We frequently post announcements for Group Relations Conferences on this website. In fact, there are two coming up here and here. It is difficult to know what to expect from one of these conferences, beyond that the task is to study group process. It’s not my intent to dispel the mystery here, but I do want to share just a little bit about my recent experience at a Group Relations Conference.
Certainly, I knew that it would be an opportunity for experiential learning, but I was not prepared for the depth of the learning experience. Specifically, what it would show me about my self, my self in groups, and the delicate (and sometimes not so delicate) work that is done around the boundary. The group was able to tell me what it thought about it me, and how I could be more effective as part of it. This has proved helpful in thinking about how to take up the role of change agent. The group also provided valuable insight into how the group views the consultant role. Leadership and authority are given, taken, and elected at will to serve the needs of the group, but this process can be managed. As I observed and participated in the group, I had the opportunity to reflect on the emotional and psychological complexities of participant-observation. Concepts that I have learned in textbooks came alive as the group mind emerged in its fury and angst. It was easy to see how individuals are swept into the group, and what happens to those who resist its pull. It was also a vivid reminder of the ambivalence one could feel standing at the edge of the group, weighing the costs and benefits of group membership.
The Group Relations Conference serves as a laboratory for studying groups as they develop. For many it is a place of exploration, trying on new roles and implementing new strategies in the group context. For me, it was a valuable learning experience that has deepened my awareness of self and other in every group that I join.