When serious conflict emerges in any group, facilitators or leaders are often tempted to step in.
While this is an understandable desire, it will prevent the group from working through this difficult stage and will
contribute to a pattern of dependence. The pattern of calling in the authority figure who created the group to work out
or mediate the conflict will inhibit group development and undermine the committee members' sense of personal
responsibility for the group.ii
The group rules and boundaries become even more important in the adolescent or storming stage of
development. As personal disagreements emerge, the rules will be challenged. Just as adolescent people push the
boundaries, so will the individual group members and the group itself. At this point, the internal ground rules need to
be clear and the committee's authority (and its limits) must also be carefully defined and maintained.
Many groups struggle in stage 2 to work out how they will make decisions and move forward.
Often some struggles can be eased if the committee understands and accepts a common decision making and group process
model. For example: Will the group make decisions based on a majority vote, or is broader consensus required? When
ESOP Committees are properly trained and understand a process for defining their objectives, generating ideas, discussing
alternatives and reaching a common decision, they are more likely to develop a commonly-accepted process. The content of
the decision making process is less important than that it be accepted by all members.
Splinters and schisms
When stage 2 is cut short either by excessive intervention, or because serious conflict has
caused members to withdraw, individuals and groups may "check out" and refuse to productively participate in the
committee. The danger here is two fold: first, unless the individual is brought back into the group, it can not move
beyond the adolescent stage; second, splinter groups and schisms may appear. When these groups emerge they are extremely
capable of undermining the committee's effectiveness. After all, the individuals chosen for the ESOP Committee carry
credibility and informal (or formal) authority with their peers. If they are not fully "on board" or are actively
undermining the efforts of the committee, at least partial failure is inevitable.
Bear with it! Stage 2 is often the most difficult for people, groups in general, and
ESOP committees specifically. Again, it is critical to keep everyone involved, and active, without preventing or avoiding
disagreements that must be worked out. The facilitator needs to be aware of two important points in stage 2: first, the
difficulty of this stage is necessary for the group to work through; second, the capacity for conflict will differ in each
group member. Therefore, without dampening the disagreement, it is important to keep conflict to a level at which
everyone (or nearly everyone) feels only a little uncomfortable. While group members can be "brought back in" if they
withdraw at this point, on some level the group will regress when this happens and have to go through the adolescent stage
again. Training in group development can help committee members understand what is happening and realize that the conflict
is necessary and natural - not a sign that the group is a failure.