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Navigating the Final Phase: Insights into Group Dynamics and Effective Conclusion Strategies

1 October 2015
Noga Chipman-Steinwartz
A group of people holding puzzle pieces

A group facilitator strides into an optimistic discussion room, greeted by familiar faces. This marks the eighth gathering out of nine for the group, and the facilitator is brimming with confidence in the ongoing process. The preceding meeting concluded with a palpable sense of progress and pride in the collective efforts. Members collaborated in small groups to develop new tools, later validating their work in the plenary session. Many remained engaged through email, expressing a deep commitment to the project. However, today, there's a noticeable shift in the atmosphere…

The members sit in silence. Scanning the room, the facilitator suddenly notices the absence of two key attendees. Their initial proposals for the day's agenda and discussion topics are met with hesitant responses and uneasy chair shifts. One of the participants speaks up: "Honestly, I feel compelled to voice my concerns about the adequacy of the product we've developed. I've contemplated whether we should have pursued a completely different direction." Another member chimes in, "We might have achieved much more had we scheduled two additional meetings." The facilitator's gaze turns to the moderator, filled with scrutiny and anticipation.

What's happening in the room? How did the group transition from a state of productive work and engagement to one of regression and uncertainty? Drawing upon theoretical knowledge and familiarity with developmental models of group dynamics might offer insights into this matter.

Like any living organism, a time-limited group with a predetermined number of sessions follows a distinct trajectory: inception, withdrawal, maturation, development, decline, and ultimately, cessation. In this final phase, our role as facilitators involves aiding members in "packaging" their experiences and summarizing them – comprehending the attained goals and those left unmet and navigating through the diverse emotions that may emerge. Participants bring unique patterns and tendencies typical of their coping mechanisms; hence, the expressed emotions vary Grief, sadness, anger, rejection, fear of the future, disappointment, relief, despair, gratitude, love, fulfillment, or empowerment.

Different reactions to separation within a knowledge development group may include:

  • Diminishing the value of the knowledge cultivated within the group, thus easing the departure from something perceived as less significant.

  • Dropping a "bombshell" during the final session, knowing there won't be ample time to address the issue further.

  • Fostering and energizing a final empowering action – individuals spurred by the impending end to accomplish more, sometimes creating tools or supplementary materials to support their work.

  • They refused to acknowledge the impending end and tried to prolong it by adding more work sessions to develop additional knowledge.

A skilled facilitator will discern the group's current dynamics and communicate to its members the stage of the process they are navigating. Recognizing, both by the facilitator and the members, that the group has entered a stage humorously termed as "descending towards landing" can greatly facilitate acceptance of the reactions observed in the room as indicative of the concluding phase of the process. The facilitator can proactively prepare and strive towards achieving the predefined goals while consistently communicating successes achieved throughout the process, especially as it nears its conclusion. Simultaneously, acknowledging that "we are still in flight" and that the group still possesses opportunities for further refinement and development can prompt a reassessment of the work produced and allow for its enhancement.

Moreover, consider implementing the following strategies to conclude the group work process effectively:

  • Organize a celebratory gathering where the group collectively commemorates its accomplishments: each member contributes a particular dish, fostering a sense of camaraderie and creating a unique ambiance.

  • Recognize the contributions of managers and partners: arrange a dedicated meeting, inviting managers and colleagues of group members, during which group members present the collective achievement to individuals significant to them.

  • Develop an integration plan ensuring the product's ongoing utilization even after the group's activities are concluded.

  • Issue official certificates of completion delineating the process, its duration, and the achievements attained by the group.

I wish us all successful and gratifying conclusions!

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