Seriously, about Group Work: Magic or Political Train to Hell?

group meeting
Group dynamics are always an interesting endeavor.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of groups in quite a few arenas both professionally and voluntary.  When I say ‘pleasure,’ I know that most have applied the word very kindly to an event or two.

Group size can affect outcomes, but usually it only takes a meeting of two or more people working together to have a ticket on the political train to heaven or hell.

There was one group that especially stands out in my mind.  It was comprised of 23-27 people at any given time over a 4 year period.  We were a volunteer school committee. This group type is often known as a hot-bed for problems with loads of hot-button issues, and frankly, a good number of hot-heads.  When the point of issue is your own child, there can be particularly intense attention paid to personal need.  It is often very difficult to get parents involved in these committees.

Thank goodness our group was not one of those!  I often remember that group with a great deal of fondness for what it achieved and how we interacted.  What made a group of this size and background variety work so well and effectively for several years? What was different about it from the ones that I’d seen crumble from ineffectiveness and at times, even deeply, regretted joining?

I don’t think it was rocket science and there were no magic rituals performed.  Although, there may have been some magic on some unknown level because the simplicity of what was done seems to be utterly impossible for a good number of people to perform in general.

For starters, it was the way it was managed by the various leaders and members.  The number one rule was keeping our eyes on the purpose of the group.  We were there to serve the greater good for the greatest number of students.   All decisions had to meet this first litmus test.  It was understood that sometimes this meant having to go against something that we personally desired.

Next, we had our general goal:  to provide the best educational experience possible to all students.  It’s the step after this that things can get tricky for any group – the how level.  This is where the group actions are determined to achieve those goals.  This is where there is lots of room for diverse opinion – and there was.

This level started with a boatload of questions. What are the student needs?  What are the priorities?  Why? How much money is needed, from where, from what kind of events, what should they look like, are they fun?  When do we need to do what, who’s going to run what, what resources are needed? Who’s going to get them?  All of these questions, and more, had to be agreed upon by the group – which they were.

We also allowed for newcomers to have fairly free rein to try out new projects or have a run at some of our established needs.  You don’t get new members if you lock the doors to opportunities for them to show what they can offer.  Let’s also acknowledge that that also gave the rest of us a much needed breather now and then.

There were certainly discussions based in disagreement, but all reasoning had to be put on the table upfront where it was examined by all, then a side chosen by all.  There was disappointment sometimes, but this group employed basic decency & respect.  The disappointed got a pat on the back and reminded that decisions made were not personal; it was always about the overall purpose and goal. In return, they backed up the decision with nearly full to full-blown participation.

The sub-committees performed in the same manner, just applying that method to the goals of their specific task, whether it was a book fair, Halloween bingo, fun fair, or the annual finance/budget projections.

There were times when someone might come into the group with a clear personal agenda, or vanity project.  Depending on the size or importance of the issue, the group might have said sure, go ahead; fill your boots – as long as it served the majority.  If it was somewhat more personally grandiose, they might have stirred up some group emotion, but in the end, those agendas didn’t last long on the table.  Without support or any willingness to continue in pointless argument, they (person & idea) would somehow just fade away.

All events succeeded or failed as a group.  Recognition was applied generously to all. Sure, we had our private conversations about what was really great or not, or what needed to get tweaked next time, but publicly everyone gave all the credit and if something didn’t work out, all swallowed the responsibility.

This group was an amazing story of supportive strength that achieved success after success, strong membership year after year, and easily attracted extra volunteer support whenever it was needed.  What was the secret?  Was this just a fluke for so many years; were these people just exceptionally well-rounded?

I don’t think so really.  As mentioned, it was a group of varying background, inclinations & personality: funny, serious, go-getter, care-giver, analyzer, organizer.  What we all had in common was that we started with the desire to make a difference for the better.  At the core, we simply wanted to do what was best, which included the willingness to do all we could to make that work.

What was in place to guide those wishes along was that simple requirement of asking what is this for and who does it serve?  It was really an easy fall-back position for everyone.  It was asked and applied so regularly that it became second nature; people were able to check their own ego needs. The point that everyone had an equal voice, and was free to use it, was critical to this cooperation and enhanced desire to pitch in. There were very few times that one had to dig deep to bring their respectfulness or support to the table. It made the overall experience fulfilling, and a lot of work a whole lot of fun.

Keep your on eye on the purpose, work in consensus, and exercise your abilities to respect and support both.   Why is that so hard for so many groups?  I don’t know. It seems to me that if you can’t work that way, then don’t work in any groups.  I really don’t think it takes all that much magic.


Shout-out to the Hazel Trembath PAC of 2006 – 2010: the team of do-ers!

c/r 712, April 6, 2013

Natures VS. Nurturing – If They Really Loved Me and Vice Versa – Couldn’t it Be More Simple?


We all want to be nurtured. We all crave that caring sense of love me, pick me, have my back support.  I’ve seen how trouble comes though, when we also expect that nurturing to be presented as we understand it. Because we are all unique representations of beings with unique expressions in need and gifts, it can be difficult to have those expectations met by others with equal fervor.

People who have already learned how to work around this, need not read further. For we average folk still treading through the minefields, I luckily have found Donna, a good friend who puts this expectation to bed with a much simpler approach. I think she’s onto something.

Troubles begin with a line of thought that goes something like this:  If they really loved me, they would know what I want or need, and they would do everything they could to provide it!

I have seen this thought put to action in varying ways; the girl who is angry that her mother didn’t buy a Christmas present that met her interests (guilty), the girlfriend deeply disappointed in her boyfriend’s missed idea of what is a great Valentine’s Day plan (guilty again), the wife who is sad and furious that her husband still doesn’t know her after all these years (divorced, so yeah, kind of guilty).

In each of these cases, the result could have been quite different if one simple effort had been practised  – talking with the object of those disappointments, (the person, not the gifts). I stress could have, I make no guarantees of would have success for reasons upcoming.

For example, I cannot believe how long it took me to realize that all of my loved ones – family & friends – were not psychics! I don’t claim to have had much of a well-adjusted background to begin with, so I had to learn that I had unfair expectations that they should be able to just know what would make me happy. Not just for gifts, but for when I was feeling low for whatever reason. Hey, they do it that way on TV all the time! To back-up that notion, I bolstered it with the fact that they were around me enough to know what I pointed out in varying degrees of hints and comment on what I liked, enjoyed, found beautiful, etc., etc., etc. They even sometimes acknowledged that they heard those comments. But, did they?

The thing is, I didn’t take into account that maybe they were having thoughts of their own at the same time. Maybe they were tuned into what was needed at work, or what they should have for dinner. Maybe they really couldn’t see the beauty in what I was pointing out.  The what really doesn’t matter, the point is there has to be allowance for the fact that no two minds are on the same page all of the time. Maybe they are even more different than the same most of  the time. Ugh, the heartache!

Much like most things in life, we need to simplify this meeting of the minds process as much as possible and/or the ways we can live with them.

For me, this starts with exercising a page from my own belief system in which I declare that I am (already) fully loved, nurtured and supported by the Universe. I believe something like this is a foundation for what is to follow in actual demonstration. Whatever you choose to do or say as a foundation is up to you, but as all guidelines have said since the beginning of therapies, it starts with what you believe.

We can’t be who we are not, and we cannot demand that someone else change to suit our needs. Change is a gift that we choose to give, it cannot be taken. I can guarantee that it will crumble if demanded.  If you want to give the gift of changing something about yourself, then give it gladly, not in resentment. If a relationship, of any nature, doesn’t work out, it’s not a failure. I repeat, not a failure. It was what it was, and another course in life knowledge is under your belt. The grade you get depends only on how you apply what you’ve learned to the next one.

So it comes back to us. Starting to see the pattern here? It’s about us being more gentle with our friends, family and lovers. How? Dare I say it? By lowering our expectations, and letting go of any ‘what can I get out of this relationship’ thoughts. Instead of demanding superhuman relating abilities, how about expecting only what is absolutely and honestly vital to our sense of nurturing, (i.e. respect, honesty, integrity)?

Taking into account that basic compatibility needs are met, & that you actually like the person, what is really necessary beyond someone simply wanting to give you their love and their best, as they know it?

My friend genuinely lives this way and she has a list of genuine friends longer than the new pope frontrunners did. She and her man work to provide what is needed, but their true treasure is every moment of family time they share. No need of fulfillment from the biggest toys life can offer. She is married 20 years and counting; she couldn’t be more cherished or in love with her man, & family and vice-versa. I‘d trade the most extravagantly planned Valentine’s evenings for that.

Think about it, we can gratefully accept nurturing in the way our loved ones can give it, and in return, we can gracefully fill in any blank needs  of our own by ourselves. Why couldn’t it be that simple, and why wouldn’t we want to, at least try to, practise it a little?

If someone is giving their love, then thank you Universe because really, how many of us have an over-abundance of people lining up to do that?


(Um, quick note here to my loved ones: you’re still going to remember my birthday & Christmas, right?)

Robyn Lawson c/r 707-1 March 15, 2013