Adjusts group processes according to any identified change in factorsIdentifies changing factors and different stages of group processesSkill to identify group processes and to act accordinglyUnderstanding and facilitating group dynamics in a way that is conductive to different ways of learningUnderstanding and facilitating individual and group learning process

Productive and unproductive group

Ability to observe and identify different stages of group dynamics is one of the most crucial skills of a trainer. Being attentive and conscious about on-going group dynamics allows the trainer to select the needed educational interventions and help participants to learn about the topic and most importantly – from each other.

Why did I choose this tool?

For me working with group dynamics is a part of every training course. If a training course is longer than 5 days, usually I spend a full day for people to get to know each other well enough, to experience cooperation (with a good level of challenge) and then reflect on their interdependence. Become more opened towards each other, braver to confront each other in front of others and braver to be vulnerable and open for different learning pathways.

How does this apply to being a trainer?

As a trainer I have a task to evoke learning from various situations in the setting of training. Mostly we work with groups, where interactions between people might help learning to happen, but also might distract people from effective learning.

By effective learning, I mean learning about:

  1. The topic of your training course
  2. Interactions with other participants (social competencies)
  3. Personal growth by being in a training group (various attitudes)

If I recognize that relations between people in the group are:

  • More polite, than opened;
  • Participants avoid giving/receiving feedback;
  • Participants avoid interactions during breaks;
  • People stay in the “comfort” zone, because it’s easier

I choose to intervene to support group dynamics and help people to reach a phase, where differences in a group will be seen as an added value and not as a threat.

What do interventions do? Group building with a serious (and usually long) reflection on interactions between the participants. Until the group is capable to organise themselves in a way that:

  • All members are taken into account, everyone is seen
  • Everyone finds his/her own role in activity and is feeling useful
  • Members of the group are confronting with each other constructively
  • Member reflect openly about their feelings and experiences in the group

Main content:

I want to share some indicators on productive and unproductive groups.

These indicators are taken from a great book written by Prof. Dr. Rimantas Kočiūnas “Psychotherapy groups: theory and practise”, 1998.

Although these indicators were written about psychotherapy groups, I find all of them relative in the context of non-formal education, where we intend to create holistic learning experiences for our participants.

I hope that these indicators will strengthen your skills to identify what is going on in the group and act accordingly – help people to become more open to each other, build positive interdependence and help each other to “step out of their comfort zones”

Productive group Non-Productive Group
Participants trust each other and the trainer, or at least openly talking about lack of confidence; there is a desire to share the feelings that arise directly Distrust in hiding hostility; avoiding expressing feelings and thoughts
The goals are clear and concrete, they are formulated by the joint efforts of the trainer and the participants; the work of the group is focused on the realization of these goals The goals of the group are unclear and abstract; participants have unspecified personal goals or do not have them
Most participants feel involved in the group; passive participants are encouraged to be more active; communication between most participants is open, trying to express exactly what is felt Many participants do not feel like they are part of the group and cannot identify with other participants; subgroups break down the work of the group; afraid to express feelings
The group discusses what’s happening here and now, participants say directly to each other what they are experiencing and feeling The group discusses past situations and events, participants tend to talk about others rather than themselves; opposed to discussing reactions to each other
The functions of the leadership are shared between the trainer and the participants; participants actively choose topics for discussion Participants tend to obey the trainer and are dependent on him/her; there is a conflict of power between the participants and the trainer
The group is united;

close emotional relationships between participants; they identify with each other; willingly support each other in testing of new behaviors

The group is fragmented;

participants feel the distance between themselves; lack of care for one another and empathy, participants avoid encouraging each other to try new ways of behavior, so the group restore the usual behavioral stereotypes

Conflicts between participants and between them and the trainer are identified, discussed and often solved Conflicts and negative feelings are ignored, rejected or they are avoided
Participants are responsible for solving their problems Participants accuse each other of personal difficulties and do not want to change anything
They react freely to each other, without defense Reactions to each other are rare and often defensive;
Even if changes in participants’ behavior and attitudes are little noticeable, participants believe in their potential; participants hope to change their way Participants feel despair, experience helplessness, feel trapped
Confronted in response; confrontation is accepted as a proposition to change behavior rather than as an attack Confronted in hostility, attacking another participant who feels repelled; sometimes “red goat” discovered to unleash the aggression
Communication is direct and clear Communication is indirect and vague
Group members use each other as a source of additional opportunities, interested in each other Participants are interested in themselves
Participants feel strong and share their strength with others; the power is used not to control others but to use their internal resources Participants or the trainer use force to subordinate others
The process of the group is realized and the participants know what makes the group productive or unproductive Participants are indifferent to what is happening in the group, and group dynamics are rarely discussed
Diversity is promoted, individual differences are respected Conformism is motivated, individual differences are underestimated
Group norms are set by the trainer and group members together; they are clear and designed to help participants achieve their goals The norms are imposed by the trainer; they may be unclear.
Combining the expression of thoughts and feelings; emotional discharge experiences are discussed Emphasizes the importance of expressing thoughts, while avoiding talking about emotional experiences
The participants try to apply the gained experience from the group into real life. Being outside the group, participants think very little about the group

Reflection questions:

When working with each group observe the interactions between the group members at all times during training sessions, coffee breaks, dinning, non-formal evenings, sauna time, playing the ukulele and so on.

These observations should give you a lot of information about the stage of group development.

Reflection questions:

What do I observe and what does it tell me about this group? Where are they? Discuss these observations with other trainers, compare your observations and then choose what is needed to be done in order to support the development of group dynamics.

Author of the article: Donatas Petkauskas

is professional supervisor, coach and experiential learning trainer, having more than 15 years of experience in consulting various organizations and individuals, creating and conducting training course on national and international levels. Donatas has extensive experience in non-formal education, training of youth workers and trainers. He is working in the field of non-formal education since 2003, since 2004 he is a member of trainers pool of Lithuanian National Agency (currently an alumni).

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Prof. Dr. Rimantas Kočiūnas, “Psichoterapinės grupės: teorija ir praktika”, Vilniaus universiteto leidykla, 1998.Featured image: Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

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