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Put on your glasses: different ways of looking at and using group dynamics - Kristof Geysemans

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Dit artikel is de powerpoint presentatie die hoort bij de voordracht van Kristof Geysemans op het Outward Bound International Staff Symposium in Finland, in 2010.

What are group dynamics?

When people meet, they interact and influence each other
Groups develop a number of dynamics that separates them from a collection of individuals
These processes include norms, roles, relations, development, need to belong, social influence and effects on behavior
There are also some phenomena from group psychotherapy that can occur: projections, introjections, transference and counter transference, group focal conflict
GD are no linear process: they go forward and backward, up and down, left and right

Why is it important to understand group dynamics?

  • If we want to facilitate the group process, we must understand what dynamics are going on.
  • We want to offer learning opportunities, therefore we must create a group atmosphere that is safe and open. We can use the knowledge of group dynamics to create this.
  • As group leader you are subject of certain dynamics. Understanding of these dynamics make it easier to handle them.

Different glasses to look at GD


  • Group structure: Who are you talking to
  • Topic of discussion: what are you talking about:  Product – Procedure - People
  • Issue: what are you dealing with (un)consciously:  Inclusion – Influence – Intimacy
  • Relation to facilitator:   dependency -  counterdependency -   interdependency
  • Group roles and norms
  • Some phenomena from group psychotherapy



  • Starting group
  • Seaking for equality
  • Transition
  • Differentiation / Influence
  • Transition
  • Intimacy
  • Closing group

Starting group: 1st contact

  • Group structure:   No group: collection of individuals.
  • Topic:   No real contact. No interpersonal relations. The conversations will mostly concern   practicalities and superficial topics.  Rushing into the task.  Not showing much of myself as a way to   protect myself.
  • Issue:    Egocentrism: my personal needs are the most   important.    There is no shared history, no group-  experience in the here-and-now.
  • Relation to facilitator:     Dependency.   The trainer is the only clearly differentiated   individual who has authorisation to make   desissions.   He is needed to give structure.
  • ! Stereotyping:   People put labels on each other. This labels   disturb the contact with the real person and   can lead to conflict.

Seaking for equality / Inclusion

  • Group structure:   Individuals who look for others with similarities.
  • Topic:   The product/task is the main topic: “did we   achieve the goal that was set by the   facilitator?”   Some (in)formal procedures are installed:   mostly those where everybody is treated as the   same: the same amount of time to speak for   each individual or 1 solution that fits all   members.
  • Issue:   Inclusion (in-out): How do I have to behave to   be an accepted member of this group (towards   the facilitator and participants).   Who are this people?   Do they see me the way I (would like to) see   myself?   Do I have the right of existence in this group?
  • Protection of the self:   People don’t show much of their personal inner   self, or the way they experience things. They   install ways to be part of the group rather than   ways to express themselfs.
  • Relation to facilitator:   Dependency. Facilitator gives structure   The trainer is the only clearly differentiated   individual.   He/She is the point of refference, and the   evaluation of the performance by the facilitator   is verry important and highly vallued: “did we   do it good?”.
  • Norm:   To make sure not to be excluded from the group people install procedures and norms that treat everybody as the same. They do this even if it costs some of their personal freedom and identity.
  • Underlying conflict:   Being accepted vs losing identity.   Safety vs anxiety.   This can raise the tension and give energy for a   positive solution.


  • Struture:   Duo’s and trio’s based on equality.
  • Topic:   Rules and structures, Need for structure.   (negative) comments to the tasks.
  • Issue:   Who do I like, who do I feel comfortable with?   Most interest in those who are the most like   me.  Similarity vs dissimilarity.   Clearer view on others.
  • Relation to facilitator:   Tendency towards counter-dependency.   Failure is because of influences from outside of   the group. Preferably it was not a good task.  Trainer gets less importance but is still the   most important.   Not always agreement with the trainer.

Differentiation / Influence

  • Carefully daring to be different and allowing differences:   The need to express that I have my own   identity, that is different from this group   identity.
  • Group structure:   Subgroups: conflicting cliques. Typicaly there is   a subgroup that wants to change the group   norms and a subgroup that likes it the way it   is.
  • Topic:   Procedures and structures, carefully about   process.  Roles that are taken and the way dessicions are   made.  Good or bad group behaviour.
  • Issue:   Influence (Up-down): do I get the   right   amount of influence?   Power struggle: who does the group follow?   Key concerns are: trust, affection, support,   authority and influence.  Who gives the message is more important than   the content itself.   Sympathy – antipathy.
  • Relation to facilitator:   Counter-dependency.      The importance of the facilitator decreases,   informal leaders are more important.  Focus on group members  Facilitator is not needed annymore to form   identity.  Does the facilitator choose side?
  • Projective identification:   due to the growing trust the armour to protect   oneself starts to disappear. A verry safe way of   doing this is to project your own needs,   problems, insights on other group mebers. Ex:   “I admire your openness”
  • Norms and roles:   The norms are not clear annymore, and this   gives a big feeling of uncertainty for some   members.   Roles are more outspoken and discussed.
  • The underlying conflict:   To be somebody vs losing acceptance from the   group.   Autonomy vs doubt/shame for failure.  Individual needs vs group concern


  • Structure:   Bigger, wider network.   Interaction between different subgroups.
  • Topic:   People start to talk openly about behaviour.   Common definition of group-task.
  • Issue:   Who am I in the context of the group?  Equivalence.  Conflicts have led to clearer patterns in the   relations between people.   Focus on integration of group members, even   deviants.   Openness and trust have grown.   Euforia (we are the best group).
  • Relation to facilitator:   Interdependency, facilitator is part of the   group.   Expertise is accepted and (over)valued.  Interest in personal life.


  • Structure:   Close, tight, interactive network
  • Topic:   The underlying issue becomes the topic, talking   about emotions, feelings, conflicts, behaviour.   The atmosphere is safe enough for people so   they dear to show their true self and openly   discuss about themself.   The differences between people are more   important than the similarities = constructive   egoism.  Giving and receiving feedback.  Very often “old issues” are solved in this stage.  Conflicts are solved in an open and constructive   way.
  • Issue:   How much do I care for the others and the   group, and how much do they care about me?  Being nice/not too nice
  • Relation to facilitator:   Co-operative interdependency.  Input acording to expertise.   The need to receive feedback from trainer.  Deep warm conversations
  • The underlying conflict:  initiative vs guilt

Closing the group

  • Ending of the relation:  Ending of the intimacy: A last effort of  openness, often expressed like it is allready   over.  Ending of influence: Tasks witch needed to be   discussed with the whole group can be   delegated now to one or two people.  Ending of Inclusion: disolving of group-  boundaries. Making appointments to send   pictures, planning of a reunion party is actually   postponing the farewell to make it easier.
  • Formal ending:   Often evaluation, proclamation or an other   appropriate ritual.

Group psycho-therapy phenomena


As facilitator you are always in a special possition in a group. You are a very gratefull person to become subject in the following phenomena:

  • Projections: When one person projects aspects of it self to an other person.
  • Transference: When one person transfers aspects of one person to an other.
  • Counter-transference: The reaction of the person who is transfered upon.
  • Group focal conflict: When a group struggles with an issue, but it is too difficult to discuss it openly, they will look for theme’s that are connected to the issue, but are not adressing it directly.

Group focal conflict

How to deal with this stages as a facilitator?

  • This is where I put you to work
  • In subgroups
  • Choose 1 fase in group development
  • Put on a piece of paper:
What would be an apropriate way to handle this stage as a facilitator?
What needs special attention?

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