Paolo Brunello writes: Understanding group dynamics, identifying leaders

My 30 Burundian trainees are technical high school teachers whom I’ve carefully selected to install and administer a dozen computer labs in their schools. As I strongly believe that such a task can be accomplished only if the people involved share a common vision of the project as a whole, I decided to try out the Net-Map toolbox, since it seemed very appropriate to build up this comprehensive shared view. Indeed, after some shy hesitations, participants got going quite easily, in a climax of excitement that was very interesting to observe. Since I had such a large group, I couldn’t engage with each of the subgroups and directly question them along the way, as Eva suggests in the manual. In fact, my focus was as much on the group itself and its members as it was on the situation under analysis. I believe that an added – and understated – value of this technique is that if you opt for a rather autonomous group activity, you can learn a lot about group dynamics: the leaders will unveil themselves pretty soon, as they will talk a lot, stand up first, tend to handle the figurines and the markers, structure the work and often the map as well. Different interaction styles will be quickly evident.
Another valuable outcome I got by using this technique, is that by maintaining the 3 subgroups separate and comparing their maps only at the end of the whole process, the different perspectives were made strikingly clear. When asked to analyze “The project” 2 out of 3 subgroups intended “The project” as the installation of a computer lab in their own school, whereas in the third subgroup, “The project” was intended as the installation of all 12 PC labs across the country. Not incidentally, this subgroup was led by a old and charismatic ex-teacher, now working for the ministry of education and therefore accustomed to see things on a national level and on a mid/long term, whereas the teachers where very focused on their local context and on the short term. This emerged clearly when discussing the influence of each actor, the donor being judged as the most inlfuent by the 2 short term focused subgroups and almost the least influent by the third group, which was stressing the importance of ownership and direct responsability.  These views were clearly complementary to me, but not to them, as in the discussion every group was trying to prove that their interpretation of “The project” was the correct one – that is to say the one closest to the supposed trainer/teacher’s expectations. Thus this debate made apparent that despite having different focuses on the project, the common underlying culture is one of “monotheistic Truth”, where if I’m right you must be wrong, but we cannot be both right “ex-aequo”, and for me as a trainer, this insight has been crucial.

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