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Group Work Techniques
Techniques to help you run successful groups

There are so many different ways of making groups work. Here are some tried and tested ways. Some take a lot of organising and time, others can work as parts of wider conferences, workshops or public meetings. This site also has some case studies where people have used these and other techniques to deliver some good community outcomes.

Search Conferences

To be used with a variety of interest groups for devising coordinated action for systemic change. Recommended to last three days, the team looks in detail at the past, future ideas and lastly the present.

A typical example of a search conference allocates the first morning to looking at the past: events which had great impact. A brief summing up period would take place prior to lunch. Afternoon discussions would be based on visions of the future. Day two would review day one and progress to group work on factors which would effect their future aims. They would consider courses of action and priorities. Finally they would take a look at the present and what was actually going to happen next.

Post It & Cluster Exercise

For this exercise each participant should have a post-it pad and pen. They should individually brainstorm an issue and write all the issues onto a post-it notes; each post-it having one element written on it. For example with "stakeholders in joint commissioning" elements would include elected members, care managers, existing users of services, etc.

The first person will then place his post-it on a board. Then the next person will look at his post-it and think whether it has any relevance to the post-it already on the board. If he thinks so, he will place the post-it beneath the one already on the board, and if not he will place it directly beside it. This is continued with the other participants until there are about 15-20 post-its on the board. Then discussion can take place about the choices of the participants, which will lead to naming of the columns and further discussion as to the links between various issues. Some post-its may need to be in more than one column, they can be written out again, and some may be decided as relevant to the new headings.

This method is particularly useful when bringing together people from different sections of agencies and to realise common issues and different perspectives. It can also bring new clarity to a complex issue where it is easy to flounder in the details.

Seating Options for Groups

Where people sit is really important to the way a group functions. Optimum group sizes are between 7 and 10. If you have a large number of people in a group, breaking up into smaller groups is very helpful, particularly if they are meeting for any length of time. Using smaller rooms or part of a big room is one option. A very good way of moving between large groups and small groups without a lot of disruption is to set up round tables in a large room 'cabaret style'. This means people get to know one another over the course of the day, can keep their resources together and build on group sessions whilst at the same time being able to listen to speakers.


Giving feedback from small groups needs managing carefully. Ensure that people know they are feeding back at the beginning of the group session. By giving people clear guidelines about how to present the material and a time scale for doing it, feedback can be concise and useful. Keeping people to writing on one piece of butcher's paper or on one acetate which can go on an overhead projector, really helps. If you have time you can even have pre-printed acetates with boxes in which people can write their points.

Every Picture Tells a Story

With a minimum of fifty photos, this method is used to allow participants to try and express themselves in a new way and therefore open up new discussion. The photos should be very mixed, they should be non-stereotypical and interesting.

Ask people to choose two or three photos which they identify with the topic under discussion, then ask them to explain their choice.

Cabonne's Vision 2000 case-study has a good example of using this type of technique.

Discussion Groups

To develop both individuals and teams, usually led by a facilitator.

Ask each person to introduce him or herself.
Select someone to write down the key points.
Clarify the aim of the discussion and ask what the participants want from it and what they want to talk about.
Explain any ground rules.
Initiate discussion with an open question.
Record the discussion on the butcher's paper.
Warn people 2 minutes from the end and draw the discussion to a close.

Points for the facilitator to bear in mind are - what sort of group is it? Do they have the same level of knowledge? Will they meet again? What activity came before/will come after?

Five main process interventions

  • Questioning
  • Summarising and reviewing implications
  • Challenging or confronting
  • Building consensus
  • Seeking agreement

Using pictures or modelling

Although this sounds intimidating to many people (we are, after all, not used to being asked to let loose our creative side in normal adult interaction) asking people to draw or model as a group activity can be very effective and is used increasingly in planning and organisational development. You could ask people to draw their community or the problems the community faces. You may give people modelling clay or materials and ask them to model the way key organisations or businesses are working together. It is often helpful to do before and after models or pictures.

Not only does such an activity break down barriers between people, it encourages use of a different part of the brain and allows people to see problems and opportunities from a new perspective.


Aim - to promote clearer communication. A player has a card with one word of jargon on it. He or she has to try and explain the word to the rest of the group without saying the word.

This is a useful ice-breaker when working with mixed groups.


This exercise takes the form of an organised visit to an organisation. Players converge on offices of an organisation and have access to the in and out trays, the files and the people working there. Players gather after to discuss what they have seen and heard. Tha aim is to learn from the way the other organisation works.

For example

What is familiar/different?

What constraints/incentives are they working under?

What is done well/ needs improving?

What can we learn?



  • No idea is criticised no matter how outrageous
  • No discussion takes place
  • The wilder and more creative the better
  • Quantity is better than quality at this stage

To generate ideas either freewheel (shout out as you get ideas) or round robin, by going round the table.

After generating as many ideas as possible the next stage is to filter them by eg:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Availability
  • Fit
  • Customer impact
  • Acceptability
  • Practicality

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