Experiments in group and team contexts

Contact in the group or workshop context

When you begin work with a group or team, one of the first things you notice as you walk into the room is the way it’s been set up. In Chapter 15, I covered the importance of creating the optimum holding space for Gestalt work, whether that’s with individual coaching clients or groups and teams.

The layout of the room, whether people are seated around a main table or a circle of comfortable chairs, and the proximity between people all have an influence on contact. In team coaching workshops or Gestalt-based leadership development programmes I (or my team) typically arrange the chairs in a circle, mindful that whilst the intention is to encourage conditions conducive for open sharing, this can be experienced as intimidating to some people who would prefer to sit behind a table. The chairs are therefore arranged at what seems like a ‘safe distance’: not too far away, but not too close either.

It’s interesting to notice how some people move their chairs in or out to suit their own preference, but mostly the circumference of the circle remains pretty much the same from the beginning to the end of the day unless break-out conversations in pairs and triads disrupt the pattern.

To bring this to people’s attention and encourage a spirit of experimentation, we often invite the group to explore what contact and connection might feel like if we were to change the proximity or distance we are sitting from one another. The experiment typically follows this sequence of graded experiments:

Step 1: keeping the circle intact, move all your seats to the furthest point back towards the walls (in a large room people are usually about 5-6 metres away from each other at this stage). Now, and without words, notice your felt experience - what you’re experiencing in your body, your breathing, what you’re feeling and thinking. Take another moment to consider the possibilities for connection and contact at this place.

After about a minute...

Step 2: now move your chairs in by around 1 metre. The same instructions apply again - notice your felt experience, etc....

After about a minute...

Step 3: now move in with your chairs another metre. The same instructions apply again - notice your felt experience ...

After about a minute...

Steps 4 and 5: the same as above, by which time the group will be very close. Depending on the room size, there may be one final move in, until people are literally as close as possible.

After about a minute (which can seem a very long time for some people), the process is reversed...

Step 6: move back 1 metre and notice your felt experience...

And then just keep moving your chair until it’s where you feel right - not as a group, but as individuals.

Now notice your felt experience and notice where the configuration has settled.

End and review.

This is a contact exercise during which people often experience what is known in Gestalt as the contact boundary. They know it because it is a felt experience in their bodies - maybe their breathing changes, for example. It is like an invisible line that they come up to, and step through and beyond. It can feel temporarily uncomfortable, yet at the same time intriguing.

Their awareness is raised about where their personal contact boundary is and where fellow group members meet theirs. The exercise also raises awareness of what the possibilities, as well as limitations, are at different places and boundaries.

The outcomes of this exercise vary in relation to the timing of when it’s done and the experience the group has of intimacy work. With groups of fellow practitioners who have worked together for a long period of time, they may want an enhanced level of connection from the beginning of a meeting and will quickly self-organise to achieve it. Groups and teams who have yet to establish closer intimate connection may be reluctant to engage with this sort of exercise, at least until there is more preparation of the ground.

Invariably, when done at the ‘right’ time for a group, it can be a pleasing experience and one that they want to repeat. Most often, the group finds a place of proximity which is noticeably closer than the original configuration.

Experimenting with dialogue groups in team coaching

Practicing dialogue is an experiment in itself, and the desire to be in dialogue requires an experimental attitude.

During a leadership team coaching assignment, one of the most obvious features was that they were most energised when discussing new business opportunities and reviewing financial performance and commercial results. These topics had a magnetic effect on them and drew them in. Given that they were the executive team running a major company, this was no surprise.

I had introduced them to the notion of strategic/intimate (described in Chapter 6), and they saw themselves operating almost exclusively in the strategic and paying insufficient attention to the intimate. They recognised that they needed to find more of a balance. When I asked them to give their first thoughts on how they might do this, they said they should find time and ways to have conversations as a team which were not about problem-solving or arriving at an end result.

I proposed that they experiment with being in a group dialogue session for one hour using a number of guidelines that would probably steer them away from a results-focused conversation. They agreed, and I introduced them to the following guidelines. I would remain out of the circle and after an hour we would review the experience.

Dialogue group guidelines

  • • No group-level decisions will be made in the conversation
  • • Suspend judgement in the conversation
  • • As you suspend judgement you are simultaneously as honest and transparent as possible
  • • Try to build on other individuals’ contributions in the conversation
  • • Make ‘I’ statements, as opposed to speaking for the group or for anyone else in the group
  • • Be present in the here-and-now experience in the room

At the outset of the session it was hardly a surprise to find that they were uncomfortable, puzzled, and somewhat awkward. They had a tried and tested way of being together and this wasn’t it. They didn’t know what to focus on because there was no set agenda and no topic. They started conversations and then stopped them because they quickly recognised they were falling back into finding a problem and solving it. They regularly referred back to the guidelines but it took around half the session for them to find a new groove. They started to experiment with sharing more about themselves and what they were experiencing in the here and now. The engagement level steadily increased and they visibly relaxed. By the end of the hour they were in contact with each other in a way I had not seen on any of the three previous team workshops. When I called time, they asked for more because they were enjoying it so much.

In the review that followed, these are some of the things they said:

  • • ‘Wow, what a freedom that gave. I just felt freed up by not having to come up with a plan, a solution, a to-do list’
  • • ‘I felt I could go anywhere - actually I felt quite emotional at times - and it made me realise that I normally only bring my brain to these meetings’
  • • ‘There was a different connection starting to happen here - and I for one really enjoyed it’
  • • ‘Yes, we shared more of ourselves and it didn’t seem to matter that we weren’t on an agenda looking for a result. In fact it was a breath of fresh air’
  • • ‘Well, you know, there was a result but it was a different kind of result. It was the intimacy result we talked about. I think we seem closer right now, and more relaxed. Imagine if all our meetings felt like this?’
  • • ‘We should do this more often and not just on team off-sites. How can we bring this back? It brings something completely different into play. Communication is so much better and less formulaic’

Readers who would like more on the guidelines may be familiar with David Bohm’s four key principles of dialogue, which are the first four on the above list. The additional two come from Gestalt groupwork practice.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >