Group Conflict

What to do When Group Dynamics or Group Conflict are a Problem

scream and shout

Once you are promoted to a group leadership role you will find yourself responsible for meeting or group facilitation as a regular part of your role. So it is important you develop the skills required to manage group dynamics and handle any group conflict effectively.

Aside from routine team meetings, there are many other groups you may be called upon to facilitate.  Strategic planning workshops, incident debriefs, departmental meetings, external events or conferences and more. So it makes sense to ensure you know enough about group facilitation to decide whether you should do it yourself or bring in external professional facilitators in a given situation.

Although group facilitating might sometimes look easy, for many people the workshop facilitation skills required to achieve a satisfactory outcome can be more of a challenge than anticipated.

As a workshop facilitator, you need to be particularly conscious of group dynamics, including any pre-existing or emerging group conflict, and manage the process and personalities, all while you remain focused on the specific outcomes and results you are trying to achieve. This can be very difficult to do, if you also want to contribute to the discussion.

A good professional facilitator will be acutely aware of the group dynamics, including any potential group conflict, when facilitating a workshop, debriefing session, strategic planning process or meeting.

Here are three critical aspects of group dynamics a meeting facilitator must manage:

Group Conflict

Work group conflict is one aspect of meetings that worries many people, but when it is managed properly by an experienced group facilitator, it can be quite positive.

In fact, groups that suppress differences of style, opinion or approach or never discuss any underlying group conflict, are rarely as successful over the long term as those that accept and even encourage discussion about areas of dissent or group conflict.

When you are exploring long term options in a strategic planning process, different perspectives and disagreements are a healthy part of work communication and should be both encouraged and respected.

If you are bringing in an external facilitator for your meeting or workshop and you expect conflict within the group, you should discuss your concerns with any potential group facilitators in advance. This way you can be confident the professional facilitators you select will incorporate group exercises that ensure all participants have the opportunity to express themselves appropriately.

When conflict persists a skilled meeting facilitator will still be able to build understanding and a level of consensus about the next actions to be taken, despite any group conflict.

Dominant Personalities

Another important aspect of group dynamics to consider is whether there are any dominant personalities in the group who may make it difficult for others to contribute fully to the workshop.

The professional facilitators role in this situation is to ensure everyone participates in all group exercises and discussions, not just dominant, extroverted or senior members of the group.

In some situations it may be necessary to address cultural expectations of who should speak or when someone should speak. Some individuals or cultural groups expect to be asked for their input before they will contribute to discussions and a good facilitator will ensure everyone is explicitly invited to contribute to each key discussion or group exercises during the meeting or workshop.

Assumptions

The final aspect of group dynamics I want to address is that of assumptions. When people work together, or spend a lot of time together, it becomes easy to assume that everyone shares the same point of view or perspective on a whole range of matters, including how people will interact with each other as well as the topic under discussion.

A skilled meeting facilitator will be focused on detecting and questioning assumptions. Common assumptions that may need to be made explicit and addressed revolve around the program agenda and expected outcomes, and about exactly how the workshop will be run.

To facilitate a positive group dynamic and productive group exercises, group agreement should be sought about how things that might otherwise be assumed will be handled. Agreement should be sought about things such as interruptions and phone calls, breaks and punctuality, confidentiality and respect, listening to other participants and even speaking one at a time, for example.

If you decide that the group facilitating role is one you can (or need to) handle yourself, focusing on these three key areas of group dynamics – including group conflict, personalities and assumptions – will help you to gain most from your group leadership role.

Kerrie Mullins-Gunst (MBA, BSc, DipEd, FAICD, FRACI) is an experienced and professional business facilitator. Call our office on 03-9859 3924 today to discuss your group facilitation needs.

Should you decide that you will be more likely to overcome any group conflict issues and achieve your desired outcomes by using an external group facilitator, please call us on 03-9859 3924 to discuss how we can help you with professional meeting facilitation.

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