The Difficult ADULT Group Dynamic

“Be nice.”

“Take turns.”


“Make friends.”

“Have fun.”

You would think that the above statements/requests were from Mom to child.  Especially a child between the ages of four and six.

What if I said that I thought of these same statements/requests when recently working with a group of adults?  It probably wouldn’t surprise you, as you have often thought the same thing, probably during a volunteer effort where everyone brings their own set of skills and experiences to the group task.

Here’s the scenario:  an unexpected, crisis-oriented task that seemed overwhelming at first glance.  No one was prepared to have to take on such a challenge.  Everyone admitted that they had no experience with this type of thing.  And then, in silent agreement, everyone knew that “we had do whatever it took to complete/save the task.”  So everyone self-selected an area to work on.

For the first FIVE minutes, we seemed to be gathering a sense of common strength in our task declination.  Then things began to get challenging.  Here are some over-heard comments:

“You’re not doing that right.”

“Here, I’ll take over, I can do it better.”

“You don’t need to be so thorough.”

“We need to focus on [this aspect of the task], not on what you are doing.”

“You’re pretty poor at this, aren’t you?”

“We need to do it this way.”

Does any of these statements sound familiar when working with other adults?  If kids, under adult supervision, made these same comments, an adult would step in to lessen the assault on individual contributions.  Adults hoping to teach a better way of both communicating and completing a shared task with a sense of accomplishment and respect.

Our group effort continued, but things got a little terse, then silent and then a small congratulatory admission when we had been successful.  But it was without the sense of shared community or fun or willingness to work with each other again.  The task itself was challenging.  The group dynamic was close to individual devastation.

My personal insights are:  I don’t know how to interact successfully with other adults who present themselves as needing authority, even when they had admitted that they are without skills or knowledge.  By successfully, I mean that I want so much to be that kind parent on the play ground who can gently intervene to save egos and have the interactive play result in a rewarding manner for everyone.  Adults, at least for me, present such highly formed defense systems (mainly justification and rationalization) that it becomes a dauntingly difficult task to intercede without sparking additional issues.

Ah, if only there was some sort of “buzz word” that we could all use to acknowledge the difficulties we bring to task work when we are all self-proclaimed “experts” in some area of that task.

Be gentle and kind, seeking that of peace and equality in others.  I keep trying to follow these Quaker expectations, but gosh, it does present a lot of “inward work” for me.

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2 Responses to The Difficult ADULT Group Dynamic

  1. Actually, it can be a gift to take a position of authority. I have been in a situation where adults want to do something useful together, but want someone else to make the decisions. And they did work together happily, and I made the decisions, even though I too wanted an authority figure, my decisions were good enough, we did the task together, and they had the pleasure of knowing they had contributed.

    • dearfriends says:

      Hello Clare,
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I agree that it is a gift for someone with knowledge to step up and take a leadership position. What I was trying to say (and probably not very well) was that when someone inserts themselves into the position of authority without the knowledge of the task, the majority of the participants have to accept that person’s self-selected role, or there will be a power struggle within the group that dominates, which never bodes well for the building of relationship, community or completing the task.

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