The intergroup and institutional events:

An overview of designs, foci, structures, and functions

Stan De Loach, Ph.D.

The member-staff boundary consultant's entry into member groups:

Affirming the inseparability of community

When the member-staff boundary consultant visits member groups, the purpose and manner of entry must respect the director’s public comments about the event’s methodology and structure.  On entering a member group and being queried, the member-staff boundary consultant might declare:
"I am here as a plenipotentiary member of the staff.  I am in this room for purposes of my work, which is somewhat different from your work.  Learning will be promoted if we continue with our respective tasks."
If members are unhappy with the presence of the member-staff boundary consultant, the latter might explain further:
"We share a clear primary task.  We have the physical resources defined in order for us to do work on this task.  As far as I am aware, there exists no exclusive possession or ownership of the spaces designated for conference work during this event.  The nature of our tasks defines the spaces appropriate to our work.  My range of concern extends to all conference spaces.  Spaces are available for work, without the inevitability or need for all workers to practice identical protocol or to conceive of the event and their role in it in identical fashion."
The conference system’s intergroup tensions are at times very near the surface.
At a Type 1/2 conference in the United States, employing Focus B, a male staff consultant was present in a member group, at its request but unbeknownst to the member-staff boundary consultant, who opened the door, entered the group’s space, and seated himself approximately four feet outside the group’s circle of chairs, in one of several vacant seats scattered randomly throughout the space.  The members, angered by the boundary consultant’s entry, abandoned their task collaboration with the staff consultant.  They directed much verbal hostility to the member-staff boundary consultant and ceased to work with the staff consultant, who did not verbally address the members’ desertion of their task.

Although the group members did not inquire directly, the member-staff boundary consultant sensed that a brief explanation of his purpose might enable the group to reinstate its work.  He presented his mission as the observation of several member groups in order to obtain first-hand information about the nature and emotional facets of the relationship between the membership and the staff.  He added that this information was being gathered to combat irrationality in his consulting to the boundary between the membership and the staff for the intended benefit of the multiple tasks of the entire institution.

When three spokesmen for the group angrily demanded that the member-staff boundary consultant leave the room, the latter declined to comply.  He indicated that the presence or violence of emotion did not seem to provide rational grounds for desisting from his mission.  He added that, on the contrary, a reaction so strong was bound to be the occasion for valuable learning about the member-staff interface, as it was being expressed in the members’ relation to the two consultants present in the space and to their different roles.

The staff-member boundary consultant spoke slowly and calmly; internally, he regretted the distraction that his entry had caused.  The staff consultant remained silent.  After exactly five minutes had elapsed, the boundary consultant expressed his gratitude and exited the space.

In reporting to the staff group the results of his work with the member group, the staff consultant said that he had wanted to use his fist "to knock the boundary consultant in the face."

Even within a single conference, the member-staff boundary consultant is perceived and responded to variously, as the following description illustrates.
During the conference referenced above, a female staff consultant was present in a member group at the group's request.  The door to this group’s space was open.  The same consultant to the member-staff boundary entered and seated himself approximately two feet outside the group’s circle of chairs, in a seat marked with the legend, "For observers."

A spokeswoman for the group asked the boundary consultant his purpose.  He responded that he was observing the functioning of member groups in order to collect data about the nature of current relationships and relatedness between members and staff, especially the covert, emotional aspects of these relationships and ways of being related.  He added that the data would bridle growing irrationality, currently sustained by a lack of relevant first-hand information, in the performance of his task of consulting to the boundary between the membership and the staff.

Without further verbal response, the group members and staff consultant returned to productive work on their previously negotiated task.  The boundary consultant remained seated for exactly five minutes, and then rose to express his gratitude and to leave.  A male group member enjoined, "Come back to see us."  The boundary consultant replied, "Thank you."

The female staff consultant, in reporting later to the staff group the results of her work with the member group, said that the comments of the member-staff boundary consultant had been too profound for her to know how to respond.  She had, therefore, remained engaged in the group’s self-appointed and negotiated task in lieu of verbalizing a response to the entry or comments of the member-staff boundary consultant.  The staff collective judged her sentiments to be a consequence of de-skilling.  The member-staff boundary consultant considered that no response to his entry or comments were necessary or expected.

Basic assumption behavior is more frequently interpreted in the small group setting than in intergroup or institutional exchanges.  But it is equally prominent in both contexts.  In these vignettes, the parallelism in the sentiments and behavior of the staff consultants and of their client groups is noteworthy.

Perhaps group members mirrored the emotional response of the staff consultant assigned to their group; perhaps each staff consultant employed acting out instead of interpretation to mirror the feelings of the client group.  The degree of synergism present was augmented by failure to understand and observe role and task boundaries.

In the first account, the staff consultant did not anticipate or interpret the group’s fight-flight response.  His own powerful feelings unquestionably contributed force, justification, and even leadership for the group’s aggressively defensive posture.

In the second example, the female staff consultant’s lack of clarity about her role relative to that of the consultant to the member-staff boundary brought on de-skilling and paralysis.  The comments of the member-staff boundary consultant actually required no response, but her faulty understanding of staff members’ differing roles (and the ensuing projections, perhaps) permitted her to mischaracterize and depreciate her appropriate and helpful behavior.

Staff members’ reluctance to authorize the member-staff boundary consultant reduced their own authorization and ability to function as consultants to the members.  Staff members’ inadequate authorization of the director results in a similar outcome.  The integrity and security of staff members’ authorization are diminished when their comprehension and acceptance of distinct staff roles, functions, and levels of responsibility are incomplete.

The director must lead the staff to an understanding of and investment in the tasks and roles described for the intergroup and institutional events, especially when innovations are introduced.  Otherwise, the challenges that surface in consultants’ extra-territorial representation of the staff collective may incapacitate them in their work with member groups.  The clarity, maintenance, and repair of boundaries based on distinctiveness of task, responsibility, and accountability are critical.

History and parameters of the intergroup event
Types of intergroup event
Intergroup and institutional event foci
The director's tasks
Structures: Paradigms for learning
Boundary functionaries
The staff room's boundaries
Recent innovation
The member-staff boundary consultant's entry into members' groups
The learning tasks of intergroup representation and negotiation

Related topic:  Study group consultancy: Elements of the task


1998, 1999, 2006, 2016   Dr. Stan De Loach   All rights reserved.

iii 2016
vi 2006
ix 1999
vii 1998