Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches-1
Interpersonal and Group Process Approaches
Functional Roles of Group Members:
The process consultant must be keenly aware of the different
roles individual members take on in a group.
Both upon entering and while remaining in a group, the
individual must determine a self-identity influence,
and power that will satisfy personal needs while working to
accomplish group goals. Preoccupation with
individual needs or power struggles can reduce the effectiveness
of a group severely, and unless the
individual can expose and share those personal needs to some
degree, the group is unlikely to be
Therefore, the process consultant must help the
group confront and work through these needs.
Emotions are facts, but frequently they are regarded as side
issues to be avoided. Whenever an individual,
usually the leader, says to the group, “Let’s stick with the
facts,” it can be a sign that the emotional needs of
group members are not being satisfied and, indeed, are being
disregarded as irrelevant.
Two other functions need to be performed if a group is to be
effective: (1) task-related activities, such as
giving and seeking information and elaborating, coordinating,
and evaluating activities; and (2) groupmaintenance
actions, directed toward holding the group together as a
cohesive team, including encouraging,
harmonizing, compromising, setting standards, and observing.
Most ineffective groups perform little group
maintenance, and this is a primary reason for bringing in a
The process consultant can help by suggesting that some part of
each meeting be reserved for examining
these functions and periodically assessing the feelings of the
group’s members. As Schein points out,
however, the basic purpose of the process consultant is not to
take on the role of expert but to help the
group share in its own diagnosis and do a better job in learning
to diagnose its own processes: “It is
important that the process consultant encourage the group not
only to allocate time for diagnosis but to
take the lead itself in trying to articulate and understand its
own processes.” Otherwise, the group may
default and become dependent on the supposed expert. In short,
the consultant’s role is to make comments
and to assist with diagnosis, but the emphasis should be on
facilitating the group’s understanding and
articulation of its own processes.
Group Problem Solving and Decision Making:
To be effective, a group must be able to identity problems,
examine alternatives, and make decisions. The
first part of this process is the most important. Groups often
fail to distinguish between problems (either
task-related or interpersonal) and symptoms. Once the group
identifies the problem, a process consultant
can help the group analyze its approach, restrain the group from
reacting too quickly and making a
premature diagnosis, or suggest additional options.
For example, a consultant was asked to process a group’s actions
during a three-hour meeting that had
been taped. The tapes revealed that premature rejection of a
suggestion had severely retarded the group’s
process. After one member’s suggestion at the beginning of the
meeting was quickly rejected by the
manager, he repeated his suggestion several times in the next
hour. Each time his suggestion was rejected
quickly. During the second hour, this member became quite
negative, opposing most of the other ideas
offered. Finally, toward the end of the second hour, he brought
up his proposal again. At that time, it was
thoroughly discussed and then rejected for reasons that the
During the third hour, this person was one of the most
productive members of the group, offering
constructive and worth while ideas, suggestions, and
recommendations. In addition, he was able to
integrate the comments of others, to modify them, and to come up
with useful, integrated new suggestions.
However, it was not until his first suggestion had been
thoroughly discussed (even though it was finally
rejected) that he was able to become a truly constructive member
of the group.
Once the problem has been identified, a decision must be made.
One way of making decisions is to ignore
a suggestion. For example, when one person makes a suggestion,
someone else offers another before the
first has been discussed. A second method is to give
decision-making power to the person in authority.
Some- times decisions are made by minority rule, the leader
arriving at a decision and turning for agreement
to several people who will comply. Frequently, silence is
regarded as consent. Decisions also can be made
by majority rule, consensus, or unanimous consent.
The process consultant can help the group understand how it
makes its decisions and the consequences of
each decision process, as well as help diagnose which type of
decision process may be the most effective in
a given situation. Decision by unanimous consent or consensus,
for example, may be ideal in some
circumstances but too time-consuming or costly in other
Group Norms and Growth:
Especially if a group of people works together over a period of
time, it develops group norms or standards
of behavior about what is good or bad, allowed or forbidden,
right or wrong. There may be an explicit
norm that group members are free to express their ideas and
feelings, whereas the implicit norm is that one
does not contradict the ideas or suggestions of certain group
members (usually the more powerful ones).
The process consultant can be very helpful in assisting the
group to understand and articulate its own
norms and to determine whether those norms are helpful or
dysfunctional. By understanding its norms and
recognizing which ones are helpful, the group can grow and deal
realistically with its environment, make
optimum use of its own resources, and learn from its own
Leadership and Authority:
A process consultant needs to understand processes of leadership
and how different leadership styles can
help or hinder a group’s functioning. In addition, the
consultant can help the leader adjust her or his style
to fit the situation. An important step in that process is for
the leader to gain a better understanding of his
or her own behavior and the group’s reaction to that behavior.
It also is important that the leader become
aware of alternative behaviors. For example, after gaining a
better understanding of his or her assumptions
about human behavior, the leader may do a better job of testing
and perhaps changing those assumptions
Basic Process Interventions:
For each of the five interpersonal and group processes described
above, a variety of interventions may be
used. In broad terms, these are aimed at making individuals and
groups more elective.
These interventions are designed to help people be more
effective or to increase the information they have
about their “blind spot” in the Johari Window. Before process
consultants can give individual feedback,
they first must observe relevant events, ask questions to
understand the issues fully, and make certain that
the feedback is given to the client in a usable manner. The
following are guidelines for effective feedback.
• The giver and receiver must have consensus on the receiver’s
• The giver should emphasize description and appreciation.
• The giver should be concrete and specific.
• Both giver and receiver must have constructive motives.
• The giver should not withhold negative feedback if it is
• The giver should own his or her observations, feelings, and
• Feedback should be timed to when the giver and receiver are
These interventions are aimed at the process, content, or
structure of the group.
Process interventions sensitize the group to its own internal
processes and generate interest in analyzing
those processes. Interventions include comments, questions, or
• Relationships between
and among group members
• Problem solving and
• The identity and purpose
of the group.
Content interventions help the group determine what it works on.
They include comments, questions, or
• Group membership
• Agenda setting, review,
and testing procedures
• Interpersonal issues
• Conceptual inputs on
Structural interventions help the group examine the stable and
recurring methods it uses to accomplish
tasks. They include comments, questions, or observations about
• Methods for dealing with
external issues, such as inputs, resources, and customers methods for
determining goals, developing strategies, accomplishing work,
assigning responsibility, monitoring
progress, and addressing problems
• Relationships to
authority, formal rules, and levels of intimacy.
Application 5 presents an example of process consultation with
the top-management team of a
When Is Process Consultation Appropriate?
Process consultation, a general model for helping relationships,
has wide applicability in organizations.
Because PC helps people and groups own their problems and
diagnose and resolve them, it is most
applicable in the following circumstances:
1. The client has a problem but does not know its source or how
to resolve it.
2. The client is unsure of what kind of help or consultation is
3. The nature of the problem is such that the client would
benefit from involvement in its diagnosis.
4. The client is motivated by goals that the consultant can
accept, and the consultant has some
capacity to enter into a helping relationship directed at
reaching those goals.
5. The client ultimately knows what interventions are most
6. The client is capable of learning how to assess and resolve
her or his own problem.
Results of Process Consultation:
Although process consultation is an important part of
organization development and has been widely
practiced over the past thirty-five years, only a modest amount
of research addresses its effect on
improving the ability of groups to accomplish work. The few
studies that have been conducted have
produced little hard evidence of effectiveness. Research
findings on process consultation are unclear,
especially because the findings relate to task performance.
A number of difficulties arise in trying to measure performance
improvements as a result of process
consultation. One problem is that most process consultation is
conducted with groups performing mental
tasks (for example, decision making); the outcomes of such tasks
are difficult to evaluate. A second
difficulty with measuring PC’s effects occurs because in many
cases process consultation is combined with
other interventions in an ongoing OD program. Isolating the
impact of process consultation from other
interventions is difficult.
Kaplan’s review of process consultation studies underscored the
problems of measuring performance
effects. It examined published studies in three categories: (1)
reports in which process intervention is the
causal variable but performance is measured inadequately or not
at all, (2) reports in which performance is
measured but process consultation is not isolated as the
independent variable (the case in many instances),
and (3) research in which process consultation is isolated as
the causal variable and performance is
adequately measured. The review suggests that process
consultation has positive effects on participants,
according to self-reports of greater personal involvement,
higher mutual influence, group effectiveness, and
similar variables. However, very little, if any, research
clearly demonstrates that objective task effectiveness
Application 5: Process Consultation at Action Company
This application, a story often told by Ed Schein and documented
in several of his books about process
consultation and culture, involves the senior management team of
an organization that he worked with
over several years. It illustrates well several of the
principles of process consultation, such as accessing your
ignorance, always trying to be helpful, and understanding that
errors are the prime source of learning.
The Action Company was a large and innovative high-technology
organization. One salient feature of their
executive committee meetings was long and loud discussions.
Members interrupted each other constantly,
often got into shouting matches, drifted off the subject, and
moved from one agenda point to another
without any clear sense of what had been decided. Based on his
beliefs about the nature of effective groups
and his experiences with group dynamics training, the process
consultant made several initial interventions
as an “expert” consultant. For example, whenever he saw an
opportunity, he would ask the group to
consider the consequences of interrupting each other repeatedly.
This had the effect of communicating his
belief that their process was ‘bad” and interfered with the
group’s task and effectiveness. He pointed out
how important ideas were being lost and potentially important
ideas were not getting a full discussion. The
group invariably responded with agreement and a resolution to do
better, but within ten minutes was back
to the same pattern.
As the process consultant reflected on these early
interventions, he noticed that he was imposing on the
group his own beliefs about what an ideal team should look like
and how it should behave. This group, on
the other hand, was clearly on a different path. Over time, he
discovered that this group had a different set
of shared assumptions that were driving their behaviors. In
short, the group was trying to arrive at the
“truth.” Their assumption was that truth was revealed in ideas
and actions that could withstand argument
and debate. If an idea could survive intense scrutiny, it must
be true and was worth pursuing.
Once he understood this basic premise, the process consultant
asked himself what he could do that would
be more helpful to the group. His answer was to work within the
group’s assumptions that were driving
their behavior rather than imposing his beliefs on them. He had
to learn that the primary task of the group,
as they saw it, was to develop ideas that were so sound they
could afford to bet the company on them.
Generating ideas and evaluating them were therefore the two most
crucial functions that they worked on in
Two kinds of interventions grew out of this insight. First, he
noticed that ideas were in fact being lost
because so much information was being processed so rapidly.
Partly for his own sake and partly because he
thought it might help, he went to the flipchart and wrote down
the main ideas as they came out.
These ideas, incomplete or undeveloped because the presenter had
been interrupted, led to the second kind
of intervention. Instead of punishing the group for its “bad”
behavior, as he had done in the early stages of
the consultation, he looked for opportunities to turn the
conversation back over to the person with the
idea. For example, he would say. “John, you were trying to make
a point. Did we get all of that?” This
created the opportunity to get the idea out without drawing
unnecessary attention to the reason why it had
not gotten out in the first place. The combination of these two
kinds of interventions focused the group on
the ideas that were not on the flipchart and helped them
navigate through their complex agenda. Ideas that
were about to be lost were written down, resurrected, and given
a fair chance.
The lesson was clear. Until the process consultant understood
what the group really was trying to do, he
could not focus on the right processes nor did he know how to
intervene helpfully. He had to sense what
the primary task was and where the group was getting stuck
(incomplete idea formulation and too-quick
evaluation) before he could determine what kind of intervention
would be “facilitative.”
In most cases, either the field studies did not directly measure
performance or the effect of process
intervention was confounded with other variables.
A third problem with assessing the performance effects of
process consultation is that much of the relevant
research has used people’s perceptions rather than hard
performance measures as the index of success.
Although much of this research shows positive results, these
findings should be interpreted carefully until
further research is done using more concrete measures of