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Introducing social work: a starter kit
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4.4 Some group behaviours can be problematic

This is a photograph of a group of people in public.
Figure 17

Doel and Sawdon (1999) identify a range of behaviours that are likely to be common elements in the process of a group’s development, although they don’t necessarily apply to every group in the same way. Behaviours such as these can divert the group from its task, but they are not necessarily always ‘bad’ in themselves. However, when working with groups, group leaders need to be able to identify these behaviours and use them to assist individuals to maximise opportunities for change and to minimise negative influences where possible. These behaviours include:

  • Monopolising: an individual taking a disproportionate amount of the group’s time.
  • Leading from within: this can include inappropriate challenges to the leader’s authority, although occasionally it can be supportive.
  • Challenging: for individuals to challenge group norms and behaviour can promote growth and provide focus. However, group leaders need to assess and manage such challenges sensitively.
  • Silence: Individuals who are silent can signal warm intimacy or cold distance. But silence is always an issue and a challenge for group leaders to assess and manage appropriately.
  • Gatekeeping: When a group encounters something difficult, some individuals may attempt to divert discussion away, towards safer ground. Group leaders need to help the group manage the risks of such gatekeeping behaviours.
  • Joking: This can be positive and can bond the group together, demonstrating and validating the common humanity of the group. But it can be problematic if it serves primarily as another form of gatekeeping, to avoid important although painful issues.
  • Behaving differently: Someone whose behaviour or characteristics are markedly different, or a person who chooses to be markedly different from other group members, can either be a positive catalyst, or a significant inhibitor to group development. Group leaders need to manage these issues sensitively.
  • Scapegoating: This is when a collection of strong feelings of hostility are directed to one or two members of the group on a regular basis. This behaviour can signal important issues for the group but can be very destructive if not dealt with quickly and responsibly. Group leaders must be careful not to inadvertently collude with one side or the other.