Using Work Groups: Committees,
Teams, and Boards
Sometimes it seems that all social workers ever do is go to meetings. There are staff meetings to clarify agency policies, team meetings to coordinate treatment plans, interagency meetings to work out service agreements, board committee meetings to plan fund-raising events, professional association committee meetings to do conference planning, and community meetings. These are not clinical group meetings. None of these meetings involve direct group work with clients—for example, running a treatment group for sexually abused girls, a parenting group for new mothers, or a socialization group for senior citizens. But they are social work professional groups. It is to be hoped that all of these meetings are necessary for direct service work to go forward. All of these meetings involve work with task groups of some kind—committees, task forces, boards, teams, coalitions, task forces, planning bodies, and the like. Task groups are working groups established to achieve some specific purpose or goal. The specific purpose goal or goal is usually external to the group and does not focus on changing the traits of individual group members (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2001, pp. 90–100; Payne, 2000).
Effective work with task groups, an important aspect of all social work practice, is essential for community practice. The task group is one of the main vehicles through which community practice is carried out. Organizing groups and committees and participating as chair, member, or facilitator of one of these bodies are the means by which social advocacy, interagency and interprofessional planning and coordination, and community development are accomplished. Although we often participate as members of a task group, in this chapter the role of the social worker is conceived predominantly as leader, chair, or staff member. The roles' tasks can be adapted to participation as a member in work groups if we keep in mind why task groups are used. We participate in work groups because we want to get something done and need a group to get it done. Regardless of our formal position in the task group, we should assume leadership when necessary to enhance the group's effectiveness. Leadership and decision making in task groups and organizations, including social agencies, are rarely democratic with everyone having equal authority and say but should be consultativeparticipatory.
Besides the task groups in direct service agencies, social action organizations also are sustained by task groups. These may be temporary, ad hoc groups internal or external to the organization. Organization or agency members, staff, or leaders can serve a part of outside groups formed by other organizations. Organizations also support the work of task groups without members serving on the task group or controlling the task group. Organizations may also have