Group dynamics

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term group dynamics stands for:

  1. a phenomenon that occurs with repeated social interaction in face-to-face contact in groups of people ;
  2. a method that influences group dynamic processes and makes them tangible;
  3. the scientific discipline that studies these patterns and methods.

A basic assumption of group dynamics is that the characteristics and abilities of a group are different from the sum of the characteristics and abilities of the individuals in that group.

Kurt Lewin (1890–1947), founder of field theory (psychology) and one of the pioneers of Gestalt theory and Gestalt psychology , who first used the term in his publications in 1939, are considered to be the main founders of group dynamics ; furthermore Raoul Schindler (1923–2014) with his interaction model for rank dynamics in groups, as well as Jacob Levy Moreno (1889–1974), who contributed significantly to the development of applied group dynamics and who used the term as early as 1938.


The process of a group encompasses the entire development of the group, the classical phases, the distribution of roles, the determination of goals and tasks, the formation of norms and rules, the shaping of the culture, the distribution of power, the admission of new members, the Dealing with third parties and other groups. Every action (active and inactive) in the group is part of the process and is dynamic.

Phase model according to Bennis / Shepard

Each group develops in phases, the sequence of which is always similar.

Warren Bennis describes three phases:

  • Dependency,
  • Counter-dependence - counter-dependence / defiance,
  • Interdependence - mature togetherness.

Or in more detail:

1. Dependency - escape
This is about warding off fear. Outwardly, the group seems to be looking for a common goal, one willingly submit to the authority of the trainer and try to meet their expectations. Experienced participants claim leadership roles, but are repeatedly sabotaged by others.
2. Counterdependence - fight
This is about power. The power of the trainers is questioned, much discussion about the structure, the group often splits into two parts, one trying to bring order to the chaos, the other resisting.
3rd solution (catharsis)
Contents and topics are increasingly considered, relationships are clarified and knowledge gained, cooperation is formed between the subgroups, the group agrees on a goal, rules are drawn up.
4. Harmony - escape
The group flees in harmony and solidarity, the group history is idealized, everyone works intensively on the jointly chosen program, agreement on roles and tasks, demarcation from the outside world.
5. Disenchantment - Fight
Conflict between personal wishes and group pressure, questioning of goals and rules, distrust of one another, division into two subgroups, power struggle, many disturbances.
6. Consensus building
The group becomes able to work, roles are clarified, norms and rules are used flexibly and constructively, decisions are made and implemented together, group culture develops, contact and cooperation with other groups.

Basic assumption group from Bion

Wilfred Bion outlined the development of groups along their basic assumptions in three forms:

  1. Dependency: The group insists on being dependent on a leader, everything is focused on him (fantasies, attention, projections). If there is no leader, one is chosen.
  2. Pair formation: Pair formation activates the “ability to reproduce”. Hope ruled the group. Salvation no longer lies in the leader, but in the future. Realizing these hopes, however, threatens the cohesion of the group.
  3. Fight and flight: The group comes together in an external image - they want to fight or flee.

Bion's basic knowledge is that group contexts are affect-laden: the process is not determined by ratio and deliberation, but by underlying dynamics. Critics object that Bion describes the "desolate" conditions of groups that do not learn. Nonetheless, his theory is valued as a good diagnostic tool and used in group psychotherapy. Later findings in psychology (describes the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt ) confirm Bion's thesis that social behavior is primarily affect-induced - rational considerations often only serve to “rationalize” them.

Tuckman phase model

Another frequently used phase model comes from Bruce Tuckman and was further developed by König / Schattenhofer. It contains a total of five phases of group development:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing
  5. Re-forming (or adjourning)

The sequence suggests a linear process, which it is not: Groups develop cyclically, they can “skip” or “fall back” phases and go through several “circles” in the course of their existence - especially when group members leave or join.

Function / position / role

The theories of group dynamics distinguish more than other theories between function, position and role as determining elements of behavior:


A function describes an agreed or lent job known to all group members that is associated with a specific service for the group. The function does not have to be pronounced - as a rule, many functions are not. The specific performance is usually linked to the basic parameters of the existence of a group, e.g. B. Contact, goal orientation, cohesion, belonging or more (cf. Lewin's theory of “group dynamic space”, described in Antons et al.).

Rank dynamic positions

The term of the position within the group dynamics comes from the rank dynamic position model of Raoul Schindler and describes the positions of characteristic occurring in groups within respective group members that are through a common context (an object, a destination, an opponent etc.) with each other in dependency. A distinction is made between the following positions:

  • "G" (group task, or opposite, or opponent): The effect of the group is directed towards this external construct. It is important that the group “G” “sees” through alpha - alpha defines the external image.
  • Alpha (leader): leads towards the goal and leads the discussion with the other person ("G"). Alpha is very outgoing and only limited in his actions by whether the group follows him / her.
  • Beta (Expert): The classic “second” are the typical consultants. The relationship with alpha is ambivalent: on the one hand, alpha needs beta to lead, and beta needs alpha to share in power. On the other hand, betas are most likely to have the potential to overturn Alpha and take the lead themselves.
  • Gamma (simple group member): identifies with Alpha (more precisely: with his / her external view of "G") and supports his / her way by working without any claim to leadership. Gammas are those who do the “backbreaking work” without which no group can work.
  • Omega (opposite position to alpha  - not to be confused with the lowest-ranking individual referred to as omega in biology ): is the opposite pole of the dominant group events. His / her behavior is expressed in open or hidden resistance to the achievement of goals communicated by Alpha. The central element is an independent or counter-dependent external view of "G", and that is exactly what attracts resistance in this position: from Gamma (s), because he / she endangers identification with Alpha (Alpha defines the view of "G" ), and from Alpha because he / she endangers the leadership position. Omega is a constitutive (= determining) position in the group and an important quality indicator for the group functions - with Omega, group deficits (target achievement, cohesion, etc.) are the first to be expressed. Often, however, Omega is not viewed as a quality indicator but as a disruptive factor, attacked and excluded. It is not uncommon for another group member to slip into this position after brief cathartic episodes, and the game begins again.

Two basic parameters apply: Position means that this (like a chair in a room) can be taken up and left again. Furthermore, these positions are awarded more than they are taken: Only through the acceptance of the others does a group member get into a certain position (no one becomes a leader without the other group members following him / her).

The basis of the model is the definition of the group based on a common context and subjectively experienced dependencies of the individual group members. Not all positions are necessarily filled at all times.

If the tensions around the omega position rise, there is a fundamental possibility that from the perspective of the gammas the connection omega → “G” is experienced more strongly than that of alpha → “G”. Then there is a change of leadership: The person in the Omega or another group member (e.g. a Beta) is assigned this task to “G”, whereby the Alpha position is newly filled. Deposed alphas tend to (covertly) boycott the group or the achievement of their tasks and thus often switch to the omega position.


While the function gives information about the task in a group and the position gives information about power in the group, nothing is said about how this is exercised. This set of specific characteristics (actions, appearance, language, body language etc.) is the role  - e.g. B. as a “ class bully ”, as a “schemer”, as a “popular” or as a “ scapegoat ”. Roles are therefore more self-chosen and have more to do with the personality traits of the role bearer. There is no uniform definition of roles in group dynamics literature - there can be no such thing because of the definition.

Functions of the group for the individual

In order to explain which functions groups fulfill for the individual, social psychology starts from three explanatory approaches that complement one another.

Sociobiological view

Based on Charles Darwin , this approach emphasizes the adaptive value of the group. The formation of a group made it possible to deal with dangers more effectively. Furthermore, it became possible to cooperate in the fields of agriculture, education and hunting. This resulted in an evolutionary advantage and the predisposition to group formation increased the chances of survival of an individual. This predisposition was preferentially selected and passed on through the evolutionary principle. The ability to forge stable, positive, and strong relationships is known as the "need to belong". The fact that this ability can be found in a wide variety of cultures and situations is seen as evidence that it is evolutionary .

Cognitive perception

This approach describes that groups help to understand and categorize the world. It is believed that people want to get an accurate view of the world. This can be achieved by testing an individual's beliefs against physical reality or against social reality. If conceptions, ideas or thoughts cannot be checked against physical reality, one orientates oneself on the social reality that is conveyed by other people and especially by the group to which one belongs. On the basis of this thought, the concept of social identity emerged: Our self-concept is not only shaped by significant others, but also by the groups that form a basis for identification for us. This enables a reduction in uncertainty and a sense of purpose, as you are told what your desired behavior looks like and you can also divide other people into groups and behave accordingly towards them.

Utilitarian view

The key message of this view is that individuals gain advantages through exchange processes in groups. Material goods, interpersonal help and also psychological “goods” (love, friendship, security) are exchanged. This exchange becomes more effective when the individuals involved are organized in groups. Any costs arising from these relationships do not endanger the relationship as long as the benefits are greater. However, if the costs exceed the benefits, individuals leave groups.

Group socialization

Group socialization refers to the process of socializing a new group member. This goes through separable stages.



In this phase, the groups are looking for people who either have the skills required by the group, or (if one is looking for emotional closeness) the appropriate fit (in the sense of e.g. similarity). Conversely, individuals look for groups that can meet their needs.

Entry & initiation

If the mutual criteria that the individual and the group have for each other are met, entry occurs. This moment, also called initiation , is often characterized by some form of ritual . These rituals, which are often perceived as uncomfortable, serve in theory to strengthen the commitment to the group. However, empirically there does not seem to be any verifiable effects of this type.


At this stage it is learned which standards apply within a group, e.g. B. So what behavior is desired within the group. They are an expression of the common expectations of the group members. The new members can acquire the knowledge and skills to perform their role well. However, this is not a one-sided process as new members will try to influence the group themselves. How strong this influence can be depends, among other things, on the status of the member outside the group and how much the group adheres to its own norms. During this period, the commitment increases and eventually the member will no longer be treated as someone in need of special attention.

Group norms

Common norms usually occur within groups . Group norms are systems of belief that determine how one should behave, but do not have the power of laws. Group norms are thus a guideline for behavior and attitudes and consequently also regulate behavior within a group so that it becomes predictable. If one adheres to the group norms, it is still evident that one is committed to the group. These norms are either internalized by the group members or other members enforce them through normative or non-normative behavior. In addition, these norms are also a way of gathering information about social reality. If you violate group norms, it can be assumed that you will encounter negative reactions, experience sanctions and possibly be excluded from the group. Threatening these sanctions is an effective way of enforcing norms, as exclusion is a very uncomfortable experience.

Group dynamic training

A group dynamic training provides space to observe the work of their own and others behavior on the group events and try out new behavior.


Group dynamic trainings usually consist of 20 to 40 participants, who can be divided into several working groups, and a team of trainers.


All participants and the trainers come together in the plenary. The group dynamic training begins and ends in the plenum. This is the place where general information is communicated, groups are divided up for further work phases, results are presented by working groups and, if necessary, the trainers give theoretical inputs or other interventions.

T (rainings) group

The core element of dynamic group training is the T group (also referred to as the sensitivity training group). In the T group, 7–15 participants work together with 1–2 trainers for the entire duration of the training. The task of the group is to explore itself. The trainers only specify the time and place, but not a precise work plan. The group is therefore dependent on designing the learning process itself, which is very unsettling for everyone involved, especially in the initial phase. As a rule, 2–6 T-groups work in parallel.


In tandem, one T group observes another. At the end of the work phase, the observing group gives the observed group feedback that remains uncommented. Then the groups change.

A pair of trainers is also called a tandem. Groups are usually led by two trainers. This allows tasks to be shared (one observes, the other intervenes). In this way, desired behavior can be exemplified (communication, appreciation, dealing with conflict). Usually a man and a woman work together in tandem so that there is a gender balance.


Sub-groups are formed for certain tasks. These can either survive the entire training, e.g. B. composed of participants from the different T-groups who exchange information about the different courses of the T-groups, or as a working group within the T-group.


During the entire training period, groups of three ( triad ) meet in the evening to reflect on experiences during the day and during training. The aim is to process experiences, gain knowledge and transfer them to your personal life situation. The triangular situation also creates an additional learning situation: The triangle is a basic pattern for relationships, experienced by everyone through the father-mother-child triangle. Triads always remain in the same composition.

Working principles

Low structure and initial uncertainty

The trainers give little structure in the form of work instructions or the like. This leads to great uncertainty, especially in the initial phase. According to Kurt Lewin , however, it is precisely this uncertainty that is necessary to enable learning opportunities. Old behaviors should be thawed (unfreeze) so that new behaviors can be tried out. At the same time, by experiencing the lack of specifications, the function of these becomes noticeable.

The here-and-now principle

In the group, reference should be made primarily to events that are currently happening so that they can become equally important for everyone and communication about them is facilitated. Events outside of the group, e.g. B. in the past of a participant should only be a topic insofar as they help to better understand the current group events.


Since group dynamics training is about the common understanding of what is happening in the group, it is necessary to communicate your own experience to the others. This communication is feedback called on German feedback.

Group dynamic intervention

The trainers react to certain processes in the group through a "group dynamic intervention". This can be a theory input, a description or analysis of a situation, a feedback, a task or instruction, a question, an exercise. After the intervention, the group is left to its own devices again and has to decide for itself what knowledge it will draw from the intervention and how it will implement this for the further process of group work.

Group dynamic exercise

In the 1970s, a series of exercises was developed in group dynamics training with which typical group situations were created, made conscious or practiced. Well-known exercises are:

Organization laboratory

The organization laboratory is a type of seminar that is very similar to group dynamic training . The structure of the T groups is omitted. From the plenary, the participants have to organize themselves, i.e. if necessary also form working groups themselves. The focus here is on the observation of organizational processes.

Group dynamic research

Group dynamics research makes particular use of participatory observation in group dynamics laboratories and in the organization laboratory . The findings considerable distances of Social Sciences ( school education , group education , youth work , group psychotherapy , leadership and management , team work , project work , politics , etc.).

Trainer training

The training to become a “trainer for group dynamics” takes place in German-speaking countries through various specialist societies.

  • German Society for Group Dynamics and Organizational Dynamics
  • Austrian Society for Group Dynamics and Organizational Consulting
  • Austrian working group for group dynamics and group therapy

The prerequisites for participation vary depending on the training institution. Some training institutions also require psychosocial studies and / or extensive therapy experience. The training is part-time and extends over several years. At DAGG, it consists of theory lessons, a design course and a strategy course, working as a “co-trainer” in several group dynamic trainings and working as a “trainer under supervision”, as well as working in a learning or peer group. Each training course lasts at least five days in a full exam.

Professional societies

  • Austrian working group for group therapy and group dynamics - in the ÖAGG specifically the specialist section group dynamics and dynamic group psychotherapy.
  • Austrian Society for Group Dynamics and Organizational Consulting (ÖGGO).
  • Swiss Society for Group Dynamics and Group Psychotherapy (SGGG). The group dynamics working group dissolved in 1990, and many of the members switched to the German working group for group psychotherapy and group dynamics (DAGG), or to the Swiss “Forum for Organizational Development ”. The DAGG disbanded in 2011, and its group dynamics section founded the German Society for Group Dynamics and Organizational Dynamics (DGGO), which now includes some Swiss people.


  • Klaus Antons: Practice of group dynamics. Exercises and techniques. 2nd Edition. Hogrefe, Göttingen 1974, ISBN 3-8017-0077-1 .
  • Leland P. Bradford, Jack R. Gibb, Kenneth D. Benne (Eds.): Group Training. T-group theory and laboratory method. Klett, Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-12-901410-1 (en: 1966).
  • Tobias Brocher : Group dynamics in adult education. On the problem of developing conformism or autonomy in working groups. Westermann, Braunschweig 1967.
  • Joseph Luft: Introduction to group dynamics. Klett, Stuttgart 1971, ISBN 3-12-905420-0 .
  • Harald Pühl : Fear in groups and institutions. 4th edition. Leutner, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-934391-25-3 .
Current literature
  • Lothar Gassmann : Feeling instead of thinking. Secret brainwashing through group dynamics. Stephanus Edition, Uhldingen 1991, ISBN 3-922816-03-7 .
  • Olaf Geramanis: Mini-Handbook Group Dynamics. Beltz, Weinheim et al. 2017, ISBN 978-3-407-36641-2 .
  • Peter Heintel (Ed.): Concerns: TEAM. Dynamic processes in groups (= publications on group and organizational dynamics . 4). VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-531-15112-6 .
  • Klaus Jonas, Wolfgang Stroebe, Miles Hewstone (eds.): Social psychology. 6th, completely revised edition. Springer, Berlin et al. 2014, ISBN 978-3-642-41090-1 .
  • Karl G. Kasenbacher: Groups and Systems. A guide to the system-theoretical understanding of the group dynamic training group (= writings on group and organizational dynamics . 2). Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2003, ISBN 3-8100-3815-6 .
  • Oliver König, Karl Schattenhofer: Introduction to group dynamics. Auer, Heidelberg 2006, ISBN 3-89670-518-0 .
  • Eberhard Stahl: Dynamics in groups. Group leader manual. Beltz - PVU, Weinheim et al. 2002, ISBN 3-621-27515-0 .
  • Peter R. Wellhöfer: Group dynamics and social learning. Theory and practice of working with groups. Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart 2001.
Trade journals
  • Group dynamics. Velcro cotta.
  • Group dynamics and organizational advice. VS publishing house for social sciences.
  • Group psychotherapy and group dynamics. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Web links

Wiktionary: group dynamics  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. König & Schattenhofer, 2006, p. 12 f.
  2. ^ Warren Gamaliel Bennis: Patterns of Development of the T Group. In: LB Bradford, JR Gibb, KD Benne (eds.): Group training. Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-12-901410-1 , pp. 270ff.
  3. ^ WR Bion: Experiences in groups. Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-596-42322-8 .
  4. Tatjana Lausch on
  5. Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Pantheon, 2012, ISBN 978-0-307-37790-6 .
  6. Oliver König, Karl Schattenhofer: Introduction to group dynamics. Carl Auer, Heidelberg 2006–2012.
  7. K. Antons, A. Amann, G. Clausen, O. König, K. Schattenhofer: Understanding group processes. 2nd Edition. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-8100-3980-2 .
  8. ^ Raoul Schindler: The living structure of the group. Psychosozial-Verlag, Giessen 2016, ISBN 978-3-8379-2514-2 .
  9. Waldefried Pechtl: between organism and organization. St. Pölten, Landesverlag 2001, ISBN 3-85214-730-1 .
  10. DGGO: Training guidelines "Trainer for group dynamics". ( Memento from February 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  11. Section Group Dynamics and Dynamic Group Psychotherapy. Austrian Working Group for Group Therapy and Group Dynamics, accessed on April 17, 2019 .