Exercises on the Subject of

Roles in Groups

For more context, see article on Roles.

Four Corners

(thanks to Craig Freshley)

Preparation: Put a sign for each category in a corner of the room.

Invite group members to self-select into one of the following categories, for the purpose of a short conversation. Ask the group, When the going gets tough in a group setting, do you seek:

  1. Meaning: Why are we doing this, what's the point?
  2. Structure: What are the steps? What's the time limit? Who's in charge?
  3. Caring: Everyone needs to feel OK.
  4. Action: Let's do something! Let's try it out.

Ask group members to go to whichever corner they most identify with, and talk with others gathered there for about 15 minutes. Suggested focus questions include: What led you to come to this corner, what do you tend to do or resort to at those times? What do you need from the group then? What gifts do you offer to the group?  At the end of that time, invite a report-back from each corner to the full group, followed by general discussion.


"Who am I?" Sticky Notes: Fishbowl Version

(thanks to José Acevedo)

Preparation: Write a selection of group roles onto small sticky notes, such as "leader," "confused," "expert," "angry," "ignore me," etc.

Ask for 4-5 volunteers to sit in a "fishbowl" (smaller dialogue in the center while the larger group quietly witnesses from an outer circle). Put one sticky note on each person's forehead without that person seeing what's written on the note, choosing a role that is not that person's usual one. Ask the participants to treat each other according to the roles they see on the notes, and assign the group a topic to discuss. Pause the game after a little while and ask the participants, before they look at their own sticky notes, how they felt they were being treated. Then let them see what it says on the notes, and segue from there into a general discussion with the whole group on how we label people, how that affects how we speak and listen with them, and so on.


"Who am I?" Sticky Notes: Cocktail Party Version

(thanks to Shari Leach)

In this variation, every person in the group gets a random label on their forehead that they can't see, and they mill around as at a cocktail party. Sample labels might include: "Goes on and on endlessly," "Volatile temper," "Quietest member," "Annoying member," "Conflict avoider," etc. Again, let the interaction happen for a little while, then stop for whole group discussion.


Roles in Scenarios

Preparation: Write a few role descriptions onto index cards, such as "pro-whatever," "anti-whatever," "devil's advocate," "tired of the issue," and "hates conflict."

Choose a classic or current community debate, such as pet policy, food preferences, or how to get the work done.  Give out cards to a few people. Invite others to take whatever role they want—i often encourage people to try out a role that's different from their usual one on that issue. Go ahead and have the discussion, and see what happens. Save time for debriefing afterward.


Note on De-Roling:

After doing any form of role-playing, it's important to de-role so that people can fully let go of being in that role and of any negative energy they might have picked up from playing it. De-roling consists of reminding people who they really are, perhaps engaging in some ritual motion to let go of the other identity.

Tree Bressen, facilitator and teacher, has been assisting intentional communities, nonprofits, and other organizations with group process since 1994. Pages from her website are available for copying and distribution free of charge as long as you continue to include these credit lines and contact information.

Tree Bressen
Eugene, Oregon