Learning and Implementing Group Process Facilitation: Individual Experiences

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Barker, Michelle
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Bagnall, Richard
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The study reported here addressed the research question, How do individuals experience the learning and implementing of group process facilitation? It utilised a case-study approach, because such an approach was seen as being particularly useful for exploring the processes and actions that were hard to define for people who were learning and implementing group process facilitation. The study sought to move beyond a reliance on theories of knowledge formulated by positivistic processes, and into the realm of interpretivism and constructivism, in order to explore individual experiences. The literature reviewed indicated that there seemed to be little public knowledge of the implications of learning programs for the individual, from the unique perspective of the individual, particularly as they relate to learning and implementing group process facilitation. It suggested the need for research to address the issue by examining how the participants made sense of, and gave meaning to, their learning experiences. It further suggested the potential value of research into how individuals learning and implementing group process facilitation adapt to their new role, and how they cope with the new realities in their lives as a result of their learning and implementing experiences. The intention in this study was to use a grounded approach that gave adequate recognition to the stories of the participants learning and implementing experiences, and to the meanings attributed by the participants to those experiences. It was intended to draw those stories together so that the commonalities and differences between and among them could be integrated in a reformulated statement of participants' experiences. Thus, a methodology that was both interpretive and constructivist was deemed appropriate, and Denzin's (1989a) 'interpretive interactionism' was selected. As I worked through the analytical phase of the study, I discovered that the chosen methodology did not always provide me with a clear guideline as to how I might follow a logical and coherent process to achieve my intentions. I found that I needed to extend and deepen Denzin's (1989a) model, particularly in the analysis of the data collected. The model (developed and described in Chapter 6) may prove to be useful to other researchers working within a qualitative paradigm. The following substantive findings emerged. Most participants identified the experience of learning and implementing group process facilitation as a turning point in their life and as one that helped them to construct new identities as part of their lived experience. Through reflection and critical reflection, some participants were better able to understand that experience and they were better able to conceptualise it. In light of that conceptualisation, they then made determinations about future work and personal goals. Thus, personal change was an important outcome of their experience. They were more self-aware and more open to learning, although such a process of change involved risk taking. Risk taking sometimes meant that they were fearful or anxious about personal change and were inhibited by self-doubt. Once they worked through their fears, they felt excited about the personal change, and challenged to further their personal learning journey. Participants were also challenged by their experiences of implementing their learning in the workplace. They were able to recognise the significance of the social milieu of the workplace, including the expectations of support about the implementing of their learning from management and peers. That milieu was governed by the novelty of the learning environment, the flexible approach to learning, and the way they, and others, were chosen to attend the learning program. The learning experience helped them to value difference and to recognise the importance of becoming more self-aware, as part of their change process. At times, that process was painful; at other times it was pleasurable - pointing to the paradoxical nature of the learning experience. To undertake the construction of new identities, trust also was recognised as an important issue. Implications for practice are identified within a framework of environmental uncertainty and continuous learning. It is argued that, based on the experiences of the participants, learners may optimise their learning within an appropriate learning environment, and where attention is paid to the use of reflection and critical reflection as part of the learning and development process. Learning programs need to embrace a range of specific activities to enable learners to strengthen their self-belief. Consideration needs to be given to the importance of emotion as part of the learning and development experience. Individuals need to be aware of the importance of the social milieu, and they need to be able to understand their learning experience as an epiphany. For organisations, there is identified a need to attend to learning how to learn. There also appears to be a need for the development of key aspects of organisational functioning to support continual learning. Such aspects include: thinking processes, understanding of the social context in which learning occurs, the need to ensure management and supervisory support for change, and the need to identify and resolve individual, group and organisational conflict. Some participants appeared to be fearful of the reactions of managers and colleagues to their attempts to implement their new learning. Such fears could be overcome at an organisational level by enabling people to apply their learning and to provide meaningful and informative feedback to them. A learning program of the type reported in this study may be useful in helping organisations cope with some of the change processes with which they are faced, and in particular, it may be used to enhance those processes. A number of recommendations for further research may be drawn from this study. Participants in the study reported a transformational change process that has been identified as an epiphany. Further research, therefore, should address the importance of epiphany for the participants in the light of the passage of time. Similar studies need to be conducted in other organisations. The findings of the study are drawn together in two explanatory models: one designated Platforms of Understanding; the other designated Model of Managing Learning in an Organisational Context. Research is needed to explore the interrelationships between the models; the meanings for individuals and organisations of those interrelationships; and how such relationships might be used for the enhancement of learning and development strategies in organisations. Specifically, research focussing on the importance of the historical, political and socio-cultural environment, and into the role played by the organisational and social milieu in which learning and development occurs, needs to be addressed. While there are a number of studies relating to the importance of management and peer support for the transfer of learning in the workplace, research into the cultural significance of such support should be undertaken. Further research should extend to identifying and recognising the impact that such an understanding may have for the culture of the organisation. Learning and implementing group process facilitation is not necessarily a 'behavioural' experience. The part played by emotion in a learning and development program, and later in the organisational context, remains to be addressed. Understanding emotion and emotional responses to organisational change programs, of the type undertaken by participants in the study, should provide significant learning for individuals and organisations as they attempt to cope with organisational change. Most importantly, what this study suggested is that group process facilitation is a social and interactive process that calls for post-positivist research. This study has exposed the richness that may be gained from a constructivist, interpretivist, and progressive-humanist approach in an environment where the identification and recognition of how individuals make sense of, and give meaning to, their learning and implementing experiences, may be seen to have positive organisational and individual benefits. Further research would ideally focus on group process facilitation as the core concept, and be conducted within a constructivist epistemology that reflects progressive-humanistic approaches.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Management
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Group process facilitation
Group facilitation
Problem solving
Interpretive interactionism
Individual experiences
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