In 1947, the National Training Laboratories Institute
began in Bethel, ME. They pioneered the use of T-groups (Laboratory
Training) in which the learners use here and now experience in the group,
feedback among participants and theory on human behavior to explore
group process and gain insights into themselves and others. The goal
is to offer people options for their behavior in groups. The
T-group was a great training innovation which provided the base for
what we now know about team building. This was a new method that would
help leaders and managers create a more humanistic, people serving system
and allow leaders and managers to see how their behavior actually affected
others. There was a strong value of concern for people and a desire
to create systems that took people's needs an feelings seriously.
Objectives of T-Group Learning
The T-Group is intended to provide you the
- Increase your understanding of group
development and dynamics.
- Gaining a better understanding
of the underlying social processes at work within a group (looking
under the tip of the iceberg)
- Increase your skill in facilitating group
- Increase interpersonal skills
- Experiment with changes in your behavior
- Increase your awareness of your own feelings
in the moment; and offer you the opportunity to accept responsibility
for your feelings.
- Increase your understanding of the impact
of your behavior on others.
- Increase your sensitivity to others'
- Increase your ability to give and receive
- Increase your ability to learn from your
own and a group's experience.
- Increase your ability to manage and utilize
Success in these goals depends, to a large
extent, on the implied contract that each participant is willing to
disclose feelings that she or he may have, in the moment, about others
in the group, and to solicit feedback from the others about herself
or himself. The focus is upon individual learning; some participants
may learn a great deal in most of the above areas, others learn relatively
One way of describing what may happen for a participant is --
- Unfreezing habitual responses
to situations -- this is facilitated by the participant's own desire
to explore new ways of behaving and the trainer staying non directive
silent and providing little structure or task agenda
- Self generated and chosen change by
- Experiment with new behaviors
-Practice description not evaluation of
- Reinforce new behavior by positive
feedback, participants own assessment of whether what is happening
is closer to what she/he intents, supportive environment, trust development
Sources of Change in Groups
- Self-observation - participants give more attention to their own
intentions, feelings, etc.
- Feedback - participants receive information on the impact they have
- Insight - participants expand self-knowledge
- Self-disclosure - participants exposes more of themselves to others
- Universality - participants experience that others share their difficulties,
concerns or hopes
- Group Cohesion - participants experience trust, acceptance &
- Hope - participant see others learn, achieve their goals, improve,
and cope more effectively
- Vicarious Learning - participants pick up skills and attitudes from
- Catharsis - participants experience a sense of release or breakthrough
The T-group provides participants with an opportunity
to learn about themselves, their impact on others and how to function
more effectively in group and interpersonal situations. It facilitates
this learning by bringing together a small group of people for the express
purpose of studying their own behavior when they interact within a small
A T-Group is not a group discussion or a problem
The group's work is primarily process rather
than content oriented. The focus tends to be on the feelings and the
communication of feelings, rather than on the communication of information,
opinions, or concepts. This is accomplished by focusing on the 'here
and now' behavior in the group. Attention is paid to particular
behaviors of participants not on the "whole person", feedback is non-evaluative
and reports on the impact of the behavior on others. The participant
has the opportunity to become a more authentic self in relation to others
through self disclosure and receiving feedback from others. The Johari
Window is a model that looks at that process.
The training is not structured in the manner
you might experience in an academic program or a meeting with an agenda
or a team with a task to accomplish. The lack of structure and limited
involvement of the trainers provides space for the participants to decide
what they want to talk about. No one tells them what they ought to talk
about. The lack of direction results in certain characteristic responses;
participants are silent or aggressive or struggle to start discussions
or attempt to structure the group.
In the beginning of a T-Group participants
are usually focused on what they experience as a need for structure,
individual emotional safety, predictability, and something to do in
common. These needs are what amount to the tip of the iceberg in most
groups in their back home situation. By not filling the group's time
with answers to these needs, the T-Group eventually begins to notice
what is under the tip of the iceberg. It is what is always there in
any group but often unseen and not responsibly engaged . So, participants
experience anxiety about authority and power, being include and accepted
in the group, and intimacy.
Depending on forces, such as, the dynamics
of the group, the past experience and competence of participants, and
the skill of the trainers -- the group, to some extent, usually develops
a sense of itself as a group, with feelings of group loyalty. This can
cause groups to resist learning opportunities if they are seen as threatening
to the group's self-image. It also provides some of the climate of trust,
support and permission needed for individuals to try new behavior.
As an individual participant begins to experience
some degree of trust (in themselves, the group and the trainers) several
things become possible --
The participant may notice that his/her
feelings and judgments about the behavior of others is not always
shared by others. That what he/she found supportive or threatening
was not experience in that way by others in the group. That how
one responded to authority, acceptance and affection issues different
from that of others (more related to ones family of origin than
to what is happening in the group). Individual differences emerge
in how experiences are understood.
The participant may begin to try on new
behavior. For example, someone who has always felt a need to fill
silence with noise and activity tries being quieter and still.
Participants begin to ask for feedback
from the group about how their behavior is impacting others.
Participants may find that they are really
rather independent and have a relatively low level of anxiety about
what is happening in the group. They will exhibit a broader range
of behavior and emotions during the life of the group. In fact their
leadership is part of what helps the group develop.
The role of the trainers
To help the group and individuals analyze
and learn from what is happening in the group. The trainer may draw
attention to events and behavior in the group and invite the group
to look at its experience. At times the trainer may offer
To offer theory, a model or research that
seems related to what the group is looking at.
To encourage the group to follow norms
that tend to serve the learning process, e.g., focusing on "here
& now" rather than the "then & there".
To offer training and coaching in skills
that tend to help the learning process, e.g., feedback skills, EIAG,
To not offer structure or an agenda. To
remain silent, allowing the group to experience its anxiety about
acceptance, influence, etc.
To be willing to disclose oneself, to be
open with the group. On occasion being willing to offer feedback
and challenge a participant
To avoid becoming too directive, clinical,
or personally involved.
- T-Group methods usually encourage self-disclosure and openness,
which may be inappropriate or even punished in organizations. This
was an early learning. When managers thought they could take the T-group
method into the back home organization, they discovered that the methods
and the assumptions of a T-group did not fit. T-groups consisted of
participants who were strangers. They didn't have a history or a future
together and could more easily focus on here and now behavior.
Another issue was that in the organization there were objectives,
deadlines and schedules related to accomplishing the work of the company
or group. Groups with a task to accomplish could not take the same
time that would be used in a T-Group. These difficulties helped lead
to the development of Organization Development and team building.
What had been learned in T-Groups was combined with other knowledge
and these new disciplines emerged as ways to address the values raised
by the T-Group experience.
- The T-Group experience can open up a web of questioning in a participant.
Ways of behaving that the person has used for many years may be called
into question by others in the group and oneself. This has in some
cases brought the participant to question relationships in the family
or at work. While this can be a very constructive process that leads
to the renewal of relationships, it has on occasion lead to the breakdown
of a relationship. While such a breakdown may have, in time, come
to the relationship without participation in a T-Group, it remains
a painful and possibly damaging experience.
- Participants being forced or pressured to attend, by an employer
or other person with influence, are on the whole less likely to have
a positive learning experience. Employers or others who want to require
the participation of others may enhance the chance of having a productive
outcome if -- they attend a lab themselves before sending others;
they speak with the lab coordinator before the event to discuss what
might realistically be expected and what the leader could do to assist
in the learning process when the participant returns home.
- Very rarely there have been situations in which a participant has
a psychiatric problem. One report said "The possibility of negative
psychiatric effects of ST, and especially its role in inducing psychiatric
symptoms, is yet to be clarified." This reinforces the value
of participation based on intrinsic motivation; a norm that discourages
people in therapy from attending without the approval of their therapist;
and trainers staying focused on the learning areas suited for T-Group
Agencies that offer T-Group
training and other lab training experience:
LTI - Leadership Training Institute
NTL - National Training Laboratories Institute