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Facilitation Resources - Volume 4

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Volume 4. Managing Group Interaction

Overview: Managing Group Interaction

From the beginning of the meeting it is important to establish a solid foundation for the way the group members will work together. Participants need to know what is going to happen, feel they are in a safe environment, and trust others in order to fully participate in the meeting. They need to accept the role of the facilitator, agree to and follow ground rules, and be engaged actively in the work of the group.


Icebreakers offer an opportunity for the group to get to know each other in a nonthreatening manner. Use this time to introduce participants, learn about their background and their interest in the group, and open the dialogue and discussion on a light note. Be sure to know your group and develop icebreakers that are appropriate for the group. They can be fun and relate to the work of the day. Be sure to involve everyone, and do not degrade or make fun of people.

Ground Rules

Ground rules promote effective team behaviors and are essential to keep a group on task and to promote a respectful meeting environment. As a facilitator you might want to contribute your ideas for ground rules; however, all members need to have an opportunity to contribute to the list. All participants should agree on the ground rules at the beginning. The rules should be posted during the meeting to serve as a constant reminder of how the group has agreed to work. If someone violates the ground rules, it is the role of the facilitator or other group members to draw attention to the behavior and remind the person of the rules. Groups can add to the ground rules as the meeting progresses. Ground rules are best if they are simple and direct, and enforceable.

Helping a Group Stay on Track

The tendency for a group to wander and drift is a normal part of the process. If the group wanders too much, however, the tasks do not get accomplished and some group members may lose interest in the process. One important role of a facilitator is helping the group stay on track with the agenda.

Levels of intervention for facilitators range from doing nothing to forcefully directing the group. As a group wanders it is important to decide how gently or forcefully to intervene in the group process. Facilitators will be supportive, persuasive, and directive as necessary to effectively manage group interaction.

Group Dynamics

Understanding group dynamics is important for facilitators. Group dynamics often drive the group process, and affect the work of the group. Dysfunctional dynamics can hinder the ability of the group to do its work, and the best efforts of a facilitator can be wiped out by such behavior.

This volume contains information on the stages of group development, interactions within the group, and how group members change through the various stages. It also looks at difficult behaviors and how the facilitator can deal with them.

Large Groups

Working with large groups presents special challenges and requires careful selection of facilitation methods that gather everyone's input in an efficient manner. At the end of this volume you will find several resources that address the facilitation of larger groups.

Ground Rules for Facilitators

A safe, friendly meeting environment can help leaders achieve the planned meeting goals and objectives. Establishing ground rules that respect individual rights and responsibilities builds trust among participants and can lead to a successful meeting experience. It is frustrating and unproductive to participants and facilitator alike when opinions are not respected, persons are criticized, and many views are not expressed.

Other terms that may be used interchangeably with ground rules include guidelines, group agreements, or norms. In this publication the term ground rules applies to a set of rules that are usually developed at a first meeting and used by the facilitator to manage individual and group interaction.

Here are ground rules for leading a meeting addressing controversial issues.

For Group Members: For Facilitator:

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