Working in small groups


Small groups need effective leadership Ėnot necessarily a leader- to make sound decisions.

Leadership is the ability to influence group members so as to help achieve the goals of the group.


Kinds of leadership:


       Implied leader: a group member to whom other members defer because of her or his rank, expertise, or other quality.


       Emergent leader: a group member who emerges as a leader during the groupís deliberations.


       Designated leader: a person who is elected or appointed as leader when the group is formed.


Functions of leadership


       Procedural needs: the housekeeping requirements of the group, e.g., (i) when and where the group will meet; (ii) setting the agenda for the meeting; (iii) starting the meeting; (iv) taking notes during the meeting, except in those cases where every member is required to take notes; (iv) preparing and distributing handouts; (v) summarizing the groupís progress at the end of the meeting.


       Task needs: the substantive actions necessary to help the group complete the particular task it is working on; e.g. (i) analyzing the issues facing the group; (ii) distributing the workload; (iii) soliciting the views of other members; (iv) keeping the group from going off the tangent; (v) playing devilís advocate for unpopular ideas; (vi) formulating criteria for judging the most effective solution; and (vii) helping the group reach consensus.


       Maintenance needs: the interpersonal relations in the group, e.g. (i) ensure members get along with one another; (ii) how members contribute to the group; (iii) whether members feel satisfied with the groupís accomplishments, and (iv) whether members feel good about their roles in the group.


Responsibilities in a small group



       Commit yourself to the goals of your group

o   Do not have a hidden agenda or private goals.

o   Be aware of hidden agendas.

       Fulfill individual assignments:

o   You may divide the workload among several members of the group. If so, every member must fulfill his or her assignments.

o   All members have one critical assignment Ėlistening. Do not tune out the person who is speaking.

       Avoid interpersonal conflicts

o   Donít let disagreement to become personal.

o   Keep disagreement on the task level.

       Encourage full participation

o   All members must contribute fully and share their ideas with one another.

o   Every member of the group should take responsibility for encouraging other members to participate. For example, if there are one or two quiet members in the group, you can draw them into the discussion by asking their opinions and showing interest in their ideas and information.

o   Build a supportive environment.

o   If you are too shy, you will probably not want to participate. To overcome this diffidence, try to remember that your contribution is necessary to the group.

       Keep the discussion on track

o   Every member has the responsibility to keep the discussion on track and to intervene if the group wanders too far afield.

o   There is nothing wrong with a little casual conversation to break the tension or provide a brief respite from work, but it should not be allowed to get out of hand.

o   When working in a problem-solving group, make sure the groupís ultimate goal is always in the forefront. But you should guard against the tendency to progress to a solution too quickly, without exploring the problem fully.



The reflective thinking method


This is a five-step method for directing discussion in a problem-solving group.


       Define the problem

o   The group must know exactly what problem it is trying to solve.

o   The best way to define a problem is to phrase it as a question of policy, i.e., a question about whether a specific course of action should or should not be taken.

       Analyze the problem

o   This requires research. You need to have the best information available.

o   Investigate the scope of the problem.

o   Learn about the history and causes of the problem.

       Establish criteria for solving the problem

o   Determine the standards on which a judgment or decision can be based.

       Generate potential solutions

o   Discuss the widest possible range of potential solutions. Do not judge them at this stage.

o   You can use brainstorming.

       Select the best solution.

o   Evaluate and choose the best solution.

o   Take a particular solution, discuss it against the selected criteria, and then move on to the next solution.

o   The group should make every effort to reach consensus.

o   Resort to vote only when every other attempt to find a solution agreeable to all members has failed.

o   A vote may resolve an immediate conflict, but it may not result in the best solution. It weakens unity in the group by fostering factions.


Presenting the recommendations of the group: Oral Report


       Select one person to deliver the oral report.

       All other members are expected to provide support to the speaker and are expected to answer questions.

       The report should have three main sections: (i) introduction: state the purpose of the report and preview the main points; (ii) body: spell out the problem addressed by the group; and conclusion: summarize the main points.




Source: The Art of Public Speaking by Lucas Simeon Wattam. McGraw Hill.