10 ideas to stretch a group

Stretching techniques

Asking a group to take ownership over their learning is the key to managing growth, developing cohesion and dealing with challenging behaviour. I have always been interested in finding creative ways to stretch the group in terms of giving different experiences that create movement. The challenge in stretching is not to stretch too far. The danger here is that the group turns off from the facilitator as members may perceive the work being too difficult. Like any good exercise program start with gentle stretching before getting into more serious stretching down the track. Here are 10 of my favourite ideas for stretching the group. These ideas can be scattered amongst delivery of sessions or maintained as on-going themes throughout the life of the group.

  1. Graffiti wall – this is a place for ideas, reflections, and upsets to be rendered visible in the room. For this you need post-it and marker pens sitting on a table. When people feel the need they can fill in a post-it and put it on the wall. Without disrupting the process of the group the person can be invited to talk to the issue at some point during the session.
  2. Being in the moment – mindfulness practices are now seen as core to many group programs. Mindfulness allows us to slow down and be more present to what is occurring around us. For a great range of mindfulness exercises see the Living Well site.
  3. Predicting the future – this is a good exercise at the beginning of a group who are likely to have a long life together. Many of the programs I have been involved in designing are in excess of 100 hours of group time. Asking group members to predict where the group will be at some point in the future and what will be the challenges along the way, is a very useful way to normalise the stages in the life of a group. For example, you might wonder with a new group where it might be in four session’s time and what might be the challenges before we arrive at that point.
  4. Take on new roles – we often find ourselves slotting into roles that are comfortable for us rather than stretching ourselves into new areas. You have a new group member who is quiet, has trouble finding their own voice in the group, but is attentive to the process. I would be encouraging this group member to be the person to feedback from a small group exercise. This will help the person to build confidence in having a voice in social situations. It is valuable to ask the group as a whole what roles they feel comfortable as well as uncomfortable in at the beginning and then invite them to take on new roles.
  5. Becoming a media hound – this is a great exercise for inviting a shift in perspective. I commonly use this exercise in family violence intervention programs when developing understanding around the impact of behaviour on others. I assign different groups a media strategy around understanding the impact of violence on others. One group would do an interview in the field with members of a family, another will be part of a panel discussion, and another will develop the content for a short  documentary. Being playful will create a depth of understanding that generally doesn’t occur when people are talking from their own perspective.
  6. Dream the dream – in this exercise I want group members to dream about what might be possible. There are three steps in this process. The first is about identifying what the dream is, the second is identifying steps to realise the dream, and the third is identifying things that will get them the way. This allows realistic problem-solving.
  7. Mentors and pioneers – we all need people who have gone before us; who trail blaze areas that are undiscovered. All of us know people who have taken on the challenge to change. These people provide a rich source of knowledge, experience and wisdom about what might be effective. Engaging in conversation with this group and sharing stories provides a foundation of hope. I will often ask group members who they know who has treaded this path before them. In thinking about these people what is it that allows them to remain committed to change, despite the challenges that were posed.
  8. Break the habit – as human beings we are hardwired for habitual behaviour. We like habit, we like certainty, we like routine. In groups we bring with us our habits into the room which is where the life of the group gets interesting. Our role as group facilitators is to work with people around breaking habits that create social conflict and allow more meaningful connection. Ask the group members upfront what habits they want to break while they are in the group program. You’ll be surprised at the comments that will come back. Try it.
  9. Challenge our bias – one of the areas that consistently challenges group facilitators is in the area of helping people understand the basis for the decision-making. We make judgements quickly, often with limited information, and with huge amounts of bias involved. Pausing and wondering about our reactions and assumptions is a core aspect of effective group practice.
  10. New ideas – invite each group member to find out something new and bring this to the group each session. At various points throughout the group asked a group member to share their new idea. This exercise invites are wondering about the world outside and brings into the group the richness and diversity of life.

These are my 10 ideas around stretching the group. Love to hear your ideas.

Published on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012, under Learning & development, Practice tips and techniques

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