The Degenerative Group Process© may have heard of the Nominal Group Process, an extremely efficient tool that allows everyone to participate equally in a problem solving discussion.  It is simply a controlled version of brainstorming, but without the up front group interaction during the idea-generation stage.  In nominal group process each person in the group writes down his or her ideas first, and then as a group the ideas are discusses and prioritizes.  It is a great way to keep any one person from monopolizing the problem solving process.  Also called Nominal Group Technique.

The Degenerative Group Process:

The Degenerative Group Process would be a fun, tongue-in-cheek play on words if it weren’t so prevalent.  Here are the five steps I use to describe the degenerative process I saw in a group forced to endure the agony of attending a training sessions lead by an incompetent  instructors.  May it never happen to you–or be you!

Step 1:  Polite Non-listening

Several years ago I was attending a conference which included presentations by some of my colleagues who were very smart but couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag.  I recall one particularly painful presentation where I checked out very early on in the session, and—in order to look as if I were engaged—I began taking notes on what I saw happening in the room.  It all began when I asked the person next to me, “What did he just say?’  To which he replied, “I don’t know.”  This from someone who was sitting up straight, looking the presenter right in the eyes, and to me seemed fully engaged in the presentation.  He was being polite, but was not listening at all.

Step 2:  Quiet Sarcasm

Not many minutes passed when I saw this “polite non-listening” turn into something quite different.  Audience members, still remained reserved, but would share their sarcastic comments under their breath speaking only to themselves, or speaking to someone nearby.  This “quiet sarcasm” remained unnoticed to others in the room, mostly a private joke shared among friends, without interrupting the speaker or the room.

Step 3:  Open Sarcasm

A third step in this “degenerative group process” was when the sarcasm got loud.  Remarks about the speaker by people at one table were now being heard by people at another table.  What was once hidden or quiet now became “open sarcasm,” painful to watch and even more painful when you later realize you had played a part.

Step 4:  Preoccupational Withdrawal

I next noticed that the presenter and the presentation was no longer just a joke, but was now a total waste of time.  Newspapers came out, laptops were opened, texting — or game playing — was rampant.  The audience just didn’t seem to care about the indifference and boredom.  This “preoccupational withdrawal” was now seen and shared by almost everyone in the room.

Step 5:  Hostile Independence

In it final stage, participants began moving about, leaving the room, or carrying on conversations with others in the room without regard to the presentation.  The group had not only become disengaged, they began to display a “hostile independence” towards the presenter and towards others in the room.

All of the presenters were very smart people.  They knew their stuff, but didn’t know how to engage their audience.  Being smart is never enough, and connecting with people is never too much.