Group Discussion in Isolated Units

Commanding officers and orientation officers of small units in isolated locations will find group discussions a valuable off-duty activity that strongly appeals to their more intelligent men, Under certain conditions, effective group discussions can be organized even in the absence of reference materials. The main conditions are these:

  1. Presence within the command of one or more individuals (preferably enlisted personnel) who will make successful group leaders-men of intelligence who have qualities of leadership and believe in the possibilities of free discussion. Possibly there are former teachers, lawyers, public speakers, and other men of experience in directing discussions who will be glad to participate.
  2. Evidence that a number of men in the command would like to discuss current affairs and problems that concern them. This evidence may consist of existing “bull sessions” of doubtful value to morale, informally expressed desires of which knowledge has come to responsible officers, or information deliberately gathered by informal questionnaire.
  3. Presence of some men whose education and interests are such that they can be used as experts to give discussion group members background facts on subjects which it is desired to discuss.

In isolated units where books, pamphlets, and periodicals for reference are lacking but where the three essential conditions hold, the following procedure is recommended to officers who desire to organize discussion groups:

First—Determine the subjects the men are already talking about or would like to discuss, as well as their general interest in discussion. To accomplish this make use of your personal knowledge of the men’s interests, the knowledge possessed by other officers or noncommissioned officers, or an informal questionnaire.

Second—Search the command for possible discussion leaders among enlisted personnel. To accomplish this draw upon your own or others’ acquaintance with individuals in your unit, and search the file of Soldier’s Qualification Cards.

Third—Canvass the command for “experts” who will substitute for reference materials. To accomplish this, begin by noting the range of subjects the group may wish to talk about. From there, proceed through every possible personal contact to find men who have special knowledge of these subjects, but do not neglect to search the file of Qualification Cards. These cards contain a mass of information about men’s civilian training and special interests. Finally, interview selected men to find out whether they have the background knowledge you need for your purpose.

Fourth—Your final step consists of selecting a subject and an expert for a first meeting, of finding convenient physical arrangements for the meeting, and of publicizing the new activity in such a way as to reach all personnel who may want to attend.

But remember—Your program will stand or fall on the quality of the leadership and the availability of either experts or adequate reference materials. Constructive discussions must have basic background information. They must also be con-ducted in accordance with relatively simple, common sense, and well-recognized principles which have been described in this manual.