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:
- The topic of your training course
- Interactions with other participants (social competencies)
- 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
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|
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.
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.