Given that integrated security workshops are challenging, they should be guided by facilitators who are highly skilled and experienced in managing group dynamics.
Some tips on thinking about group dynamics are:
In every group setting, and particularly in unusual and challenging settings such as integrated security workshops, there will be a phase of conflict, as participants work to assimilate new and difficult ideas. Facilitators should treat this phase as a natural part of the workshop process, and welcome it as an indicator that the process is working as intended. Expect the ‘forming, norming, storming, performing and adjourning’ cycle of group dynamics!1
Remember the context:
- women human rights defenders are constantly working in opposition – their lives are about resistance and challenging norms – it is a standard mode, and for some, it takes time to transition; and
- for most women human rights defenders, this workshop will mark the first time that they have had an opportunity to speak openly about very personal, difficult experiences – of course, this will trigger various emotions, ranging from grief to relief – and anger and shame – all of which need to be respected.
Remember that strong emotions can result from:
- deep stresses that have been taken into the workshop space;
- a topic, or approach, that has triggered discomfort – often because it is too close to home; and
- physical pain or discomfort (headaches, other illnesses).
Balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group:
- remember that some participants will be more outgoing and talkative than others (stepping up) – always seek to balance participants’ contributions and draw out those who are reticent to speak (stepping back); but
- a facilitator must never tolerate insulting or discriminatory behaviour.
Use tools for supporting safe group dynamics
The opening ceremony and presentation of ground rules on the first morning of the workshop are critical in setting a tone of respect for – and responsibility to – the group. Be careful to explain that ‘respect’ means full and honest participation. Responsibility means that each participant has chosen to be in this space, and is responsible for keeping the space safe and a positive learning environment.
Ultimately, each participant is responsible for what she will learn and take away from the process, and is responsible for supporting the group.
It may be necessary to refer back to these ground rules at different points during the workshop. However, it is important to do this gently and without singling out particular participants.
In addition, remind participants that the ground rules are commitments that each participant makes to one another, and to the group. They can and should be expanded on during the workshop, as necessary.
Finally, many of the exercises included in Facilitator’s Toolkit have been specifically designed to enhance group connections and to address challenging group dynamics.