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Team effort

April 2nd, 2013 by admin

Getting Our Act Together: How to Harness the Power of Groups

By Glen Ochre

Groupwork Press, $40

Orders: groupwork.com.au

Perhaps, like me, you’ve spent torturous hours in meetings feeling like you’d rather have a tooth pulled than endure more waffle. I couldn’t count the times I’ve watched people drift off to a dream world while the same dominant voices repeatedly fill the airspace.

Meetings, planning workshops, therapy sessions – however we come together to sort things out, the path is strewn with potholes and roadblocks. Whether we gather as work teams, community groups or boards of management, the challenges are remarkably similar: unspoken group dynamics, poor processes, fear of conflict and inadequate preparation.

Part of the problem is that the concept of collaboration is often sidelined in the competitive world in which we live. Think government and opposition. Prosecution and defence. Even the act of voting – for and against – produces winners and losers.

A strong belief in the power of collaborative decision-making is one of the pillars of this guide to group work by Glen Ochre, one of Australia’s foremost facilitators. The process of seeking consensus to arrive at decisions that everyone can live with is in her view worth striving for because “the means we use to get there must match the world we want”.

Echoes of the women’s movement and the peace movement can be felt here – Glen was active in both. Other influences include Quakerism and its offshoot, the Movement for a New Society, pioneers of non-violence and collaboration.

Underscoring these theoretical perspectives is Glen’s breadth of experience – as a social worker and organisational consultant, as well as an activist. She shows how the confidence that develops in a group that is able to hear and respond to all points of view, including those of the least powerful, builds a culture of safety and trust that buoys us to sail through stormy waters.

When this “groupness”, as Glen calls it, is established magic happens. As in any complex organism, the whole is somehow greater than the sum of the parts. The inspiration for Glen’s groupwork model is the natural world, where harmony is achieved in the web of interactions between all living things. In the same way, when people come together with good intentions these healthy interactions achieve a balance that nourishes the wisdom inherent in the group, guiding it to make good decisions that benefit everyone.

The second great pillar supporting her work – driven by the theory of group psychology as well as years of practice – is her conviction that we can’t help sort out everyone else’s stuff until we’ve dealt with our own. This is hardly a revolutionary concept, but an astoundingly powerful one for those who’ve taken the plunge and explored this aspect of self-awareness.

Glen has developed her own model to aid self-awareness called the Community of Selves. Building on the work of Carl Jung and Erving Polster among others, the Community of Selves concept invites us to examine the various voices or Selves that drive our thoughts and actions.

My own community, identified when I was a student in Glen’s course on facilitation, includes some prominent Selves like the Taskmaster, who has an urgent need to get on top of the business at hand. Then there’s the Anxious One, who frets over detail or possible consequences. A host of other players pop up with advice or warnings from time to time. The trick is not to ignore or judge these voices, but to acknowledge their contribution and return to the one Self who should always be in control – the Wise One.

This is not the place to explore the intricacies of the model, but suffice to say it’s been an invaluable tool I’ve relied on many times in groups and in life where one of my triggers has been set off.

The third great pillar that leaps out of the pages of this book is the simplest of them all – compassion. How easy it is to overlook that the love that guides our most important interactions, our friendships and our personal and family relationships, is an essential component of working together successfully.

Whether it’s listening with our hearts, acknowledging a contrary view, or standing by someone who is troubled or feels under attack, it’s our compassion that allows us to reach others and let them be heard. When we approach people from our hearts we build a pool of goodwill that we can always draw from.

There’s a lot packed in to this remarkable guide that bursts with practical advice, troubleshooting checklists, witticisms and pithy observations drawn from a lifetime of experience. The landscape format makes this a workbook you can throw open on a desk and the quirky illustrations by Looolooo bring the text alive with subtle humour.

It’s also a timely contribution to the essential art of working in groups big and small. As we wrestle with increasingly complex problems, including the compounding effects of climate change, the time to strive for better collaboration is overdue.

Jim Buckell is a graduate of the Groupwork Institute’s Advanced Diploma of Group Facilitation. He proofread the manuscript of Getting Our Act Together.