Leadership Training | Team Building in Small Groups

teaching small group

Small group leadership and team building skills are vital in today's business climate. No longer do people act alone in their efforts at work. More often than not, at some point in your career you may find yourself in charge of, or part of a small group or team.

Business isn't the only place this is true, however. There are many times we find ourselves part of a group. These can be as casual as a neighborhood walking group, and as formal as a member of the Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors. We can also be in a team situation with recreational sports, school activities, and church groups.

We will take a look at this from the perspective of team building in a church because many of the personal emotions are often left out if we approach it from a strictly "business" vantage point. The same principals that you would employ in a church small group will be the same for any small group- after all, a small group, or team is made up of "people" and these people have common needs and feelings no matter what the setting. Understanding some of the dynamics of a group can help the team be more effective and enjoyable. The main dynamic we will deal with here is the "life cycle" of a group.

Leadership Development: Understanding the lifecycle of a small group or team

Small groups experience predictable stages in their life cycle. Depending on which expert we look at, each has a varying degree of how these stages are classified. What are these stages and why is it important and valuable for the participants of a small group to understand each phase? How can the leader help the group in each stage?

As we look at these questions, we will see how the group moves from one stage to the next. We will also see how the leader can keep the group focused. I will concentrate on the four stages a group experiences during its life (while not including the factor of possible demise).

When I was first married, I went into the relationship with a great deal of anticipation, hope, and a degree of fear and insecurity. I had known my husband for only a short time so there was still much to learn about who he was. When we form a new group or team, the same is true. It is all going to be new in the beginning as we enter this first phase of "exploration and orientation". Just as in marriage, so it is in groups, we tend to be excited, yet cautious in this phase. According to author Julie Gorman, “the first meeting is conditioned by guardedness” (Gorman, 2002).

We are guarded for many reasons. The predominant motivation is fear. Here we find one of the first needs our group will face: We need to overcome the fear of one another. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 1:8, NIV Bible). When we first meet, our human nature tells us that we may not be loved and accepted by this new group of strangers, and so we fear them. We will try to build security into our meetings by remaining guarded in order not to get hurt. It is here that the leader can begin to help ease the fear. “Dependency on the leader is central in this stage” (Gorman)

During this phase, the leader can do a great deal to start building an environment of care and acceptance so that the fear is “cast out”. They can do this by creating a safe place of sharing and appreciation for the members. They can facilitate questions that allow each member to disclose themselves to the other members, allowing trust building among the members. As trust is developed, insecurity is reduced, and fear is diminished as people get to know, trust, and like each other.

Because of insecurities, in these early meetings (somewhere between ten to sixteen weeks according to Bill Donahue in his book, “Leading Life Changing Small Groups”) it would also be helpful if the leader explained what to expect in these various stages of the life of the group. Taking some of the mystery out of what to anticipate is one of the first steps to overcoming fear.

As the group moves through the various stages, they have a point of reference as to what is taking place. This also builds confidence in the leader as a knowledgeable source of how groups work. This can create a degree of stability when people trust their leader. Then, as the group moves into stage two, the “power and control stage”, the members are better equipped to take on the challenges of this stage.

In this second stage, members have begun to feel comfortable and are beginning to build a sense of trust. They are also more likely to start being more assertive. This is the stage where “members move in the direction of ‘being real’ ” (Gorman). What does this mean to "be real"? It means that the early insecurities and polite small talk have given way to real expressions of feelings and conflicts as people begin to assert their own distinctiveness.

I am reminded of the story in Acts 6:1 in the Bible, “in those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food”. Here we see a newly formed group of Christians who were distinguishing themselves by nationality and complaining to the leaders (the disciples) of how they wanted better treatment. This situation can be seen in any group made up of diverse interests, ethnicity, backgrounds, gender- any number of things that can divide us. The leaders had to be very secure in their decisions with their people in order to meet the need, retain order, and restore unity in the group.

A leader of a small group will face a similar scenario as their members begin to express individuality and personal needs. Conflicts will arise and an effective leader will have to have the maturity and understanding to implement four key strategies:

1. They will need to encourage self-disclosure.

2. They will need to help each member value their differences (as opposed to being prejudice).

3. They will also want to help each member note similarities building camaraderie.

4. Finally, they should demonstrate flexibility so that no one acts in a rigid, inflexible manner.

All of these traits will help to build care, love, and trust in the group as it moves into the third stage.

It is in this third stage the group begins to see itself as “we”. Now the leader becomes more of a facilitator and member of the group. The group has gone through the growing pains of building trust and now accepts each other for who they are. This is where we can see truth in action, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2 NIV Bible). Moving us into the fourth stage considered “the productive stage”.

It is in this stage the members have learned to work with each other and are productive in that work, despite all the early insecurities, differences, concerns about acceptance, and care. These issues have been dealt with, and love, concern, care, and trust established. In this stage we learn to enjoy being with others and “function well with them”. Donahue calls this the “action” phase. This is the “be-all and end-all” part of group development.

From a Christian perspective, this is what I believe Christ desires of us, as it says in Ephesians 4:16 NIV Bible, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”. As we grow and work through each stage of small group development, the end goal is to love or have concern for one another, trust each other, do our part, and work well together no matter what kind of group you are involved with.

As leaders of groups, it is good to remember the various stages of group development so that we can be effective in our calling as leaders. It will be helpful to our members to have an understanding of what to expect so that unexpected issues don’t fracture the group. It is also a delight to anticipate the growth and maturity that a small group can gain, along with the productiveness it will employ as it grows and moves through each stage.

So whether you are in a corporate setting, a den mother for the Boy Scouts, or the leader of a small group in your faith organization, understanding the life cycle of your team or group will help you have greater success and grow to become a better leader.

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htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

Small businesses are really doing great ..Thanks for the info..

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    Works Cited

    Gorman, J. A. (2002). Community that is Chistian. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

    [1] Explained in “Community that is Christian” by Julie Gorman, pages 186 to 202. Also, see “Leading Life Changing Small Groups”, page 86, by Bill Donahue.

    [2] See “Leading Life Changing Small Groups”, page 86, by Bill Donahue.

    [3] See “Community that is Christian” by Julie Gorman, page 190.

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