The intergroup and institutional events:

An overview of designs, foci, structures, and functions

Stan De Loach, Ph.D.

The director's tasks:

Governance for the security and survival of community

During intergroup events, the term "direction" refers to the director's molding the conference institution’s approach to the study of intergroup processes in such a way that physical and intellectual interrelating promote learning.  Such direction requires not only active and proactive leadership but also an explicit formulation of educational purpose.  Success in directing also requires leading staff members, who must reciprocate with responsible followership in the venture.

Overvaluation of the didactic role may admit behaviors strictly foreign to group-relations methodology; nevertheless, staff is a natural and legitimate provider of learning opportunities.  Although providing opportunities for learning implies educational intent and effort, staff members are often reluctant to view themselves as educators.  Directors may therefore face considerable challenge in attempts to establish appropriate educational texts and paradigms during the brief course of a conference.

The director’s leadership of the staff during intergroup events consists largely in formulating, conveying repeatedly, modeling, and furthering staff 's acceptance and understanding of its educational mandate.  The staff may be physically or mentally tired by the time the intergroup event begins.  Attention to earlier tasks and roles occasions fatigue and stress.  Flight from the taxing complexity of intergroup involvement may appeal to a staff disposed by such stress to relaxing or fraternizing with colleagues or engaging in competitive intellectual jousting with members.  Flight from the staff’s tasks is common.

The opportunity for staff members to demonstrate in their work together high levels of abstraction through a thoughtful formulation of intergroup dynamics may cause a resurgence of envy and jealousy.  Having accommodated, in the pre-conference period, to the director’s staffing decisions, staff members may subsequently utilize the industrious performance of tasks and duties as a way to keep at bay their feelings about the psychodynamic meanings to them, as individuals, of the various staff assignments.  The public array of the full staff and the associated clear differentiation of roles and abilities may upset the earlier reconciliation to the differing levels of competence in evidence, as well as to the degree of active involvement with members permitted by the different staff roles.  Competitive sentiments among the staff members, and with the director, may be elevated.

Intergroup aspects of the events, as well as the permissible and probable presence of members in the staff’s workspace, may pique competition between the members and the staff for the director’s attention and view.

During a conference in México, 50% of the staff and 15% of the members were North American.  The conference utilized a Type 2, Focus A design.  The director was a male born in the United States, who had lived in México for most of his adult life (14 years in the United States and 37 years in México).  Staff viewed the director as being on the border between the Mexican and the North American sectors and as personifying the distrust and ill-ease often found on the border between those sectors, both inside the conference and in the "real" world outside.

Early in the intergroup event, the staff were discussing, in heated terms, the director’s management style, which some staff members, particularly the North Americans, regarded as autocratic.  During the discussion, two member plenipotentiaries, who were Mexican males, arrived and were admitted to address a petition to the staff.  The consulting staff continued the previous discussion with no acknowledgment of the emissaries. The director turned to the staff and said, "While I believe that our ongoing debate is both relevant and timely, in my role as director of the conference and inasmuch as we are now engaged in the intergroup event, I ask that we, as staff, turn our attention to the affairs that these members present."

The director spoke with the members; other staff members chose not to speak or contribute and therefore remained silent.  After the members’ departure, the North American staff members were livid, feeling that the understanding that was being elaborated prior to the members’ entry was so intense that it should have postponed attention to the members’ plaints.  The director’s management of the situation was again characterized as irrationally autocratic and self-serving.  The Mexican members of the staff were quiet during these accusations, perhaps because they could more easily identify with the Mexican members and be vicariously gratified by their identifications or perhaps because their allegiances were divided along lines of nationality.

This incident dramatizes the pressures exerted upon the director by intergroup jealousies and perceptions of scarce resources.  The staff as a whole may vie with the members for the director’s and staff’s attention.  Rivalry may arise over the distribution of subtle resources, such as the collective’s interest or analytic work.

In managing these pressures, which may take the form of the steering dilemmas described by Gustafson et al. (1981), the director must not inordinately favor staff members nor obstruct access to the attention of the director and that of the staff collective.

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