College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2011 > Kolb Authors New Book on Facilitation of Small Groups

Kolb Authors New Book on Facilitation of Small Groups

"Small Group Facilitation" offers research, insights, and suggestions on ways to improve the functioning of groups and teams.

group-facil.jpgby Joe Savrock (December 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Judith A. Kolb, associate professor of workforce education, is the author of a newly released book that offers research, insights, and suggestions on ways to improve the functioning of groups and teams.

The book, titled Small Group Facilitation: Improving Process and Performance in Groups and Teams (HRD Press, 2011), is designed around a research-based framework for facilitation that provides support for the practical suggestions, tools, strategies, and techniques that are presented throughout the text.

The framework, grounded in seminal small-group theory on task and relationship aspects of group work, was developed through the author's research in facilitation and collaborative leadership and informed by Kolb’s 25 years of experience in working with groups and teams.

Said Kolb, “When I started working on this book, I wanted to do two things—first, to provide a research-based framework for facilitation that would be useful for anyone working with or in groups and teams; and second, to include very specific information on a variety of techniques for strategic planning, decision-making, and problem-solving. The former is based on an ongoing research stream that began with my doctoral dissertation. The latter has taken me years to accumulate, test, modify, and refine.”

Judith KolbThe research that served as the basis for the framework is explained in an early chapter. Subsequent chapters focus on each of the eight framework elements and a variety of techniques for strategic planning, decision-making, and problem-solving. The book brings together research from the fields of human resource development, communication, business, and psychology and posits an innovative way of looking at the process of facilitation.

Kolb defines facilitation as any group process, practice, or technique that makes it easier for group or team members to interact and accomplish their goals. The facilitator function often is paired with another role, such as content-matter expert, trainer, mediator, leader, instructor, coach, or counselor. She notes that people in a variety of fields benefit from a knowledge of facilitation.

“An unexpected audience for this book,” Kolb says, “is attorneys who are expanding their practices into facilitative mediation. They are drawn to the chapters on relationships and climate, conflict, values and ethics, and techniques for decision-making and problem-solving.“

Relationships and climate, as well as group conflict—both substantive and interpersonal—have been topics of continuing interest for group scholars and practitioners. Kolb discusses the importance of trust and communication, functional and dysfunctional individual group member behaviors and the effect of these behaviors on group process and outcome, and patterns of behavior that cause conflicts to escalate. Kolb said that a recent conference presentation she gave on dysfunctional individual behaviors in groups was standing-room only, one indication of the prevalence and destructive nature of such behavior.

Kolb points to the book’s chapter on creativity as one that reflects much of her early and current research and interests. This chapter discusses research on the importance of work environment; the “mind locks” that discourage creativity; and the value of challenging assumptions, celebrating ambiguity, and asking “why not?”

In earlier reported research, Kolb found that leaders of high-performing teams scored higher on a measure of tolerance for uncertainty than did leaders of average-performing teams. Creative reframing, a technique used with project teams during the final three years (2000-2003) of the Leadership for Institutional Change initiative at Penn State, helps when a group is viewing a problem in a way that limits progress.

“My hope is that people find value in this book,” stated Kolb, “not only from the initial reading, but also by using it in very direct ways to address issues and challenges as they arise and to help members have positive experiences and productive outcomes in groups.”