Group Facilitation : Functions and Skills

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Although the amount of literature on groups is growing at a rapid rate, concise delineation of the functional and skill expectations of group facilitators is relatively rare. This article attempts to articulate and discuss a model based on a specific set of assumptions about causality and effectiveness in interactional groups. The authors discuss personal qualities of group facilitators and propose five major functions and seven skill clusters central to effective group facilitation.

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    Small Group Research

    http://sgr.sagepub.com/content/16/2/139The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/104649648501600202 1985 16: 139Small Group Research

    L. Frances Anderson and Sharon E. RobertsonGroup Facilitation : Functions and Skills

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  • GROUP FACILITATIONFunctions and Skills

    L. FRANCES ANDERSON

    SHARON E. ROBERTSONUniversity of Calgary

    Although the amount of literature on groups is growing at a rapid rate, concisedelineation of the functional and skill expectations of group facilitators is rela-tively rare. This article attempts to articulate and discuss a model based on a specificset of assumptions about causality and effectiveness in interactional groups. Theauthors discuss personal qualities of group facilitators and propose five majorfunctions and seven skill clusters central to effective group facilitation.

    The use of groups in counseling and therapy has become in-creasingly popular in a wide variety of settings, and thispopularity has brought with it a concomitant concern for thetraining and preparation of group leaders/counselors/facili-tators. This concern has led both the American Personnel andGuidance Association (1967) and the Association for CounselorEducation and Supervision (1974) to issue documents regardingthe use of groups and/or guidelines for the training of groupfacilitators. Unfortunately these statements have tended tobe of such a broad and general nature as to add little to anunderstanding of what knowledge and skills are required forthe effective facilitation of groups, and how such knowledgeand skills can best be achieved. Although it is widely agreedthat competent group facilitation requires a special body of

    AUTHORS NOTE: Inquiries or requests for reprints should be directed to Dr. S.Robertson, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary,Alberta, Canada 72N I N4.

    SMALL GROUP BEHAVIOR, Vol 16 No 2, May 1985 139-156a 1985 Sage Publications, Inc

    139

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    knowledge and skills in addition to those required for in-dividual counseling (Dyer and Vriand, 1975; Lechowicz andGazda, 1975; Smith, 1976; Stokes and Tait, 1979; Williams,1972), it remains an unfortunate reality that most group train-ing programs are based on individual therapy models. AsYalom (1975) points out:

    It is not unusual for students to be given excellent intensiveindividual therapy supervision and then, early in their pro-gram, to be asked to lead therapy groups with no specialguidance whatsoever. The program directors apparently ex-pect that the student will be able somehow to translate his in-dividual therapy training into group therapy skills [p. 503].

    That is not to say that training institutions and experts inthe field have ignored the issue. Indeed a considerable amountof literature has been generated on commonly employed train-ing procedures (Berman, 1975; Jacobs et al., 1974; Lakin,1970; Lakin et al., 1972; Lechowicz and Gazda, 1976).However, most of these procedures either emphasize one modeof training (for example, didactic versus experiential versusrole playing) or ignore some of the theoretical foundationson which the programs have been based. Collectively theliterature would appear to contain all of the componentsnecessary for a comprehensive analysis of group facilitatortraining, but the field lacks a parsimonious synthesis of therelevant material. This article attempts to fill that void bydeveloping a concise framework of background material fromwhich a training model would naturally and logically flow.In short, the article includes discussions of: (1) The types ofgroups for which the facilitator is being trained, includingwhat causes effective change in such groups and what per-sonal characteristics of the facilitators are important; (2) themajor functions or objectives of group facilitation; and (3)the specific skills or competencies that are required in the ef-fective performance of these functions.

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    GROUPS: DEFINITION AND CHANGE AGENTS

    Massarik (1972) lists 39 types of groups and indicates thatthis proliferation of approaches makes it difficult to clearlydefine a simple monolithic set of standards. However, asLieberman (1976) and Yalom (1975) point out, the goals, proc-esses, and client populations of a wide variety of groups areclosely related and often identical. The differences may reflectprofessional territorial boundaries more than substance. Yalom(1975: xi) states that &dquo;therapy groups which appear totallydifferent in form may rely on identical mechanisms ofchange.&dquo; This would indicate that it should be possible todevelop a single set of standards for group facilitation thatwould have applicability across a variety of group approaches.However, to avoid ambiguity, perhaps a definition of &dquo;group&dquo;as it relates to this article would add clarity.

    A group is a collection of two or more persons, together withone or more facilitators, whose purpose is to enhance the intra-and interpersonal functioning of those persons through an in-teractive, interpersonal communication process, which may ormay not include structured or directed activities.

    It should be noted that the group orientation on which thedefinition is based, and indeed the orientation that is implicitin much of this article, is best described as experiential,laboratory, and/or interactional. Furthermore, the client targetpopulation is assumed to be primarily adult, although theauthors believe that the functions and skills discussed in latersections are applicable to facilitators of childrens groups aswell.

    Before moving into the major considerations of thisarticle-what constitutes effective group facilitation--it wouldseem logical to address our assumptions surrounding causali-ty and group effectiveness, including the personal qualitiesof the group facilitator. These assumptions are congruent with

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    those of leading theorists and practitioners in the field (Dies,1977; Dinkmeyer and Muro, 1971; Egan, 1973; Johnson andJohnson, 1975; Ohlsen, 1970; Yalom, 1975). A consolidationof these assumptions is as follows:

    (1) Personal growth is essentially a social process and as suchcan be most effectively developed through interactive andinterdependent relationships with groups of people. In thetype of groups defined in this article, personal growth isenhanced through a process of cultural permission not readilyavailable in day-to-day living. Cultural permission impliesthat individuals are allowed, and allow themselves, to open-ly and honestly self-disclose their feelings about each otherand to give each other feedback as to the impact of their in-teractive styles. Such self-disclosure and feedback is not nor-mally practiced with people in our daily living, and thus thegroup experience offers a unique opportunity to gain valuablepersonal insights.

    (2) Receiving direct feedback from a number of people gives theindividual an opportunity for consensual validation of in-terpersonal reality; a chance to compare his or her perceptionsof self with those of others and to work toward congruenceamong a diversity of perceptual content.

    (3) The opportunity to risk practicing new behaviors in a climateof trust and psychological safety increases the probability thatindividuals can increase their intra- and interpersonaleffectiveness.

    In summary, we believe that the change agents in groupsare related to the opportunities to self-disclose feelings aboutself and others in the group, to give and receive feedback,to consensually validate a variety of perceptions, and topractice new behaviors-all in an atmosphere of acceptanceand psychological safety.

    Underlying these assumptions is one of a more fundamen-tal nature, which relates to the personal qualities of thefacilitator. In other words, certain personal facilitator charac-teristics are desirable in order that our basic assumptions as

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    to what constitutes constructive change in groups will be met.Our view of the importance of facilitator characteristics ineffecting change is consistent with that put forward by anumber of writers in the field of group work. Egan (1973)states that the group facilitator must be adjusted and con-gruent with no artificial front and no fear of reacting honest-ly. Similarly Haiman (1951) indicated that the group leaderis a well-adjusted person, secure and confident in his or herown personality and free of compulsions to be dominant. Theconstructs of honesty, genuineness, and congruence are ad-dressed in virtually all of the literature on counselor educa-tion and are supported, along with empathy and acceptance,as being necessary attributes of all counselors, including thosewho work with groups. Truax and Mitchell (1971), in an ex-tensive review of such research, indicated that such personalqualities may indeed be more important than techniques.However, as both MacLennon (1975) and Dinkmeyer and