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Creating a Great Group Dynamic in the ‘New Now’




Welcome back to the Art Engager podcast! Today I’m talking about building rapport and creating a great group dynamic in the ‘new now’.

Creating a great group dynamic is even MORE important now after the last year or so. We will need to take extra care to create social comfort and psychological safety, we will also need to build trust and social interaction.

In this episode I’m talking about :

  • what group dynamics are
  • the different types of groups you might come across
  • the roles people play in groups
  • the size of groups
  • how to use space

I’ll end by talking about how to still create a great group dynamic even when you’re wearing a face mask, so stay tuned for that at the end of this episode.

So, the big questions for today’s episode are:

  • how we are going to lead engaging in-person group experiences around art and objects going forwards?
  • how might we make our audience, our participants feel socially comfortable – what will group dynamics look like now? 
  • And how CAN we create a great group dynamic with awareness and sensitivity for how people feel right now.

Throughout this episode think about how some of the ideas might work for you or how they could be adapted to your organisation or environment.

There is unfortunately not a one-size-fits-all approach to this, but I’m hoping some of these suggestions might help you to think about how you can lead engaging, enjoyable and safe group experiences going forwards.


Priya Parker, ‘The Art of Gathering’
Refresher Course

If you’re reading this now (in June 2021), you’ll understand that creating a group dynamic is even MORE important now after the last year or so of the Covid-19 pandemic. We will need to create social comfort and psychological safety, we will also need to build trust and social interaction.

So, today’s post is all about building rapport and creating group dynamics post-Covid – although we are not out of the woods yet, In some places museums, galleries and heritage organisations are opening up again.

Within those organisations some are offering group experiences and others are not. Some are offering outside experiences only or educational programmes for schools. Others are offering group guided tours for adults that have been vaccinated and without masks.

So, whatever the situation in your museums or heritage organisation right now. It’s time to think about how your group experiences will look from now on – whether they are coming back now or you hope they do in the future.

So, the BIG questions are:

  • how we are going to lead engaging in-person group experiences around art and objects going forwards?
  • How will you make your audience, your participants, feel socially comfortable – what will group dynamics look like now?
  • And how CAN we create a great group dynamic with awareness and sensitivity for how people feel right now?

So, throughout this post think about how some of the ideas might work for you or how they could be adapted to your organisation or environment.

We’re going to talk about:

  • what group dynamics are,
  • what different types of groups you might come across,
  • the roles people play in groups, the size of groups
  • how to use space.
  • And finally, how to still create a great group dynamic when you’re wearing a face mask

There is unfortunately not a one-size-fits-all approach to this but hopefully some of these suggestions can help so that we can lead engaging, enjoyable and safe group experiences going forwards.

So, first of all, let’s look at group dynamics. What are they?


Group dynamics is about building great relationships between your participants and between your participants and you. It’s about making people feel at ease and socially comfortable. They will feel they trust the people around them and the environment they are in.

Within a great group dynamic, people are more likely to get involved and ask questions and have fun.

The important point to remember is that you need to put a CONSCIOUS EFFORT into creating a great group dynamic. It will take effort on your part but will pay dividends.

As educators, we are familiar with sharing information and connecting visitors with knowledge. BUT just as important, however, is understanding the dynamics of a group, and knowing how to establish a good group camaraderie.

Kurt Lewin is credited with coining the term “group dynamics” in the early 1940s. He was a social psychologist and change management expert
He noted that people often take on distinct roles and behaviours when they work in a group. “Group dynamics” describes the effects of these roles and behaviours on other group members, and on the group as a whole.

A group with a positive dynamic is easy to spot. Group members trust one another, they work towards a collective decision, and they hold one another accountable for making things happen.

When a team has a positive dynamic, its members are nearly twice as creative as an average group.In a group with poor group dynamics, people’s behaviour disrupts things. As a result, the group may not come to any decision, or it may make the wrong choice, because group members could not explore all the options effectively.

Factors that lead to poor dynamics include weak leadership, people adopting obstructive roles and lack of self-awareness


There are all sorts of groups out there – let’s look at some of the different types of groups:

  • Primary groups: These are groups that tend to be close, they interact a lot and commitment and values are important. A primary group can be a family or close friends. They last for a long time. 
  • Social groups: social groups tend to be larger and more formally organized than primary groups. For example, clubs and work groups. 
  • Collectives: when individuals have something in common that draws them together, usually unintentionally. Crowds or audiences watching the same performance and queues are good examples of collectives.   After the experience, the group dissolves.
  • Categories: individuals can be similar in some social way or they have a feature in common. When members are part of a social category, they share a social identity. When outsiders start to categorise people based on group characteristics, stereotypes result. Social categories tend to create a sense of “we” and “us” versus “they” and “them”.

Knowing where your group has come from and their relationship to each other (if any) is an essential starting point for group dynamics. In these strange post-Covid times, it is even more important to do your due diligence and research to find out as much as possible about your group. This will help you to start putting a plan together for that group. 

So let’s move on to the common characteristics of groups and how we can think about these characteristics now in our current situation.

Each group is of course different but there are some common characteristics.

First of all, Let’s talk about ROLES.


Different people play different roles in groups. Sometimes these are assigned (such as on a membership committee), sometimes the roles emerge through interaction.
People adopt particular roles in groups depending on:

  • what they have done in the past
  • the composition of the group
  • what gets triggered by the situation

Obviously because of what has happened in the past year, some people may be more anxious than others about being in a group again – about what to say or do for example. So it’s important to have a good introduction and warm-up to ensure everyone relaxes and knows what to expect.


Wendy Woon who is a museum educator at Moma is quoted in Priya Parker’s book the ART OF GATHERING. She says:

‘The design of social space, physical space and emotional space affects how people engage with ideas, content and each other’

This means that you must actually DESIGN a space for exchange, learning and participation.

Space is of course so important now – since we’ve been used to keeping our distance from each other and socially distancing.

The study of proxemics is about how people adjust their physical distance from one another according to the degree of attraction or tension they feel. Friends stand closer to each other than strangers, for example.

In groups you will always want to watch the ways that group members stand or seat themselves. Who they sit next to or who they position themselves opposite from.

Obviously it may not be advisable to have your group stand too closely to each other and it depends on vaccination levels and mask-wearing too. You may have to take an active role with groups demonstrating how they can use the space.

Actively positioning the group how you would like them to stand around an artwork or using gesture to ask group members to move if they are too close to each other – much as you would when participants are too close to a painting for example.

If your organisation is still using social distancing, have the group form a circle/semi-circle and use their arms outstretched to measure distance. Make it a fun activity rather than something you are enforcing.

Ensure that every person can easily see & hear each other and nobody has to strain to catch someone else’s eye. Ensure that group members are comfortable – getting pushed by other people, in the way etc. Remind people that they will have to practice even more careful active listening in order to be able to hear and understand everyone, particularly if they are wearing masks.

Group size has an important effect on group dynamics. What is the ideal group size?


A group can be as small as two people or as many as hundreds, thousands. Priya Parker talks about ideal group sizes in a helpful way in her book The Art of Gathering:

Groups of 6 – wonderfully conducive to intimacy, high levels of sharing and discussion. On the other hand, they are not ideal for diversity of viewpoints and they cannot bear much dead weight. There’s quite a lot of responsibility on each participant in a group of 6 to make the gathering great.

Groups of 12-15 – Twelve is small enough to build trust and intimacy and small enough for a single faciliator to handle. At the same time, 12 is large enough to offer a diversity of opinion and large enough that it allows for an element of mystery and intrigue. King Arthur’s famous table had 12 seats. There were 12 apostles. This is a good amount of people that you could have around one table or one conference room or also around one artwork or object

Groups of 30 – 30 starts to feel like a party, it has a buzz, crackle of energy and a sense of possibilities. They are too big for a single conversation although you might be able to do this with experienced faciltiators and good arrangement of space.

Groups of 150 – e.g Weddings of around 150 where everyone can still meet everybody. Above this level, it’s still possible to gather well, but the unit of experience often gets broken up into small subgroups.

Above this: we call it ‘tides of humanity’ – the World Cup, the Olympics., the hajj in Mecca. These gatherings are not for intimacy or connection but more for tapping into the energy of a massive crowd.

These last 3 types – 30, 150 and the tides of humanity are all large groups. The larger the group, the more likely it is that subgroups arise and the less likely it is that each individual has a close relationship with every other member of the group. In addition, larger groups can also allow us to feel more anonymous.

In the past, as an educator you may have been used to working with groups with anything from 2-25/30 persons.

One possible advantage of the current situation is that if we are already working with groups, they are more likely to be smaller than we have been used to in the past.

This allows you to build better relationships with group members, give individuals more attention and recognise their contributions and therefore build a better group dynamic.

Seize this as a positive of the situation and do everything you can to enjoy the smaller group sizes and build connections within the groups you have.


So I’d like to share some thoughts about wearing face masks. Now for many of us at this moment in time, we may be working with groups with a mask on. So, how can you facilitate effectively with a face mask on? How can you still communicate clearly and create a great dynamic where everyone is happy to contribute? And what extra strategies can you employ to ensure engagement and interaction?


As masks hide our facial expressions and non-verbal clues, it is important to overcompensate when facilitating a discussion wearing a mask. Interestingly, research suggests that adults get most non-verbal clues from the speaker’s eyes, whilst children pay most attention to the mouth. So, it is even more important to exaggerate your verbal/non-verbal expressions with children. Use animated facial and body movements – as an actor would – to communicate clearly with your group. Raise those eyebrows, nod your head, use thumbs-up and other verbal and non-verbal expressions to ensure understanding.

Simplify communication
Masks make it harder to hear – they stifle sound and make it more difficult to work out any differences in pitch, tone and enunciation. Concerns have been raised about loss of understanding for those who use lip-reading as a way of aiding understanding – e.g for participants with hearing loss and language learners. So, simplifying the way you communicate. Speak in shorter sentences. Ask simple questions, one at a time. Slow down the pace of your speech. Allow thinking time between questions. And don’t forget to breathe.

Use a microphone
If you’re doing a lot of facilitating, you might want to consider using a wireless microphone to avoid voice strain and effortlessly boosts the volume of your voice. Note of caution: Think conversation rather than a presentation. Do not be tempted to start ‘telling’ rather than ‘asking’, just because you are wearing a microphone – it is there as an aid to help you create discussions with your group rather than a tool that allows you to lecture.

Talk less
Echoing the sentiment above, consider talking less when wearing a face mask. Get your group talking & asking more instead. This will help the group to gel too.
You are there to facilitate discussion, activate curiosity and to answer your audience’s spoken (and unspoken) questions.
To draw people in, ask simply-phrased open-ended questions that encourage participants to seek out their own answers— these are questions that cannot be answered with a yes or a no or a simple shrug of the shoulders. Ask people what they are wondering about, what they would like to find out more about or what questions they still have.

Give your group independence
Encourage your group to work individually and/or in socially-distanced pairs at a safe distance answering questions, having debates and carrying out activities. Instead of using handouts, carry a large portable whiteboard and write any instructions on it, so that participants understand the task at hand. Invite participants to make their hands into a viewfinder shape, so that they can focus individually on part of an image or object (rather than you describing it). Hold up question or emotion cards to stimulate discussion. Ask participants to go and find connections with other artworks in the same gallery and then report back to you. Encourage a spirit of independence.

Use supplementary materials
The use of visual aids can aid understanding and help you to communicate your ideas more clearly with less reliance on verbal explanations. They can also support and enrich your sessions and start talking points. They are particularly useful when wearing a face mask. Anything that can reduce the amount of time you spend explaining or telling would be useful here – e.g timelines, archival material, related images, multi-sensory objects that evoke the senses. (NB: Materials should not be passed around from participant to participant). Invite your participants to share what they notice about the supplementary materials you are using.

Ask for feedback regularly
Check-in with your group regularly throughout the session. Pause at several moments to ask whether participants can hear you correctly and if they have understood. Ask also if you participants would like you to repeat something.

  • Finally…some final thoughts on group dynamics post-covid.
  • Make time for reflecting and assessing: Assess what worked well and what you could work on for next time at the end of each session.
  • Be flexible enough to rejig your methods after a few sessions if some things are not working.
  • And be kind to yourself – adapting to new ways of working takes time and patience.
  • Remember that rules and regulations may be different in your particular region or organisation. Give some of these strategies a go the next time you’re with a group and let me know how you get on.


And don’t forget my FREE new Facebook group The Slow Looking Club created especially for podcast listeners. It’s a place for conversation and discussion about engaging with art, objects and life slowly. I’ll share resources, ideas and tips for anyone interested in looking at art – whether it’s for your personal enjoyment or your practice as a cultural educator. And we’ll have regular slow looking moments together too!