Mediating group work

Much is made of this; chapters in texts are written on this. I’ve received facilitator training for “C groups”, the problem based small group learning format for community physicians. I didn’t need it. You probably don’t need it if you’re a seasoned family MD. It’s what many of us do every day, in practice.

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For this audience, the subject of mediating group work can be wrapped up briefly. Simply realize that if the study group is working towards understanding, investigating, and problem solving, that is where the learning comes. The facilitator (teachers would call it “mediator”, probably), is there to facilitate, not do the work. If you do know the answer, and often you don’t, just giving it to the group does not contribute to learning in the same way. The path is learned best when one is wielding the machete, hacking away, not just being led down the cobblestones by the hand. Being an effective facilitator all comes down to keeping your mouth shut, and keeping other people talking. Sometimes there’s a gentle prod in the right direction, if the group is wandering off. It’s that easy.

The facilitator can be looked to as an expert. This was a shocking experience for me during small group mediation, as I am certainly no expert in anything. The group would sit down and talk about acne, then members would appear to look to me for some sort of answer on the topic. Me! Was this real? It was certainly a perception, and one that many mediators experience. Often facilitators feel they have to appear armed with all the latest research memorized.

This is the trap. Facilitators facilitate. Don’t answer!

A practising physician can draw a parallel to counseling, or psychotherapy. The patient often looks to you for an answer. In some occasions, it’s dead simple, or there are obvious clear legal obligations to proceed in a certain manner, and I confess to caving in those circumstances, and just plopping the answer on the table at the end of the interview.

Otherwise, you keep your mouth shut. You label the feeling, and rephrase what was just said. You do this a lot in group facilitation. Feelings can get stirred up. Deal with them by labeling, and rephrasing, just like you’ve been taught, and you’re very used to doing in clinic.

No feelings really? Then rephrase, perhaps break it down so the individual or the group can build it back up. Realize that any established group acts somewhat like an organism itself. If someone starts strutting too much, monopolizing the whole thing, intervene. If someone is just sitting there, ask them what they think, or how they have handled the problem in the past.

Sometimes the facilitator summarizes at the end. I suggest you leave that as another job for the group. The facilitator is, but perhaps really isn’t a group member. Yes, you may learn along the way as well, but your job is to help the group function.

No references here? Don’t need any. Neither do you. Facilitate as you’ve been taught to counsel. It’s that dead easy. [Look at the empathic listening if you’re a surgeon… 😉 ].


Well, maybe one resource:

C group facilitator training/ PBSGL: