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Organizing Training Groups

In his TED talk, Seth Godin argues that Humans are Tribal and that we assemble based on interests. I was led to this TED talk by my Crossfit Coach in an email titled Find Your Tribe.  While the email was about finding a class with people of similar interests and goals, it struck me as an interesting way to think of how success is influenced by your tribe.

As facilitators, we are challenged with understanding how the people in the training room relate to one another and what tribe dynamics may influence their ability to learn, feel safe to fail, express emotions, and much more.

How we group our participants contributes to tribe dynamics. Let’s look at a few grouping activities and best practices when using them.

Find a Seat

As participants walk into the training room ask them to find a seat. They will be grouped by the facilitator based on who is setting near them.

When it works

This is great for a group of mostly strangers that you might see at a conference or a similar format. The activities must be neutral in experience and background.

When it does not work

This is not a good way to group participants who are familiar with one another, especially with small teams. These teams likely have established tribes and those dynamics may influence their participation in the training.

The Old 1, 2, 3, 4 Trick

Most people have seen this in sports or public grade schools. Individuals stand in a line, count off, and assembled into groups based on their number. Ones are grouped with ones, twos with twos, etc…

When it works

When you have a moderately sized group (under 40), enough time to execute this type of activity, and random grouping is the goal.

When it does not work

While random grouping can be great, it is not ideal for all situations. If company hierarchy, team dynamics, or other tribal influences are at stake during your training, this is not an ideal method.

The Pointing Game

Ask the group to raise their hand if they agree with a statement. Once their hands are in the air, tell them to point to another person with their hands raised on the count of three. The person(s) with the most fingers pointed at them must move to another group.

When it works

When the goal is to move people around because groups are not balanced properly either by numbers or dynamics. This is also a great trick for picking people to present in a group or picking team captains.

When it does not work

When you need to group participants by skill level, seniority, or a similar factor. Also, be aware of any cultural norms of your participants. Pointing may have different connotations depending on your location.

Silent Single File Line

Ask participants to form a single file line based on one characteristic. This may be seniority, years’ experience, or any number of factors. The only caveat is that they do it without speaking. Once they complete this task, the facilitator groups them based on where they stand in line.

When it works

This is a great way to keep similarly experienced people in the same group which can lead to people feeling more confident about participating in group activities because they are amongst peers. Alternately, participants can be assembled from here using The Old 1,2,3,4 Trick to ensure diversity in seniority, experience, etc…

When it does not work

This does not work when the dynamics of a training call for more deliberate consideration.

Seating Chart

Prior to the session, assign a seat to each participant. As participants enter the room, show them to their assigned seat.

When it works

This only works if you know the names of participants prior to the session and you have insight into their dynamics. The seating chart is an art form and a lot of thought must go into why you are putting groups together as well as why you are separating people. If you are using a seating chart, take into consideration all of the activities in the training and if you are giving certain groups advantages or disadvantages with your seating chart.

When it does not work

When you do not know who is participating in your course or their dynamics with one another prior to the session.

Seth asks three questions at the end of his talk. As facilitators, we should ask ourselves the same three questions as think about the way are participants are grouped.

  1. Who are you upsetting and does that lead to change?
  2. Who are you connecting?
  3. Who are you leading?

I encourage you to take the time to be deliberate about grouping participants. These are just a few of the grouping techniques I have experienced. How do you group participants? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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