Re: Right Mix for Group? LO3887
Mon, 27 Nov 1995 09:51:05 -0500

Replying to LO3856 --

I see several statements made here that are intended, I believe, in part
at least, to refute the arguments I made in proposing Right Mix for Groups
as a topic on the list.

1) Let the group design at least part of its process in order to get buy
in. (William H)

2) Plunging a new group into a new process without preparing them is
counterproductive. (William H)

3) Process design is a partnership which needs content knowledge and
process knowledge. (Julie)

4) I don't want the group to merely answer questions. All the right
questions will not be asked. (Julie)

Okay, now for my rebuttals.

Replying to #1, what is done in group processes should reflect a variety
of tradoffs. If you can't get the group to buy in to ideas they have
personally generated and structured, then you may need to use some of the
precious group time to get them to buy in by some other artifices. I know
of about 600 Interactive Management Workshops where the participant group
did not participate in the process design, and in 99.9% of these the group
bought in.

In these instances, the Workshops shared a couple of factors: (1) The
issues dealt with were all complex, and the participants understood this
because of previous failures using normal approaches and (2) the potential
outcomes could have major effect on quite a few people. Because of this,
it was not necessary to let amateurs design group process; there was ample
motivation, and people did know that the IM Workshop staff would not get
involved in the content--that was the group's role--and they knew this
ahead of time.

If there are any facilitators out there that don't know about the common
group pathologies, try to find out. The Bay of Pigs incident has been
studied up the gazoo, as a prime example of a situation where the
participants designed their own process, and where everyone appeared to
agree that the Bay of Pigs was a good idea. Later on, after the debacle
had taken place, many of the famous participants agreed that:

a) Groupthink was at work, and went unrecognized at the time
b) They had better not use that same process again

Still later many of the same people were involved in a group activity
concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis. By that time President Kennedy had
understood a few more things about group process (not many, but a few),
and made enough changes so that the group product was improved in quality.

Point (2). In my startup email, I said that group process should be
preceded by a planning phase. It is true that, as part of that phase, an
IM Broker from the host organization is supposed to educate group members
individually about the process details and roles--not to solicit their
help in designing the process--but to anticipate their questions about it.
This is done individually in order not to incite disagreement by having
this go on in a group activity. It is almost much more efficient, and
allows attention to individual concerns. So I view this as a nonsequitir,
in relation to my proposal.

Point (3) I really don't disagree much with this, except to say that the
partnership is not between the facilitator and the group; rather it is
between the workshop planner and the IM broker. The broker becomes well
educated on process, and is the link with the group. The broker also is
heavily involved in context determination as well as in forming the
questions. This is an efficient way to use people's time, and it is much
for effective, in my opinion, than using highly valuable, expensive, and
hard-to-come-by time of the group.

Point (4). You would be surprised, I think at how much production can be
had with very well designed trigger and generic questions. It is also
true that by constantly challenging the group to discuss and dialog about
well-formed questions, using their own previous contributions, the
facilitator is able to keep control of the group, not have to do any
formulation of agenda, and devote all time essentially to group
maintenance--again we have about 600 workshops worth of experience will
all kinds of groups on 5 continents.

The issue of completeness that Julie raises has been thoroughly addressed,
first by the fathers of muddling through (Braybrooke and Lindblom), who
highly recommend this disastrous approach to complexity, and by me--where
I point out that, as B&L say, you can never assure completeness because of
the absence of any viable " stopping rule" based on criteria of
completeness--so we use this rule:

"Continue until the group has nothing more to contribute. Then stop. But
keep in mind that you can always take on more contributions if and when
they arise."

As I could show by explicit measurement, the patterns that develop in the
kind of group practice I support invariable involve hundreds of answers
to questions. Now some might say, well we can do it all intuitively. But
others would say that since so many answers are portrayed in the patterns,
it might be OK to develop those answers systematically instead of in an ad
hoc process that shuns the one great tool human beings have to help them
reason systematically--formal logic, hidden away in the computer where
people can use it without even knowing it unless, of course, they ask.

John N. Warfield