Turning Tasks into Task-Groups

Posted on December 8, 2011
Members and staff of the Culinary Unit work together to prepare lunch.jpgMembers and staff of the Culinary Unit work together to prepare lunch.jpgOne of the most intractable issues facing practitioners in the daily operation of a working community like Fountain House  was posed years ago in a question by  Mark Glickman: “What if no one wants to make lunch?”, he asked. The query goes to the heart of an organization that is composed of members who are free to choose whether they want to participate, yet dependent all the same on these members for the conduct of its daily operations and outcomes. In other words, a member’s freedom to choose and the need for their contribution appear as vulnerable to cancelling out each other in a programmatic setting.
Fountain House resolves this apparent clash of constituent principles. It rejects the arrangement of work activities within the hierarchical paradigm of modern business and industry—an arrangement reflected in most mental health service operations today—where staff hold  ”bottom line responsibility” for every activity.  Fountain House promotes instead the collective responsibility of both members and staff for any house activity undertaken.[1] 
Fountain House operationalizes such a goal by viewing the tasks of the house as opportunities for forming task-groups (Toseland & Horton, 2008), its principle operational methodology, shifting task responsibility from an individual to a group assignment. At Fountain House it is impossible to operate without the participation of the membership; it transforms every house task into a task-group where there is always an open place for members. At the same time, staff have to assume the role of social practitioners who manage the distance between choice and necessity in their relationships with members. Staff motivate and support members in assuming responsibility for the existence and operations of a working community so that member contributions (taking personal responsibility for something) and member choice in any activity are complimentary.
Staff at Fountain House are, as a result, adept in transforming a work environment into a setting that is relational and ripe with empowerment and meaning for its contributing participants ― employing such strategies as reaching out to individuals living in isolation, consensus decision-making, mindfulness, modeling, task analysis, feedback and celebration.  The Fountain House response to the inquiry  “What if no one wants to make lunch?” is to transform the work place into a community for member recovery, redesigning tasks into task-groups, so that members, isolated by their illness, regain a sense of being part of a meaningful group and community. 
Alan Doyle, Ed.D.
Director of Education, Fountain House
This blog is sponsored by the Fountain House Institute for Social Practice, an international school committed to the art of designing a community of members and staff working together to support the recovery of those who are living with mental illness. Contact its Director, Alan Doyle
Ronald W. Toseland , Heather Horton "Group Work" Encyclopedia of Social Work. Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis. Copyright © 2008 by National Association of Social Workers and Oxford University Press, Inc.. Encyclopedia of Social Work: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.http://www.oxford-naswsocialwork.com/entry?entry=t203.e168

[1]Note the change in the Standards where in 1991 it stated that the responsibility for the operation of the house “lies with the staff” (there is no mention of members) to now where responsibility for house operations lies with both “the members and staff”  (www.ICCD.org)

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