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A Brief History of T-Groups

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1. Overview
2. Logistics and Pedagogy
3. Origins, Growth and Decline
4. Personal Experience
5. Research and Literature
6. My Writing
7. T-Group Programs
8. Acknowledgments
9. Miscellany

1. Overview

As a former faculty member for Interpersonal Dynamics, commonly called Touchy Feely, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), I’m occasionally asked about the course and about T-groups, the primary unit in which students work together in the course. My goal here is to compile a set of resources that will allow me to respond to these inquiries more effectively and to document my own experiences and research. The information below is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it’s a useful starting point for further study.

The “T” in T-group stands for “training,” a nomenclature that developed in the 1950s, when the founders of the methodology devised various types of groups to serve various purposes. A T-group is an experiential learning model in which the participants and the facilitators (aka trainers) engage each other in an ongoing series of conversations over an extended period of time (which can range from several hours to a weekend retreat to ongoing groups that meet regularly over periods of years.) Members’ initial goals generally include such topics as learning how to communicate more effectively, but groups typically progress to more substantive issues as deeper levels of trust and emotional intimacy are established. A hallmark of the T-group process is the absence of a predetermined agenda, which gives participants the both the freedom and the responsibility to decide how to make use of the time.

Stanford’s Interpersonal Dynamics course is one of the largest T-group programs in the world–the GSB currently offers 11 sections of the course each year, accommodating a total of 396 students. With roughly 400 students per class in the MBA program and another 100 in the MSx program, it’s clear that the vast majority of Stanford management students find the course integral to their GSB experience.

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