Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 9
Dangerous Abandonment in Groups
and What to Do About It
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
People in families, groups and teams abandon one another regularly. This leads to adverse reactions ranging from disappointment to great fear and anger. And the insidious thing is that people do not know enough about group dynamics to know that they have been abandoned. Instead, these abandoned people feel like fools, losers, misunderstood victims, and failures. Many of the abandoned ones jump ship, and some who witness the danger also leave. Others stay and remain aloof or angry, an equal danger to group or team survival.
It is quite disheartening to find this abandonment when it occurs in Christian families, small groups and teams. Yet, true group leadership can easily prevent such pain. Christian groups can become the safest places on Earth – if led properly.
THE DANGER OF ABANDONMENT
Groups can be dangerous if they do not function as groups and individual concerns predominate. This is the usual case in individualistic societies like the United States of America. Most often, the rights and the needs of individual members are elevated far above the needs of other people and the group itself. Individuals feel most responsibility toward themselves and little toward others, especially when their personal sense of comfort and safety seems threatened.
Consider the need to be understood. A child wants to be understood by her father. A teenager wants to be understood by his uncle. An employee wants his work team to understand his need to contribute in his area of expertise. A Bible study group member wants his confusion to be understood before answers are given. A discouraged wife wants her Christian community small group (to which she and her husband both belong) to help her husband understand her broken heart. A senior pastor wants his vision to be understood by all of his staff.
Where families, groups and teams are not led as corporate entities, fathers think they understand daughters when most observers would know they do not. Families don’t help a child member be understood by the uncle. Work teams often do not take the needs of other team members seriously enough to try to understand. Bible study groups are filled with people who want to give right answers to yet undefined questions and problems. Church support groups steer clear of the tough problems their members face in order to protect individual comfort. Senior pastors are dependently and passively followed without their destinations ever being important or understood.
What a shame! Families, teams, small groups, church boards, and committees often self-destruct because someone who tries to be understood is abandoned during the group process. Then the person becomes discouraged and withdrawn, or angry and quits or hurts back, or continues to interrupt the group process to continue the quest to be understood.
That is just one of the many dangerous pitfalls in families, groups, and teams. That just addresses the need to be understood. There are even far more dangerous pitfalls in any family, small group or team not led as a corporate organism.
Consider the danger faced by two people in conflict where the family, small group or team is not helped to be a successfully functioning corporate entity. Most often, when two people disagree, other family, small group or team members do nothing. They go into silent, thoughtful safety, forgetting to come out again. Or they resist becoming personally vulnerable. This puts the two in disagreement in great danger. It also places the family, small group or team in great danger.
Hostility and resentment may grow when needed help is not forthcoming from the family, group or team. Rejection and abandonment may not be obvious, but it will be recognized, at least subconsciously. Resentment that no one is helping out will result. Worse, the disagreeing individuals might instead feel like failures, when it really was the group’s failure. In the absence of full-fledged involvement of the others, frightening anger, debilitating frustration and/or embarrassing humiliation will grow. These group or team members will likely withdraw in self-protective silence, many of them eventually quitting. The destruction of the group or team is following closely behind. The family will sink into dysfunction from which it may or may not ever emerge.
When the family, small group or team is not led as a living organism, the corporate power for loving action is missing. Then the family, group or team does not ensure that its members all get involved to see that disagreements do not become conflicts, but instead lead to understanding and group resolution, which, in turn, would strengthen the family, group or team. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that those not in the conflict have no idea how by working together they can be the very help that is needed. So they passively abandon those in disagreement and the seeds of family, small group or team breakdown are sown.
Another example would be when one group member is joked about over a period of time. Although appearing to handle the ribbing okay, the person may really feel ridiculed and humiliated. If no one in the group steps up to identify the hurt this person is experiencing, that person has been abandoned. It is likely that one person may not notice the small signs that hurt is happening, but a whole group should not be so blind.
IMPORTANT GROUP TASKS TO PREVENT ABANDONMENT
During the beginning or “beginning-again” group process, the group leader, team leader or one of the parents should lead a discussion about the benefits of membership. Normally, this immediately precedes the group’s deciding who is to be a true member of the group. It is best that the group first brainstorms without the leader’s involvement what it can think of as benefits of group membership. Then the leader will probably need to add a lot of other things to the list. Some, like confidentiality, will have to be thoroughly discussed by the group. Others will be obvious. The benefits of having help in being understood and in being protected during conflict with another group member fit into the first category of needing serious discussion.
During its start-up task, the successful group or team defines in general terms what activities are appropriate for the group or team and its members in order to accomplish its purpose. Inappropriate activities are also decided. When the group or team talks about what it will need to do, much is covered. During this exploration is a good time to bring up that the group or team will have to get everyone involved when someone needs to be better understood or when disagreement or conflict arises. The leader can explain the dangers of passivity by so-called “uninvolved parties”, noting that there is no such thing as an uninvolved party on a team or in a group. The purpose of the group or team demands that any lack of understanding or any conflict is dealt with by the corporate identity just because it does affect progress toward the purpose, and, therefore, affects everyone and is everyone’s business.
The successful group or team also discusses what kinds of corporate and individual behaviors will be detrimental to the purpose. During this discussion it can be pointed out how passive inactivity is actually abandonment of those wishing to be understood, those wishing to better understand, and those in conflict. The leader should explain how individuals can be seriously hurt by non-involvement, how the purpose can be hindered, and how easily group or team self-destruction can result.
Once the group or team has begun, it will necessary for the group or team to help team members behave in line with the team purpose and goals. When there is needed understanding or when there is conflict, the group or team needs to see that members stimulate one another into appropriate action. Such actions include, but are not limited to, pointing out that there is a problem, clarifying statements, coaching people’s communications for effectiveness, encouraging continued interactions, developing humility in behavior and communications, exhorting tolerance of divergent understanding and viewpoints, bringing everyone into the action, identifying when understanding is achieved or conflict resolved, etc.
The group or team also has the responsibility to control dysfunctional behavior of members and the group or team as a whole. The group will need to dissolve anger through understanding, eliminate personal attacks in whatever form they take, change arrogance to humility, correct timidity, etc.
Taking only the two dangerous pitfalls mentioned already as examples of the many dangerous abandonment situations spawned by pseudo-groups, let us contrast what would happen in a typical group with what would happen in a true group-led group.
HOW PSEUDO-GROUPS ABANDON THOSE WHO NEED TO BE UNDERSTOOD
In most families, groups and teams, only the parent or leader gets involved when someone is not understood adequately. However, at best, he or she will only perceive about one-fourth of the need.
The little girl will eventually give up trying to be understood by her father. She will think that something is wrong with her that her dad doesn’t want to be more interested. Research shows that when she becomes a young woman, she will most likely unconsciously seek a man like her father and continue unsuccessfully to try to be understood. Her feelings of not being worthy will grow. Meanwhile, the father will wonder how he failed his daughter, when, in fact, it was the family’s failure.
The teenager wanting to be understood by the uncle will likewise give up, thinking that his more easily understood siblings are favorites of the uncle. Perhaps he desires to follow in his uncle’s footsteps vocationally. Dreams will be discarded and long term job dissatisfaction might result. Meanwhile, the uncle will never know how very important he was to that nephew. The boy's own immediate family of father, mother and siblings will have failed the boy.
The employee wanting to be used in his area of expertise by the team will stop trying. He will become less productive, functioning with only half of his soul. If he is wise and fortunate, he will get another job where his skills will count and be utilized.
The member of the Bible study group will receive answers, maybe even the right answers, that are not well matched to the confusion felt. Abandoned by the group because it does not know how to work together to listen and understand, this confused student, no matter how young or old, will conclude that Bible study groups are just for showing off knowledge, not really for getting confusion cleared up. The Bible study group will most likely feel quite successful because the curriculum was covered and the right answers regurgitated, but in reality it will have failed its members by abandoning their needs to understand, to be understood and to be carefully treated.
The discouraged wife who wants her Christian community group to risk leaving their comfort zone to explain to her husband how he is breaking her heart will express a sigh full of pain and give up hope that the church can make any real difference in marriages. If she is smart, she will know that the group let her down. If she is not so self-confident, she will blame herself for not being able to make herself clear to her emotionally unfaithful husband.
The senior pastor with a vision will grow passive with the discouragement that comes when he realizes he is not going to get the kind of understanding he needs from his staff. The church may eventually conclude that he did not have the necessary vision for the church when it will be the pastoral team who actually failed.
HOW PROPERLY LED GROUPS DO NOT ABANDON
THOSE WHO NEED TO BE UNDERSTOOD
Here is how families, groups and teams led as corporate entities capable of interdependent synergy would handle the above situations.
The family taught to watch out for one another would have a history of parental guidance for everyone to involve himself or herself in the success of every other family member. This family would immediately see that the father was not understanding the sister/daughter. Anyone, mother, a brother or a sister would begin the synergistic process of helping the father understand the daughter and helping the daughter be understood by the father. Someone might point out to the father that he does not really understand. Or someone might start the process by helping the daughter say what she wants understood in a different way or by rephrasing the daughter’s/sister’s statements in his or her own words. If necessary, other family members would help the father overcome whatever is stopping him from understanding, whether that be his defensiveness, arrogance or poor listening skills. Other family members would help teach the father what the daughter is trying to get across. The family would not give up until the father understood the daughter and the daughter felt understood.
Other important things would come from this family synergy. The daughter would be affirmed that she had something legitimate to be understood. Poor self-worth would be prevented. The father would not go through life knowing, at least subconsciously, that he did not do a good job of being a father to this particular daughter.
In a similar way, a successful family would recognize that one of its teenage boys was wanting to follow in the uncle’s footsteps. When they saw that their son/brother was not getting through to the uncle or not getting enough encouragement from the uncle, the other members of the family would do a variety of things to help the uncle understand his importance and respond enthusiastically. They would also help the brother/son make his needs better known to the uncle.
The successful team leader would point out to the team, if it did not notice on its own, that the one employee is desperately trying to get across that he has skills to contribute to the team effort. The team would then go on to seriously consider that team member’s desire to contribute, recognize his or her skills, or get that team member the necessary help so that the skills are refined for maximum use on the team’s purpose, goals and projects.
In the small group meeting to be the church in community, the full power of small group synergy will be necessary to help the broken-hearted wife express her pain in such a way that the husband is forced to deal with it. That full synergistic power will also be critical to help the husband face himself truthfully, repent, and begin cleaning up the damage done to his wife by his conscious or unconscious behaviors. Knowing their responsibility under God to see that infliction of hurt is not continued, the group would see the hints given by the wife’s comments and bring the problem out in the open. If it did not, the group leader would point out this responsibility to the group, perhaps by asking, “Are you just going to let the pain in this marriage continue?”
In this small community of faith, everyone would have to get involved, some merely by holding the wife’s hand or putting an arm around the husband’s shoulders to show emotional support and group solidarity. Some would help the wife be understood. Some would help the husband recognize the hurtfulness of his behavior. It might be necessary for someone to more assertively show support for the husband while, at the same time, demanding that the husband stick with the process and not just smooth things over. Some might even need to humbly teach relevant Bible passages. All would need to participate in long-term accountability regarding forgiveness on the wife’s part and changed behavior on the husband’s part.
The pastoral team is a bit unique in that the Senior Pastor is also the leader of the team. It would be his job to let the pastoral team know that it is the team’s job to work together until every member understands the vision, commits to the vision, gets excited about the vision, and faithfully works toward accomplishment of the vision over the long haul. The pastoral team would then work synergistically, spurring one another on toward love and good deeds within the team, as well as throughout the work of the church.
ABANDONMENT WHEN CONFLICT ARISES IN THE PSEUDO-GROUP
Unfortunately, conflict in the family is usually dealt with as misbehavior. However, conflict is not necessarily dysfunctional. How it is handled is almost always dysfunctional. That is because most families are not functional families but merely relatives living together as roommates. Conflict arises between two family members and the pseudo-family does not recognize that there might be legitimate points on one or, more likely, both sides that need to be considered or that a long-standing problem in the family needs to be solved by the family as a whole working together. So, instead, those in argument are merely told to stop the conflict. Most likely, the conflict will come up over and over again, just with different subject matter or focus.
In a small group or team, conflict will likewise often be glossed over. A rift might develop between those in conflict. Worse yet, sides might be taken, splitting the group or team into two dysfunctional halves. When those in the small group or on the team do not roll up their sleeves and get involved right away, bitterness will develop and the atmosphere of the group or team will deteriorate and not continue to be conducive to success.
PROPERLY LED AND FUNCTIONING GROUPS
DO NOT ABANDON THOSE IN CONFLICT
Those few families that actually function as families (rather than relatives merely co-habitating cooperatively) jump in and help members in conflict understand one another, resolve problems and develop ways of communicating together that yield win-win interactions. By helping the two in conflict, family members learn how not to take sides, but, instead, be on both sides. This is being on the side of the family itself. Family members in conflict come out of the interaction closer to one another than before. And this is done not by merely burying the hatchet, but by actual understanding and higher regard for each other. Avoided is the need to not ever talk about certain subjects with one another, which can limit or ruin relationships for life.
Likewise, the small group or team working corporately when conflict arises will not let such conflict fester into ruined relationships. Sides will not be taken. Everyone will help those in conflict resolve their differences. No one will even think of staying silent. Those who do not have the slightest idea what to do will at least express their fear that the conflict will negatively affect the work of the group or team – or that people will be hurt.
Families, groups and teams need to be led in such a way that self-protective lack of involvement is destroyed. Then individual group and team members will not be abandoned in the time of great need.
It must be stressed by leadership that everyone needs to get involved. Otherwise, the victims of abandonment will just grow larger in number. For example, if just one brave soul risks clarifying an argument and those in conflict turn on that person, the victim count has gone from two to three. Everyone should verbally participate. Although not the best type of participation, a few can get by only showing obviously recognizable body language and non-verbal communication. (Even crying can be dynamic communication.) But silent passivity, even until the next meeting, is at best poor damage control and at worst quite destructive. In fact, it is the inaction that is the real danger – not the conflict.
Next, learn why it is best if the group leader is not a member of the group.
Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA