Overt and Covert Group Dynamics: An Innovative Approach for Conflict Resolution Preparation

Published date01 March 2016
Date01 March 2016
C R Q, vol. 33, no. 3, Spring 2016 313
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21159
Overt and Covert Group Dynamics: An Innovative
Approach for Con ict Resolution Preparation
Neil H. Katz
Katherine J. Sosa
Suzzette A. Harriott
Group work is a necessary but often bewildering part of working in
the fi eld of confl ict resolution. Although programs provide skill practice
courses to prepare confl ict professionals, their opportunity to engage in
settings that refl ect the challenging work of operating in the midst of a
heightened emotional environment is limited. One course that at least
approximates those conditions is based on the Tavistock approach to
group relations and emulates the covert and overt dynamics that occur
in groups.  is article advocates for experiential educational events such
as this to improve training for confl ict resolution professionals and is
supported by interview data collected from participants.
Academic and training programs in confl ict resolution have expanded
greatly over the past two decades (Polkinghorn et al. 2006). Prog-
nosticators of current and emerging job trends in our fi eld confi rm that
Neil Katz is responsible for the introduction to this article, the background of the Tavistock
Workshop and approach. Katz and Katherine Sosa wrote the description of the course and the
last section on the value of the approach. Sosa is the author of the results as learning outcomes
and Suzzette Harriott is the author of the section on research methods as well as the design of
the methodology.
e article presents a short summary of some theories.  e brevity is intentional as the
course itself needs to be experienced to have the theories make sense, which is why they are
presented in a just-in-time sequence.
It is not unusual for followers of the Tavistock model to experiment with diff erent adapta-
tions of the original design and structure of the Tavistock model of the Group Relations Confer-
ence. Most of these adaptations are additions to, not subtractions from, the original design. See
Wilson and McRae (2003).
314 katz, sosa, harriott
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
the role of confl ict practitioner will be highly competitive and demand-
ing (Rhudy 2001).  e road to success for an applied professional can
be challenging, and there is some doubt that academic programs are
adequately preparing graduates to succeed (Carstarphen et al. 2010).
One response to this dilemma may be to design and deliver more cur-
ricular off erings that will better prepare students and faculty to work
successfully in groups and organizations under confl ict conditions and
to conduct research on how to do this.  is article describes a unique
curricular off ering for preparing confl ict resolution trainees.  is course
approximates the heightened emotional conditions of confl ict and
contributes to the cognitive understanding of group dynamics while
highlighting the importance of emotional intelligence for confl ict inter-
Confl ict resolution, like riding a bike, cannot be mastered solely by
reading about it. “In a fi eld where the practical application of theory is
central to the education process, it makes sense for students to be exposed
to real-world attempts” in which they need to perform (Reilly 2013, 460).
However, for students taking a hybrid of online and residential courses,
direct fi eld application may not always be a feasible option.  e challenge
is then to create something that simulates the conditions for active learning
because, as Fowler (2005) suggests, “if an appropriate learning environ-
ment is carefully nurtured . . . active learning can prove to be an excep-
tional way to boost professional development” (172).
Numerous models have been studied and developed in the hope of
facilitating active learning, where students can engage in higher-order
cognitive problem solving. Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), Kolb’s experiential
learning model (1984, 1988), and Bonwell and Eison’s (1991) report on
active learning methodology comprise critical research that can inform
curriculum in this fi eld. According to Kolb’s model, curriculum should
integrate the following components (Reilly 2013, 449):
1. Concrete experience refers to observing events and relationships
through engagement and personal involvement.
2. Refl ective observation follows concrete experience and involves
processing and analyzing direct experiences.
3. Abstract conceptualization is the process by which students develop
generalized models that integrate ideas of how experiences are
An Innovative Approach for Con ict Resolution Preparation 315
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
inter-related. From these models, a student generates expectations
and predictions of how the world should work.
4. Active experimentation involves testing these expectations in light of
real-world experience.
Based on more than forty years of experience in confl ict consulting and
teaching, one course that at least approximates the conditions of work in
the fi eld and supports active learning is based on the Tavistock approach
to group relations. Confl ict specialists who intervene regularly with groups
and teams in distress understand they are walking into emotionally tense,
volatile situations. As they work productively on these issues, it is impor-
tant for them to be resourceful by managing their own emotions but also
managing the parties’ needs.  is work calls for a challenging set of obser-
vation and diagnostic skills to accurately interpret what is going on before
deciding on and delivering an intervention strategy.
e covert and overt dynamics that occur in groups and confl ict can
be nurtured in a laboratory experience.  e Tavistock approach provides
an opportunity for the active learning necessary to inform these skills.
Its emphasis on covert and overt dynamics, role and boundary clar-
ity, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship
management helps practitioners develop the tools and skills needed to
succeed in the fi eld. For this reason, an educational event based on an
experiential learning model may be a valuable component to off er par-
ticipants in confl ict analysis and resolution programs and training.  is
training method can be delivered as an academic course or in a shorter
training format.
Data and Methods
is article shares data related to the impact of this course on its partici-
pants. Our research team obtained approval from the Institutional Review
Board at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to con-
duct research. Two members of our research team interviewed twenty-fi ve
participants from four annual courses delivered to graduate students in the
Department of Confl ict Resolution Studies from 2011 to 2014. Before
presenting the data collected from interviews of former participants,
we present the Tavistock approach.

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