In a time when resources are ever harder to come by, people are being encouraged to recognise, develop and pool their ‘assets’. These assets include people themselves, their time and skills, as well as the more traditional bricks and mortar.
The councillor role can involve bringing people together around local concerns, issues and ideas, encouraging people to talk to each other and work together on projects and initiatives for the benefit of the community.
The value of this can be that:
- people grow together as a group, which matures and becomes more connected, as people gain skills and get to know each other
- members of the group are more likely to feel part of local decision-making processes and ‘own’ the decisions
- community groups are more likely to contribute their own assets to support councillors’ work if they are able to see tangible benefits
- people feel committed to locally discussed and agreed aspirations
However, groups of people don’t necessarily ‘work’ just like that, bearing in mind issues previously raised that remind us that people have different understandings, different agendas and different perspectives on ‘how to get things done’. All of the evidence so far suggests that groups take quite a long time to work well together and can’t be expected to ‘gel’ straight away.
Understanding a bit more about how groups work, and how long it can take for them to be effective can be helpful and may lead to less despair on your part when people can’t seem to agree!
Have you heard of this?
Tuckman’s model of group life: helps us recognise that groups go through a process in order to get to a point where people can work toegether and learn together – it doesn’t magically happen. He developed his theory of ‘group life’ in 1965 and updated it in 1977. He formulated a five stage group life process that every group goes through – and loops back and forth when new members join:
Forming – the group gets together. A level of formality is common at this stage, with people getting to know each other
Storming – the stage at which people are competing with each other as different ideas vie for airtime and there may be competition for status and influence
Norming – where rules and standards of behaviour and goals are agreed (this is quite often the point where group coordinators or ‘outside others’ such as councillors might expect the group to start)
Performing – the group now matures to a point where people are able to work together as a team as it functions as a whole
Mourning – the group completes it’s tasks and considers ending
Encourage open and effective meetings:
- plan meetings in advance – facilities, equipment, approach, seating, refreshments
- facilitate discussions and ensure equal participation
- find out about different ways to hold discussions
- encourage people to set ground rules or agreed ways of working together
- be aware of when you are dominating discussions and meetings and stop doing it!
Support groups to get things done, rather than doing on their behalf:
- bring different interests together
- get people to talk to each other
- make connections between communities
- bring in new ideas for working in and across areas
- focus on creating synergy – a community vision
- support local organisations to think about new ways of working e.g. trading organisations, social enterprise
- know when to step back and leave communities to get on with it for themselves
- have reasonable expectations of groups.
Have you thought about
– how the environment can encourage or discourage discussion?
Informal approaches work well when you want to engage interest and enhance communication. The hallmarks of informal events are openness in format, style and physical arrangements.
- If chairs are placed in straight rows with a speaker’s table facing them, a more formal atmosphere may result – the physical environment puts barriers against interaction and people are at a physical and psychological distance from ‘the speaker’.
- If chairs are placed in a horseshoe shape with the speaker’s table in the gap, the distance between the participants and the speaker is reduced and communication is likely to be encouraged.
- If chairs are grouped around small tables (known as ‘cabaret style’) this tends to promote interaction between participants.
- Placing a table between yourself and the people you are speaking to gives off a message that you are not readily accessible.
- If you sit in front of the table nearer to the people you are speaking to, you give off a message about rapport, closeness and being accessible. You will also find it easier to make eye contact with people.
The basics of good facilitation:
Good discussions depend on people being able to share ideas and experiences and it’s hard to have a good inclusive discussion, where everyone joins in, with more than 4 or 5 people. The bigger a group, the more likely it is that a few people will take up the space and be the talkative ones – whilst the others (often the majority) leave them to it. Sometimes groups get stuck – with the same people taking on the same old roles – and this can make it hard to move on as a group. Listening and communicating needs to be worked at – it doesn’t just happen by magic!! For more on this have a look at managing difficult people in groups.
As the ‘facilitator’, you have considerable power which should be used only for the purpose of furthering the discussion and not for establishing the correctness of a particular viewpoint. Staying neutral, helping the group to do its own work and come to agreed viewpoints and decisions are central to good facilitation.
You can help by:
- explaining that your role is to encourage everyone to participate
- act as if you are neutral and a critical friend to the group
- encourage and affirm each person and make sure their view is heard
- encourage people to listen to each other
- regularly check out progress by summarising what is being said
- resist the temptation to step out of the role of facilitator
- being aware of the different roles people play in groups
Move onto A fair crack of the whip