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Dealing with Difficult Group Situations
15 typical situations and how to deal with them in a creative and enabling manner.

Discussion dominated by one or two people
As the meeting went on the same two people more and more controlled the discussions.  They were the first to speak on every topic—often interrupting the person presenting the topic before he was finished.  They would state their opinions as “fact” and often look around belligerently as if challenging anyone to question them.  They would cut off or ridicule other people’s contribution.  Soon the other members of the group made less and less effort to participate.
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People Not Paying Attention
The meeting has degenerated into a number of discussions that people are having with their neighbours.  There is no focus and it is no longer possible to have one discussion.  Some people are “goofing around” (making and throwing paper aeroplanes, telling jokes, etc.).  Generally the group has lost all coherence and focus.
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Low Participation by the Entire Group
The group is simply refusing to participate in the discussion.  There have been a few comments but no one has respond to them.  People have their heads down and some of them are writing or drawing on their notes.  There seems to be some unexplained tension or anxiety in the room. 
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The Use of Insulting or Disparaging Remarks (Zingers)
When one of the team members came to the meeting and announced that he had not been able to finish his assigned task and that he did not know how to solve the problems he was facing one of the members was heard to say, “So what’s new?  We are always doing his work!”  This kind of remark was not new in the group.  Through out the working day such remarks were constantly flowing back and forth.  Some of the group members seemed to be better at it and seemed to enjoy it.  They claimed they were “just kidding” and “didn’t really mean anything by it.”  When asked about this type of remark most members of the group defended this way of communicating.  “This is just the way we talk to each other.  Nobody takes it seriously."
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Leader or Manager Breaks Rules
The manager of the group is also responsible for several other groups.  He is however not the facilitator for the group.  The manager was present when the group agreed to the ground rules but he is notorious for breaking them.  He is usually late for meetings and often leaves early.  He has annulled decisions made by the group after he left the meeting even though he agreed that the group would make such decisions without interference.  He has on occasion reminded the group that he is the manager and that his word carries more weight and if necessary is the final word.
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Group has Difficulty Completing Work
Once again the group has just about made a decision and moved on an action plan when one of the members raised another issue claiming that it was a crisis and a more important issue than the one they were working on and should be dealt with immediately.  This had happened often in the past and usually the group never got back to the original issue and it was very likely that before they decided about the “urgent issue” something else would come up and they would move on without deciding anything.  The group seemed incapable of sticking to a topic until they had made a decision and agreed on the action plan for its implementation. 
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Conflict Over Priorities
The group’s meetings seem to cover the same ground over and over again.  The members are anxious to agree on the next steps but are unwilling to compromise or otherwise surrender their own ideas and thoughts.  A few people are silent but most people take sides and participate in heated arguments about what to do.  They have received no direction from their supervisor. 
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Group has Conflict Over the Use of Resources
The group is working on a very demanding project with a short time frame.  Two of the group members are responsible for key sections of the project.  Their work requires the use of some of the same people in the group.  They are constantly arguing over whose work has priority and who is going to get the time of one of the group members.  The rest of the group is finding the arguing distracting and the project is beginning to fall behind schedule. 
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Group is Resisting Change
The group was working very well together and was doing a great job on their assignments.  Then, because of the restructuring of the larger organisation, they were given a new task, some members were moved out and new people moved in.  Since then almost all of the old members have spent every meeting complaining about the changes and refusing to accept them.  The group’s ability to get work done is greatly reduced and the spirit of co-operation and commitment to the group’s task has disappeared.
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Group too Angry to Work
In the midst of a crucial project the larger organisation has made some changes to the way the group must work and also to some of the key personnel.  This has angered a couple of the group members who can not seem to get past their anger but use every meeting to vent their anger and frustration with the larger organisation.  They are so busy complaining that they are blocking the group’s work and the project is in danger of falling behind schedule.  Because they are stuck in their anger the group’s work has ground to a halt.
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Group too Busy to Discuss Process
Peter, the facilitator, had often suggested that the group should spend some time deciding on a planning process that they would use across all their work.  However some of the group insisted that it was not necessary and that they did not have time for such “touchy-feely stuff.”  As a result every time they had to do some planning they spend a considerable amount of time talking about how to do it.  Usually they “reinvented” the process they had used in the past.  Thus the amount of time spent doing this far exceeded the amount of time it would have taken to develop a process and agreeing to use it all the time.
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Members Not Contributing
For the last half-hour or so the group leader had been trying to lead a discussion about the completion of the group’s major project.  A couple people had responded very briefly to direct questions but none of that had led on to a general discussion.  Otherwise no one was responding to her questions.  Most of the members were sitting pushed back from the table staring blankly into space.  A few of them were drawing on their note pads.
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Group Always Goes Directly to Solutions
The problem was barely presented before several group members began to suggest ways to solve it.  This was a very action-oriented group.  It had a full agenda and nearly everyone expressed the need to keep moving.  As facilitator, Robert appreciated the group’s ability to get work done, but he was concerned.  This was a complex problem.  Nevertheless the group was acting as if it had all the information needed to identify the best solution.  One member stated she felt the problem needed more in-depth study but other members dismissed her assessment.  Robert expressed his concern they were not following a good problem-solving process but several members rejected that idea because they didn’t have time for such a process.  He reminded them that in the past they had had to reconsider a number of problems because their solutions were inadequate.
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Members Have Conflicts Over Expectations of Each Other
Once again the group had come to a meeting and found that two of its members were angry with each other.  Sandra was sure that Robert had been told to prepare a report for presentation at the meeting.  However, Robert insisted that while the group had talked about the need for the report they had not decided to do it and certainly not assigned him to do it.  Sandra could not remember anyone saying, “All right let’s have a report for the next meeting and Robert should prepare it,” but she felt that given the conversation the group had had it was obvious that the report was needed and that the group expected Robert to do it.  This sort of situation had happened before and resulted in hurt feelings and anger that was effecting the members’ trust and confidence in each other.
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Members Arrive Late/Leave Early
It was 15 minutes past the starting time of the meeting and the group’s facilitator was very frustrated.  In spite of having a very full agenda and a whole series of crucial decisions to make there were still three members who had not arrived.  In addition, if the pattern of the past were repeated within 30 minutes of starting the meeting people would begin to excuse themselves and leave.  The people who consistently showed up on time ready to stay for the full length of the meeting were also frustrated.  It was obvious that the group was going to have a hard time meeting its deadlines for completing their work.
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