This assignment will describe a piece of group work, which I have been involved in during the course of my 70-day placement. The assignment will analyse the effectiveness of the group work with reference to group work theories. The group in which I have developed is a health and fitness group for adults with learning difficulties, who live within residential services. Participation in this group gives the members a chance to socialise whilst learning new activities and information about health.
Merchant (1988) argues that developing as a worker in a group is inadequate, upholding that practitioners also need to be proficient members of teams. This involves understanding the progression that operates in groups and dexterity in facilitating group relationships and tasks in order to achieve objectives. Groups offer a diverse level of interaction, facilitating learning on a level that is not available through individual methods. Being part of a group can offer a sense of belonging and gives members a chance to aid others in their development as well as be aided themselves.
For some, a group is a place to belong, where mutual support, inspiration and trust are offered. (Coulshed and Orme, 2006). The purpose of the group I worked with is to offer people with learning difficulties, in residential services, the chance to experience various forms of exercise and learn about healthy lifestyle choices. It aims to provide opportunities for members to develop positive relationships, enabling them to make friends and have fun. Cole and Llyod (2007) emphasise the prevailing capability group work has to engage marginalised populations.
Adults with learning difficulties are particularly at risk of being socially excluded. According to a national survey cited in Valuing People Now (Department of Health, 2007), 31% of people with learning difficulties have no friends. The paper goes on to suggest that organising service provision to include integration is one way that can contribute to people’s social contacts. I was given the task of starting the group, along with another member of staff who is a senior support worker in one of the residential houses.
There are also three other senior support workers who are charged with responsibility for facilitating the group. The members who attend the group are accompanied by staff members from their individual houses. All of the people living within residential services were invited to the first session, which totalled almost 50 people. However, it was thought to be unlikely that everybody would attend as some people may have other commitments.
The size of a group is very important in terms of group dynamics and should be large enough for stimulation, yet small enough for contribution and acknowledgment of each member (Brown 1992). At the first meeting, eight service users attended. Although this was a good number as it allowed people to get to know each other and spend time speaking to everyone in the group, we had facilities to accommodate 20 people comfortably and were a little disappointed at the low turn out. The members of the group have differing levels of learning difficulties and are a mixture of both men and women.
When a group is being set up, if possible a perfect equilibrium, is one that is standardised enough to ensure solidity and assorted enough to ensure validity”. (Coulshed and Orme, 2006) The venue for the sessions is a recreation centre within the Tameside area, it was important when finding a suitable accommodation, that it be wheelchair accessible and have appropriate disabled toilets, to accommodate people with physical disabilities. As we asked members to contribute to the cost of room hire, it was also imperative that we found a venue at a reasonable price.
Four main stages of group development have been identified as playing a part in groups, these are forming, storming, norming, and performing (Tuckman and Jenson, 1977) and I will discuss these in relation to the group work I undertook. The initial session involved the group meeting each other for the first time, to begin with the members seemed hesitant about what would take place at the sessions and what was expected of them. Tuckman identified this stage as the forming stage, this phase is characterised by anxiety from the participants.
At this point, individuals are gathering information and impressions about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it. (Tuckman and Jenson, 1977). With this in mind, I introduced myself to the group, illuminating that I was a student social worker on placement and that I would only be part of the group for a month. I explained that I would be facilitating the group and organising various fitness activities. Also, along with the other group leaders, I would inform members about healthy lifestyle choices and give them tips on how to incorporate changes into their lives.
The first activity was a warm-up using a parachute, which everybody had the chance to participate in. The game involved each person holding a part of the parachute, then as a team, we would move the parachute in different directions. Two members decided not to join in at the start of the game, preferring to sit and watch. As the warm-up proceeded one member of the group became very bossy, ordering the other group members to hold the parachute in different ways, some of the participants stayed quiet and one decided to ignore the rules of the game and sat on the floor.
According to Tuckman and Jenson (1977) this is known as the storming stage; decisions don’t come easily within the group, members vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members and the leader. Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist. Cliques and factions form and there may be power struggles. The team needs to be focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues. Compromises may be required to enable progress.
Aware of this, we moved on to the main activities, which involved a selection of games, including, tennis, curling and boccia and hockey. Having a selection of activities ensured that there would be something that everybody enjoyed. Once the main activities were up and running, this saw the group appearing as unified, working as a team and sharing equipment. This is known as the norming stage, whereas, agreement and consensus is largely formed among the group, they respond well to facilitation by leader and roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted.
As more time was spent doing the activities, it became apparent that boccia was the most popular game, it is accessible for both people with a physical disability and those that are able-bodied. A white jack is thrown and the game involves getting your balls as close to the jack as possible. After about 20 minutes, the whole group were playing boccia and taking it in turns to have their go. The members were laughing and there was a definite sense of team. This is known as the performing stage of Tuckmans model, at this point the group knows clearly why it is doing what it is doing.
There is a shared vision and the group is able to stand on its own feet with no interference or participation from the leader. Disagreements occur but now they are resolved within the group positively and emphasis is placed on working towards achieving the goal. The stages are not inevitably clear-cut; they are more a representation of tendencies which many groups veer towards. Groups are often forming and changing, and each time that happens, they can move to a different Tuckman Stage. A group might be norming or performing, but a new member might force them back into storming.
An experienced leader will be ready for this, and will help the group get back to performing as quickly as possible (Egolf, 2001) At the end of the first session, we spent time asking the group members what activities they enjoyed and if they had any suggestions for what they would like to do in future sessions. This was to ensure that subsequent group meetings stayed fun for members and that they felt involved with the organisation of the group. Many of the participants offered ideas for future activities, ranging from walking to ball sports. One member was very keen to be part of the organisation of the group.
It was important that I facilitated discussions on a level that all members could understand, ensuring that everybody was invited to participate, the aim being to support and empower the members, by adopting an anti-oppressive approach, enabling participants to take greater control and be actively involved in the decision making. On reflection, the first health and fitness session went well; members engaged enthusiastically in activities and spent time socialising with one another. The overall evaluation from the participants of the first session was very favourable.