The test assigned last week, to which students are now posting commentary and expansions, was predominantly a self-assessment, however embedded among the True/False questions based on “Functional Roles of Group Members” by Kenneth D. Benne and Paul Sheats were a few that have scientific authority rather than simply being a matter of opinion. These are numbers 1, 6, 8, 9, 13, 16, and 17 (all the T/F are posted in Online Portion B).

Not surprisingly (given our US cultural context and its particular hierarchy of values), but somewhat discouraging from a teacher’s point-of-view :-(, the item which most students marked incorrectly was #6: “Members are more important to groups than leaders.” Eleven of twenty indicated that this statement is false. Does this mean they did not read Benne and Sheats’ carefully? Have they not been paying adequate attention to their own behaviors and experiences with each other in class? Or is the value system so deeply embedded that the answer is reactionary: from the gut without consideration?

“The functions to be performed both in building and maintaining group-centered activity and in effective production by the group are primarily member roles.” p. 53

In other words, the students who answered this question incorrectly are still caught up in the fallacy that ‘membership’ equals ‘followership’ (in which following is given a negative value). The next most commonly missed question was #17: “My personality and the role(s) I play in groups are the same thing.” This is false. Six of twenty students indicate that they have not yet learned to separate their personality from their roles.

“…trainees are inclined to make little or no distinction between the roles they perform in a group and their personalities. Criticism of the role a group member plays is perceived as criticism of ‘himself.'” p. 59

The matter of separating self/identity/personality from role is particularly crucial because it is one of the most common sites of resistance in a group. Resistance itself can either serve the group productively – for instance, in the storming stage – or can impede the group, being entirely self-serving. Someone who is caught up in self-serving behavior can become a functional member of the group by addressing and altering their behavior. Sometimes there are dynamics in the group that elicit self-serving behaviors; if these root dynamics can be addressed (e.g, see the various dimensions in the stages of group development) then these particular members can play absolutely vital functional roles for the group-as-a-whole.

Next, there was some confusion concerning #9: “If I am in a group, I am either a functional member or an un- or dys-functional member.” Only three of twenty students still (apparently) believe that there is an opt-out option of non-presence or no influence, but this is patently false. If you are there, you matter, whether you want to or not. You can matter for good or ill, but presuming that your presence (or absence, when you are expected to be present) makes no difference at all is selfish thinking. Likewise, two students indicated that that they do not have to take on multiple roles if they are a member in a group (#8). I suppose it is possible for an individual to only have one role in a group, but I don’t think anyone in this group (nor most human beings) are so limited as to only be able to fulfill or offer one role alone. In fact, the concept of role flexibility should inspire a dedicated group member to develop as much range in role as he or she can, and to practice switching roles as situations and developments demand.

A few items that I am interested in for assessment that have no necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers are numbers 14, 19, 21, and 22. The word “sensitive” was used ambiguously, with a negative connotation in #19 (too much sensitivity to criticism about your functional role performance leans toward the self-serving agenda) and a positive connotation in #21 (being “sensitive to the operation of member roles in our class/group and …sub-group teams” – which is desirable). The ambiguity may have confused some students’ responses. Seven students admit that they are still “unsure how to diagnose role requirements needed by my sub-group team” (#14), and (possibly the most honest answer), one student confessed that only sometimes is she/he “aware of and conscious about my own proficiency in different functional roles” (#22). I would suggest that these two skills not only belong together, but they are the subject of lifelong learning.

In the replies that follow, students are to reflect on how their test results illuminate or otherwise enable them to add more insight to the blogposts they’ve written about the mass of peer feedback received in Class #13, the second to the last official class of the semester.