ROLE FUNCTIONS IN GROUP DISCUSSIONS
The members of an efficient and productive discussion group
must provide for meeting two kinds of needs--what it takes to do
the job, and what it takes to strengthen and maintain the group.
What members do to serve group needs may be called functional roles.
Statements and behaviors which tend to make the
group inefficient or weak may be called nonfunctional roles.
Here is a list of the kinds of contributions which are
performed by one or several group members:
I. TASK ROLES (functions required in selecting and carrying out
a group task, given below in sequence).
A. Initiating: Getting things started, suggesting new
ideas, suggesting new definitions of the problem,
trying a new attack on the problem, or introducing new
B. Giving and asking for information: Offering facts or
generalizations, sharing understanding of a topic,
giving information freely, soliciting everyone's input,
C. Giving and asking for reactions: Stating opinions and
reactions, sharing feelings about what has been said,
getting reactions from all group members, seeking
clarification of values, suggestions or ideas.
D. Restating and giving examples: By restating, the
presenter of the original idea gets feedback; restating
clarifies ideas. Examples reinforce meaning and aid
understanding, they aid in the search for accurate
statements of and understanding of an idea.
E. Confronting and reality testing: Challenging ideas and
information. Often groups allow misinformation and
misstatements to pass by out of politeness. Learning
takes place when ideas are challenged (politely, of
course). Try to envision how a proposal might work if
adopted, how an idea will work in the real world.
F. Clarifying, synthesizing and summarizing: Clarifying
ideas and previous statements, pulling together related
ideas or suggestions after the group has discussed
them. Clarifying, synthesizing and summarizing help
II. GROUP BUILDING AND MAINTENANCE ROLES (functions required in
strengthening and maintaining group life and activities).
A. Encouraging and sponsoring: Being friendly warm,
responsive to others, praising other for their ideas,
agreeing with an accepting contributions of others,
encouraging all members to contribute, sponsoring ideas
of others, especially those who may be less aggressive
in speaking out.
III. Gatekeeping and timekeeping: Trying to make it possible for
another member to make a contribution to the group by
saying, "We haven't heard from Jim yet," or suggesting
limited talking time for everyone so that all will have a
chance to be heard, limiting discussion on a topic to an
agreed-upon time limit.
A. Standard setting: Expressing standards for the group to
use in choosing its content or procedures or in
evaluating its decisions, reminding the group to avoid
decisions which conflict with group standards.
B. Following: Going along with decisions of the group,
thoughtfully accepting ideas of others, serving as
audience during group discussion.
IV. BOTH GROUP TASK AND MAINTENANCE ROLES
A. Evaluating: Submitting group decisions or accomplish-
ments to comparison with group standards, measuring
accomplishments against goals.
B. Diagnosing: Determining sources of difficulties, ap-
propriate steps to take next and analyzing the main
blocks to progress.
C. Testing for consensus: Tentatively asking for group
opinions in order to find out whether the group is
nearing consensus on a decision, sending up trial
balloons to test group opinions.
D. Mediating: Harmonizing, conciliating differences in
points of view, making compromise solutions.
E. Relieving tension: Draining off negative feeling by
jesting or pouring oil on troubled waters, putting a
tense situation in a wider context.
V. TYPES OF NONFUNCTIONAL BEHAVIOR
A. Being aggressive: Working for status by criticizing or
blaming others, showing hostility against the group or
some individual, deflating the ego or status of others.
B. Blocking: Interfering with the progress of the group by
going off on a tangent, citing personal experiences
unrelated to the problem, arguing too much on a point,
rejecting ideas without consideration.
C. Self-Confessing: Using the group as a sounding board,
expressing personal, nongroup-oriented feelings or
points of view.
D. Competing: Vying with others to produce the best idea,
to talk the most, to play the most roles, to gain favor
with a leader.
E. Seeking sympathy: Trying to induce other group members
to be sympathetic to one's problems or misfortunes,
deploring one's own situation, or disparaging one's own
ideas to gain compliments or support.
F. Special pleading: Introducing or supporting suggestions
related to one's own pet concerns or philosophies,
G. Horsing around: Clowning continually, joking, mimicking
and otherwise disrupting the work and progress of the
H. Seeking recognition: Attempting to call attention to
one's self by loud or excessive talking, extreme ideas,
I. Withdrawing: Acting indifferent or passive, not par-
ticipating, daydreaming, whispering to others.
VI. IMPROVING GROUP PERFORMANCE
A. Limit the group to between five and nine members--five
B. Seek members with diverse personality traits and back-
grounds to gain the benefits of diverse opinions and
C. Don't be afraid of conflict--"from heat comes light."
Spirited exchange of opinions is desirable; infighting
and personal attacks are counterproductive.
PRACTICE THE FOLLOWING:
* Sponsoring other members.
* Giving encouragement and approval.
* Formulating and citing examples.
* Asking questions.
VII. LIST OF CRITERIA FOR EFFECTIVE GROUPS
A. Action orientation--they get things done.
B. Prevalence of a nonthreatening group climate.
C. Learning is accepted as the raison d'etre of the group.
D. Everyone participates and interacts.
E. The material is adequately and efficiently covered.
F. Evaluation is accepted as an integral part of the group
operation (i.e., no one gets defensive).
G. Members attend regularly and come prepared.
VIII. BIGGEST PROBLEMS HINDERING GROUP EFFECTIVENESS
A. Groupthink: Everyone suppresses their real views to
maintain group harmony and indicates that the group and
all of its ideas are wonderful, and that competitors
B. Lack of clear goals: No one knows what they're there
C. Star complexes: Vying for the spotlight.
D. Wallflowers: Noncontributors
RULES FOR MAKING MEETINGS EFFECTIVE
I. AGENDA INTEGRITY: All items on a meeting agenda should be
discussed, and items not on the agenda should not be
discussed. If agenda integrity is maintained, people will
read and respect a meeting's agenda.
II. TIME INTEGRITY: Begin on time and end on time--absolutely no
exceptions. By waiting to start a meeting until everyone is
present, you reward people for being late--forget being
polite. Start on time even if it means starting alone. End
precisely on time, and always state in the agenda what time
frames are so everyone knows. Also, time integrity means
sticking to the time allotted to discuss items. If you can't
get closure, table the item and go to the next item on the
III. THE FRACTION RULES:
A. The Rule of Halves: No item can be entered on the
agenda unless is has been given to the person who
schedules the agenda items one-half of the time between
meetings. This gives everyone enough time to plan and
arrange agenda items and get them distributed in time
for review, which is one of the most important ways to
get intelligent participation in a meeting--making sure
everyone has time to and is prepared for the meeting.
B. The Rule of Three Quarters: Agenda items should be
distributed at the three-quarters point between
meetings. The agenda should be distributed with any
material required for effective preparation (including
minutes of previous meetings, if minutes are involved).
C. The Rule of Thirds: Break meetings up into three parts.
In the first one-third, handle minutes, make announce-
ments and get one or two moderately easy items out of
the way to get the group in a pattern of successful
accomplishment. Schedule a moderately difficult item
and the single most difficult and lengthy item in the
middle third of the meeting (in this third of the
meeting psychological focus, alertness, attention and
attendance are all at their peaks). If the meeting is
to run longer than one-and-a-half hours, give partici-
pants a brief break at the two-thirds point. In the
final third of the meeting schedule For-Discussion-Only
(FDO) items and schedule the easiest item as the very
last item on the agenda in order to end on a positive,
FDO items help release tensions and provide the
opportunity for the ventilation of feelings and
discussion of political orientations and ramifications.
Two techniques to use during these discussions are the
straw vote (an unofficial testing of the waters) and
the in-principle notion (an agreement on a general
IV. RULES FOR A MEETING HEAD
A. Plan the meeting properly (remember the Rule of Frac-
B. Insure agenda and temporal integrity.
C. Facilitate and clarify discussion.
D. Remain objective and impartial.
E. Move the discussion along.
F. Get closure on items whenever possible.
G. Bring the discussion to a close.
V. RULES ABOUT FOOD
A. Allow coffee.
B. Provide refreshments at break time.
C. The less food, the more work that gets done.
D. Use food as a reward, available only after, never
during a meeting.
VI. RULES FOR BETTER PARTICIPATION
A. Emphasize the agenda.
B. Focus on decisions to be reached or items to be
C. Target discussion.
D. Orchestrate comments.
E. Keep an open mind.
F. Draw out silent members.
G. Temper overbearing members' output.
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