What on earth is a group?

Following my Friday night ditty about groups, I thought I would clarify what I actually mean by a group. Who are these people that I work with?

A group, by definition is a collection of something or someone. Most things that aren’t human seem to have a name for themselves once they group. So, you get a load of marbles together and put them in something – it’s a bag of marbles, or a sack of potatoes – seemingly defined by the receptacle. Animals have their various names, a pride of lions, a pack of wolves and even possibly a waddle of penguins (thanks Nina)!

But we humans might be a group, a posse, a team, a collective, a co-operative, an assembly, a gathering, a unit, a set, a crowd, a gang, a crew…..you get the picture.

Group

In terms of quantity, I would say I mean any more than two people is a group (although I am prepared to be challenged on this!).

People become part of a group for a whole host of different reasons, often because they work together and therefore have complementary or related skills sets. They may work on the same project, or for the same company or organisation which will vary in shape and size.

Maybe the people in the group share some other kind of common ground – for example they may support the same cause, or have bought the same product, received the same service or are part of some other kind of social set.

Sometimes a group of people will never have met before, for example when a group is formed by representatives from other groups at a conference.

Some groups are formed of people that have never and may never meet – this is especially true these days where there are many types of “virtual” connections. Online groups are common, as are forums, facebook groups, people on the same twitter lists etc. Many large companies work remotely, and across country borders – think conference calls and dial-ins and Skype sessions.

Often (whether professionally or socially), larger groups are formed when two or more groups of people get together, for example at stakeholder engagement meetings, or all sorts of team sports events.

Or a group may invite individuals to join it for a specific purpose, for example public engagement and community consultation sessions, or a concert.

AND I am sure there are more that I have not thought of.

The point is that it is possible to put people together in a whole variety of ways to be called a group. Groups can be fluid and dynamic, ever changing and evolving, and can have sets and subs sets and off shoots. Or they can stay pretty much the same.

The people within these groups are all individuals who all have IDEAS,  who all have THOUGHTS, who all have OPINIONS, who all have WISHES and who all have DISLIKES, things they are PASSIONATE about and things that make them feel AMBIVALENT.

So if you need to get them to work together, to achieve a specific goal, sometimes they will need some help.

Often people work together just fine, day to day, meeting to meeting in whatever structured or informal way they connect. But when there is something crucial to discuss, decide, analyse, solve, review or plan it is not always that easy. Sometimes to get the group to focus, engage, participate, share and progress there needs to be someone to provide support. This is when I get involved.

My job is to work with the people that form a particular group, in one space, to help them achieve something specific either in a one off, or series of meet ups that usually take the form of workshops. The meeting spaces might be conference rooms in hotels, meeting rooms in offices, community centres, schools, church halls, and on at least one occasion sat under a tree outside!

The main exception to this scenario is using Virtual Facilitation, where people don’t physically meet, but that is whole different blog post althogether……

So the type of group and the venue can vary enormously, as can the way the group works, depending it’s make up and what it wants to achieve. But it’s still a group, whatever you want to call it, and its component parts are individual people. You hope that the group will function like a well oiled machine. But it might not, even if you have hand picked the top people for the job.

Working with groups is energising, exhausting, thrilling, frustrating, amazing and unpredictable, but very rewarding. I get an enormous buzz out of the power of a group, the way the individual component parts move and shake together. I like the fact that I add a process to the situation to make things work. I like bringing out my battery of tools and techniques and activities. I love reading the group, trying to work out how I need to play it to make sure the noisy ones listen and the quiet ones get to be involved. I have to think on my feet, and every time is different, just like every group.

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