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Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches

Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches Process Interventions:

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:
1. T-group.
2. Process consultation.
3. Third-party intervention.
4. Team building.
1. T-Groups

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 behavior.
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 objective.
5. Increased ability to transform learning into action so that real-life interventions will be successful in increasing member satisfaction, output, or effectiveness.
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 learning.

Application Stages

Application 4 illustrates the activities occurring in a typical unstructured strangers T-group, one of the most popular approaches.

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 management games. 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 objectives. 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 effective. 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 task-oriented interventions.

Group Process:

Process consultation deals primarily with five important interpersonal and group processes; 1. communications, 2. the functional roles of group members, 3. the ways in which the group solves problems and makes decisions, 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 can 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 they speak.


Who 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 congruent relationships. The behavioral process used to enlarge the public area horizontally termed,


, 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 organizational effectiveness.

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