Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Group Dynamics: A Short-Overview

Traditional Models

Hierarchy. In a hierarchy, decision-making is often done from a top-down vantage. Those at the top, the point-person or person(s) in charge, have final say and may or may not take the perspectives of those beneath them into account. This type of decision-making is best suited for on-the-fly and immediate need decisions.

Democracy. A democratic group involves a voting process where the majority rules in terms of decision making. This type of decision-making process is useful when stakes are low and emotions are less likely to flare based on the outcome. High-stakes decisions are better suited for a process that has a built-in mechanism for ensuring buy-in from all parties involved (stakeholders).

Working Together: Building a Group Dynamic

Collaboration is the process through which two or more individuals or parties work together to produce something. Collaboration is teamwork under more cognitive circumstances (higher-level skills work), whereas teamwork is often highly mechanical (hands-on work). (Dictionary Collaboration)

Consensus is a type of decision-making process in which all parties must agree unanimously in order for a decision to be made (Dictionary Consensus).

How do these terms relate to one another? Collaboration is the process of creating something. Consensus is the end-result of a decision. Both are important parts of teamwork, especially when the setting is one in which the input and opinions of all parties are seen as having merit and deserving to be heard.

Different Methods for Group Decision-Making

Consensus Decision-Making and Interest Based Problem Solving. Consensus, when used to reach a decision, gives everyone the ability to say, “I have said all that I have to say and believe all can understand me. I have listened to what others have said and I believe I understand them. I will support the decision of the group though it may not have been my first choice” (Gallicano 378). Consensus Decision Making (CDM) is a strategy that many nonprofit organizations use to work through and manage conflict as well as for routine decisions of operation. Consensus is the opposite of the traditional top-down authoritarian and democratic models common to most organizations. When coupled with collaboration, consensus serves to prevent the undermining of the organizational unity. Even in a democracy, someone wins and someone loses, potentially creating animosity and generating conflict. (Gallicano 370)

Consensus Decision Making specifically coupled with Interest Based Problem Solving (IBPS) provides a template for collaboration. Traditionally, conversations focus on the positions of the individuals involved. IBPS refocuses the conversation on the interests of the group/organization. Instead of each person trying to convince the other that they are correct in their position, IBPS asks all parties to consider this: there may be an alternative to the positions that have been presented. IBPS asks each stakeholder to consider the best-possible outcome, and then the team collaborates to achieve the goal(s) agreed upon in the CDM process. (Gray 3)
Collaborative groups. Collaborative groups are groups of people coming together for a purpose without centralized structures of command and control (Starhawk, 2011, p.2).  Again, to work in collaboration is to work together on a cognitive goal. Teamwork, a term commonly associated with collaboration, refers to the more hands-on, mechanical taks (“getting a job done”). Working collaboratively in a group is the process of working in unity for a common purpose without any one person above another such as in a hierarchy. Collaboration implies a balancing of power-dynamics, and although there is no defined hierarchy, there is a point-person, or facilitator, whose role is to guide conversation and action plans toward the agreed-upon goal. Long-term collaborative groups function best when the facilitator is rotated to avoid the most common pitfall of group dynamics: social dominance and unspoken power.

The Pitfall

Social Dominance Theory. We often say no one is in charge in our collaborative groups, but when no one is in charge, the person(s) with the most social dominance often ends up unofficially in charge by default when tensions rise. There is typically someone in a group to whom everyone else will defer as an unspoken rule. Dominance Hierarchy arises when members interact aggressively, such as when debating a course of action or defining participation in an event. This results from a collection of accumulated individual interactions and is something that has been a big issue for the pagan community at large.

References The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Collaboration. Web.

 - Unabridged. Random House, Inc. Consensus. Web.

Gallicano, Tiffany Derville. “Internal Conflict Management and Decision Making: A Qualitative Study of a Multi-tiered Grassroots Advocacy Organization.” Journal of Public Relations Research, 25: 368-388. 2013. Print.

Gray, Kelsey, Ph. D. “Interest-Based Problem Solving Process and Techniques.” Washington State University Cooperative Extension. Seattle, WA. 1996. Print.

Starhawk. (2011). The empowerment manual: A guide for collaborative groups. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

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