The T-Group concept


Humans universally tend to form groups, from a dual relationship to nations. This tendency arises from a number of motives, and proceeds along certain interactive styles.

Motives. The work hypothesis is that, whichever the human needs we consider, the group situation offers more possibilities to fulfill those needs than an inidividual, isolated condition. These needs and motivations can be grouped in three sections, A+B+C: Affective(emotional, attention, tenderness, sexuality, love, amusement, humour, symbolism), Behavioural (cooperation, mutual aid, industry, production, commerce, care and protection, experience), and Cognitive (knowledge, science, information, consciousness, creativity). Those three fundamental functions of human mind were already suggested in the medieval concepts (quoted form Everyman, 13th century): Wisdom, Force and Beauty.

Usual, unstructured social contact includes those three aspects, although only weakly: people do, think and feel together.

A group is formed to intensify one or more aspects of human functioning.

Most of groups only pay attention to one of these motivations: the activity aspect prevails in a sports club, an expedition, a political party; the intellectual aspect is central in a discussion group, a scientific faculty; and the affective aspect (aesthetics, symbolism) is the aim of groups for spirituality --oriental or occidental--, religious groups, masons, an amateur orchestra or choir, etc. Although most of these groups also feel the importance of socializing, i.e. a mild combination of the other two aspects, the latter are most often not seen as essential in the group's functioning.

Some groups try to consciously integrate two or all three of these aspects: friends, a relationship, some religious or masonic groups. The group becomes than something very important for the members, fulfilling many of their needs, and tend to become more closed, a micro-society --a family, an abbey, a sect-- although this closedness is not essential.

Interactive style. The simple fact of putting people together is not sufficient to reach an optimal group functioning. The individual has to learn certain interactive attitudes and social behaviour, ranging from respect to responsability, to enable the group to produce the highest possible outcome and mutual well-being. Many styles of interaction are possible, but they can be described in three categories: primary, secondary and tertiary.

[scheme of stages of social interaction: see end]

Primary is a structureless, chaotic interaction, where only individual and short-time aims count. It's simply ego(t)ism.

In a secondary interactive style, people try to organize the behaviour of others, to make it congruent with one's own desires. The interaction is fundamentally "exogenous", i.e. imposed, coercive, by laws, moral pressure or simply physical aggression. The external motivators evolve form negative (to threat with harm and pain) to positive (to allure with wages, reward and social reinforcement). It's the progressive evolution from dictatorship towards true participation and democracy, and in modern times the cyclic inter-reactive game of Right and Left. Economically it's the evolution from capitalism to socialism, where both have their advantages and weeknesses.

A tertiary interaction style is "endogenous": it reposes on a spontaneous discipline and contributions, a general feeling of responsability, a consciousness of the value of others, and an inexhaustible tendency to elaborate integrations, in communication as well as in actions. One often calls it synergy, as opposed to traditional, directed cooperation. In postmodern terminology, such a group can be labeled as turquoise.

A striking difference with the secondary style is the conscient strive in a tertiary group to evaluate and to discuss its own levels of functioning, seeking to improve it constantly. Evolution is not considered as a deplorable but necessary reaction to unexpected crises, but a welcome improvement with only benefits for all group members. New ideas are not seen as criticisms, but as constructive and valuable suggestions.

An important point in the comprehension of the interactive style, is to consider that the level of functioning is not merely a question of  choice, or something imposed by the rulers or the most dominant members. A group --and a relationship-- can only function at a higher level if all group members are able/willing to do so. Democracy seems not to be possible in a primitive culture. Deciding to form a group on a higher level of functioning implies the preparedness of all members to train themselves in the required interactive skills. Sometimes we see that the ability of the members enables a higher level of functioning than is offered by the prevailing structures. Then revolutions become likely (e.g. the French Revolution, American Independence, a conflict between son and father, the Students' Revolt of May '68, the emergence of Peer to Peer and Open Sources cooperations on the Internet). But the most frequent reason why high level functioning doesn't not succeed is the fact that an important number of members are not able or willing to function along the rules required for this particular level of functioning.

Another condition not to underestimate is the technical aspect: media and education in general tend to improve the ability, motivation and possibilities to function at a higher level. This is particularly paramount on the actual internet scene.


By definition, a t-Group is a group with the highest possible quality of group functioning, derived from modern insights, psychological and sociological, about optimal functioning. A t-Group is the concretization of the synergistic style.

The "t -" refers to fundamental quality characteristics of functioning, such as tertiary, transcendental, team, temple, Teilhard, top, etc.

This high level is apparent in at least two aspects: (1) the three aspects of functioning are explicitly present: intellectual, active and aesthetic, and (2) the interactive level of the group is synergistic.

A fundamental characteristic of t-Groups is that, as insights about optimal human functioning develop, the concrete form of t-Groups will automatically evolve. Revolutions and conflictuous reformations, schisms, separations and divorces, resignations and discharges, typical for secondary groups, tend to be unexistent in tertiary groups. Whenever members or subgroups feel unfulfilled needs or develop new ideas, the open integrative communication process can cope with it, and use it as constructive contributions to enhance the group's functioning.


A good friendship or relationship is perhaps the best example of a tertiary cooperation. But many other groups, including political parties, social clubs, sects, religious communities, masonic lodges, a faculties, scientific societies, sports or explorer teams, discussion groups, often function as a t-Group, especially in the first, "pioneering" period. Internet offers unequalled opportunities to develop virtual t-Groups, with phenomena as peer to peer (P2P) communication (a term from Michel Bauwens).

A Tentative Description of a t-Group

From a motivational point of view a t-Group generally results from an initiative by a certain number of people, looking for the highest level of life quality. They have the convition that the quality of human existence may increase with a more conscious study of the factors influencing human functioning, as individual and as group, and a continuous endeavour to attain higher levels of functioning.

From a functional point of view, a t-Group touches the three fundamental functions of human mind: Affection, Behaviour and Cognition, or, as the medieval expression suggested (quoted form Everyman, 13th century): Wisdom, Force and Beauty. This combination not only is an important time saver for the members (who don't have to look for three kinds of groups), but is an inspiring stimulation and an equilibrating factor for each separate dimension. In fact, the Affective (aesthetic, emotional,symbolic) activities gain in depth if they can refer to real experiences, within the group, of cooperation (Behavioural) and constructive discussion (Cognition). The Cognitive dimension (discussions, meditative consciousness) tends to become more realistic if it frames into the realism of daily life experience. Otherwise, there is a risk for leaving the facts of life, and become purely theoretical. Also the Behavioural dimension is constantly enriched whith cognitive insights and an emotional sensitivity: dreams tend to become true.

Of course, selecting members to build a t-Group may prove difficult. We observe much more individual motivation for one or two of these three dimensions. But groups consisting of only one or two motivations tend to deviate in these dimensions, as they are not equilibrated by the presence of the other dimension(s).

The interactive style is supposed to match the highest expectations. Two factors are required to enable tertiary functioning: an integrative attitude and a co-responsibility.

The integrative approach, explained in more detail on other pages of this site, has two dimensions: an intellectual ('conceptual') and an organizational ('factual'). The intellectual approach believes that every contribution to an insight of an problem soving probably is useful, and that all contradictions are illusory, because they are due to inexact formulations rather than to insurmontable divergences. The organizational approach considers that every behaviour of organization only is acceptable, if everybody who is cioncerned feels happy with it, as well on short as on long term. Of course, nearly nobody probably is spontaneously prepared to function adequately in an integrative organization, and personal growth processes may be required.

Communication in secondary groups is restricted: not everything can be mentioned or discussed, because many myths and phantasms prevail, and unconventional remarks are often threatening and offending. In a t-Group communication is open and unrestricted: human value is not linked to the way one presents oneself, but to the way one tries to constantly do things better. Problem evaluations never presuppose the bad will or limited capacities of somebody, and suggestions are accepted as constructive contributions. This vulnerable communication only is possible because there is an unconditional, positive ("empathetic") approach of all group members.

The co-responsibility is essential in a t-Group. As there is no hierarchy nor ruling committee in t-Groups, the constant solicitude and concern of every group member is indispensable. Every group member is supposed to behave continuously as if he was the ruler of teh group, responsible for everything. This is one of the most lacking qualities in nowadays' culture and society, not only because our modern culture stresses spontaneity and freedom ("when you're not motivated for something, you're not supposed to do it", "freedom is your fundamental right"), but also because the secondary culture we live in generally doesn't appreciate co-responsability, especially not if it is creative, because it is threatening for those in charge. The lack of this quality probably will be the most nocive factor for the survival of g-Groups, and a relapse into a more stable secondary interactive style is always looming.

The openness of a t-Group probably is the most favourable condition, allowing inspiration and realism. A closed community often tends to blur and to eliminate, at least temporarily, problems it can't cope with. This closedness (and censorship) sometimes is compulsory, to prevent that group members become conscious of other possibilities, and tend to criticize the own hierarchy and traditions.

The formation of t-Groups

Two situations are possible: two or more people form a new relationship or  t-Group, and an existent group makes the transition towards a t-Group, on the insistence of one or more members of that group. In fact, there are two fertile moments to install better structures and functioning rules: the moment of the start, and the occurrence of severe crises that did not split up the group.

The foundation of a new t-Group. Installing a "t-Level" often occurs more or less spontaneously. In fact, the behavioural "programme" for tertiary functioning is, to a large extent, already present in many people, and is activated by enthousiasm, idealism, amorousness, religious ardour, i.e. the illusion that the realization of a dream is close. Although this spontaneous tertiary ability is not very resistent against frustrations, irritations and deceptions, temptations, divergencies and "fundamental" disagreement, those communicational and organizational problems usually don't arise at the beginning of a group's existence. This explains why many new groups, including an amorous relationship, tend to function on a quasi-tertiary level during the first years of their existence. In fact, any threatening problem is unconsciously but successfully avoided by composing the group with people that are very complementary in motivation and personality, and therefore do not, at least for some appreciable lapse of time, experience the need for sensitive communication or personal growth.

Especially when a group is strongly motivated by a recent common negative experience, motivation to perform better is high. And many groups start with founders leaving an earlier bad experience. The same situation occurs when the group or relationship starts with a new source of satisfaction, e.g. sexuality.

After some years, most of those groups don't succeed in solving the aforementioned problems, and tend to regress to a more stable, secondary level of functioning.

The transition from secondary to tertiary groups. As the levcel of group functioning easily can be adjusted at the moments of foundation and crises, the smooth transition from a secondary Group to a t-Group most often may prove difficult. Often, the foundation of a new t-Group may prove easier.

It always starts with one or more group members (or a partner of the relationship) who wants the group to evolve. If there are perceived problems in the group, a good argument is at hands. But if everything is OK, the rest of the group may experience the overt or covert attempts aiming at introducing changes as uneasy, and this may evolve to an isolation of even an ejection of the initiator.

Factors that may facilitate a smoother transition from a secondary to a tertiary level of functioning include:

1. conceptual insights of the majority of members about the value and desirability of a tertiary level, and the conviction that everybody will feel better that way. Counsellors and trainers for the professional group or relationship may prove useful.

2. inspiring contacts with other groups or relationships that function that way.

3. occasional activities and challenges that naturally bring the group to a closer communication and an improved emotional bond.


Our society progressively globalizes, and evolves towards a Noosphere, i.e. a conscious strive to universal integration. With the collapse of traditional religous and political systems, which failed to keep up with quickly evolving technical and sociocultural progress, the need for a modern and practical spirituality emerges, and a tolerant but realistic idealism tends to replace the obsolete political discourse. Moreover, modern media, and especially the Internet are very strong stimulators towards such a world-wide cooperation. The question how t-Groups, real and virtual, emerge and evolve, seems to be surprisingly actual and fundamental for everybody who feels engaged in a constructive future of humankind.

The three stages of social interaction