COMPONENTS OF HOLISTIC LEARNING
By Dave Till and Christine Lines
This is the twelfth article in our series on Holistic Learning, to read the introduction and view the other components to follow please click here.
12. Models of Group Development
Groups form and develop in well-recorded ways. M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled, is a good source to understand the different stages of group development and of community.
Dave Till says, “These stages of group development need to be experienced as part of a holistic curriculum. On the Findhorn Community Semester three month programme we the staff would wait patiently until new groups passed their “polite” stage and got through to some real learning or through to their authentic selves. One particularly ‘right on’ group famously had a big party where everyone got very drunk, and after that they were much less ‘right on’ and much better to deal with. God works in wondrous ways!”
In 1984, Peck co-founded the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), with the mission, “to teach the principles of community to individuals and organizations.” In his book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, Peck says that community has three essential ingredients; inclusivity, commitment and consensus.
Based on his experience with community building workshops, Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:
In the first stage, well-intentioned people try to demonstrate their ability to be friendly and sociable, but they do not really delve beneath the surface of each other’s ideas or emotions. Instead of conflict resolution, pseudocommunity involves conflict avoidance, which maintains the appearance or facade of true community. It also serves only to maintain positive emotions, instead of creating safe space for honesty and love through bad emotions as well. While they still remain in this phase, members will never really obtain evolution or change, as individuals or as a bunch.
The first step towards real positivity is, paradoxically, a period of negativity. Once the mutually-sustained facade of bonhomie is shed, negative emotions flood through: Members start to vent their mutual frustrations, annoyances, and differences. It is a chaotic stage but Peck describes it as a “beautiful chaos” because it is a sign of healthy growth.
In order to transcend the stage of “Chaos”, members are forced to shed that which prevents real communication. Biases and prejudice, need for power and control, self-superiority, and other similar motives which are only mechanisms of self-validation and/or ego-protection, must yield to empathy, openness to vulnerability, attention, and trust. Hence this stage does not mean people should be “empty” of thoughts, desires, ideas or opinions. Rather, it refers to emptiness of all mental and emotional distortions which reduce one’s ability to really share, listen to, and build on those thoughts, ideas, etc. It is often the hardest step in the four-level process, as it necessitates the release of patterns which people develop over time in a subconscious attempt to maintain self-worth and positive emotion. This is as a rebirth of one’s true self at the individual level, and at the social level of the genuine and true Community.
Having worked through emptiness, the people in the community enter a place of complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned. A deeper and more sustainable level of happiness obtains between the members, which does not have to be forced. Even and perhaps especially when conflicts arise, it is understood that they are part of positive change.
The four stages of community formation are somewhat related to a model in organization theory for the five stages that a team goes through during development. These five stages are:
Forming where the team members have some initial discomfort with each other but nothing comes out in the open. They are insecure about their role and position with respect to the team. This corresponds to the initial stage of pseudocommunity.
Storming where the team members start arguing heatedly and differences and insecurities come out in the open. This corresponds to the second stage given by Scott Peck, namely chaos.
Norming where the team members lay out rules and guidelines for interaction that help define the roles and responsibilities of each person. This corresponds to emptiness, where the community members think within and empty themselves of their obsessions to be able to accept and listen to others.
Performing where the team finally starts working as a cohesive whole, and effectively achieve the tasks set of themselves. In this stage individuals are aided by the group as a whole where necessary, in order to move further collectively than they could achieve as a group of separated individuals.
Transforming This corresponds to the stage of true community. This represents the stage of celebration, and when individuals leave, as they must, there is a genuine feeling of grief, and a desire to meet again. Traditionally this stage was often called “Mourning”.
During Experience Week, the core programme of the Findhorn Foundation and for many guests their first experience of the community, the group magically moves through these five stages within the seven days of their time together.
I recently joined Experience Week as a trainee learning to co-focalise the weeks, three years after my first Experience Week in April 2009, and witnessed these stages of group development.
It is fascinating to witness a group of individuals from different countries and different backgrounds slowly weave together as a group. On the first day people tended to be more shy as they entered the ‘forming’ stage. As people slowly started to open up differences became visible, however the ‘storming’ stage just seemed to highlight our unique diversity.
As group guidelines and agreements were introduced and became familiar, such as using ‘I’ statements during sharing circles to keep the experience personal, and listening deeply to each other without responding or offering feedback, we entered the ‘norming’ stage. The bonding began to develop as members of the group listened with open hearts and open minds, in the spirit of acceptance.
During the ‘performing’ stage of sacred dance, group discovery games and group projects, the individuals formed more strongly as a cohesive whole, supporting each other in the journey forward, achieving more together than they could alone, through mutual support.
In the farewell circle on the last day, there was a tangible feeling of celebration, combined with the sadness of leaving the friends they had ‘fallen in love’ with during their time together and a hope to cross paths again. There was a sense of true community amongst our small group of fifteen people, within the larger community as a whole.
From my experience over the past eighteen months of stepping deeper and deeper into community life, these stages are an ongoing journey of personal transformation within a community dedicated to planetary transformation. Echoing the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Each week we will introduce a new topic. Please feel free to add your views and comments to expand on it more fully.
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