CHAPTER 3: WHY GROUPS FAIL: COMMON PROBLEMS IN GROUP LIFE
At least six predictable patterns of behavior and communication will emerge in
a group. If the members let these patterns unfold without attention, then they
will get stuck in certain roles and ways of communicating. The feeling of
dynamic growth and expectancy that marks the beginning of a group can
disappear, and the group is likely to fragment, because members will begin to
feel distant from each other.
These patterns are not good or bad, they happen automatically, like gravity. If
the group is willing to pay attention to them, this awareness can lead to
understanding of how we communicate, both within the group and outside, and can help
enormously in our relationships.
Two of the patterns are issues of how the group creates itself:
The four other patterns are personal or psychological issues which will emerge
as men meet with each other.
SEE THE FOLLOWING FOUR PATTERNS IN NEXT MONTHS NEW ADDITIONS TO OUR HOMEPAGE
Creating and Avoiding Intimacy
Truthtelling vs. Blaming
General questions follow each description. These questions can lead to fruitful
discussions if group members plug them into the discussion format in Chapter 7.
QUESTIONS OF COMMITMENT
These dynamics relate to questions of involvement: Are group members committed
to the process? Are agreements about commitment, attendance, and promptness
clear enough so that men can keep them? Laxness about creating the container of
the group is a statement of intention; it says something like, "I want an
escape valve so I don't really have to be here?"
If attendance becomes a consistent problem for a man, often he is showing his
dissatisfaction for the group in the only way he knows how. Of course, men need
to stay current with other members if their commitment level changes. It is
easy to make the absent member the scapegoat for ambivalence that other members
may be feeling, but do not know how to talk about. It is important to remember
that the real commitment is for group members to be present and willing to
invest themselves, their truth, and their vulnerability into the group.
1. Is the group set up so that the agreements about when and where the group
meets are clear? Do the group members come on time and consistently? Do members
expect a call when someone is going to miss?
2. Do group members feel free to talk about their own or others' lateness or
missed meetings? What emotional reaction do these misses trigger in other
members? How are these reactions familiar from previous relationships?
3. Do the members come ready to be present, or are they affected by their
working pace or drugs like alcohol or coffee?
Who is going to run the group, and how will this be decided? How will group
decisions be made? Questions like these inevitably arise when men get together
to create something. Men have found great inspiration and energy with good
leaders, and they have been wounded and abused by bad ones. This history will
be present in a group, especially at the beginning, as the members begin to
develop some trust.
John Guarnaschelli, who has put together dozens of men's groups through "On the
Common Ground" in New York City, has suggested to me that this is the one
hurdle that his groups struggle with the most. Men launch into group work
together without handling this single fundamental issue: how will the members
decide where to meet, when to meet, and most importantly, how will they meet?
The failure to come to a common agreement means that some men will
unconsciously take power, and others will give it up. Unspoken resentments will
build, until someone has the courage to tell the truth, or until the group
1. What kind of leader do I want for this group? Do I want to be the only
leader? Will I give my respect to another leader? Do I want leadership to
rotate, or rest with one individual?
2. What kinds of issues do I have around leadership? Do I want to control and
manage, or do I sit back and criticize? How do I react when I am being lead or
controlled and I don't like it?
3. Am I willing to make leadership a topic of the group? Am I willing to
speak honestly about my needs when the leaders do not appear to be taking them