Why does this happen?
At the start of a group coming together the leader has a lot of power.
S/he knows a lot more about how the group should develop and what it
needs to do.
The participants are relatively powerless. The group is ‘dependent’ on
the leader at this point. No matter how confident they appear,
participants will be consciously or unconsciously asking themselves:
- Who am I in this group?
- Do I belong here?
- What is my role?
- What will others think of me?
- Will my knowledge or skill be tested here?
- What can I say and what will be frowned on?
This is why the group is so fluid – it is waiting for direction. Direction is
given in three main ways
1. The ground rules ( see example)
2. Modelling by the leader
There will be cultural or organisational rules that are followed non-
consciously. Also, participants listen very carefully to the language used
in the leader’s introduction, the tone of voice, whether jokes are made,
in order to judge what is desirable and acceptable and what isn’t.
3. How the group is allowed to start contributing
It’s important to get involvement from the start, no matter what the task
at hand. Individuals need to be asked to speak (or write in the chat in a
large group) and how this is handled sends signals about what the group
norms could be.
For example, if participants are asked to introduce themselves without
including their role, the message is that status is not important in the
group; it is to be run democratically.
If a participant deliberately flouts an explicit or implicit norm (e.g. using
bad language, being racist), they need to be called out by the leader.
Otherwise other people will try it on, and it will seem acceptable.