Group Dynamics: 6 Ways To Tell If Your Group Is Formed or Unformed

Facilitating an unformed group means more work for the group facilitator. But, how can you quickly tell if your group is formed or unformed? It matters because if they’re already formed, you can lift that weight off your shoulders.

In this video, Michael Grinder, the pioneer of nonverbal communication, offers six actionable ways to pinpoint if your group is formed or unformed.

Group Dynamics: 6 Ways To Tell If Your Group Is Formed or Unformed

  1. Look to see where people are looking.
  2. See how quickly the group comes back.
  3. Look to see if break outs are quick to chat or slow.
  4. See if the group knows each other.
  5. Find out who takes care of practical needs.
  6. Pay attention if the group responds together.

Read the modified transcript to “Group Dynamics: 6 Ways To Tell If Your Group Is Formed or Unformed” below.

Michael Grinder here. We’re going to focus on “How do you know if a group is formed or not?” 

You can be running a meeting where you’re the chairperson, you could be a presenter in front of an audience. How do you know if they’re formed? 

The better question is, why does it matter? It matters because of this:  if they’re unformed, you are responsible for all of their care. 

If the temperature is not right, if the seats are too hard for them to sit on, if we didn’t provide them with something to take notes on, that’s your responsibility if they’re unformed. 

If they’re formed, you know what happens. We have a window open, it may be spring, it and may be summer, and there’s a fine job of the traffic going by outside. All of a sudden it gets noisy. Do you get up and walk over and change and close the door, the window, the screen? Do you change the thermostat? Do you pass out the supplies they need? Or do they? 

The advantage of a formed group is it’s off your shoulders. You can concentrate better. In other words, they own the norms instead of you providing the safety. 

What is our first of three that we’re going to do in this series in terms of knowing “Is a group formed?” Here it is. 

You’re going to come in and you’re going look at the group, whether they are seated around the table into a small committee, or it’s a large group and you’re a trainer or presenter. Doesn’t matter. 

1. Look to see where people are looking.

If they’re looking at their agenda, if they’re looking at the required reading, if they’re looking straight ahead in terms of where the person in charge is going be, that’s unformed. 

How do you know if they’re formed? They’re talking to each other. They know each other. They’re visiting. What a difference it makes. 

Now, you have to calibrate that. The higher the level of any organization, the more they don’t visit. The lower the level, the more they tend to visit. So, number one, where are they looking? 

2. See how quickly the group comes back.

Number two, when you ask them for attention, you know, “Please let’s get underway,” if they’re unformed, they come right away. It is so nice. 

Be careful! You’re going to feel the power of their attention. Don’t be fooled. That’s not the final outcome. That’s a group dependent on you. Remember, we want to lift the weight of the shoulders off of us, and have them own what is going on. 

When you do clap or you ring a bell, or you just say “Uh hum”, clear your throat or just ask for attention, whatever you do, if they’re slow to do it, that might be a good sign. Please consider that. 

When you form a group, it’s harder to manage but it’s more effective. 

3. Look to see if break outs are quick to chat or slow.

The third variable. So let’s say that there’s something that you want them to do in dyads or triads, that means two people together, or three people together. They’re just going to talk to each other about something. You’ve already passed out the agenda, here’s the questions that you want them to talk about. So they’re all talking. 

Now, what happens is when you release them to start talking to each other, if they’re unformed, they tend not to want to turn. Why? I didn’t come here – if I’m an individual – for the individual next to me. I came here because of the boss, the trainer, that presenter. So that’s how you know. 

If they’re slow to interact with each other, unformed. If they’re fast, absolutely formed. Use these three to figure out how formed or unformed a group is. 

We introduce this earlier. Just to remind you, this is a triangle. It’s the strongest geometric shape we have. We have pressure on one side and it is felt on the other two. Well, that means whenever you go across a bridge, actually when they build all dams, it’s always made out of triangles. Look at any kind of structure;  this is the strongest shape we have. 

What does it represent on the three corners? The person in charge, the individuals, and the group as a whole. You’re trying to figure out the relationships between you with a group, you with the individuals, and then the individuals in the group together. That’s the missing part that we have to understand.

4. See if the group knows each other.

If you go ahead and you ask the group, do they know each other? If they do, they’re more formed than if they don’t. That’s why as silly as it is please: name tags. New meeting, name tags. 

If you really want to get specific, look at a book called “Checklist Manifesto” and the research, even in medicine where you’re in the operating table we’re gonna do surgery. Before you ever start, you make sure you go around and say everyone’s name, their position, and what they’re going to be doing to help each other. That’s called team formation. Why? 

The number of people that finish an operation and have some medical tools left in their body is unbelievably high. If they know each other, it tends not to happen. Do they know each other? 

That’s why sometimes you take time, go around, and say your name, say your name, say your name. Now be careful. There’s two major, major groups of people (and we’re gonna use the knowledge of household pets): dogs, and cats

If you do any kind of “Let’s break off and go around and on your name tag, make sure you find someone else who lived within a 100 miles of where you were born, or you have a relative…”    

Whenever you do that nice high cooperation, high sociability, the dogs love it. 

The cats are absolutely gonna go, “Nope, not for me. I’m here to get things done. What is the bottom line?” 

So whenever you do group formation, getting to know each other, it’s gotta be under the context that it pertains to why we’re here. Then it works. 

5. Find out who takes care of practical needs.

The next, number five that you want to understand in terms of group formation: safety. We mentioned earlier, who’s in charge of the comfort level of people? Go back if you want, and just Google: “Maslow, Hierarchy of Needs.” We absolutely start off with, “Am I physically comfortable? Do I know where the bathrooms are? Do I know what the hours are?” Posts  Post all that information up. Make sure the safety is provided visually and then you’re going to find it so much easier. 

6. Pay attention if the group responds together.

The last point in terms of how do you know if a group is formed or not is the what’s called Response Together

Example. If you ask people to take notes and if most of the people start writing at the same time, whoa, that’s really high formed. If you’re going to find that some people take notes and some people don’t, it’s a split group. 

So it’s better if you can, try to get everyone to do the same thing at the same time. 

Example. Literally, in the military, if you were going to a meeting, your book would be closed. Your paper would be here. You’re not allowed to touch them until the person in charge tells you to open the book to page 25. If you all open at the same time, it works better. 

How do you know this is true? Right now, it happens to be my favorite sports season: The NBA postseason. People are just doing all kinds of crazy athletic ability. I like watching it every night. But if you do watch any kind of a sports event called basketball – high school, college, pros – they have about a dozen balls out there and everyone is shooting the ball. And then about three or four minutes before the game starts, they form two lines and they do layups. Why don’t they continue to do their individual shooting? 

Because you have to form them as a team. 

What is your activity that gets everyone to be unified at the same time, whether it be coming in at the same time, breaking at the same time, taking notes at the same time? Whoa, it makes a huge difference. 

Group formation, how do you blend a group together? How do you get them through Tuckman’s four stages so they actually get to the Performing? 

More videos in the group dynamics series

Boost Group Foundation + Dynamics to The Next Level

5 Ways to Identify A Dysfunctional Team

Group Formation: How to Form Groups The E-A-S-Y way

Group Dynamics: Why Team Members Are Like Dogs And Cats

Thanks for reading! For more information about formed and unformed groups, sign up for our monthly nonverbal communication tips newsletter.

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