I am a strong advocator for the importance of relationship building in establishing effective group dynamics. Whether it is few hours or even less than an hour, a few weeks or months, no matter how long my facilitating role will be, I genuinely care about building healthy relationships with and within the group.
Every group needs to achieve a certain level of familiarity and safety before they can get into in-depth discussions: they need to trust each other, and often people need to be heard before they are able to be open to hearing other people.
Whether you have a talkative bunch or a mixed bag, building relationships early on will prove beneficial in fostering an open environment, ripe for insight and learning. Relationship building:
Enables participants to get to know one another on a personal level and develop trust;
Sets a friendly and safe tone for people to speak up and share honestly;
Provides the facilitator the opportunity to challenge participants effectively (gently).
SUGGESTED WAYS TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS:
Do activities that promote personal sharing/relationship building. Always be prepared with a handful of activities to inspire relationship building. Some are fun, light activities and others have a heavier feel. Take your pick not according to what you have prepared or comfortable with but according to your group– choose one that is right for your group at a given time! It might slow down the building dynamics process if you don’t challenge your group enough, but it can also break it if you go too fast.
Break the group into small groups. Small group work helps participants get to know one another and gain comfort more quickly, enabling them to speak candidly, and share at a personal level.
Have discussions about personal topics, such as culture and family etc. Sharing information about themselves, their family, culture, and traditions can be a great way of helping the group know each other in a more personal way. Sometimes, you should be the one launching the spark of discussion. This might be very tricky as you don’t want to be involved more than you should be or reveal information that will put in doubt your neutrality.
Ask follow-up questions that get to a deeper level. Modeling questions demonstrates HOW they can get to a deeper understanding of their peers. Seeing how facilitators approach personal topics with curiosity (and respect), participants are empowered to do the same.
A COUPLE REMINDERS
Temper your expectations as inter-group relationships take a variety of forms. Some gel quickly and deeply, others require more time and even then, may not take shape in the way we hope for. Accept your group the way it is, and do your best to work with what you have!
One thing is certain, having time for relationship building especially at the beginning, at the very least, offers participants the chance for increasing comfort and trust and doing so will surely impact the group dialogue positively.