Managing Youth-Led Group Dynamics

Learning how to facilitate, promote, and intervene when trying to foster organic teamwork can be difficult.

Staff should work to establish positive group norms and maintain the cooperative dynamics and participation that are essential to building teamwork skills among youth. Staff play an ongoing, day-to-day role as a monitor-participant-coach of group processes and dynamics. They may also be part of the group and share their personal thoughts when others share.

One of the ways staff facilitate teamwork is by allowing and encouraging the youth themselves to manage the group dynamics as much as possible. Laura Greenlee Karp from Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) said:

They are their own regulators. If there is somebody who is having an off day and is being negative, the group has, hopefully, already come up with how they’re going to handle that.

Staff manage group situations by taking different approaches with different personalities. Making the process explicit and using humor was recommended by Jennifer Freed from AHA! (Attitude, Harmony, Achievement AHA!):

The know-it-all and monologuers are my job because they’re hard. So what I do is use a lot of humor. To the monologuers I’ll say, “You have an extraordinary amount of good things to say, and we need you to hold back so other people can learn to do that too. We’re going to have an agreement that you’ll get to say what you want, but you’ll learn how to be in a relationship with others and not go on too long.” I say it over and over and over, but I’m making good rapport with the girls, and we laugh about it. With the know-it-all or the drama queen or the loner, I use humor, and I make it explicit.

Situations that escalate or threaten the security of the group may be handled in various ways. Even in extreme cases, such as fighting, the staff may keep the group as a whole involved in deciding how to handle a situation. DeVonne Bernard, Director, Teen Outreach Program at Wyman, admitted they have had challenges:

I mean, we’ve had some challenges. We’ve had fights in the program. Some of those have really brought about huge changes in the peer relationships within the groups and even relationships with staff. We really try to understand what happened and what’s going on with the teens. There have been times where, as a group, the whole group decided, “No, we don’t want the person to go.” We’ve really worked on it and tried to make sure that everybody felt like this was a safe place.

Youth learn valuable skills for teamwork from helping to create and participate in well-functioning groups. These groups are characterized by a culture of authentic caring and having effective, respectful procedures for resolving differences.

Further Reading

Join the Discussion

What are the “boundaries” your program uses to determine when to intervene in conflicts between youth?