead to hard feelings.” If the group, the small society of members, does not take up this clarion call and do something, then the group is definitely working at avoiding what must be done. Those arguing are avoiding the fact that they are part of a group with other members who can shed light on the argument. And the silent ones have forgotten that they are critical members of a group that has to work for unity and peace and avoid quarreling as requested by the Lord in Scripture. In light of an analysis that the group is not working, the appropriate group leader behavior is to give work to the group, to warn the group of the possible consequences of its avoidance. The leader might say something like, "It is the group's responsibility to make sure this discussion does not threaten the group purpose. Your group and all of the members need to help bring this discussion in line with biblical teaching." Then, the leader would become quiet. Only in the case that no one knows what to do would the leader give any more instructions.
Let’s take this example in the opposite direction. Suppose that there are no passive people and that the other five people are active in helping those arguing to see one another’s points of view, to develop tolerance for different viewpoints and positions, and to keep comments loving in nature. Now, the group leader would see a positive group process. The group would be working hard to keep the discussion of biblical truth obedient to the way Christians should treat one another, even when discussing divergent views of the Bible’s teachings.
The small group leader must constantly be analyzing the group’s process, while at the same time observing content through his or her ears and much more by visual observation. This is a very active task. When one person is talking, all eight must be observed. There is a lot to consider, not just the mere words that are being said. What do the words really mean? Do people mean what they are saying? What does their body language say? What is the whole group working on? Is the group in control of its own process? Is it getting the job done? Is there resistance to the group’s advice by the two or three who are arguing? Are they saying the same thing over and over again? Does the group need to change its approach? Will the group eventually come to understand that it needs to change its approach, or does the small group leader need to ask the group if it thinks it is getting someplace or needs to do something different because the group is stuck? Will they understand then that they need to change their approach or, will the group leader have to just come out and state that the approach needs to be changed? Add to these a host of other such questions.
As you can see, much observation, both auditory and visual, is required before verbal contributions are made by the group leader.
ANALYZING THE GROUP’S ATTENTION TO ITS OWN TASKS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The successful group leader will need to be very familiar with the tasks a successful group must do. (Covered in Course Two.) Knowing the critical tasks successful groups do will save a lot of time and trouble for the group. From time to time the leader will see that to continue on in its process toward its purpose and goals, the group should focus on a particular critical task.
ANALYZING THE GROUP’S OBEDIENCE TO SCRIPTURE
The small group leader will also want to analyze the group’s obedience to Scripture. I am not talking about analyzing the **individual’s** obedience to Scripture – that is the group’s task. What I am talking about is the group’s obedience to what we have cataloged as “The Togethers” (Examine at ChristiansTogether.org).
Therefore, one of the most important skills a Christian small group leader needs is the knowledge and ability to analyze the group’s obedience to God’s commands for Christians when they get together. This begins with a knowledge of the sixty-five Togethers of Scripture as defined by the Lamb’s Bride Project. Disciplined observation and analysis during group meetings then determines if, in fact, any form of Christian love as implemented in the Togethers is required by what is happening in the group and between group members.
Furthermore, the serious small group leader must learn to distinguish authentic, obedient Christian behavior from superficial compliance to Scripture. For example, the small group leader analyzes whether the group’s attempt at encouraging is just saying nice things, or whether it is actually placing courage into one another for the assignments of God.
In most cases, the small group leader needs some teaching skills to instruct the group and its members in the Togethers of Scripture. Such teaching is best done as the necessity arises, such as the need to encourage, to examine one another’s faith, to preserve one another’s hope, or to see that each one does his or her part. The concepts of Scripture need to be explained and sometimes modeled by the group leader. But not if the group or any of its members can explain and model the specific Together needed.
THEMES OF “WORK”
While analyzing what it is that the group is working on, the discerning small group leader will identify work themes, recurring issues that come up over and over again. A group, for example, over the course of a year might occasionally work on such themes as creating a safe environment in the group due to member distrust levels, learning how to confront lovingly, racial prejudice and what to do about it, when to serve refreshments, ending meetings on time, etc.
The small group leader should devote a page in his or her notebook for each of these issues, keeping dated entries describing the group’s content and process.
I remember a group of disturbed sixth graders I worked with many years ago. No one’s attention span was longer than twenty seconds. Unless someone else came in within twenty seconds with a new thought connected with what they were presently concerned about, the work theme changed. With the focus of what they were talking about constantly changing, I had to wait until the group would return back to a theme before I could help them with that issue.
Adults, on the other hand, don’t return to a discarded or avoided theme so quickly. It might be weeks before it comes up again. And the group might avoid the issue indefinitely. Once in a while, this is disastrous to the group. Then the leader should point out that the group once worked on such-and-such an issue and hasn’t ever returned to finish its work on that theme or issue.
A NOTE ABOUT QUESTIONS AT THE END OF BOOK CHAPTERS
I have not yet found a study book that consistently has interactive and synergistic assignments for the whole group at the end of chapters. Even in my own book written in 1983 (titled “Find Yourself -- Give Yourself”), I did a terrible job.
For example, in a study book on Christian Hope, a question will usually be something like, “When do you lose hope? What kinds of things or events cause you to get discouraged and lose hope?” The study leader would have individuals read their answers. Sometimes, but not often and hardly ever consistently, others might ask a person to explain his or her answer. Occasionally there might be some real discussion. But there would be no group process, nothing for the group leader to analyze.
I think the question at the end of the chapter should read, “When do you lose hope? What kinds of things or events cause you to get discouraged and lose hope? Tell the others in your small group and ask them to help you overcome your hopeless reactions to life’s events.” This would lead to interaction and group process. This is a question/exercise that would be for the group and help it to have a significant group experience. It would enhance Christian community.
Next, learn about giving the group its own work rather than doing it yourself.
Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA