Fried Eggs and Group Discussions

If you watch any group discussion where more than 3-4 people are trying to achieve something, an interesting effect occurs. The group often start out with everyone contributing but after an initial period of politeness (Tuckman's forming stage) the group begin to resemble a fried egg. Both physically and conceptually, people place themselves either in the yolk, the white, or outside the egg entirely.

Green people are fully engaged in the discussion that's is going on. They form the 'yolk of the egg' They will be sat at the centre of the group, often with a piece of paper in their hand, contributing ideas, extracting ideas from other green people and attempting to solve the problem or formulate a plan.

Orange people are following the discussion but they do not feel full engaged. They might have ideas but they won't contribute them or, if they do, will not fight to make them accepted. People for whom the consequences of the discussion will have little effect often sit in this 'white of the egg'. Also people who aren't confident or who are overwhelmed by the green people will be here. They often have useful input to the conversation that will be missed unless they can be drawn into the 'yolk' and become green people.

Red people are totally disengaged from the discussion. They are sat at the outskirts of the group, barely even following what is going on. They normally feel totally disconnected from the topic being discussed, either because they feel they can't change the course of the discussion or because they have resigned themselves to going with whatever the group decide. They make no attempt to contribute and often feel bitter about being sidelined.

People don't stay within one section of the egg but drift between them as the discussion goes on. The important thing as a chairman, facilitator or team manager is trying to stop people drifting outwards into the white or out of the egg entirely.

As a participant you can be aware that the tendancy is to look inwards towards the yolk and you can occasionally glance behind you and see if there are any orange or red people who can be brought back into the discussion.

So next time you are involved in a group discussion, have a think about where in the egg you sit and where the other participants are. You might be able to help bring people back to the yolk.