12 tools for smart trainers: groupwork techniques

Many of the most powerful training techniques have their roots in therapeutic techniques. For instance, psychodrama techniques morphed into role play techniques. Solution focused questions moved from hypnotherapy into training room via solution focused therapy. Even the simple process of ‘breaking into groups’ comes from a therapeutic technique: groupwork.

In therapy, groupwork techniques are used to help people address issues they hold in common (such as addiction or eating disorders). The idea behind groupwork is that by connecting with – and supporting – others, an individual will find their own strategies for success. In training and organisational development contexts, the same idea applies. Thus, positive psychology trainers can benefit from adding a few standard groupwork practices to their toolkits.

How can you do this? First, you must be clear about your role. During groupwork, your job is to guide the thinking and problem-solving activities of your group. You need to provide method and structure so the group can focus its energy and creativity on the issue at hand. The following techniques help you do this.

Setting ground rules

Never start a groupwork session without explaining the ‘rules of engagement’. This safeguards group members from unnecessary attacks by others. It also gives you a format for addressing group dynamics issues. If you’ve set clear ground rules at the beginning of a session, you can later say, “Remember our rule about being respectful” or “Remember we’ve agreed to stay solution focused today.”


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This is a technique for addressing disruptive behaviours. It is particularly useful in situations where group members are aggressive or argumentative. In group therapy, counsellors use ‘I’ statements when blocking. Positive psychology trainers can do the same. Here are some useful phrases for blocking unhelpful behaviour in your sessions.

  • I notice that you’re getting off topic. What’s behind this?
  • I need to intervene here because some very personal comments are being made
  • I would like to move us back to the key issue.
  • I hear a lot of anger in your voice right now. What are you most concerned about?


Linking is an advanced form of reflective listening. It involves pointing out group members that share the same concerns, drawing out common themes and highlighting shared values. Linking is often used by mediators. It is also useful for facilitators who are leading problem-solving sessions. To link, make a simple statement such as “I notice the theme of …has come up several times today.” Then invite comments from the group.


Positive psychology trainers use delegating to boost group accountability and individual self-efficacy. The point of delegating is to prompt experiential learning and increase consensus. As an experienced trainer, you know that people learn best by doing. Delegating tasks is a simple way to prompt action. If you’re delegating a complex task, consider documenting the steps before your session. This makes it easier for your group participants to experience success.

After all, setting people up for success is what positive psychology training is all about. If you want to create engaged and vibrant learning environments, you need to tap into the positive deviants in groups. Using groupwork techniques is a simple way to do this.

Want to boost your groupwork skills? Enrol in a trainers’ master class with Eleanor Shakiba today.


About the author: Eleanor Shakiba

Eleanor is a specialist in positive psychology training. Her core strength is creativity, which she expresses in the training room through storytelling and visual design. She has dedicated her career to helping experienced professionals break through glass ceilings by developing their confidence, communication skills and leadership mastery. Eleanor is qualified in a range of fields including Social Anthropology, Positive Psychology, Counselling, Coaching, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming. She is also the author of the Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D Practitioners. This is a free resource for trainers and facilitators.