Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Stages of Social Work Group Formation

There are a number of stages or phases in formation of
a social work group. Ken Heap (1985) discussed these
as group formation and planning; the first meetings;
the working phase; use of activities and action; and
the termination of the Group. According to Douglas
(1979) there are five stages viz., conceptualisation,
creation, operation, termination and evaluation. He
has discussed these as the functions of leader while
Toseland and Rivas (1984) discussed the stages under
planning phase, beginning phase, middle phase and
ending phase.
For our purpose we can discuss the stages of social
group work practice under the following five heads:
_ Pre-group (group formation) phase
_ Initial (first meetings) phase
_ Middle (Active working) phase
_ Evaluation of the group
_ Terminating/ending the group phase
In the pre-group phase worker identifies the need for
organising a group and initiates steps to form the group.
In the initial (first meetings) phase the worker and the
group members meet at the place specified --- agency
or any other place where group is likely to have its
sessions --- and initial orientation to the group’s purpose
and other information is given and shared. In the middle
(active working) phase the group continues its
deliberations and activities to accomplish its goals and
in evaluation phase the performance of the group is
examined vis-à-vis the group purpose and members,
goals. Finally, in the ending or termination phase the
group is made to dissolve and the worker enables the
members to part with each other on a goodwill note.
Phase I: Planning and Formation of the
The social group worker representing an agency
providing services such as residential care, day-care
and community work may come across situations where
the services of the agency are effectively utilised by
the client system through a group experience. The
needs may even be identified by the other staff or client
system itself. Once the worker identifies the need for
formation of social work group, he/she starts planning
for the formation of the group. For this the worker has
to answer some questions with his/her professional
background very carefully and systematically. These
questions are:
Why is the group? Here, the worker has to look at the
need for forming the group. The purpose and goals it
can attain have to be conceptualised and defined.
For whom the group is being formed? Here, the task is
to work out type of members the group addresses to.
The eligibility criteria to enroll a member.
How many? This looks at the number of members the
group consists of. Should have large number or small
number of members.
How long? This focus on the life span of the group in
terms of time period and the number of sessions/
meetings it shall have. The group exists for days, weeks,
months and the frequency of its meetings.
How to ensure members’ involvement in the group?
The agreements the members and the worker enter
into ensure the group processes to go on till the
attainment of the purpose of the group.
Keeping in mind these questions the broad steps at
this stage are:
_ Formulating group’s purpose
_ Composition of the group
_ Size of the group
_ Enrolling the members
_ Contracting
Formulating Group’s Purpose: Here the worker has to
be clear in his mind as to why the group is being
conceived and what it is addressing itself to. The
purpose has to be expressed in a well defined
statement/s. It shall not be confusing and shall not
give any scope for suspecting its genuineness as to
group’s broad aim of helping the potential needy
members. Therefore, it shall be formulated in simple
statements. It shall provide answers to the potential
members as to what to expect and to what extent their
participating in the group is beneficial. A well-defined
statement of the purpose also takes care of unnecessary
members to join the group. It also enables the agency
that the formation of the group is within the confines
of the agency’s areas of operations and is not against
its interests and services. It also enable the sponsors
and other resource agencies what to expect from the
Let us see some examples of the statements of the
--- Group is to create platform for the parents of the
drug addicted college-going youth to share their
problems and develop the skills to manage their
--- Group is to enable the women in the community to
make productive use of their leisure time.
--- Group is formed to chalk out tasks to be
accomplished by the heads of the departments for
the forthcoming financial year.
--- The purpose of the group may subject to some
modifications to suit the changing demands during
the course of the group meetings with the
agreement of all the concerned parties to the group.
Composition of the Group: Once the group is
established then the worker has to look into what shall
be the composition of the group. Should it be
homogeneous in its composition or heterogeneous?
Homogeneity indicates sharing common features
among the group members such as age, educational
background, social class, and other interests .
Homogeneity helps in building the group bond faster
which is a decisive force in group process. At the same
time, it fails to provide diverse information, experiences,
and alternative ways of doing. Heterogeneity addresses
to the need for diversity of certain characteristics of
the members such as the length of time suffering with
or coping with the problem, the efforts put into deal
with the problem, the emotional state besides the
other demographic attributes. Diversity ensures
sharing of each other’s situations, making comparisons,
finding alternatives, and stimulates each other. At the
same time it poses problems of acceptance and
involvement. Therefore, it is an important task for the
group worker to decide the composition of the group
keeping in mind the broad purpose and the individual
member needs and goals. Another aspect that has to
be considered is whether to have an open group or a
closed group. In open group there are no restrictions on
joining the group from the point of the time. One can
be enrolled into the group any time during the life of
the group. While the closed group stops enrollment of
members after the stipulated time of admission. Opting
for open or closed group depends on the purpose, the
goals and the time frame set for the group.
Size of the Group: How many members shall compose
the group? What shall be the ideal size? What are the
criteria to determine whether the size of the group is
too big or small? All these questions are there in the
mind of the worker. There are no hard and fast rules
to determine the size of the group. It basically depends
on the purpose of the group and manageability from the
point of time, space, funds and some form of controls
that need to be introduced. Small size is easy to manage,
more cohesive, provides higher levels of interaction but
may not provide diverse experience, may not mobilise
the required resources and the balance of the group
is effected in case a member or two drops out. While
the large size provides diverse experiences and even
if some members drop out it will not adversely affect
the group deliberations and achievement of group’s
purpose, can mobilise more resources, greater scope
of leadership. But it limits time, all members may not
find enough time to share their views, experiences,
work, it gives scope to formation of subgroups and more
conflicts. It is easier for some members to hide and
avoid completing the tasks assigned. The professional
experience and expertise of the group worker comes
handy in determining the size of the group. Ideally a
group of eight to fifteen members is a good size.
Enrolling the Members: Once it is decided to form the
group and other modalities of the group viz., group’s
purpose, composition and the size of the group have
worked out, then the next step is to enroll the group
members. Here, the worker has to make arrangements
to inform the potential members about forming the
group. The information may be given directly to the
potential members or passed through a notice in the
agency’s notice boards, a circular to the staff and other
agencies concerned and by advertising in the media
such as newspapers, radio, television etc., seeking
applications from the interested members.
The prospective members may approach either directly
or by sending in their applications. The worker has to
examine the applications as to the suitability of the
candidates on the basis of eligibility criteria established.
The criteria include extent of need, urgency of
intervention, demographic attributes, experience, and
other skills. The worker can also arrange interviews
with the applicants to ascertain their suitability. By
interviewing the applicants the worker can also explain
to them about purpose of the group and dispel some of
their doubts about joining the group. Once the worker
completes the screening, the suitable applicants are
enrolled into the group.
Contracting: At the time of enrolling the members the
worker and members have to enter into an agreement
as to certain conditions that are to be followed during
the course of group process. It consists of a statement
of general responsibilities of the members and the
worker during the life of the group. Some of these
include assurance to attend the group sessions
regularly and in time, to complete any task or work
assigned, maintain the confidentiality of the discussions
of the group, not to indulge in a behaviour that is
detrimental to the well- being of the group. The contract
also specifies the fees or charges if any for undertaking
certain activities and for procuring any material, as
well as the penalties or fines the member/s have to
pay for any violations of the terms of contract. The
contents in the contract are subjected to revisions to
accommodate some unforeseen developments as the
group process unfolds. The contract may be in written
or an oral understanding. The contract binds the worker
and members to planned schedules of the group and
facilitate an environment to conduct the group processes
Finally the worker has to prepare a stage for beginning
the group proceedings. He/She has to procure a
conducive place for group sessions either in the agency
itself or any other suitable place, arrange for monetary
back up, gather necessary information and material.
And make such other preparations for launching of the
Phase II : Initial Meetings
In this section we are looking into what are the tasks
the worker and members have to undertake to begin
the group. In fact it is the most crucial stage as the
success or failure of the group depends on how well the
initial meetings are handled by the worker. The
members attend the meeting with a lot of expectations.
Member/s attend the meeting with the hope that time
has come to get over the problem that has been
affecting them over a (long) period of time. How much
of it is going to be solved? They are also enthusiastic
to meet and interact with others whom they have not
met before and who are also having similar needs/
problems. They will look forward to having new social
While on the other hand members many entertaining
a number of doubts about the competence of the worker
and whether participating in this group exercise can
really deal with their problems effectively. They are
also having a number of fears. They do not know what
type of persons are the worker and other members. Is
the worker and other members are of friendly
disposition, understanding and sensitive and would not
misuse the confidential self-disclosures the member/s
likely to make in the group? Whether I can participate
meaningfully in the group deliberations? Will my
situation get more worsened? These are some of the
fears of the member/s.
Similarly the worker too has his /her own thoughts.
How much guidance the group expects from the worker
to accomplish its purpose and goals? Whether the
professional competence and experience is good enough
to handle the group? Whether the members accept him/
her? What type of new challenges and experiences the
group brings ?
The Steps Involved in this Stage are:
--- Self- presentations by the worker and the members
--- Orientation about the group
--- Goal formation
--- Structuring the group session
--- Reviewing the contract
Self-presentations: As soon as the group is convened
for the first time, the worker takes the initiative of
making the group members feel comfortable by friendly
greetings with each and every member. Once the
members are settled comfortably then the worker
introduces himself/herself giving personal and
professional details. The worker shall give adequate
information about himself/herself as possible so that it
not only makes members confident about the worker
but it also act as guide as to the details of information
they have to disclose when their self -presentations
turn comes. After that the members are asked to
introduce themselves. This exercise of introductions
shall be planned in such a way that it will help the
members to feel at ease, and come out with more details
about their situation. The worker should make them
understand that the more the details they give the better
will be their understanding about each other and will
make a way for developing trust which is very important
for effective results. There are a number of ways of
introductions. The worker can employ any of such
introductions keeping in mind the group’s purpose and
composition of the group. One way is to sit in a circle
and introductions start in either clockwise or anticlockwise
direction. Another way is the members are
divided into pairs and each pair is asked to exchange
information about each other and then one member of
the pair introduces the other and vice versa.
Orientation about the Group: After the selfpresentations
the worker shall orient the members
about the broad purpose of the group. Here the worker
spells out circumstances that paved the way for forming
the group. How their disadvantage/s are likely overcome
through the participation in subsequent group
processes. Members are told explained about the
functions and the roles of both the worker and the
members. The worker also mentions previous
experiences if any, so that members develop confidence
in the worker as well as the strategy of adopting group
work as a viable alternative. Members are encouraged
to seek clarifications as to the relevance of the group’s
purpose to their needs or problem situation. The worker
also explains the agency’s background.
Goal Formation: In this step, the goals of the group
are framed. Goals are statements of desired levels of
change in behaviour or in social situation or in physical
conditions to be achieved at some future time. The
purpose of the group, agency’s purpose, the needs of
the individual members and the modalities of conducting
the group---ThelenThelen norms of conduct --- determine
the goals. The worker assesses the individual needs of
the members and in consultation with them frames
the goals. Toseland and Rivas (1984) specified three
areas of goal formation. First area covers group
centered goals that revolve around the conduct and
maintenance of the group. Second area consists of
common group goals that address to all concerned people
--- worker, members, agency, sponsor, and finally the
third area is concerning individual member centered
specific goals. The goals are again viewed as ultimate
goal and a number of intermediary goals (Rose, 1973).
The ultimate goal indicates what final change in the
status quo is to be attained while the intermediary goals
that facilitate attainment of ultimate goal. These
intermediary goals are formulated session-wise and /
or stage-wise that is from the reference of time or
progress made. Konapka (1958) emphasises that while
framing the goals, care shall be taken to see that these
are complementing and supplementing rather than
conflicting and contradicting each other.
Some examples of the goals are:
- The parents of mentally retarded children join a
group to learn some better ways of coping up with
the challenges of upbringing their wards --- the
general need of the group members.;
- The purpose of the group is to provide a platform for
the parents of mentally retarded children to share
and exchange their skills in upbringing of the
children--- the purpose of the group formation.
- Agency’s purpose is to make parents take more
responsibility in bringing up their mentally retarded
- A parent’s specific need is to learn to tackle the
aggressive behaviour of his/her child and to make
his/her spouse and other family members to accept
the child.
- The group centered goal is that all members will
share their problems without any reservations and
will not waste the group’s time by indulging in
irrelevant issues.
All these are complementing and supplementing each
other. For example, if the goal of joining the group is to
question the policies of the agencies or to demand for
more facilities then the goal is not complementary to
other goals and create problems in attaining other
goals, therefore, should not be included.
Structuring Group Session: Structuring the group
session involves two aspects. First is structuring the
time and the second addresses to the pattern of
interactions. The group has to work out how much
time has to be allotted to each session, to each activity
and to each member. The group has to evolve the
modalities of adhering to the time schedules. It has
also to work out alternatives in case of failure to adhere
to the time schedules. For example it has to spend 30
minutes for a video show but because of the electricity
failure, the video could not be played. Instead of idling
away the time the group can have a discussion focused
on the theme of the videotape.
The interactions among the members and between the
members and the worker have to be structured.
Structuring the interactions includes how to address
each other, how to and when to intervene and interrupt,
how to encourage docile and shy members to participate
and control the domination of some members. It also
includes certain group norms that are to be followed
strictly by the members.
Reviewing the Contract: At the time of enrolling, the
members and worker entered into an agreement of
working together. At that time the members might not
have good understanding about the whole exercise.
After attending to the orientation and having initial
interactions with the worker and with each other,
members and worker may feel the need to change some
conditions of the contract, for example, the frequency
of meetings, time and duration of the meetings, and
the fees etc. The contract is reviewed and new clauses
are introduced or some clauses are deleted from the
original contract with mutual consent.
Creating an environment that is conducive for the
healthy conduct of the group session is a continuous
process. The physical arrangements, financial back up
and mobilising resources are the areas the group
members and the worker have to work on.
Phase III: Middle (Active Working) Phase
This phase occupies the major part of the working
life of the group. Members attend the sessions
regularly and actively working towards accomplishing
its purpose and goals ---- general group maintenance
goals, common group goals and individual member goals.
The steps involved in this stage are:
_ Making arrangements for the conduct of group
_ Structuring the time
_ Facilitating group meetings
_ Assessment of the group’s progress
Making Arrangements for Group Sessions: The group
gears up for attaining various goals it is pursuing. The
worker and the members plan and make preparation
for the group meetings. The worker has to spend
considerable amount of time in developing the activities
and procedures for the conduct of the group meetings.
A number of decisions have to be taken with regard to
the selection of an activity or task, sequencing of the
tasks and activities, assigning responsibilities etc.
Materials and equipment to conduct the group activities
have to be procured. Resource agencies and persons
have to be contacted.
For example, a pre-retirement counselling group may
plan for exercises that would give them an idea about
the possible changes that take place in their social
status and roles and how best to cope up with the new
situation. The possible exercises could be role-plays,
screening of a video followed with a discussion, an
orientation lecture session by an expert counselor in
the field etc.
Structuring the Time: The worker continues this task
of setting the time limits for group sessions and
individual tasks which has already been initiated in
the previous phase as the life of the group is for a
specified period. The members and the worker have to
be quite conscious of using time to get maximum
benefit out of the group meetings. It is often the
tendency to delay the start the meetings for the sake
of latecomers. Delaying the starting time may encourage
late coming and cause inconvenience to others who
report in time. It also happens that the meetings are
either closed early or late. This is also not healthy as
it causes inconvenience to members who have other
works to attend and discourage them to attending or
they may not pay proper attention to the group activity.
Further, it is quite possible to get totally engrossed in a
particular group task and lose track of the time. This
may spill over into the other activity and giving it
insufficient time. Consequently the benefits from the
other activity are badly affected. So it is important that
members must carefully structure their time and follow
Facilitating the Group Sessions: It is not sufficient
just to plan and prepare for the group sessions. The
very reason for forming the group is to enable the
members to come on to one platform to work towards
solving their problems, which they could not solve
individually. This suggests that the group needs
guidance and support to carry out the tasks it has set
forth. The worker has to take a lead in this and facilitate
the group to perform its tasks successfully.
At this stage of group’s life, the members seriously
pursue the goals of both individual and group. Worker
encourages members to actively involve in the group
activities, may they be sharing, discussing, and
performing a task. The worker develops some insight
into their strengths and weaknesses. It may be noticed
that some members are performing well and while
others do not show progress. Because of this the group’s
progress is affected. The worker has to facilitate the
non-performing members to perform. Equipped with the
sound knowledge base in human behaviour he/she
assists each and every member to be aware of their
cognitive processes --- intrapersonal processes --- that
are blocking their progress, and enables them to
organise their social transactions --- interpersonal
interactions --- in the gr oup to establish purposeful
Intrapersonal limitations revolve around feelings,
thoughts, beliefs and behaviour patterns of the member.
For example when a member is asked to give his feeling
about the just concluded group session, if he/she
expresses that so and so member is rude in interacting,
then the member is giving his thought but not the
feeling which may unhappiness or happiness with the
session. Sometimes the member does not understand
the association between these cognitive processes. In
the above example the link between the thoughts and
feelings are not established if the member could link
the association between the thoughts of being dealt
rudely by others during the course of the session and
his/her being unhappy. In another case a member may
entertain irrational thoughts and beliefs. In the above
example if a member says that he/she feels the
behaviour of a particular member is rude towards him/
her because the member resembles somebody in his/
her past with whom he/she had bad relationships. The
worker facilitates the member to perform in desired
direction by making them to understand these mental
states. The worker then make suggestions for reframing
and restructuring of the thoughts and expressions, as
well as for stopping of the recurrence of unhealthy
thoughts to enable the member to deal with these
cognitive processes.
The worker facilitates interpersonal interactions
whenever he/she finds them deteriorating.
Deteriorating interpersonal relations are discerned
when members fail to communicate with each other,
participate in the group activities, avoids some members,
differ and pick up quarrels with each other, and form
subgroups and work against each other. The worker
helps to improve the interpersonal interactions by
introducing a number of ice breaking, role-playing,
modeling, and simulation exercises.
At the environmental level worker connects the members
with resources, creates congenial physical and social
Assessment of Group’s Performance: The group
processes are assessed with a view to ensure that group
attains its goals. It provides proper direction and
guidance to the group. It includes the assessment of
the levels of participation and involvement of group
members in the group activities, the changes that are
taking place in the members’ perceptions, attitudes and
behaviours, acquisition of new skills and strengthening
of existing skills that would help members to deal with
their problem areas and grow. It points out the areas
for and type of interventions that have to be planned
and implemented by the worker at individual level as
well as at the group level. The assessment is being
done by the worker, members themselves and others
who are associated with the group. The tools that help
in the assessment are:
Structured observations by the worker and other
members and self-observations of members themselves.
For example, it is decided to assess the communication
patterns among the members. The worker and members
are informed in advance or later, that is during or after
a specific task has been performed, to note their
observations on various aspects of communication such
as the language, the gestures, modes of communication
--- verbal or non-verbal --- the member/s resorts to.
Recording of the group meetings --- written reports,
audiotapes and videotapes, measurement scales of
behaviour, and sociogram etc. The interaction patterns,
behaviour manifestations, group attraction, situation
leading to conflicts, subgroup formations, leadership
styles are some areas that can be assessed by the
above mentioned tools. The process and procedures of
assessment are carried out with or without prior
knowledge of members.
Phase IV: Evaluation
Evaluation is an integral component of social group work.
The term evaluate simply means to examine the value
of. According to Trecker (1955), it attempts to measure
the quality of group’s experience in relation to the
objectives and functions of the agency. Evaluation
provides the necessary feedback on the performance of
the group. It is carried out after the end of group work
activity and before the group is terminated or sometimes
after the group is terminated depending upon the
purpose of the evaluation. It focuses on the worker’s
performance, agency support, the group process and
growth of the members. The evaluation may be
entrusted to the worker or to someone in the agency or
to an outside expert.
It points out that whether the worker competently dealt
with the group work process or not. What shortcomings
are constraining the worker to perform better? It enables
him/her to gain confidence and make efforts to improve
his/her professional knowledge and skills, gives him/
her the satisfaction that he/she is contributing for good
of the profession and the society.
Evaluation provides information to the agency as to the
quality of its service and the additional efforts it has to
make to improve its quality of services. The support it
has extended to the worker and group is at the desired
level or not.
It throws light on effectiveness and ineffectiveness of
planning and conducting the group sessions. How far
they could accomplish the goals for which they were
planned. Whether inbuilt monitoring systems are useful
and are properly executed or not.
It assesses the progress each and every member has
made. The extent to which each member made use of
the group experience to effectively handle his/her
problem/need. The changes that have come in the
member/s are to the desired extent or not.
Finally, it indicates measures to be taken not to repeat
the mistakes or overcome the shortcomings for future
groups formations and processes. Therefore evaluation
is not just a routine administrative job but also a guide
for the future.
Evaluation is a form of research process. It involves
data collection and analysis of data. The first step in
evaluation is to formulate the aims and objectives. This
exercise draws boundaries to the area of evaluation.
For example the aim of the evaluation is to find out the
competencies and abilities of the worker.
The second step considers what type of data and sources
from which the data are to be collected. Whether it is
verbal or non-verbal data. For example, to know the
performance of the worker the views of the members
are taken or the movements and gestures of the worker
are examined with the help of video tapes. The sources
of data could be from the progress reports maintained
by the worker, notes and other task files written by the
members of the group, other staff of the agency and
outside resource agencies/persons.
Third step involves collection of data. The evaluator
meets respondents and issues questionnaires, collects
them, administer interviews with respondents and
studies records and reports--- written, audio and video.
Fourth step is analysis of the data. The data gathered
is processed and analysed and conclusions are drawn.
For example if the aim is to find out whether individual
member’s goals are attained, the conclusions could be
yes or no.
Fifth elaborates the implications for the future. Based
on the outcome of the evaluation necessary changes
and improvements are made in future group work
practice for better results.
Phase V: Termination of the Group
All things have to come to an end whether one likes or
not and social work group is no exception. The end could
take place on a positive or on a negative note. That is
it happens since the group has accomplished its purpose
and goals or the time has lapsed or even because of
failure to carry on further. Therefore, the termination
of the group may be scheduled or unscheduled. The
unscheduled termination takes place when the
members fail to attend the group sessions continually
or drops out prematurely. This happens due to various
reasons. It could be due to a faulty enrollment, or
failure of the members to develop relationships, or
unresolved conflicts among the members and subgroups,
or style of functioning of the worker and so on. This
form of terminating of the group is disturbing and
disappointing to the worker as it reflects on his/her
professional competence. Nothing much can be done
in cases of unscheduled or abrupt endings.
In case of a scheduled termination the worker has to
take into consideration number of measures to ensure
smooth closure. The reaction of the members to the
termination of the group varies. The worker has to
have an idea as to the possible responses and reactions
the members express for the ending. The members
may welcome or disapprove the ending. Members mind
could be wavering between feelings of happiness or
unhappiness. Heap (1985) termed these as feelings of
ambivalence. One state of mind looks at the ending as
a good relief as there exists no need to face a number
of pressures of coping with the group norms, need not
interact with those they do not get along well, perhaps,
even the group worker, no longer have to share the
private and confidential information particularly in
groups where the self disclosure is a precondition and
While for other state of mind, the thought of disengaging
with the group is a shock and unacceptable, feelings of
getting once again isolated and alone in dealing with
the problem/need generates anxiety and fear, the reality
that the nurtured relationships with other members
coming to a close leads to worry, the thought of missing
the support and guidance of the worker produces
feelings of being abandoned and orphaned, how to fill
the vacuum created in the personal time that was
used for attending and preparing for group meetings
is a real challenge to face.
The worker has to be aware of these type of likely
reactions and responses of the members to the idea of
parting with the group and work towards termination.
The preparations for termination are very much included
in the middle phase itself.
It is important to prepare the members to the fact that
whatever desirable behaviour patterns the member/s
experience and exhibit have to be carried forward even
after the group comes to an end. The worker has to
create situations within the group environment and even
identify the real life situations where the member/s
can act out the changed behaviours independently. This
takes care of many of the members worry about missing
the group support once the group ends.
Some follow-up sessions can be promised to reassure
the member/s that they are not totally abandoned. Some
support and guidance is still available either from worker
or other members. The worker shall arrange activities
wherein both worker and other members express their
assessment of the progress already made and
improvements to be made by each and every one of them.
This exercise makes room for the group to deliberate
upon what efforts the member/s have to make after
the termination. Worker can suggest referral agencies
to the members who need guidance and support for
other shortcomings in future. Further, the worker gives
assurance to the members that whatever selfdisclosures
made by them are kept confidential and
will never be used against their interests. Members
themselves share same type of assurances.
In addition to these the worker has to do other routine
tasks such as preparing a report on the performance of
the group, acknowledge the services and support given
by resource agencies/persons, and pay the pending