Understanding group dynamics
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Understanding group dynamics. People who work with groups and the actual group members can benefit from having a greater understanding of people’s behaviour within groups. The following section explains some of the theories underpinning the formation of groups and dynamics within a group.

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Understanding group dynamics

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Understanding group dynamics

Understanding group dynamics

People who work with groups and the actual group members can benefit from having a greater understanding of people’s behaviour within groups. The following section explains some of the theories underpinning the formation of groups and dynamics within a group.

- Stages of group dynamics

When people are first put together in a group situation to complete a task, it

has been suggested that the group goes through distinct five stages: forming,

storming, norming, performing and adjourning (sometimes known as


Stage 1: forming

During this initial stage, individuals gather for the first time to form a group.

People are generally trying to be accepted by others in the group and avoid

controversy or conflict. Serious issues are often avoided and people tend to

concentrate on routine things such as deciding who does what and when.

This is generally a comfortable stage to be in.

Understanding group dynamics

Stage 2: storming

During the second stage of group development, individuals begin questioning

one another as important issues start to be addressed. Some people in the

group may lose patience and minor confrontations usually arise. These often

relate to the workings of the group itself, or to roles and responsibilities

within the group. Some people believe it is good to air their thoughts, while

others may suppress them, however, they may still be there under the surface.

Stage 3: norming

As the second stage progresses, certain rules for the group become established

and the roles and responsibilities within the group become clearer. People in

the group learn to understand each other and appreciate each others’ skills,

and they begin to feel part of a cohesive, effective group.

Stage 4: performing

This stage occurs after a group has been together for a while, but not all

groups get to this stage. During this stage, everyone knows each other well

enough to be able to work together. They trust each other and can change roles

and responsibilities almost seamlessly. This cohesiveness allows the group to

direct all its focus towards achieving the task.

Stage 5: adjourning

The final stage of group development is about completion and disengagement

from the task and the group itself. This is where the group ‘un-forms’ and the

group members go their separate ways and move on.

Understanding group dynamics

-Conflict resolution

With an understanding of group dynamics and of how groups form, it is

possible to see that an important and healthy part of group development is

conflict. Knowing and understanding that conflict happens, means that group leaders and group members can be aware of it and can put procedures in place to resolve any conflict quickly. This enables the group to move on

and become more effective.

-Team building

Teamwork is a large component of outdoor recreation, and being able to build effective teams successfully and quickly is an important skill that outdoor leaders and group members should work towards attaining. It is a skill that can be constantly refined and perfected as every group situation is different.

Understanding group dynamics


The ability to cooperate within a team setting is a skill that does not just happen, it is learnt and requires practice. It involves knowing how to communicate tactfully, knowing when to offer suggestions and when to listen to others. It also requires that members support group decisions, even if they are not in total agreement with them.

Understanding group dynamics

Group Game: Tangled

Understanding group dynamics


  • -Communication skills

  • Effective communication could be the difference between a safe and enjoyable experience and an unhappy and dangerous expedition. Communication in outdoor recreation must involve all participants

  • within the group, as well as relevant authorities and family who are staying behind. Participants need to ensure that all group members are aware of routes, camp sites and possible hazards in case they become separated. Open communication, where all participants feel free to express their opinions and ideas, contributes to effective decision making and group cohesion. Participants should ensure that communication with outside groups, including family and relevant authorities, is also clear.

  • Accurate details of plans should be left with responsible adults in case of emergency, and mobile phones should be carried for additional safety. It should be noted that in many remote regions, signals for mobile phones may be difficult to obtain and participants may need to climb to a high point to make a connection. In remote areas, participants should consider carrying additional forms of communication used to signal distress, including flares and an EPIRB, which is an emergency signalling device.

  • .

Understanding group dynamics

-Decision making

Many outdoor adventure activities involve groups working

together to solve problems, make decisions and judge

various situations; for example, deciding whether to cross a fast-flowing river. It is important that the group can develop effective methods of communication and decision making, to ensure that they make progress and have a safe and enjoyable experience.


Weather conditions, ability levels of the participants and injury are just some of the variables that could make a change in plans necessary. Flexibility in planning is therefore essential. Groups need to ensure that they are adequately prepared to extend or change their trip as needed.

Understanding group dynamics


Group challenges

INQUIRY: Group challenges

In small groups, discuss the case study that involves a group facing challenges and needing to solve problems on their expedition. Then answer the questions that follow.

1. What problems, challenges and potential hazards did the group in the case study above face?

2. Identify and discuss any poor judgements or bad decisions that were made.

3. Comment on the communication and leadership skills displayed in the group.

Understanding strengths and weaknesses

Understanding strengths and weaknesses

Identifying your own strengths and weakness, the strengths and weaknesses of others in your group can lead to a successful and rewarding experience. For example, identifying a stronger and fitter team member and giving them extra group equipment to carry can make that person feel helpful and a valued team member. Likewise, giving lighter group equipment to less able members can help also make them feel valued, as they are still carrying something even if it does not require the same amount of energy.

Understanding group dynamics

-Participant readiness

Participants must understand the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and others in the group. People have different boundaries of comfort and respond to situations differently. Leaders must strive to ensure that group members are individually catered for. What is exciting and challenging for one individual may be terrifying for another.

Individuals must be given information to form choices surrounding their participation. Leaders need to ensure that participants have sufficient knowledge about what they are getting themselves in for and are therefore ready to face the challenges and take risks within the bounds of their own competence. Leaders must also be able to assess risks on behalf of their inexperienced group, who may not have the knowledge or personal fitness level to accurately assess the situation at hand.


Outdoor recreation offers many opportunities to develop self-confidence. Participants may face challenges and strive to overcome them individually or as a part of a group. Facing challenges and fears takes a certain amount of courage and self-efficacy, or confidence that you can complete the task. Participants need determination and tenacity to succeed in difficult conditions and this can contribute to motivation and personal growth in other areas in their lives.

Understanding group dynamics

-Balancing challenge and safety

Being able to balance the level of challenge and the risks associated with the

challenges can be extremely hard, especially when a leader needs to consider

the individual differences of the participants, for example, their skill level,

fitness, motivation, age and so on. This decision needs to be made whenever

groups are going into the outdoors. A poor decision can result in unhappy

participants, unsafe practices and unplanned outcomes, such as injuries.

While a good decision, where the participants are matched perfectly with the

correct level of challenge, will result in happy and fulfilled group members.

Understanding group dynamics

-Pushing the comfort zone

Our comfort zone refers to the level of risk in a situation that we can tolerate or feel comfortable with. A risky situation is one in which we feel that we may lose something. Assessing risk can be quite an individual thing, depending on the level of experience and confidence a person has. What may be risky for one person may seem perfectly safe to another, depending on prior experience and ability. In a group participating in abseiling for the first time, for example, some individuals may be confident and progress from a five metre to a 30 metre drop quickly, while others in the same group may be sufficiently challenged by simply putting on the harness and getting to the edge of the cliff, without actually proceeding down the cliff. The inexperienced person is challenged by the perceived risk associated with the activity, whereas the experienced person may consider the activity to be risky only if poor equipment or technique are used.

In addition to helping others to assess risk, leaders can also provide opportunities for pushing the comfort zone by introducing controlled or perceived risks. For example, in abseiling the leader would ensure safety ropes and helmets are used to promote the safety of the participants. In this way, the level of risk is controlled by the leader, but the participant still faces a perceived level of risk and is challenged. This means that the participants may still feel challenged and even scared, but the risks of injury are minimised.

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