John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

Group Dynamics Manual

(PSY 340)

Dr. John Suler
Science and Technology Center
Rider University


group dynamics

The Group Photo Session Exercise


The purpose of this course is to explore the socio-emotional processes within small groups. How do people relate to each other in a group? How does the group itself acquire a unique "personality" of its own that changes over time? How do people and groups behave online compared to in-person?

This course is very different from typical undergraduate courses. There will be some lectures, but the course is mostly experiential. We will explore how you behave in a small group, how you perceive and react to others, and how they perceive and react to you. If you don’t particularly like discovering and revealing things about yourself, or feel very uncomfortable interacting with people in groups, you probably should not take this course. The course includes the following activities:

Process group meetings (once a week for 1.5 hours)
Task group meetings (once a week for 1.5 hours)
Afternoon class discussions, exercises, mini-lectures
Online discussions and activities

Weekly process notes (posted online)
Group projects for your task group
Special assignments

Weekly quizzes on book chapters
The Critical Concepts exam

Refer to this manual religiously! It's your responsibility to know the ins and outs of this course and ask questions if you don't understand something.

The Process Group Meetings

The process group is the core experience of this course. We will break the class down into two groups. Once a week on Tuesday or Thursday mornings for the lab period, each of these small groups will meet for a Process Group meeting. I'll be there too. The purpose of this group is for us to talk about and understand the group, the personalities of our members, and how we all behave in the group. Revealing something about yourself to other people (self–disclosure), sharing your thoughts and feelings about how you perceive other people in the group (feedback), and making observations about the group as a whole, all constitute an "interpersonal learning environment", or simply the Learning Environment - "LE" for short.

In this group I don't lecture. I don't tell people what to do. As the "facilitator" I encourage people to enter the LE. I help you talk about yourself and the process of how people are behaving in the group. I encourage self-disclosure and feedback.

There will be penalties for being absent or late to this group (see "Grading System").

The confidentiality of this group is extremely important! Talking to outsiders about what happens in it is an important violation of our rules. I recommend that you do not take notes during the group. See if you can figure out why. If not, ask me in group.

No one will be graded for anything they do in the group. You could, theoretically, not talk at all and this would not detract from your grade. However, you surely will learn more and get a lot more personally out of the group if you participate. People who participate tend to get higher grades.

This kind of group is a good testing ground for those interested in being a counselor or psychotherapist. Understanding interpersonal and group dynamics is one of the basic skills of the therapist. And it is also a skill that is extremely useful for anyone, in any professional or business setting, who works with groups of people. Last, but certainly not least, being in this group will help you understand how you react to people and how they react to you.

The Task Group Meetings

Once a week on Tuesday or Thursday mornings for the other lab period, your group will meet for a Task Group meeting. Everyone must attend. The purpose of this meeting is carry out a series of projects (see "The Group Projects"). It is up to the team to decide exactly how to use this time. Use this time wisely.

There will be penalties for being absent or late to this meeting (see "Grading System").

It is normal for people to "goof off" some of the time during these meetings. However, there will be plenty of work to do. Remember, you have projects to carry out! If you waste a lot of time in "social loafing," your group will fall behind on the projects and pay a price for that!

As the group carries out its projects, you should always pay attention to the group dynamics. How are people behaving in the group? What's happening in the group as it tries to accomplish its tasks? Understanding how a task group works will come in handy for almost any job you might have in the future. Study the handout  "What to Look for in Groups." It's an excellent summary!

After process and task group meetings, it's a good idea to jot down some observations about the groups. This will come in handy when you write your process notes

Here is a pdf with some suggestions from past students about how to run an effective task group meeting.

Task Group Projects

Your group will be responsible for carrying out various tasks and projects.

Week Titles and Highlights: The group will create an interesting title and 5 bullet-point highlights of the week for each week it meets. The title captures what that week was like for the group, and the highlights capture important things that happened during the week. Someone must email these to me no later than the Saturday at the end of that week.

Suler Assignments: I will give you some of the assignments for this task group projects. For example, your first project will be creating a name for your group.

The Textbook Projects: In the textbook there are group exercises. Your group will choose and try out some of these exercises.

Task Group Project Reports: For all tasks and projects, your group will together write and then hand in a report. I will give you a deadline for handing in the report. Usually it will be due by the end of the weekend.

The Group Presentation: In the last week of classes your task group will do a 60 minute presentation. The presentation can be as creative and original as you like. However, it must be educational, relevant to our course. All members of your group must participate. Do something specific to get the students from the other group to react to or participate in your presentation.

Format for the Task Group Project Reports

Unless I say otherwise, your reports for the textbook projects and any other projects I assign you should follow the outline below. Your group members should collaborate in preparing each report. The whole group should discuss in detail the ideas that will go into it and how its paragraphs should be organized. Someone should write down these ideas during the discussion. One person may take on the job of typing up the report. The whole group should read the first draft of the report and make suggestions on how it might be modified. Use our online discussion board to share, discuss, and revise the report. Only hand in the final hardcopy version of the report to me.

The report should be at least one page, single-spaced, typed, double-spaced between paragraphs and divided into these sections using the following headings. These reports will not be graded, but points will be deducted for reports that are late or incomplete, or I may ask you to rewrite the report.

1. Title of the exercise
Use the title of the exercise. Write a very brief description of what the exercise involved (three or four sentences at most)

2. Process
Describe the process of what happened in the group while doing the exercise. If it was a textbook activity, how did the group decide on that particular exercise? How did group members behave during the exercise? What was the group atmosphere like?... etc...

3. Outcome
What did the outcome of the exercise reveal about the group and its members? If the activity resulted in a product of some kind (a poster, a group story, etc), what does that product reveal about the group, its members, and the relationships in the group? If the activity required a decision to be made, what does that decision reveal about the group?

4. Recommendations for Improving Task Performance
Based on what happened during this exercise, how can the group improve in its task performance - for example, leadership styles, communication strategies, and decision-making. Did the group succeed in using recommendations from your previous reports?

Process Notes

Process notes are a weekly record of your observations and insights about what you see happening in the task group, process group, and afternoon class. We all remember the obvious things that happened, what people said and did. Process notes go deeper than this. In process notes you try to read between the lines. You try to explore the underlying socio-emotional dynamics of how people are behaving and how the group as a whole is functioning.

At the end of each week you will post your notes online. Each group will have its own set of discussion boards. For each week of the semester, there will be a separate area for posting your process notes. Divide your process notes into these sections and use these headings:

Process Group
Task Group
Afternoon Class
Online Interactions
Roles and Styles
My Participation
Analysis of Activities and Projects
My term for the week

Choose and explain a technical term from the book, handouts, or class lectures that captures something important about what happened that week. Don't use the same term twice! Make sure it's a technical term, not some casual word like "friendship" or "productive."

See Writing the final paper for ideas about how to write these process notes. In fact, these process notes are intended to help you develop and record you ideas for writing that final paper. For your process notes you also can get ideas from the textbook, our class discussions, and our handouts. Remember to:

- Start writing your notes early in the weekend modify them as the week progresses
- Create an interesting title for your process notes that captures something important
- Devote at least one paragraph to each section

- The deadline for posting notes online is Saturday at noon!

Here is a pdf illustrating how process notes might look.


Feedback Slips on Process Notes

Each week you must read the process notes of everyone in your group. Quote a comment from four different people - comments that you found insightful, important, or that you would like to ask a question about or respond to. Print out two copies of these quoted comments and your feedback to them. Indicate your name and the week number for each comment. Cut up one of these papers into separate feedback slips. Bring these papers to the next process group meeting and be prepared to talk about the quoted comments and your feedback. I will collect one copy and the cut-feedback slips will be given to the student. One point will be deducted for each comment and/or response that you don’t bring to group. If you have to miss that process group, points will be deducted for each comment and/or response that you do not give me (email or hardcopy) before the group meeting.

Here is a pdf that illustrates how feedback slips should look.


Missing Groups and Late Notes

Missing a process or task group meeting should be taken seriously. What was it like to miss the meeting? How will your absence affect the group and your role in it? How do you think other people will react to your absence? Talk to people about what happened in the meeting you missed. Do different people describe the meeting differently? What might that mean?

Write about these things in your process notes! If you want some feedback from me, come to see me or email me. Process notes must be written every week even if you miss meetings!

Even if you post your process notes VERY late, I'll still give you some points. If it's many days after the group, you may not remember the details of what happened. That's OK. Write about what you do recall about the group - your retrospective impressions of what was important in the meeting and your reactions/feelings as you look back on it. How did the underlying socio-emotional processes of that meeting influence subsequent meetings?

What if Dr. Suler is absent? In some cases, like when the weather is bad, I might just cancel class. But in other cases, as if I’m sick, your groups might still meet!

Using Terms and Concepts from the Textbook

In your process notes and final analyses of the groups you should use terms and concepts from the textbook. Whether or not you use these terms and how accurately you use them will affect your grades. Look at the titles of the sections in the book and at boldface terms to see what words you should be using. Don't use terms willy-nilly. Integrate them into your paper in a meaningful way. Every time you use a term underline it in your paper.

Special Assignment: The Observation of a Class

Observe any class on campus. In a short paper describe your analysis of the group's dynamics. Apply the same ideas that you use for analyzing task and process groups. Start the paper off with a description of the class composition, size, where it meets, and any other information that gives me a feel for how the class appears or what its purpose is. Do not mention the name of the professor, the title of the course, or the names of any of the students. Also consider:

  • The professor's teaching style and how it affects the class
  • The interactions between the professor and students (ex. the number and type of interactions)
  • The interactions among the students and how they affect the class (ex. the number and types of subgroups)
  • The characteristics and personalities of the students and how this affects the group dynamics
  • The emotional atmosphere of the class
  • Your personal reactions to the class and professor and what your reactions might reveal about the group dynamics
Try to get to the class early. Observe and report on how the students interact with each other and with the professor before the class actually starts. This information will be important for understanding the class when it is in progress. Take notes!

You must contact the professor at least one hour before the class to get permission to attend. No more than two students can observe the same class at the same time

Special Assignment: The In Vivo Observation

Observe any group on campus in vivo- in other words, a group in its natural setting. The cafeteria will probably be the best setting to locate such a group, although you may try the library, lounges, dorms, etc. The group must consist of at least three people and you must observe them for at least 20 minutes. If the group breaks up before 20 minutes are up, locate and observe another group for the remainder of the time. Take notes!

Begin the paper with a description of the group size, composition, where it is meeting, its purpose, and any other information that gives me a feel for how the group. Do not mention the names of the people in the group or any other information that might reveal who these people are. In your paper:

  • State where the group was, how many people, males/females, etc.
  • Analyze the group dynamics. Apply important concepts.
  • How did the setting affect the group dynamics?
  • If you observed more than one group, compare them
Try to be unobtrusive. Try not to stare at people: Mom always said it's not polite. If people ARE aware of your watching them, how does this affect the group process? You may not be able to hear all of what the people are saying, so you will have to be sensitive to body language and facial expressions. Even if you cannot hear the people at all, it is still possible to analyze the dynamics (believe it or not)!

You may work together, but must hand in separate papers. The paper must be typed and at least 250 words; one page only.

The Documents Folder

During the course there will be all sorts of writings, documents, pictures, drawings, etc. produced by the groups. Save as many of these as you can in a folder which we'll call your  "documents folder." All of these things are bits of information that reveal important aspects of the groups dynamics. One skill I want you to develop - and to demonstrate in your process notes and final paper - is the ability to analyze and compare these documents as evidence of important issues in group dynamics.

Make sure you keep your documents folder in a safe place. Protect the confidentiality of its contents!

Writing the Final Paper

The final paper summarizes your observations about the course and the groups. You should apply your knowledge of the terms and concepts discussed in the afternoon class and in the textbook. Use and underline 16 different technical terms from the textbook and our class handouts (at least 8 from the textbook). Do not use casual or layman's expressions! Underline each term only once.

Divide the paper into following major sections and subsections using all the headings listed below. The major heading should be centered. The subheading should be left justified and underlined. Devote one paragraph (no more than half a page) to each subsection. Do not include ideas in parenthesis in the subheadings. Be concise and insightful in each paragraph!

The purpose of the process group
The  purpose of the task group
The importance of group boundaries
Advantages/disadvantages of our course format compared to other group dynamics courses

The Process Group
The development of the group over the semester (stages and other changes)
Critical events and turning points (including important LE discussions and other events)
Communication patterns (who talked to whom, usual topics discussed, emotional tones, energy levels, flow and organization of the discussion, interruptions, etc)
Factors that affected the LE (LE anxiety and other factors)
The more obvious socio-emotional processes in the group
Hidden socio-emotional issues that the group never fully discussed and explored

Task Group
The development of the group over the semester
Critical events and turning points
Communication patterns
Factors that affected decision-making and task success (including leadership issues)
The more obvious socio-emotional processes in the group
Hidden socio-emotional issues in the group

The Afternoon Class
The group atmosphere and changes in it
Interactions among people and subgroups

Online Interactions
The significance of how people behaved in the different sections of our online discussion board
How online behavior compared to in-person behavior

Roles and Styles
Roles and personality styles of people in group
How others reacted to those roles and styles
Leadership structure of the group (including task and socio-emotional leading)

Why certain subgroups formed (dyads, triads, etc.)
Changes in subgroup patterns over time
How subgroups affected the group

Draw and explain a sociogram of the group
Highlight the most important patterns of attractions and conflict. Don't just draw "positive" lines connecting everyone to everyone else!

My Participation
My role and behavior style in group
How others perceived me and reacted to me
Using my personal reactions and feelings to understand group
My behavior in and reactions to the afternoon class
What I learned about myself

Analysis of Activities and Projects
Pick three activities or projects from the afternoon class or task group. In separate paragraphs with separate headings, write about what that activity or project revealed about the group, its members, and you. Also, propose some conclusion or hypothesis about your group. In a paragraph with a heading that  states your conclusion, support that hypothesis with evidence from three documents in your documents folder.

How could this learning experience have been improved?
What general conclusions can you draw about the groups and this learning experience? 
Feel free to be creative in this section!

The Weekly Chapter Quizzes

Starting with the second week of classes (the first full week of classes), at the end of the week we will have a quiz on a chapter from our textbook, starting with chapter 1. Each quiz is worth 10 points and will consist of multiple choice and true/false questions. The quizzes will cover the most important terms, concepts, and research findings described in the chapters... i.e., there will be very few, if any, "picky" questions. Here's a hint: when I create the quizzes, I focus first on information from the chapters that relates to what is happening in our groups. If you miss the quiz, you receive a score of zero. There are no make-ups for these quizzes. At the end of the semester, your three lowest quiz scores will be dropped.

The Critical Concepts Exam

The CC exam tests you on the core, most important concepts related to this course. The questions come from the introductory lectures that I give at the beginning of the semester. Here is a pdf of the actual exam, along with the answers! Because you have the exam and answers ahead of time, your answers on the exam when you take it should be precise. Do not simply memorize the answers. Understand the concepts behind the answers!

Grading System

Process notes - 100 pts total
Quizzes on chapters -100 pts total
Final paper - 100 pts

Group presentation - 20 pts
Memorizing LE poem - 10 pts

2 special assignments- 20 pts total
The critical concepts exam - 40 pts


Point Deductions

You are permitted to miss (with a valid excuse) two morning meetings and 3 afternoon classes. For each absence after that, there will be a deduction of 10 points. If you miss a scheduled task group meeting, you owe the group one hour of work. It's the group's obligation to report in the process notes that someone was absent. It's your responsibility to keep track of your absences and tardiness. If you ever have any questions about this, contact me. I'm keeping track! :-)

You may come late (i.e. more than 5 minutes) or leave early from a group or class meeting only three times. After that there will be a 5 point deduction for each lateness. It is the group's obligation to report in their process notes that someone came late or left early.

Posting process notes after the deadline is a 2 point deduction for each day they are late.

1 point is deducted for each missing quote and/or your reply in the feedback slips. 2 points are deducted if you do not bring to process group two copies of your feedback slips (with one of them cut up)

Handing in special assignments late will result in a one point deduction for each day they are late.

For each day the final paper is handed in late, there will be a deduction of 5 points.

According to the Three Strike Rule for controlling noise in the afternoon class, everyone loses 1 point each time Dr. Suler marks 3 strikes on the Blackboard.

Other Deviant Behavior: In any group there will be times when people consistently or blatantly violate the norms. In the case of our groups, there are many ways this could happen (disrupting the groups, failing to do assignments for your task group, etc.). Points may be deducted for these behaviors.

Calculating Your Grade

At the end of the semester your final letter grade for the course is determined by the percentage score you obtain. You can calculate your percentage score (and thereby estimate your letter grade at that point in the semester) based on all the assignments completed up to that point in the semester.

The LE Poem

The LE poem expresses the major ideas about the learning environment (LE) for interpersonal understanding that is the essence of the process group and of this course in general. You will memorize this poem and be asked to write it out during one of our class meetings.

What is the LE?
It's feedback and disclosure,
which, simply put, means people get to know you.

Getting into the LE is not as hard as it seems,
talk about your family, friends, lovers, and dreams.
but that's not required,
those are things outside the group,
the most pure LE is what people do inside the group.

This is so important, recite this part loud!
to get into the LE
talk about what people are doing right here, right now!

This may lead to conflict
but remember that's OK!
It's part of the LE,
talk about it leads to cohesion one day.

The group is like a person,
it has a personality and moods.
Talk about these things
and that's the LE too!

Last but not least
you may recreate in group
your family, friends, triumphs, and strife,
and that's why we call it a microcosm of life.

Talk about that! It's the LE! Hooray!
It's a lot more valuable than getting that "A" !


Process Notes for the Process Group

Everyone must hand in process notes after each meeting of the process group. The purpose of writing these process notes is to analyze the process of events that occur in each group. In other words, describe not only what happened, but how and why those things happened. To get at the "process" underlying what occurs, you need to "read between the lines."

1. Consider the following questions:

  • What sequence of events occurred? What does this reveal?
  • How did people communicate? What did they communicate?
  • How much did each person participate?
  • Who were the leaders? What alliances were present?
  • How does this session compare to previous ones?
  • Was the group productive? Stuck? Why?
  • What direction is the group taking?
2. Look over the textbook and your notes from class to get ideas. Apply important concepts and theories (see "Using Terms and Concepts from the Textbook")

3. Describe what people said and did, but also describe the group (and its process) as a whole. Pay attention to how the group changes over time.

4. Be sure to describe the thoughts and feelings you had about the group. What role did you play in the group?

Try to write your process notes immediately after each session, or at least jot down ideas right away. The longer you wait, the more you will forget.

The notes should be about 250 words, and no more than one side of a page. Type your notes, single-spaced, leaving a blank line between paragraphs. Don't worry about typos. Put the date of the group meeting on the page.

Notes are due in the next class after the group meets. Points will be deducted for late notes

The "audience" for these process notes is me. I am the only one who will see them, unless I tell you otherwise in advance. Write your notes knowing that I too was in the group with you, so you don't have to excessively describe "what happened." You also can assume that I will understand terms and concepts without your having to define them.

Writing Process Notes for the Task Group

Everyone must hand in process notes after each meeting of the task group. The purpose of writing these notes is to analyze the process of events that occurred in the meeting. You may briefly describe what happened during the meeting, but it is more important to focus on how and why things happened.

1. Follow the same guidelines for writing process notes for the process group. Pay particular attention to issues that are especially important to task groups. For example:

  • leadership patterns
  • alliances and subgroups
  • communication patterns
  • how problems are solved
  • how decisions are made
2. Be sure to apply concepts and theories that were discussed in class and in the textbook (see "Using Terms and Concepts from the Textbook")

3. Describe what individual people did, but also describe the group (and its process) as a whole. How is the group changing over time? It is the process that is most important!

4. How do people interact outside of formal group meetings? How do these alliances affect the group?

5. Be sure to describe your personal thoughts and feelings about the group. What role did you play in it? w It is always best to write your notes immediately after each meeting, or at least jot down ideas right away. The longer you wait, the more you will forget. The notes should be at least words and no longer than one side of a page. Type your notes, single-spaced, leaving a blank line between paragraphs. Don't worry about typos. Put the date of the group meeting on the page. The notes are due in the next class after the group meets. Points will be deducted for lateness.

The "audience" for these process notes is me, the professor who understands the terms and concepts about group dynamics (so you don't have to define them) - however, I am not present during the meeting, so make it clear to me what happened, and, most importantly, the underlying "process" that accounted for what happened.

Writing the Final Analysis of the Process Group

The final analysis of the process group should be a summary of your observations in the process notes. It is a summary of your overall conclusions about the group dynamics. Also consider: 4-5 typed double-spaced pages

Be sure to apply concepts that were discussed in class and in the textbook. Cite the textbook at least seven times (cite a specific page number).

Writing the Final Analysis of the Task Group

These papers should summarize your analysis of the task group and how it carried out its project. It should include an analysis of what occurred in the group meetings as well as an analysis of how members interacted and communicated outside of formal meetings. Consider the following: 4- 5 typed, double-spaced pages

Be sure to apply concepts that were discussed in class and in the textbook. Cite the textbook at least seven times (cite a specific page number).

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