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Group Questing or Twelving

Proposal for a large-scale small-group development process

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Variant subsequently published as Facilitating Group Formation in Transnational Associations, 1977, 7-8, pp. 302-304 [as a PDF version]


It will be assumed that the readers of this note have information enabling them to accept the following points without substantiating arguments:

1. Individuals in society are increasingly isolated in terms of meaningful inter-personal interaction despite the extensive development of communications of every kind. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes whereby such Interaction could be facilitated or catalyzed.

2. The manner in which individuals are isolated in society is such that they tend to form links amongst people with similar backgrounds, situations or goals thus depriving themselves of meaningful exposure to individuals with different world-views with whom interaction may be mutually beneficial and richer in other ways. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes whereby adequate mixing (randomization) could occur but balanced by some measure of selectivity.

3. Society is so structured that new Inter-personal Interaction may well be perceived as a threat to existing relationships between people. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes which provide some measure of protection for existing relationships whilst allowing new relationships to develop.

4. Small groups (of approximately 7-15 people) tend to provide the context within which new degrees of inter-personal interaction are explored. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes which Increase awareness on the part of group participants of the dynamics and structure of the group.

5. The increasing complexity of society demands of individuals an increased ability to respond appropriately to that complexity rather than closing themselves off from it. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes which help people to increase their ability to handle social complexity, particularly within and with the support of a group .

6. In the face of the wide range of social problems each individual feels increasingly unable to undertake any remedial or compensatory action of any significance - particularly when the experts disagree on the course of action which should be taken and when political or governmental action appears to be of questionable value. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes which facilitate the emergence of groups whose own dynamics lead, if appropriate and desired, to the formulation of goals and to the implementation of projects - namely to the emergence of self-motivated and self-aware groups progressively better able to evaluate the utility and value of their own activities.

7. Whilst it is possible to develop and Implement small scale (laboratory) experiments to respond to the conditions identified above, the value of such exercises is limited unless they have built-in characteristics which make it possible to use them on a large scale. It is therefore appropriate to consider processes which are largely self-energizing, which do not require a large investment, and which are desired by, rather than imposed upon, those for whom they are conceived. They should have widespread appeal (with a built in "snow-ball" effect) in order to be of significance at this time.

8. It is a characteristic of the times that any such process is immediately suspect, and therefore of questionable value, if it is perceived as constituting an imposition upon those involved, or a form of "programming". It is therefore appropriate to consider processes in which what must necessarily be imposed (for there to be the minimal structure far the organization of the process) should have the characteristics of the rules or regulations of a new social game. The content of that game is what emerges from the interactions in which the individuals engage.


A process with the characteristics identified above could be initiated in one or more cities as follows:

1. Establishment of a small secretariat (possibly on a part-time basis not requiring rental of office space) with a post office box address (in the first instance).

2. Use of small (low-cost) advertisements in newspapers and periodicals Inviting people to write for further Information.

3. Provision to respondents of a minimum of documentation explaining the game process and a specially designed questionnaire.

4. Analysis (by hand or by computer) of responses in order to determine how best to involve the person in the process (in exchange for a fee to cover expenses).

The process envisaged is as follows:

1 . Individuals writing in for the first time would be allocated (on the basis of the analysis) to the most appropriate group of 7-15 people.

2. The purpose of the questionnaire analysis is to recommend the most appropriate members for each group (however many groups need to be constituted to accommodate those applying).

3. The purpose of the analysis is only to set up an initial membership for the group on the basis of criteria which gradually emerge as useful. (The individual may even specify which criteria he wants to be taken into consideration from none at all through to an attempt at a very selective match.)

4. Once a group membership is determined, members are Invited by the secretariat to their initial meeting at some suitable time and in a suitably neutral place (both could be partially determined by the responses to the questionnaire). This could, for example, be a restaurant private room or a hotel small-meeting room. Since the whole process is supposed to be self-energizing and self-controlling, no representative of the secretariat need necessarily be present to receive people (although this may be a preference indicated by the individual).

5. For the people so invited the game process then starts. They may Individually decide not to reveal their identities by using pseudonyms. They can engage in any kind of group process that seems appropriate or they can simply chat over drinks.

6. Following such a meeting, the individuals can then privately assess the experience and their willingness to participate in a further meeting. They may anyway decide to do so during their meeting - or at least some may so agree and make appropriate arrangements. This would call for no intervention from the secretariat.

7. Group members can however indicate their assessment on a questionnaire for the secretariat. An individual may thus indicate willingness to participate in a further meeting of the same group: provided one or more identified (by code) individuals continue to participate provided one or more identified (by code) individuals do not also participate provided some other time or setting is chosen, etc.

Or an individual may indicate the desire to participate in another group:

8. The secretariat can then analyze the responses received from all individuals who have participated in meetings of the existing groups using its services (together with individuals applying for the first time) and can invite a new combination of people to the next meeting of each group.

9. Clearly the members of a given group may have all individually Indicated to the secretariat that they wished to meet together again, in which case the secretariat merely schedules a new meeting. The value of the secretariat in such cases is to preserve anonymity where desired and to "save face" where one or more individuals are rejected by the other members of the group. For in the latter case the rejected individuals will not know whether the group met again nor will the group know whether in fact it was not the individuals who indicated that they did not wish to meet again with those remaining.

10. A particular group may therefore not have any degree of permanence. if ever, until after the first 3 to 5 meetings . For after each meeting one or more individuals will decide that they prefer not to meet with the others (or the latter will so decide for them). The "group" present at each such early meeting may therefore split into 2,3,4 or more sub-groups and never meet again as such. It is the role of the secretariat to attempt to match these "grouplets" with other grouplets and individuals in order to help them to experience other group formations.

11. It is not the function of the secretariat to perform the matching process in terms of its own definition of some desirable goal (e.g. stable groups of a certain size). Rather it is up to the individual, in association with those with whom he links in the game process, to define to the secretariat which strategy he wants to pursue in the game (at any one time). He or she may select strategies such as:

The individual may wish to combine several such strategies or possibly to participate in several groups on the basis of different strategies (in order to have an experience more complete than he or she is able to achieve within one group).

12. The secretariat may collect information on different strategies that have been tried and propose them to individuals in any documentation provided about the game process. Examples of strategies might be those defined in Appendix 1 and 2 .

13. Every Individual can thus experiment with the group experience in whatever way they find meaningful. The game process as a whole carries them through any experience which is a partial failure without rejecting them from the game as a whole. At any time they, and the group with which they are associated, can break out of the game process and meet as an Independent group - using the services of the secretariat only if and whenever required.


The proposal as indicated would initiate a process which could provide a very rich experience. It should be clear that it would also constitute a very powerful learning environment. By permitting, or even encouraging, Individuals to experience "superficial" strategies, they are given the opportunity to move on to more meaningful strategies as soon as they consider it appropriate. The more experienced and "mature" groups will in fact have the possibility of exploring the nature of their maturity as a group and of defining strategies or processes to achieve even greater maturity. (For example, some members might deliberately undergo experiences in a number of less mature groups before meeting again).

The objective behind the proposal would therefore be to speed up considerably the group learning experience so as to facilitate the emergence of many mature, self-aware, self-motivated groups - without in fact imposing any particular procedures to that end.

Any such particular procedures would merely be documented as game options which could be explored. Clearly it would be of great importance to document the more mature game options.


1. Individuals entering the game process may feel more secure if they can have some "personalized evaluation" of a group (e.g. many may not wish to break out of the class of people to which they are accustomed). Equally a well-established but delicately-structured group may feel happier with some such preliminary evaluation (or interview) before opening themselves to a newcomer. Procedures to cover this could be usefully examined, together with the cost implications.

2. Several kinds of computer analysis, if any, could be developed and individuals (or groups) may perhaps specify which kind they prefer to be used in their own case for the matching process.

3. Clearly the proposal has some procedural parallels to that of computer dating. Experience in this domain should be examined as well as the problems of distinguishing this game process from computer dating in the public eye.

4. Once experience with the process has been obtained, other dimensions may emerge:

5. During some stage of their experience in a group, participants may feel it useful to benefit from the experience of different kinds of experts in group dynamics, or those more familiar with the game process once it has developed a core of expertise. This sort of service could be arranged by the secretariat.

6. It would be important to provide safeguards against "Invasion" of he game process by those wishing to distort it to their own ends or to victimize newcomers in some way. In one sense this could be seen as an aspect of the game process itself, namely an influence to be responded to appropriately. However, to the extent that it reduces the quality of the individuals wishing to participate, any such influence should be countered by the secretariat or channelled into a parallel game process.

7. The method by which a person indicates by questionnaire the preference for the future composition of the group need not be as simplistic as the classic "black ball" approach ("if he is in I do not want to be"). One scale of preferences might be:

Other possibilities could be examined.

Appendix 1

One game strategy that individuals may wish to adopt is to attempt to develop their own participation within a particular group to the point of being able to respond to all other group members individually and simultaneously.

In a normal group situation an individual usually responds to one person whilst treating the others as a collectivity to which he responds as to a single entity. At best this results in an "I-Thou" situation with the other members of the group as a supportive context. The ability to respond may however encompass two people whilst still treating the remainder as a collectivity. This is clearly more complex and demands a more sophisticated grasp of the situation. This ability may be developed to encompass the interactions with 3, 4 or more people - but at some point the individual will be able to extend it no further. For some, it is already a problem to respond adequately to one, let alone any greater number.

The purpose of the game strategy would be to see whether a group could be developed in which each individual could handle interactions with all the others in the group without "collectivizing" those excluded. This would then be a very mature group since each would be very sensitive to the patterns of interactions and to the synergetic implications.

The secretariat would establish the initial group which after a few meetings would have a permanent core of members. The core membership would have to explore progressively their interactions amongst themselves and with newcomers presented by the game process as others dropped out. The challenge for the group would be to determine how much dissonance they could collectively integrate - given that the more diverse the membership the more powerful and mature the group has the potential of being. On the other hand, in contrast to therapy groups, the individuals must evaluate:

(i) whether they do not wish to "carry" some people in that group who are apparently holding back the group integration process (in which case the person would be dropped), or (ii) whether the group would benefit by engaging in a deliberate

therapeutic process to overcome such apparent obstacles to greater integration (if that person's potential contribution seemed important).

This decision process obliges individuals in the group to assess their relationships and functions within the group to work out whether they can work with all existing group members to achieve greater group Integration, whether they can only usefully do so if one or more of the others no longer participate, or whether they themselves should opt out of that particular group and request allocation to another group.

Appendix II

Another game strategy that individuals may wish to adopt is to request allocation to a group on the basis of their zodiacal sign. In such groups, limited to 12 people, each person would have (1) a different sun sign, or alternatively (ii) a different ascendant sign.

The challenge in such a group would be for each Individual to explore ("feel out") the characteristics of the other members of the group to whom he or she responded (i) positively or negatively, or (ii) sensed some other degree of commonality. Participants could observe the dynamics of the group process in terms of how coalitions formed between representatives of different signs, on what basis, and how these interacted with other coalitions. They could also observe how representatives of different signs contributed to different aspects of the group process.

Using some of the perceptions of the strategy described in Appendix I, participants could try to move from simple polarity (2-component relationships) to triplicity relationships (3-component), on to quadruplicity relationships (4-component). The challenge would then be to see whether 2, 3 and 4-component relationships could be encompassed and blended within the group in order to interlink all sign representatives - and if not, then why not.

As with the previous strategy, individuals would have to decide (i) whether they could continue to work with all existing group members to achieve Integration of all sign energies, (ii) whether they could only usefully do so if one or more of the others were replaced, or (iii) whether they themselves should opt out of that particular group and request allocation to another.

Individuals would have to learn to discriminate, in assessing others present, between (i) normal sign interactions (e.g. sympathy, antipathy) and (ii) interactions due to the excessive sign energy of a particular person probably containable by the group, and (iii) interactions due to the excessive sign energy of a particular person probably uncontainable by the group. The group would function as a filtering mechanism to select a range of participants in the greatest degree of harmony. (Whether any such group achieved harmony because strong representatives of a particular range of signs had been excluded would be the group's problem and choice. A group might even be constituted of 12 people of the same sun sign but of different ascendant signs.)

Integration problems might be such that, for example, it may be necessary for all the 4 fire sign representatives to be replaced as a grouplet (which might then relate better to another group). The game process would facilitate the filtering and matching of such grouplets leading to the progressive refinements of the groups.

The challenge would be to experience participation in an integrated group of 12 people representing very different, but complementary, energies - and to discover what such a group might decide to do, if anything, once it had discovered Itself and achieved a measure of group consciousness.

Groups oriented in this way should be able to develop game processes to test their degree of integration (rather as a juggler may test his proficiency by determining how many balls he can keep moving). Such group games might show up, for example, that one individual could only handle a 2-component relationship, although in working with two others in that group the three of them could manage a 5-component relationship.

The challenge would be to explore and play with such possibilities and see what kinds of groups and understandings developed as a result - given that a group could move in any direction it found meaningful.

Appendix III

An interesting consequence of the game process is that it takes the load off the 2-person relationship as it normally exists in society. Many 2-person relationships fall in one way or another because they cannot give full expression to the range of meaningful energies which may emerge in other interactions. However, such other interactions can only be superficial, vicarious or Illicit within existing structures, which must protect the 2-person relationship.

In the game process, and within a particular group, 3-person, 4-person, etc. relationships are formed and supply a context for other 2-person relationships. Relationships involving 3,4,5 etc. people have different degrees of stability within the group. It may in fact be hypothesized that it is only in a 12-component relationship that polarity (2 component), triplicity (3-component), and quadruplicity (4-component) are adequately blended and interrelated so that a completely new level of meaning can safely emerge.

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