Understanding Your Group: The Power of Observation

Good Observation Skills Can Give Us Valuable Information beyond What Is Being Said

By Karen Snyder

We spend much of our lives in various kinds of groups, but many of us seldom take the time to observe, discuss, and try to understand what is happening within them.
The ability to evaluate group behavior will help us become more effective group members and facilitators.
When we observe what the group is talking about (topic), we are focusing on the content, or on the task at hand.  Most discussions in groups emphasize content.  “Is that topic covered in the report?”  “Who is supposed to introduce that topic?”  “When will we need those materials?”
Choosing meeting topics, analyzing information, and creating project schedules are all examples of content or task issues.

“One of the easiest aspects to observe is the pattern of communication.”

When we observe how a group is working together (interactions), we are focusing on the group process, or maintenance.  One of the easiest aspects to observe is the pattern of communication.
Who talks?  For how long?  How often?  At whom do people look when they talk?  Who talks to whom?  Who interrupts whom?
Other kinds of group process observations may include:  How are decisions made?  How are leaders chosen?  How are group members interacting with one another?
The kinds of observations we make give us clues to other important things that may be going on in a meeting, such as who leads whom or who influences whom.
What interesting interactions and patterns have you noticed when you’ve observed in this way?