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It was this principle that, by accident, gave rise to the National Training Laboratories, the first serious entrant in the human potentials movement. In 1946, the Connecticut Interracial Commission sought Lewin's advice in solving the state's interracial problem. With three colleagues, Lewin brought black and white leaders together to discuss their differences.
But because of Lewin's interest in the dynamics of group behavior, he also appointed four observers, with instructions to record their comments after each meeting: how things went, why things went wrong, etc. The conferees insisted that they be allowed to participate in these postmortems. "What happened was that they found the feedback more exciting than the actual event the conference," says Leland Bradford, former executive director of N.T.L.
At its Maine retreat, opened in 1947, the N.T.L. began applying the feedback process to what has become an entirely new educational approach: the T group. Uninstructed and agendaless, the group begins to coalesce in a highly charged emotional atmosphere. At first, group members are reserved, but eventually they remove their social masks. Says Bradford: "People come as lonely people we're all lonely peopleand find they can finally share with somebody. One statement I've heard 300 or 400 times from T-group members is, 'You know, I know you people better than people I've worked with for 30 years.' "
Intense Encounter. T groups are now conducted internationally by 600 N.T.L.-trained leaders and are designed to improve corporations, government agencies, churches and other institutions. They differ from encounter groups in that they tend to be less emotional, place more reliance on verbal than on nonverbal communication, and are less concerned with the individuals' growth per se than with his development within his group. T groups improve relationships within organizations by trading what the late Douglas McGregor of M.I.T. called management's "X" approach (do as I say) for the "Y" approach (join with me so that we can work things out together). Obviously, that does not and cannot make equals of the boss and the factory hand; if that is the unrealistic goal, the "Y" approach will fail. But by making the president and the factory hand more aware of each other it can vastly improve the employee's sense of his own value and place.