Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches
Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches
Process interventions are in OD skill used by OD practitioners,
whether managers or OD professionals, to
help work groups become more effective. The purpose of process
interventions is to help the work group
become more aware of the way it operates and the way its members
work with one another. The work
group uses this knowledge to develop its own problem-solving
ability. Process interventions, then, aim at
helping the work group to become more aware of its own
processes, including the way it operates, and uses
this knowledge to solve its own problems.
The manager practicing process intervention observes individuals
and teams in action and helps them learn
to diagnose and solve their own problems. The manger refrains
from telling them how to solve their
problems but instead asks questions, focuses their attention on
how they are working together, teaches or
provides resources where necessary, and listens. On of the major
advantages is that teams becomes more
independent to solve problems.
Now we will discuss change programs relating to interpersonal
relations and group dynamics. These change
programs are among the earliest ones devised in OD and represent
attempts to improve people’s working
relationships with one another. The interventions are aimed at
helping group members assess their
interactions and devise more effective ways of working together.
These interventions represent a basic skill
requirement for an OD practitioner.
Interpersonal relationships and group dynamics, involve four
types of interventions:
2. Process consultation.
3. Third-party intervention.
4. Team building.
As discussed earlier, sensitivity training, or the T-group, is
an early forerunner of modern OD
interventions. Its direct use in OD has lessened considerably.
The National Training Laboratories (NTL)
and UCLA are among the few remaining organizations that offer
T-groups on a regular basis. OD
practitioners often attend T-groups to improve their own
functioning. For example, T-groups can help OD
practitioners become more aware of how others perceive them and
thus increase their effectiveness with
client systems. In addition, OD practitioners often recommend
that organization members attend a Tgroup
to learn how their behaviors affect others and to develop more
effective ways of relating to people.
What Are the Goals?
T-groups traditionally are designed to provide members with
experiential learning about group dynamics,
leadership, and interpersonal relations. The basic T-group
consists of ten to fifteen strangers who meet
with a professional trainer to explore the social dynamics that
emerge from their interactions. Modifications
of this basic design have generally moved in two directions. The
first path has used T-group methods to
help individuals gain deeper personal understanding and
development. This intrapersonal focus typically is
called an encounter group or a personal-growth group. It
generally is considered outside the boundaries of
OD and should be conducted only by professionally trained
clinicians. The second direction uses T-group
techniques to explore group dynamics and member relationships
within an intact work group. Considerable
training in T-group methods and group dynamics should he
acquired before trying these interventions. This
group focus has led to the OD intervention called team building,
which is discussed later.
Extensive review of the literature reveals that there are six
overall objectives common to most T-groups,
although not every practitioner need accomplish every objective
in every T-group. These objectives are:
1. Increased understanding, insight, and self-awareness about
one’s own behavior and its impact on
others, including the ways in which others interpret one’s
2. Increased understanding and sensitivity about the behavior of
others, including better
interpretation of both verbal and nonverbal clues, which
increases awareness and understanding of
what other people are thinking and feeling.
3. Better understanding and awareness of group and inter-group
processes, both those that facilitate
and those that inhibit group functioning.
4. Increased diagnostic skills in interpersonal and inter-group
situations. Accomplishing the first three
objectives provides the basic tools for accomplishing the fourth
5. Increased ability to transform learning into action so that
will be successful in increasing member satisfaction, output, or
6. Improvement in individuals’ ability to analyze their own
interpersonal behavior as well as to learn
how to help themselves and others with whom they come in
contact, achieve more satisfying,
rewarding, and effective interpersonal relationships.
These goals seem to meet many T-group applications, although any
one training program may emphasize
one goal more than the others. One trainer may emphasize
understanding group process as applied to
organizations; another may focus on group process as a way of
developing individuals’ understanding of
themselves and others; and a third trainer may concentrate
primarily on interpersonal and intrapersonal
Application 4 illustrates the activities occurring in a typical
unstructured strangers T-group, one of the most
Application 4: Unstructured Strangers T-group
A typical T-group session for strangers might consist of five or
six T-groups of ten to fifteen members who
have signed up for a Session conducted by the National Training
Laboratories, UCLA’s Ojai program, a
university, or a similar organization. The T-group sessions may
be combined with cognitive learning, such
as brief lectures on general theory, designed exercises, or
Each T-group comprises people who have not previously known one
another. If several people from the
same organization attend, they are put into different T-groups.
At the beginning of the training session, the
trainer makes a brief and ambiguous statement about either his
or her role or some ground rules and lapses
into silence. Because the trainer has not taken a leadership
role or provided goals for the group, a dilemma
of leadership and agenda is created. The group must work out its
own methods to proceed further; it must
fill the void left by the lack of a leader or of group
As the group fills the void, the individuals’ behaviors become
the “here-and-now” basic data for the
learning experiences. As the group struggles with procedure,
individual members try out different behaviors
and roles, many of which are unsuccessful. One T-group member
might make a number of direct, forceful,
and unsuccessful attempts to take over the leadership role,
trying first one style, then another. Finally, he or
she conspicuously withdraws from the group, falls silent, and
appears to be thinking about other things.
Group members might observe that this person has two basic
styles of working with others; when one style
is unsuccessful, he or she adopts the other—withdrawal.
As appropriate, the trainer will make an “intervention,” an
observation or comment about the group, its
behavior or the activities that are taking place. The type and
nature of the intervention will vary, depending
on the purpose of the laboratory and the trainer’s own style.
Usually, the trainer encourages individuals to
understand what is going on in the group, their own feelings and
behaviors, and the impact their behavior
has on themselves and others. The primary emphasis is on the
here-and-now experience, rather than on
anecdotes or “back at the ranch” experiences.
The emphasis on openness and leveling in a supportive and caring
environment enables the participants to
gain insight into their own and others’ feelings and behaviors.
A better understanding of group dynamics
also can make them more productive individuals.
2. Process Consultation:
Process consultation (PC) is a general framework for carrying
out helping relationships. It is oriented to
helping managers, employees, and groups assess and improve
processes, such as communication,
interpersonal relations, decision making and task performance.
Schein argues that effective consultants and
managers should be good helpers, aiding others in getting things
done and in achieving the goals they have
set. Thus, PC is more a philosophy than a set of techniques
aimed at performing this helping relationship.
The philosophy ensures that those who are receiving the help own
their problems, gain the skills and
expertise to diagnose them, and solve them themselves. Thus, it
is an approach to helping people and
groups help themselves.
Schein defines process consultation as “the creation of a
relationship that permits the client to perceive,
understand, and act on the process events that occur in
(her/his) internal and external environment in
order to improve the situation as defined by the client.” The
process consultant does not offer expert help
in the form of solutions to problems, as in the doctor-patient
model. Rather, the process consultant works
to develop relationships, observes groups and people in action,
helps them diagnose the way they are
carrying out tasks, and helps them learn how to he more
In the OD literature, team building is not clearly
differentiated from process consultation. This confusion
exists because most team building includes process
consultation—helping the group diagnose and
understand its own internal processes. However, process
consultation is a more general approach to
helping relationships than is team building. Team building
focuses explicitly on helping groups perform
tasks and solve problems more effectively. Process consultation,
on the other hand, is concerned with
establishing effective helping relationships in organizations.
It is seen as key to effective management and
consultation and can be applied to any helping relationship,
from subordinate development to interpersonal
relationships to group development. Thus, team building consists
of process consultation plus other, more
Process consultation deals primarily with five important
interpersonal and group processes;
2. the functional roles of group members,
3. the ways in which the group solves problems and makes
4. group norms development, and
5. The use of leadership and authority.
One of the process consultant’s areas of interest is the nature
and style of communication at both the overt
and covert levels. At the overt level, communication issues
involve who talks to whom, for how long, and
how often. One method for describing group communication is to
keep a time log of how often and to
whom people talk. For example, at an hour-long meeting conducted
by a manager, the longest anyone
other than the manager got to speak was one minute, and that
minute was allotted to the assistant manager.
Rather than telling the manager that he is cutting people off,
the consultant can give descriptive feedback
by citing the number of times others tried to talk and the
amount of time they were given. The consultant
must make certain that the feedback is descriptive and not
evaluative (good or bad), unless the individual or
group is ready for evaluative feedback.
By keeping a time log, the consultant also can note who talks
and who interrupts. Frequently, certain
people are perceived as being quiet, when in fact they have
tried to say something and have been
interrupted. Such interruptions are one of the most effective
ways of reducing communications and
decreasing participation in a meeting.
Body language and other nonverbal behavior also can be a highly
informative method for understanding
communication processes. For example, at another meeting
conducted by a manager, the animated
discussion at the start of the meeting was interrupted by the
second-in-command, who said, “This is a
problem-solving meeting, not a gripe session.” As the manager
continued to talk, the fourteen other
members present assumed expressions of concentration. Within
twenty-five minutes, all of them had
folded their arms and were leaning backward, a sure sign that
they were blocking out or shutting off the
message. Within ten seconds of the manager’s subsequent
statement, “We are interested in getting your
ideas,” those present unfolded their arms and began to lean
forward, a clear nonverbal sign that they were
involved once again.
The manager uses several techniques to analyze the
communications processes in a work group.
How often and
how long does each member talk during a group discussion? These observations
can be easily recorded on paper and referred to later when
analyzing group behavior. It is also useful to
keep a record of who talks to whom.
Who are the
most influential listeners in the group? Noticing eye contact between members
give insights on the communication processes. Sometimes one
person, and perhaps not even the person
who speaks most frequently, is the one focused on by others as
interrupts whom? Is there a pattern in the interruptions? What are the apparent
effects of the interruptions?
The manager will probably share this information with the group
to enable the members to better
understand how they communicate with one another.
Feedback may be given intermittently during the meeting or at
the conclusion of the meeting. The purpose
of feedback is to enable group members to learn about the way
they communicate with one another.
At the covert or hidden level of communication, sometimes one
thing is said but another meant, thus
giving a double message. Luft has described this phenomenon in
what is called the Johari Window. Figure
38, a diagram of the Johari Window, shows that some personal
issues are perceived by both the individual
and others (cell 1). Other people are aware of their own issues,
but they conceal them from others (cell 2).
People with certain feelings about themselves or others in the
work group may not share with others unless
they feel safe and protected; by not revealing reactions they
feel might be hurtful or impolite, they lessen
the degree of communication.
Cell 3 comprises personal issues that are unknown to the
individual but that are communicated clearly to
others. For example, an individual may shout, “I’m not angry,”
as he or she slams a fist on the table, or say,
“I’m not embarrassed at all,” as lie or she blushes scarlet.
Typically, cell-3 communication conveys double
messages. For example, one manager who made frequent business
trips invariably told his staff to function
as a team and to make decisions in his absence. The staff,
however consistently refused to do this because it
was clear to them, and to the process consultant, that the
manager was really saying, “Go ahead as a team
and make decisions in my absence, but be absolutely certain they
are the exact decisions I would make if I
were here.” Only after the manager participated in several
meetings in which he received feedback was he
able to understand that he was sending a double message.
Thereafter, he tried both to accept decisions
made by others and to use management by objectives with his
staff and with individual managers.
Cell 4 of the Johari Window represents those personal aspects
that are unknown to either the individual or
others. Because such areas are outside the realm of the process
consultant and the group, focus is typically
on the other three cells.
The consultant can encourage individuals to be more open with
others about their views, opinions,
concerns, and emotions, thus reducing cell 2. Further, the
consultant can help individuals give feedback to
others, thus reducing cell 3. Reducing the size of these two
cells helps improve the communication process
by enlarging cell I, the “sell” that is open to both the
individual and others.
Figure 38: Johari Window
Disclosure and Feedback of Johari Window:
As indicated in Figure, movement along the vertical and
horizontal dimensions enables individuals to
change their interpersonal styles by increasing the amount of
communication in the public or shared area.
To enlarge the public area, a person may move vertically by
reducing the closed area. As a person behaves
less defensively and becomes more open, trusting and risk
taking, others will tend to react with increased
openness and trust. This process termed,
involves the open disclosure of one’s feelings,
thoughts and candid feedback to others. The openness of
communication leads more to open and
The behavioral process used to enlarge the public area
allows us to reduce
the blind area. The only way to become aware of our blind spots
is for others to give information or
feedback about our behavior.
The blind area can only be reduced with the help and cooperation
of others, and this requires a willingness
to invite and accept such feedback.
Almost every organization finds that poor communication is the
most important problem preventing