Working Together

Group development in a share house

I have lived in share houses since 1993 and lived in one long-term rental since 2003. Professionally I also work with groups and have recently realised how valuable it could be to consider group development in a share house context. Looking back I can see how considering the group development of a household would have been useful to create a more functional home environment.

This information supports all housemates to understand how groups develop. It is useful for long term housemates to support new housemates to integrate them into the household more smoothly.

The 5 stages of group development was created by Bruce Tuckman: Forming (beginning of household), Storming (productive conflict), Norming (cohesion of the household), Performing (working well as a team), Adjourning (the leaving of a housemate) and another stage was added by Timothy Biggs which is Reforming (the introduction of a new housemate) and then back to the Storming and so on. In discussion with a friend these titles have been changed.

Emerging

This is the time when the group is first coming together and a new household group is emerging. If housemates don’t know each other well they might avoid conflict as there is a strong desire to be accepted by others in the group.

The important focus for this time is to

  • become familiar with each other
  • create a group purpose

Outcomes

  • defining group purpose
  • who will be responsible for what
  • clarify group guidelines
  • establishing shared resources

Re-emerging

Often in share houses a housemate leaves then another housemate joins the group. It is important to realise that the group needs to reform again similarly to the original re-emerging stage. It is also important to recognise that the new member is joining a potentially cohesive group of friends and needs to be actively included into this group. At this stage the new member is at the re-emerging stage while the old housemates are at the reforming stage.

Below are some things long term housemates can do to foster reforming

  • interact regularly both socially and to organise the household
  • coordinate work efforts by valuing everyone’s contribution
  • engage in healthy debate and conflict based on tasks
  • openly discuss the relationships dynamics in the group

Expressing

In the expressing stage, housemates start to contribute their opinions, insights and ideas. There is more opportunity for conflict here because the individuals become confident to disagree with each other. Understand how conflict works can help see conflict as a positive experience for the household (See Raising Issues Post). In this stage the housemates can now address more important issues related to sharing a home.

Activities that can be helpful at this stage could be to

  • creating a common purpose together
  • fostering a commitment to success of the household
  • building trust and supportive relationships
  • resolving personal conflicts and supporting task related debate
  • explain the stages of group development if needed
  • sharing both information and resources with everyone
  • acknowledge hierarchies and responsibilities (landlords > tenants, lease holder > subtenants, long term housemates > new/short term housemates, assertive > quieter personalities)

It is important for long term and vocal housemates to support the new or quieter housemates to share their options. It is also important for new and quiet housemates to find ways of communicating to the group about any issues. See Raising Issues Post if you feel you may need help in these areas.

Long term housemates need to be aware that norms have been previously set and it’s important to include new housemates in defining new norms. Just because something had been done one way for some time doesn’t mean it’s the best way. It might be worth trying an idea contributed by a new housemate, even if it has been tried before, as a new group of people may create a different result. There is a lot of need for clarification at this stage especially for the new housemates. This can be a lot of work for old housemates to do, so it’s important that new housemate do as much as they can to learn about their new home. It is important that all housemates experience a level of stress the leads to creativity and new ideas, not a level that inhibits their interaction with the household. As you can imagine some household do not get past this stage.

Satisfaction

Once clarification the group can focus on the common ground they have established thought the expressing stage. In this stage the morale is high and the household works as a cohesive group.

At this stage the housemates are

  • actively acknowledge the styles, abilities and knowledge each housemate brings to the household
  • flexible, interdependent and trust each other
  • are sharing leadership in their particular strengths
  • sharing their options freely and diverse options are respected
  • experiencing a sense of connection
  • focused on the purpose of living together

Team building ideas that could be useful

  • Personality-based team building is used to increase the acceptance within the group and to communicate better with each other. Use this if housemates aren’t getting along. This can be a personality test to learn about themselves, each other and how they work as a group. The results can be used to create developmental activities to better work together and appreciate each other’s contribution to the group.
  • Activity-based team building are a set of challenging tasked aimed to creating space for problem-solving, risk taking, trust building and change of mindset. Use this if the household if having trouble solving problems together. These could be different from activities required for share house living but serve as an important example for the house to work as a group.
  • Skills-based team building aimed at improving specific group work skills that housemates need to accomplish their goals and work as a group. Use this if the group is having trouble going through the functions of team work. Skills such as team work, listening, conflict management, giving and receive feedback and running effective meetings could be developed.

Performing

The performing stage is the most productive work wise.

At this stage housemates

  • are unified, loyal and supportive
  • value each other contributions which creates a space for independent decision-making
  • are achieving their mission by experimentation and testing solutions

When a household is working as a team they are

  • recognise and create solutions together
  • improve and create systems
  • add their own style, ideas, skills and knowledge to the household
  • take on responsibility for aspects of running the house
  • create mutual accountability and support systems
  • enjoy each other’s company and the home they have created together

So / and

• new or short term housemates will no longer look to older or long term housemates for solution to problems
The housemate may have a series of goals to achieve and/or one simple goal (to enjoy living together). Once the group has made it to this stage it may fall back into previous stages as new goals are defined.

Home making

Home making are things housemates do for the home and each other that makes somewhere feeling like a home over a place where people are coexisting. These gestures make a big different to the wellbeing of the group. You may have your own ideas about what these are and I’d love to add them to the list if you would like to share them.

Here are the ones that I have noticed

  • making a cake for the house and cutting it together
  • organising a fun activity for the household to do together
  • inviting housemate to go to an event together
  • come home with fruits or flower you have gathered
  • letting housemate know you’ve cooking them a meal to eat when they return
  • welcoming housemates home
  • celebrating special occasions together

Wrap-up

After a group have successfully (or unsuccessfully) lived together one person’s situation may change and a housemate may move out.

This is a time for

  • Wrapping up the household activity
  • Creating a sense of closure to the group that has formed
  • Reflection and acknowledgement of group members contribution, especially the housemate who is leaving
  • Celebrating the groups achievements together

This can be a sad and/or challenging time depending on the circumstances. Often you can feel happy for the housemate leaving to following their dreams but sad for yourself in losing the household that has come together well. When a new household combination it can be useful to use the learning from previous experiences to aid in the development towards the performing stage.

Diagram outlining the stages of group development

group developement of a sharehouses

I have learnt a lot from doing this research which I hope to use to be a better long term housemates to future housemates that join my home. I hope it is useful to you too. Feel free to contact me via the contact page with any feedback.

References

http://education-portal.com/academy/topic/work-teams.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman%27s_stages_of_group_development
http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm
http://www.groupharmonics.com/videos.html

Raising Issues

This has been created for raising issues in a share house but it can apply to other circumstances of working together. To some it can sound a bit serious but it’s worth raising from the beginning. With regular house checkin it’s likely nothing this serious will need to be raised. These tips could be handy in other parts of life and I certainly have benefited a lot from them. If by some chance something serious needs to be raised these are some tips but feel free to do it your own way…

Some pointers on giving negative feedback

The most important part of this process is to work out what part of this feedback you want to give comes from issues you need to work on yourself. Journaling about your feelings is a good place to start.

(Clearness Booklet by New Society Publishers – summarised/altered)

  • Be firm and direct
  • Be as clear and specific as possible
  • Raise one issue at this time (not everything at once)
  • Own your feelings “When you do…… I feel……, because……”
  • Acknowledge your part in the problem – feelings and actions of your that get in the way or contribute to the problem
  • Affirm the person when sincerely possible. Think of things your do like or appreciate about them, ways they act in the group or towards you. Do this as close to the beginning of the conversation as possible.
  • Leave space for the other person’s feelings, listen to them and try to separate content issue from feelings. You can also say when you have heard enough
  • Be prepared for their feedback to you
  • Be prepared for them not to agree as some time it takes people time to process negative feedback
  • Be clear about what you will and will not negotiate on
  • Practice ahead of time. Find someone you trust to say it too and see if it makes sense. If it is scary role play a couple of times.
  • Ask for a third person to join you if needed. Someone who the person receiving feedback will feel comfortable with and invite them to bring someone you would feel comfortable with???

Since we are opening the floor up for honest communication I thought I’d get prepared for receiving negative feedback myself… here is what I have found.

Some pointers on receiving negative feedback

(http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/2010/04/29/how-to-handle-negative-feedback/ – summarised/altered)

  • Pause first and try not to react. Focus on your breathing and listen to what they are staying to you. As for a moment to process your feelings and content of the feedback if it is in real time otherwise a few days if it is via email.
  • Recognize receiving negative feedback is a positive thing and the gift that it is.
  • Understand what the person’s concerns are. Some questions you could ask yourself of them is:
  • What are the key issues?
  • Why is the person reacting this way?
  • What happened that affected the person?
  • Write down these answers so you can evaluate them in step 3.
  • Assess if the feedback is true.
  • Evaluate the feedback objectively. Do you agree on the feedback? Is there any truth behind it, and would this be an alternate perspective you missed out originally? Is it something you should look into?
  • Sometimes it’s hard to maintain an objective stance, especially since you are right in the middle of this. I found it’s helpful to seek out friends to get alternate opinions. You can ask them:
  • Their overall assessment of the feedback
  • What they think are the areas of concern
  • If they saw any truth behind it.
  • Reply to the person in kindness. Someone actually putting themselves in a position of giving your feedback is a gift. This is suggested flow for a reply:
  • Reiterate the concern the person has so it is clear you understood them.
  • Share your point of view, whether you agree/disagree, along with supporting reasons why
  • Create an open space for discussion
  • Agree on the next steps to move forward. Sometimes it’s possible that there can’t be an agreement met, and if that’s the case it’s about agreeing to disagree
  • Thank the person for sharing. Giving negative feedback is hard to give (and receive) so thank them for taking the time to be honest to you.
  • Learn from the feedback. There’s always something to learn from every feedback. Ask yourself:
  • What have I learned about myself?
  • What have I learned about others?
  • How can I improve? What can I do differently from now on?
  • What you’re learning can either be about the feedback how you dealt with the feedback or both.

Karen uses visual art, print & web design with individuals and groups using a collaborative approach. This happens using dialogue, workshops and/or training to facilitate creation through to the final product.

Karen mainly works in Turrbal & Jagera Country (Brisbane).

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