Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Editorial: A Superlative Task

Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Editorial: A Superlative Task

Article excerpt

One can hardly contemplate the passing scene of civilized society without a sense that the need of balanced minds is real and that a superlative task is how socially to make mind more effective.

- Chester Barnard, The Functions of the Executive, 1938, p. 322.

While some might say that group facilitation is just an ordinary task, I believe that group facilitators tend to think of it as an important task, or even an extraordinary task. But who among us has the chutzpah - the self-righteousness - to assert that group facilitation is a superlative task? Better to turn to a venerated and impartial authority who can issue this bold proclamation!

Chester Barnard is such a person, a preeminent mid-twentieth-century corporate executive often called the "father of organization theory." His classic The Functions of the Executive was required management school reading for many decades following its 1938 publication. Though still in print, Barnard's occasionally impenetrable prose has limited the use of his book to only the more rigorous graduate programs, replaced elsewhere by more recent and easily-read authors. Nonetheless, Barnard still challenges us with pertinent ideas that have retained, if not increased, their relevance. In the concluding paragraph of this renowned book, Barnard highlights four very salient points.

Society is increasingly complex and organizations are more elaborate.

Even more true than in 1938, the idea that society is increasingly complex now is accepted axiomatically. Organizations are greater in number, size and geographical scope. We are more dependent than ever before on elaborate technologies and the equally elaborate organizations that create and rely on them. We are interconnected and interdependent; yet distinct and diverse.

The increasing specialization necessitated by such a society brings with it a diversity of methods and purposes that may be inconsistent and foster misunderstandings.

To manage our complex, technological world people must be specialized - in roles, expertise and skills. This makes effective communication, sharing of knowledge, and interpersonal understanding more difficult. This difficulty occurs not only at the level of substantive issues but also at the underlying levels of method (how people think about issues) and purpose (why they think about them). Misunderstandings occur between individuals, of course, and even more crucially between large groups of people. …

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