T-Group 2.0: Interpersonal EQ for the Workplace

Thursday T-Group
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For 45 years, the most popular elective at Stanford's Graduate School of Business has been “Interpersonal Dynamics,” a leadership class based on the practice of T-Group. Rather than the usual course of lectures, discussions, and papers, T-Group is a direct, experiential immersion in the study of yourself, your interactions, and the dynamics of your group - in real time.

This kind of learning does change what we know intellectually, both about ourselves and about relationships, but more importantly, it changes how we are. We all have life-long interpersonal habits that impact our ability to communicate, collaborate, and negotiate. They show up whether we’re in the role of colleague, manager, or leader. Ongoing T-Group practice can re-structure these habits in a way that intellectual learning alone could never accomplish. And it can build up new habits and skills that will allow you to become an authentic, effective, and influential presence in any group you may be part of.

At this weekly, Thursday night event, we will be practicing what I call “T-Group 2.0,” because in the years since I began teaching it, I have significantly expanded and updated the original model (more on this below). All first-time participants will be asked to watch the T-Group 2.0 Training Video before joining us, so that we can spend as much time as possible in the practice itself.

Thursday T-Group will be held every Thursday from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM near the Montgomery BART station. The specific address will be sent to you in the confirmation email after you register. Note that there will not be a session held on Thursday, May 16.

Truly skillful relating occurs on three dimensions:

  1. Relating to Self - the dimension of self-awareness and self-responsibility

  2. Relating to Other - the dimension of skillful communication and effective negotiation of one-on-one connections

  3. Relating to the Group - the dimension of masterful navigation of group-level dynamics and the creation of groups that are greater than the sum of their parts 

Most available methodologies in the field of communications emphasize one or possibly two of the three dimensions. T-Group 2.0 is designed to cultivate skill within all three simultaneously. It synthesizes key elements from a variety of disciplines to offer a more complete and holistic approach to the entire continuum of relationship. 

If you think of it as a group “relational meditation,” you’ll be quite close to the actual experience. Engaging the practice is like looking into a mirror that can deeply and accurately reflect the dynamics that are taking place right now, in the present moment. It is also like a laboratory where you can make discoveries about yourself and the impact you have on others, as well as experiment with new, more effective ways of interacting.

Though initial and ongoing training are both offered, the bulk of the learning takes place in small groups of 5-7. Ongoing practice restructures our habitual patterns of communicating and relating in a way that cognitive education alone cannot accomplish. 

Here is a bit more about the three dimensions, and the kinds of skills and capacities that T-Group 2.0 is designed to develop: 

In the dimension of Relating to Self, the practice has a great deal in common with disciplines such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and the martial arts. It creates a space that is free from the pressures and demands of normal working life so that you can slow down and observe your experience as it unfolds in real time. This cultivates the skill of “witnessing awareness,” as well as the capacity to articulate your experience with greater accuracy and nuance. This process allows you to make crucial discoveries about your automatic, habitual ways of being and of relating. It also highlights the patterns of responses you repeatedly elicit from others, as who others become in your presence can say as much about you as it does about them. 

Mastery in this dimension allows you to un-hook from automatic reactivity and retain greater choice in how you communicate and relate. 

The dimension of Relating to Other incorporates and builds upon disciplines such as Non-Violent Communication and Authentic Relating that emphasize taking personal responsibility for your own experience and unraveling destructive interpersonal patterns like projection, defensiveness, reactivity, and blame. The primary structure of the practice is “The Feedback Process,” which will guide you through the steps of more skillfully navigating interpersonal exchanges, from the simplest to the most complex. 

This shows you precisely how to reclaim responsibility for your part in interpersonal dynamics. This short-circuits both projection and blame, and creates a respectful opening where greater understanding and connection can be built between people. In sharing yourselves with this level of transparency, you’ll discover for yourself the power of authenticity and vulnerability in creating trust, safety, and an open channel for even the most challenging of communications. 

Mastery in this dimension allows you to remain curious about and open to even painful or embarrassing feedback, and also to consistently elicit that same curiosity and openness from the people to whom you are offering feedback.

The dimension of Relating to the Group draws from Systems Theory, research on business culture, and even Family Therapy to illuminate the operation of group-level dynamics. These forces can’t be located in any person or exchange, but rather emerge from the patterns of interactions within the group: the group culture. They can be either constructive forces (where the individuals combine in a way that amplifies collective intelligence, creativity, and so on), or destructive forces (where the group ends up functioning at a lower level than the individuals themselves are capable of). The highest reaches of group performance, known as “group flow,” are possible to experience and study in this practice, so that your presence alone can become a catalyst for its emergence inside of other groups. 

Mastery in this dimension allows you to use both your presence and your participation to intentionally support the emergence of constructive group dynamics, and to skillfully avoid or defuse moments that threaten to encumber the group with destructive dynamics.

Though the practice addresses a variety of group-level dynamics (eg. polarization, role dynamics, and navigation of differences), perhaps the most important has been illuminated by Google’s “Project Aristotle,” and their discovery that the most high-functioning teams had one primary characteristic in common: psychological safety, the collectively held belief (reinforced by experience) that the group is a safe place for interpersonal and creative risk taking. T-Group 2.0 includes both embedded processes and explicit tools and strategies for generating a group culture of psychological safety. This kind of relational environment is necessary if groups want to learn how to shift into states of “group flow” and discover the true power of the collective.