Trainers: Here’s How To Know Your Group Dynamics In Advance


As a trainer, there’s always a feeling of nervous excitement before you find out who you’ll be working with in a new group. It’s not at all unusual to feel a bit jittery about encountering peoples’ first reactions.

How likely are they to show resistance, or will they take a wait-and-see attitude? Do they need a clear structure or is it important to build some wiggle room into your program? Is there a risk that you’ll end up in substantive discussions with certain team members? The list goes on.

Individual personalities and group dynamics are just waiting to reveal themselves. The way you choose to respond, and the way you deal with it all, will determine how much confidence the group has in you. And ultimately, it will influence how effective the training will be.

Knowing A Team’s Dynamics Beforehand

I have now been creating Sphere of Influence team scans for clients for over six years. As well as giving insight on how people exert influence as individuals, it also provides teams with an understanding of their collective dynamics. What their mutual cooperation looks like, where (possible) mutual irritations lie, and their joint impact on the environment. 

Interestingly, as time passed, I became aware that it enables me to share certain things with the trainers working with these teams. I would outline the possible risks and points that I felt warranted their attention. For example, of a team that’s very compliant overall, I’d say: “I can imagine this team will invite you to lead them. Keep the laws of Timothy Leary in the back of your head. If you notice — it’s only you talking. Take a step back!” Or, regarding a team that valued consensus and good Relationships: “It could be quite a challenge to reach clear agreements before the end of this training“.

All insights that I realized could help trainers by allowing them to anticipate potential reactions from a group.

Knowing Your Triggers Beforehand

Another important insight I’ve gleaned from the Sphere of Influence 360 is that we all respond to one another a certain way. We all have our own set of triggersthat shape our behavior—and that this is incredibly useful to trainers. The communication styles that people adopt, the way they communicate and influence, impact strongly on the conversational dynamics that unfold. 

So when facilitating, the Sphere of Influence 360 lets us glean insights into our own preferred ways of influencing others. 

Here are some examples. 

  • Trainer A, Aaron, has a facilitation style that’s focused on co-creation. He’s all about getting people moving and can’t wait to see people realizing their full potential. 
  • Trainer B, Barbara, likes informing others—she loves sharing her knowledge. Barbara is quick to come up with the right models that describe specific situations and her focus is on sharing her insight with her team. She takes time to describe her knowledge in detail.
  • Trainer C, Connor, has a facilitation style that’s focused on togetherness. To Connor, it’s important that everybody gets involved in a workshop and feels heard.

Aaron, Barbara, and Connor are each going to be working with a team that’s full of highly competitive members, and that wants to see concrete results. How can our trainers benefit from knowing their own triggers?

Aaron’s Team

Things could go two ways for Aaron, who emphasizes co-creation. Without understanding the potential difficulties of his preferred communication style, there’s always a risk that he comes across as somewhat vague. What we have here is a results-focused team that is expecting to walk away with concrete outcomes. While Aaron’s busy trying to get people to see the bigger picture, all they’re seeing is a lack of results. 

On the other hand, Aaron might have noticed this competitive team dynamic. He would also, then, have realized beforehand that his usual approach won’t work as well—unless he addresses this directly. Here, Aaron might try to get all the team members to open up. By encouraging them to share their interests, he could create a context where ‘win-win’ is easily definable. In doing so, he encourages them to look beyond what’s on the surface—not for the quick wins, but for more strategic solutions.

Barbara’s Team

All communication styles work well in some contexts, and less effectively in others. Barbara’s preferred ‘Inform the group’ approach is no exception. Working with this competitive, results-oriented team means there’s always a risk that they will challenge her premise when she’s trying to teach them. While she’s trying to introduce relevant models—as she frequently does—the group may end up trying to poke holes in her arguments. After all, that’s what they are used to doing.

Instead, Barbara might use her knowledge of this team’s competitive approach to everyone’s mutual advantage. If they want results, she might skip over the explanations and start with their day-to-day applications right away. Less focus on content and more on ‘deliverables’, as the team sees it, is a productive approach in this situation.

Connor’s Team

Connor, as we’ve seen, sees great value in emphasizing the relationships that exist between team members. The potential downside of using this approach with a results-hungry team is that it could come across as a bit too ‘warm and fuzzy’. Connor’s team might easily become irritated and see the whole exercise as a waste of time. After all, where are the results?

Knowing this team dynamic before he meets the group could be very helpful indeed to Connor. Like Aaron above, he could try to break the pattern of competitive behaviors within the team. In this instance, he might deliberately address the resistance that exists, making it a topic of conversation. He could help the team members understand each other’s views and encourage them to get inside each other’s shoes. In other words, facilitate a safe discussion about how all the competitive behavior is impacting their dynamic.

A Takeaway

A good view of your preferred influencing and communication styles can help you understand your own strengths, or identify areas where you might switch styles for greater impact. This is a great help in letting you respond flexibly to a team’s dynamics when facilitating. 

On the other side of the coin, knowing the team’s dynamics up front can give you a huge advantage when you’re facilitating. Because when you’re aware of potential pitfalls, you’re better prepared to adapt your approach.

Have you had a similar experience to Aaron, Barbara, or Connor? Or do you have tips about ‘knowing what to expect beforehand’? Do share them with me, and have a look at my other communication articles if you’d like to learn more. 

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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