Group Discussion Methods - Who Is in Charge?
Aug 12, 2011 Teaching 2595 Views
In many ways, business seminars have led the way in utilizing educational methods that maximize the opportunity for active involvement on the part of the learner. Workshops and seminars have used group discussion techniques as far back as the 1960's, when the field of group dynamics and teamwork was first starting to have an impact of training and development efforts in western industrialized countries.
Today the research on how the brain learns that was enabled by advancements in digital imaging technology tells us what many educational practitioners and theorists already knew - active involvement in the learning process is more effective than passive reception of information.
Learning in groups was one of the first methods used to allow that kind of involvement. Early theorists on group dynamics identified several dimensions present in group formation and teamwork development, but the one that drew the most attention was power and authority.
In short, if you are going to turn a group loose on some learning task, who should be in charge? To a large extent that depends on the nature of the workshop content and the skills of the seminar or workshop participants. Indeed, in some cases, the leader's guide you are given for a seminar you are about to present may have pre-determined guidelines for selecting a leader for each group.
In other cases and with certain content, the leader's guide might require what was once called "leader-less" groups, where each group is left to its own devices for directing and managing the discussion as well as for making decisions and coming to conclusions.
We live in a world of work where most groups have leaders designated by organizational hierarchy. We have vice-presidents, directors, managers, and supervisors. Today many organizations anoint "team leaders" in lower level work groups, although an income differential or any real authority rarely accompanies the title.
As you know, the backgrounds and experiences of the learners are an important consideration in structuring seminars and workshops. For participants used to hierarchical leadership in the workplace, a designated group leader that follows some kind of rotational pattern might make sense.
Similarly, for participants with no work experience operating in groups without designated leaders, leaving the leadership role up to the group to decide may not be the best practice, especially early in the workshop.
In either case, it is critical for the seminar leader to monitor group discussions. In the early stages of group development, it is common for some participants to remain uninvolved, leaving everything up to the designated group leader.
If that leader can keep the group on track, the seminar leader has only to be concerned about ensuring uninvolved participants gradually start participating throughout the course of the workshop. However, what happens when it is the designated leader who strays off track?
The fact is there are leadership functions that need to be performed in any group discussion, such as establishing and maintaining direction and soliciting opinions. In an ideal situation, such functions are shared by members of the group, not the exclusive province of the designated leader.