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Why Group Dynamics Matter

All group members have their own personal histories and life experiences, knowledge and skills, vision and aims, as well as interests and needs. Group members are usually also members of various subgroups, e.g. neighbours, employment status, representatives of an ethnic community. Each of the participants comes with his/her own values, beliefs, and principles. Considering that each group member influences all other group members as well as the group as a whole, it becomes obvious that each group of learners is unique and that each group develops its own dynamics. The term “group dynamics” is used to describe the processes that occur when people interact in a group. Being able to observe and understanding these processes will help make the team work more effective.

Influencing factors

Interpersonal level

Participants of every group develop relationships with each other. Here are some aspects to consider:

  • How well do the group members know each other?
  • How much do they trust each other?
  • Do members of the group have a common history (positive or negative)?
  • Do group members communicate with each other?
  • Do they feel comfortable and safe?
  • Do group members respect differences and diversity?
  • How similar or different are the group members regarding their objectives, needs, or attitudes?

Personal level

On a personal level, participants come to a course with both task-related and human needs:

Human needs

  • Protecting one’s self-esteem and demonstrating what one knows and can do.
  • Space for expressing oneself.
  • A feeling of belonging.
  • A positive environment that provides safety and comfort.
  • Positive relationships.
  • Positive emotions.

Task-related needs

  • Personal objectives about what he/she wants to gain from the course.
  • Predetermined ideas about what one needs and what is useful.
  • Offered information and skills must be applicable and relevant.

Political level

Group dynamics are often influenced by political factors such as hierarchies, status, and power. This level becomes especially important if most of the group members represent the same organisation or other subgroup. Power dynamics can become a disturbing factor when:

  • Participants compete with each other.
  • Key persons, e.g. the management or informal leaders, do not participate. As a result, the event’s prestige can suffer and the participants’ motivation might deteriorate.
  • On the other hand, the participation of key persons can also have a negative impact, as it might result in less openness and more cautiousness on the part of group members.
  • Training activities are funded by outside bodies. The requirements and interests of outside bodies have to be considered, and this can result in less flexibility in designing and implementing the course.
  • Other potential hidden icebergs, e.g. an unclear process of how participants have been selected or if participants transfer to the course their negative attitudes towards their work place or other subgroup they represent.

Ideas for limiting the negative impact of political aspects:

  • Group work will limit the impact of dominant leaders on the whole group.
  • The use of non-verbal methods promotes a change of roles and equality among the participants.
  • Demonstrating that responsible bodies value and support the group.
  • Background processes, such as the selection of participants or the interests of the organisers, should be made transparent.

This work by Toms Urdze is licensed under
CC BY-SA 4.0