Group Dynamics and Discourse Diagnosis

Science of Team Science
1st annual conference

The Cooperative Nature of Communication

As I showered this morning, I considered the incredibly cooperative nature of communication. If there is a center to the object of study that James Cumming and I have made of the Science of Team Science conference, it has to do with the types of cooperation and degrees of understanding demonstrated by participants in figuring out how better to achieve scientific breakthroughs, particularly when working in interdisciplinary teams.

Cooperation takes a wide range of forms. The word usually has a positive connotation, e.g., cooperation is a good thing. Plenty of theory, however, suggests ‘cooperation’ in misunderstanding each other – an outcome generally presumed to be negative. The strife of conflict accompanies constructive conversations; how to interpret disciplinary disagreements, paradigmatic differences, and individual ambitions is the grist of group dynamics.

These typical features of knowledge production can be a source of tremendous insight, provided participants are able to engage them as opportunities rather than barriers or breakdowns.  James theorizes about a special kind of opportunity that arises in groups that he calls problematic moments. Think of “problem” in the way mathematicians do, or in the sense of a core puzzle of existence. Such moments are usually glossed over (an act of cooperation), and are difficult to act into unless several members of the group muster the attention and will to do so.

Getting into Role

A challenge for us in entering the conference with such an ambitious goal of reflecting “live” has been how to negotiate the task, gain authorization to conduct it, delimit our dual role as conference participants and action researchers/participant-observers, and identify appropriate boundaries. As far as we can determine from the outset, we are entering the conference with “all systems go.”

What will begin to happen, indeed, has already been occurring, is a phenomenon called parallel process.  What this concept builds from is the simultaneous happening of events for different people and sub-groups that are somehow related to each other. For instance, today, many conference participants boarded planes to fly to Chicago. We were acting ‘in parallel’ even if not in conscious coordination.

Some of us may be engaged in a flurry of last-minute preparation, while others have been fully prepared for weeks. Our behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions will cohere us into invisible sub-groups. These aggregated groupings may or may not contribute significantly to the conference dynamics, but – supposing for some reason they did – then this would have relevance for the achievements of the conference as a whole.

The main aim of this action research project is to try and identify parallel processes and problematic moments (and other features of emergent group dynamics evidenced by patterns in group discourses) as they occur in the real-time unfolding of this conference event.  We’ve created some mechanisms by which other conference participants can contribute their data (observations, ideas, and feelings as they occur), and we hope they will.

2 thoughts on “Group Dynamics and Discourse Diagnosis”

  1. Stuff happens!

    It was really difficult to decide not to attend the STS conference but I’m sure I did the right thing in staying home. Steph and I have been preparing for the conference for months. We are a team and it’s going to be difficult for her to take up our project at the conference by herself. I will try and support her virtually as best I can and hope to have a Skype video presence touring the poster session.

    The reason why I cannot attend the conference is because I have severe pain in my lower leg and I have to use crutches to walk. In addition, I have quite bad edema with the risk of a blood clot forming when flying. My doctor has given me some medication to reduce the swelling and I’m seeing a specialist on Friday. He says it is important to make sure I have not gotten a clot in the veins in the calf of the leg (thrombophlebitis). They may need to use ultrasound to check that. It may be I have a partial tear in my Achilles tendon or bad tendonitis.

    Stuff is happening all the time and it seems we need to be increasingly flexible and creative in order to sustain our complex lives. Teams need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected. Steph did some work on resilience in groups. I’ll follow up with her about that.

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