Outdoor Action Guide to Group Dynamics & Leadership

by Rick Curtis


This material is the Group Development and Leadership Chapter from the Outdoor Action Program Leader's Manual written by Rick Curtis, Director, Outdoor Action Program. This material may be freely distributed for nonprofit educational use. However, if included in publications, written or electronic, attributions must be made to the author. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright © 1995 Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

Table Of Contents

How to Teach a Skill

Reprinted from material prepared by the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City, 1983.

Preparation, Motivation, or "Sell It"

Create in your participants a receptive attitude and a desire to learn the skill.

  1. Put your students at ease.
  2. Establish an informal arrangement.
  3. Name the skill.
  4. Use stories to prove the importance of a skill.
  5. Give necessary background; for example:

Presentation, Demonstration, or" Show It"

Arrange in such a way that the participants can follow the demonstration easily and see all that is to be seen.

  1. Teach one skill at a time.
  2. Explain while showing - tell and show.
  3. Face the participants while telling and showing.
  4. Speak clearly and demonstrate deliberately in continuous sequence.
  5. Stress the key points of the skill.
  6. Stress the need for repetition.
  7. "Whole-Part-Whole" method of presenting a skill:

Application, Practice, or "Do It"

Make use of mass group, partners, and individual methods of class organizations according to the type of skill, size of class, size of class area.

  1. Have participants do the skill.
  2. Have participants practice progressively in parts leading to attainment of the whole skill.
  3. Watch for and correct errors immediately. Early correction of an error leads to increased success.
  4. Compliment and encourage your participants.

Adoptions, Follow-up, or "Use It"

The "Law of Use and Disuse" states "that a skill which is used frequently becomes a habit and if not used frequently may be forgotten."

  1. Apply and adapt the skill to numerous situations, such as:
  2. Encourage its use in actual situations.
  3. Have people teaching the skill to others - individual or class.
  4. Review skills periodically.

Conclusion: A good teacher challenges, inspires, encourages, and helps his/her participants with the skills. A good teacher never gives up, is patient, avoids bad mannerisms, speaks clearly and distinctly, uses simple language that all can understand, and emphasizes key points when talking directly to a group of participants.

Philosophy of Outdoor Education

Goals of OA

Increased self sufficiency 		Meeting people more easily
Breaking down sex barriers 		Increased self-awareness
Increased awareness of others		Intense personal contact
Appreciation of wilderness		New wilderness skills
Adaptability to new situations		Self-confidence
Escape from pressures			Appreciation of civilization
Increased self-esteem			Fun
Leveler					Increased self-reliance
New random group 			Pushing limits
Seeing worth in others			Education outside the classroom
Teaching responsibility to others	Awareness of how your actions effect others
Appreciation of the natural environment	Honesty & Self-disclosure

Reaching the Goals

OA is based on a model of experiential learning known as the Thaw-Shift- Refreeze Cycle. This model assumes that we each have a developed set of behaviors and attitudes. When we are placed in a new situation, our old behaviors may not be appropriate. So there is a thawing period during which new behaviors/skills can be learned. If these new behaviors work well, and are properly reinforced, they re-freeze and the person incorporates a new set of behaviors.

It is essential to remember the following points:

The wilderness provides an excellent "classroom" for this type of development. An outdoor environment, in a small group setting provides an immediate and simplified environment. You are dealing with basic issues like staying warm and dry, feeding yourself, and traveling from A to B. As a result the skills you need are basic ones which give you immediate feedback. If you didn't set the tarp up right, you get wet. Thus participants are in an environment where new behaviors are learned quickly.

The other essential part of the situation is the group. A small group setting (8-12) provides for diverse interaction and sharing yet also is small enough so that close relationships can be formed. The interconnections between people in the group are essential for providing support and encouragement as people face challenges and learn from them. Once again the leaders must work to facilitate effective group interaction.

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning is learning through doing. By definition this involves change which is an active process. Remember that change and new situations can create anxiety for participants. The general process of personal change is shown in Figure 9.1

Cycle of Change

Cycle of Change

Figure 9.1

What Causes the Thaw?

What is Challenge

Challenge is a goal in which there is some obstacle to overcome in order to achieve the goal. Both the goal and the obstacle can be internal or external (see Table 9.1).


                        Internal                   External

                    Goal - Self-disclosure       Goal - Not using homophobic language
         Internal   Obstacle - Embarassment      Obstacle - Peer pressure
                    Goal - Climbing a rock face  Goal - Getting to the top of a mountain
         External   Obstacle - Fear of falling   Obstacle - Difficult climb

Table 9.1

The fundamental goal of dealing with challenge is not whether you reach the summit but did you push yourself beyond your previous limits in the attempt. This is what creates growth and change, the knowledge that you can move beyond where you were before. Be aware that if a person gets confused about the locus of the challenge (e.g. perceives the obstacle to be internal when in fact it is external or vice versa) s/he may become frustrated trying to overcome the challenge.

Example: Jim is having a hard time hiking on a wet, rocky trail. He perceives that obstacle as internal, "I must be a wimp." In fact, the obstacle is external-the trail is truly difficult-and everyone else may be having trouble. If this can be pointed out, Jim won't be so frustrated and angry with himself.

Other Facets of Challenge

Examples of Challenge

Hiking faster 			Dealing with people different from yourself
Hiking slower 			Taking care of the wilderness
Leadership 			Sharing responsibility
Trusting others 		Learning a new skill
Responsibility to others 	Taking risks
Endurance/physical stress 	Honesty with the group/self-disclosure

What is Disequilibrium?

Disequilibrium is also a challenge. It occurs when someone feels "out of their element" and can often be a stimulus for the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze Cycle. Disequilibrium is caused by:


Learning to be an effective leader is on of the most demanding tasks you will face. Some of the responsibilities and roles you will need to play are listed below.

Leader Responsibilities

Leader Roles

Functions of a Leader

This model of leadership is based on the premise that in working with a group there are two basic functions which need to be attended to. One is working to accomplish the tasks the group has set out to do. The other is ongoing maintenance and development relationships within the group. Thus there are two basic types of roles or behaviors for leaders to engage in-Task Roles and Relationship Roles. Examples of these roles are identified below.

Task Roles/Functions/Behaviors

Relationship Roles/Functions/Behaviors

The notion that leadership is distributed enters in because all of these roles do not need to be fulfilled by the leader. In many instances a member of the group may be the Energizer who gets people psyched to get out of bed in the morning etc. As the group matures and develops into a cohesive entity, more of these roles are taken on by the participants and the leaders can play less of a active role.

Situational Leadership

Situational Leadership Theory (SLT) takes the Distributed Functions Model of leadership one step further by stating that there is a most effective style of leadership in any particular situation (See Figure 9.2).

SLT states that Task Behavior is the extent to which a leader engages in one-way communication by explaining what participants are supposed to do as well as when, where, and how tasks are to be accomplished. Relationship Behavior is the extent to which a leader engages in two-way communication by providing emotional support, "strokes" and facilitating behaviors.

SLT is based on an interplay between

Participant Maturity is defined as the capacity to set high but attainable goals (achievement motivation), willingness and ability to take responsibility, and education and/or experience of and individual or group. These variables should be considered only in relation to a specific task to be performed.

Example: On the first day of a canoeing trip the participants have a low maturity. Most have never done it before. They don't know the strokes, the terminology, or how to canoe with a partner. Also the group is new to the area and each other. On the fourth day of the trip, the group probably has a high degree of maturity in canoeing. They have learned how to successfully maneuver the canoe and how to work together with a partner. They may be able to handle easy whitewater that you would not have taken them down the first day.

SLT defines four general styles of leadership based on the degree of Task Behavior and the degree of Relationship Behavior (see the diagram below).

High Task/Low Relationship Behavior - is referred to as "telling" because this style is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of participant(s) and tells them what, how, when, and where to do various tasks.

High Task/High Relationship Behavior - is referred to as "selling" because with this style most of the direction is still provided by the leader. S/he also attempts through two-way communication and emotional support to get the participant(s) to buy into decisions that have to be made.

High Relationship/Low Task Behavior - is called "participating" because with this style the leader and the participant(s) now share in decision making through two-way communication and much facilitating behavior from the leader since the participant(s) have the ability and knowledge to do the task.

Low Relationship/Low Task Behavior - is labeled "delegating" because the style involves letting participant(s) "run their own show." The leader delegates since the participant(s) are high in maturity, being both willing and able to take responsibility for directing their own behavior.

SLT connects the style of leadership with the maturity level of the group. That is, to determine the most effective style of leadership, first determine the maturity level of the group in relation to the specific task. Then draw a line from the maturity level axis to the bell-shaped curve in the drawing. The intersection of the line and the bell curve indicates the most effective leadership style for that situation. As the group matures, the most effective style of leadership changes along the bell curve.

Example: On the first day of a trip the participants have a low maturity when it comes to setting up camp. The most effective leadership style is High Task/Low Relationship (Telling) since participants need to be taught how and where to set things up. On the fourth day of the trip, the group probably has a high degree of maturity in relation to setting up camp. In this case the most effective leadership style is Low Task/Low Relationship (Delegating) since the participants can handle it on their own.

The important point to remember regarding SLT is that there is no one "best" way to be a leader. Rather, from one situation to the next there is a most effective style. As situations change, the tasks change and so do the maturity levels of the individual or group in relation to the task. Thus, throughout the trip you will be changing your style in order to provide the most effective leadership. This also does not mean that using another style off of the bell curve is "wrong" but it probably will be less effective or appropriate.

Example: On the fourth day of the trip, the participants know what to do about setting up camp and are good at doing it themselves. If the leader(s) use a High Task/Low Relationship style the participants are likely to wonder why they are being "told" what to do and may get frustrated or angry with the leader(s).

As the group matures they take on more responsibility for running the group both in terms of tasks and relationships. The Distributed Functions Model comes in here because the participants have begun to take on many of the leadership roles originally provided by the leaders. As much as possible it is a goal to move to a Delegating style (as long as the participants are ready for it) since this helps to facilitate growth through the Cycle of Change.

Use of different leadership styles may vary with

For example: When teaching an important skill you would be more task oriented. Also in any emergency situation you need to take quick charge of things via the task oriented style. Remember to use your "leader's radar" to assess not only the state of maturity of the group but also the maturity of each individual. You may need to use one style with the entire group and different styles with individuals within the group.

Modifying Levels of Maturity

Developmental Approach - Maturity can be increased by the leaders using a little less task behavior (direction) allowing the participant(s) to take on more responsibility. If this responsibility is well handled, the leader should encourage the participant(s) with an slight increase in relationship behavior (encouragement). Keep in mind that the movement towards changing leadership styles must be gradual. As the participant(s) reach moderate levels of maturity the leaders can begin to reduce both task behavior and relationship behavior. The reduction in relationship behavior means that the participant(s) have reached a point where they are confident enough and sharing enough among themselves that the leaders do not need to provide so much.

Regressive Approach - It is possible that as the situation changes the groups maturity can decrease. If this occurs the leader(s) must modify their style in the opposite direction on the bell curve by increasing task and relationship behavior.

Example: On the fourth day of the trip it is pouring rain. When the group gets into camp everyone just stands around somewhat mopey. Even though they know what to do, the weather has gotten to them and their maturity level has decreased. The leaders need to become more directive in terms of task behavior to get camp set up and to increase relationship behavior to help lift people's spirits.


Types of Communication

1. One-way Communication - giving instructions or making announcements to the group who are not allowed to communicate. The listeners are passive and the communication effectiveness is determined by how the messages are created and presented. It takes less time to communicate info but is less effective. Though less frustrating for the sender, it is more unsatisfactory for the receivers. [Assigning a Task]

2. One-way Communication with Feedback (coercive or directive) - the leader presents the message and the group gives feedback on how they understand it. Exchange is completed when the group members indicate to the leader that they have received the message correctly. Called coercive because no provision exists for mutual influence or exchange. The communication begins with the belief that the leaders's position is correct and that the only information s/he needs form the group is that they correctly understand and accept the message. It is faster than two-way communication and less frustrating for the leader but also less accurate and more frustrating for the group members. [Teaching a Skill].

When one-way and one-way with feedback are used, communication can be so poor that informal communication among group members is necessary in order for them to complete the group's tasks adequately. Unless members have the opportunity to communicate freely with the leader, the informal network may become more influential and effective that the group's formal network. It also may lead to fragmentation and factionalization if the group members have different ideas.

3. Two-way Communication - is a reciprocal process in which each member starts messages and tries to understand the other members's message. The leader and the members freely exchange ideas and information in a productive discussion. Both sending and receiving skills are needed. All members are able to participate at will, minority opinions are encouraged and more apt to be expressed. Feelings of resistance or doubt can be discussed and resolved at the time. Two-way communication encourages open interaction, distributed participation and leadership, and consensual decision making. Although it is much more time consuming and more frustrating for the leader, it is less frustrating for the group members and much more effective in the long run since the experience of all group members is brought to bear.

Sending Messages Effectively

Receiving Messages Effectively

Leader's Radar

Leader's radar is all about listening and assessment. It means being attentive to all of the members of the group, including your co-leader and yourself. From a safety perspective, it means being aware of increasing Accident Potential (see Section 10). From a group dynamics perspective it means being aware of how each individual member of the group is doing emotionally, physically, are they being challenged, under stress, getting along with others, in conflict, etc. It also means having a sense of the group as a whole. How well are they interacting and coperating, etc. All of this "information gathering" is for you to determine what each person needs from you in terms of education, support, encouragement, being left alone, etc. Leader's radar is made up of concrete listening skills, conversations with your co-leader, careful observation, and intuition. As you develop this skill through actuial trip leading experience, you will be better able to dtermine what roles and steps you should take in working to facilitate a positive group experience.

Gender Issues & Communication

Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical Communication

Research shows that in western culture there are gender differences where men and women tend to use different paradigms for communication. Women tend to communicate with a goal of establishing connection and men tend to communicate with a goal of establishing status. Both status (asymmetrical communication) and connection (symmetrical communication) can be present to varying degrees in a conversation and both approaches are used by both men and women.

These two different approaches are often correlated with "soft skills" and "hard skills" which is why these skills have been connected with female roles and male roles. The "female paradigm" (soft skills) is demonstrated when the leader is focusing on developing positive connections between the members of the group. The "male paradigm" (hard skills) is demonstrated when the leader is giving instruction (teaching) since this ususally creates a hierarchical structure where one person knows more than another (differential status).

Situational Communication Styles

It is important to recognize your own dominant conversational style and be aware of the situations where it is most effective. Being a well-rounded leader means expanding your communication repertoire to include both styles and recognizing when they are most effective. We need to demonstrate to men that female paradigms are valid and demonstrate to women that male paradigms are valid. Like Situational Leadership, there are different situations in which asymmetrical and symmetrical conversational styles are most effective. Figure 9.3 shows conversation style as related to Situational Leadership. As you can see, when the leaders are focusing on more task-oriented behaviors the most effective conversational style is more assymmetrical since this is often associated with teaching skills to participants. When leaders are focusing more on relationship-oriented behaviors the most effective communication style is more symmetrical since the goal is to develop positive group interaction. Remeber that both styles will be active in a conversation, just that one may be more prevalent than the other depending on the situation.

It is also important to recognize how the dominant styles of your participants can sometime affect their roles within the group. In groups seeking to develop camaraderie, men will tend to engage in establishing hierarchy and women in developing connections. For example, men are often afraid to ask questions about how to do something because it "places" them in a lower status position. Men would rather "figure it out for themselves" and maintain independence rather than feel uncomfortable in "surrendering" control. Women may not be as ready to "take over" a conversation if they feel it will damage the connection between members. The degree to which hierarchy can be downplayed and connection increased improves group boding. The OA model of shifting more responsibility onto the participants while the leaders move from providing instructions to developing rapport facilitates this process.

Space Tolerance

Space tolerance in communication is primarily the difference between symmetrical and asymmetrical conversation. Women, with a greater focus on connection, are willing to wait longer to "fill the conversational gap" than men. Men, due to their focus on hierarchy, tend to step into the gap more quickly. This can create the appearance of the male leader as the authority figure (hard skills) while the female leader is perceived as the group bonder (soft skills). In fact, both leaders have the same skills. Leaders need to discuss the issue of their own personal space tolerance and find a comfortable level for between them so that both leaders can take on different roles with the group.

Feedback & Self-Disclosure

Both feedback and self-disclosure are essential communications skills. Through self-disclosure we reveal things about ourselves to others in a way that allows us to be vulnerable and demonstrates that we trust the others in the group. Self-disclosure by one person tends to lead to self-disclosure by others increasing group sharing and trust. This is an important behavior for leaders to model to participants since it helps establish symmetrical communication and encourages group bonding. Sharing leads to trust. But, one has to trust in order to share, therefore start with sharing. It is here that leaders modeling sharing behavior becomes crucial.

It is important to remember, however, that the level of self-disclosure has to start slowly. If you get "too deep too fast", you will frighten others away from sharing. Like Space Tolerance, different people are comfortable with different levels of slf-disclosure. In order to create a "safe environment" for all group members you will need to model levels of disclosure that are appropriate for all members of the group. You can usually tell whether people are comfortable going deeper. If responses suddenly get "light and silly" it may be that people aren't ready to go any further. Slack off and let the group or individual(s) get there at their own pace.

Feedback is a tool for leaders to encourage positive behavior change, to correct inappropriate behavior, and to help others see themselves more clearly. Remember, like self-disclosure, feedback is a powerful tool that should be used carefully so as to be at a level appropriate to the individual or group. Leaders should also be prepared to give each other feedback throughout the trip to see how tings are progressing.

Tips on Giving Feedback

Group Development

An Effective Group

Achieving a Cooperative Group Structure

  1. Members must interact, give and receive help from one another, and share ideas, information, and resources to help accomplish the group's goals.
  2. The group goal of getting the task done at the highest level possible must be accepted by everyone, and members need to develop commitment to the group goal.
  3. Because the possibility exists of different group members doing different sub-tasks, groups may divide the labor in various ways to accomplish their goals.
  4. Rewards, if any, must be based upon the quality and quantity of group performance, not individual performance.

Basic Stages of Group Development

There are several basic stages that new groups go through as they move to becoming effective as a group. These stages parallel the Situational Leadership Model (see above) and as shown in Figure 9.4, different styles of leadership tend to work best at different points in the overall development of the group.

  1. Forming (Getting Acquainted) - This first stage is characterized by a sense of uncertainty and awkwardness and perhaps anxiety. Participants may be unsure of what to do and how to do it. The "rules of the road"-group norms and standards have yet to be defined and participants are eagerly looking to find out what is okay and not okay. This phase often shows as tentativeness or even some anxiety on the part of the participants. Leaders need to set the tone for group behavior, activities, and interactions (see Establishing Group Norms below). Most people are polite as they try to put their "best foot forward." The result is a superficial level of harmony and cooperation. This serves the purpose of getting the group started and off the ground in terms of motivation and commitment. Members may tend to verbalize how close they feel to each other, and may develop quite a group spirit due to successful task accomplishment. Leadership at this point should be a combination of High Task/Low Relationship (Telling) in terms of teaching skills and establishing norms moving to High Task/High Relationship (Selling) to get everyone involved and interacting in the group.

  2. Storming (Struggling Forward) - This next stage is characterized by individual assertive behavior which may result in some group instability. Participants have begun to feel comfortable enough with their new environment to take some risks in revealing more of their personalities. Each person wants to feel a sense of individual importance and influence on the group - "finding a niche." This becomes more evident as increasing responsibility is shifted to the group as they move into moderate levels of maturity. The Leadership style which may be most effective are High Task/High Relationship (Selling). Leaders should not be surprised if some conflicts develop in the group at this stage. This is part of the natural process of the group becoming self-sustaining.

  3. Norming (Becoming Personal) - This stage is characterized by a growth of affection and establishment of personal relationships. Participants will begin to take responsibility for resolving conflicts and strengthening friendships. The Leadership style which may be most effective is Low Task/High Relationship (Participating) since the group is competent regarding tasks but needs assistance and support in terms of relationships.

  4. Performing (Working Together) - This stage is characterized by harmony among group members. Participants look outwards to see how other people in the group are doing to make sure all are supported. Decision making and problem solving will be shared within the group. At this stage the group is mature enough to attend to its own needs both in terms of task and relationship matters. The leadership style which would be most effective would be Low Task/Low Relationship (Delegating).

  5. Transference - This final part of the group process is essential in making sure that the trip is not remembered as "just a fun couple days in the woods." It is important that participants be able to transfer the things which they have learned about themselves and being in a group back to their regular lives. This is accomplished through the debriefing process discussed in below in Transferring the Experience.

Figure 9.4

Establishing Group Norms

Establishing norms is an important part of the first stage of group development, letting people learn "the rules of the road." Many of the group norms that we use in OA are actually underlying goals for the experience (like group cooperation, minimal impact, etc.). Group norms can be established in three ways:

These methods often must be combined in order to work effectively. For example, if you want to reinforce minimal impact camping practices you will need to state it as a goal, explain how to accomplish it, and model the behavior. If the leader simply tells people to pick up trash along the trail, but then walks right by trash without picking it up, the participants become confused as to the norm and may assume that the instruction was merely lip service. Remember, at the beginning of a trip, participants may not know what to expect and may not have previous experience in the outdoors. Direct demonstration is the best way to get things across in this early stage. Before the trip goes out, think about what sorts of group norms you want to convey to the group before leaving campus as well as what things you will need to cover during the trip. Below are some examples of things to present to the group.

Norms to Present Pre-Trip

Norms to Present During the Trip

Group Decision Making

During the course of a trip, there are a number of decisions that will need to be made by the whole group. These might include things like where to camp, which route to take, whether to rest for the afternoon or do a side hike, etc. Group decision making can be a powerful learning and growth tool for the group. It can also be a place for conflict to develop. The first thing to determine is whether it is a decision that can and should be made by the group, or with input from the group, or is it a decision to be made solely by the leaders. Obviously some issue, such as those that involve safety, will be made by the leaders. To present such a decision to the group suggets that they have authority to make the decision, and if the leaders disagree, they must countermand the group's decision. Also some decision-making can lead to splitering the group. Both of these can lead to bad feelings by the group members and damage the postive group spirit and interaction leaders have worked to facilitate. Avoid this problem by thinking ahead and determining what decisions are appropriate for the group to make. It may be better for the leaders to make the decision from their status as authorities, that to give the decision to the group and have the process lead to negative outcomes. Leaders will also need to decide if they should be involved in the decision process, or "sit it out." Sometime the presence and perceived authority of the leaders can slant the decision making process. However, in certain situations, this can work to your advantage as a leader. Making good group decisions involves a process, which the leaders may have to state or model as a norm for the group to follow.

Decision Strategies

In all of these strategies it is important for leaders to model good listeining and communication skills. Leaders may need to act as facilitators for effective communication through such things as asking people not to interrupt others, quieting dominant members of the group, and asking quieter members to speak up.

Group Decision Making Process

  1. Set goal(s) & prioritize them
  2. Brainstorm options for achieving goals
  3. Evaluate the different options and examine how the options meet the goal(s)
  4. Determine the decisio-making strategy to be used (see above)
  5. Decide on an option using one of the following criteria

Conflict & Problems


Conflict can always arise in group settings. Conflict occurs when there are differences in:

These differences can be between individuals or between sub-groups within the group. Many times the conflict is due to lack of communication between people. If people understand the needs, values, perceptions, etc. of others in the group, then conflict can often be avoided. This is why one of the important roles of the leaders is to set the tome of the trip and introduce the basic goals, norms and values (see Group Development above). This gives all of the participants a common understanding of what is expected and can help prevent conflict. There are two major goals you must take into account when dealing with conflict situations:

These two issues may run up against one another. How you deal with balancing these two goals is important.

Dealing with Conflict

When faced with an interpersonal conflict, here are some of the techniques to use to help resolve or mediate the conflict.

  1. Compensation - ask yourself if the behavior you are seeing is compensation for something else. Try to identify the root issue and deal with that.
  2. Accept the person but you don't have to accept the behavior.
  3. Quote OA Policies when necessary. This can take the "burden" off you as the leader. Saying, "this is OA policy and I am required to follow it as the individual responsible for leading this trip." This can displace participant frustration from the leader to the OA Program Director.
  4. Quickly correct inappropriate language or other problems. Don't let bad patterns get started and supported in the group.
  5. Know how much to push.
  6. It is OK for leaders to use their authority to set standards. You can do this in a problem situation by letting others know that they are not comfortable with certain actions. Example, "I'm not comfortable with people doing unsupervised climbing so don't do it."

Dealing with Problems

Problems can often be divided into personality related or physically related (injury, environment). Some possible situations are given below.

  1. Correcting Group Action/Decision If the answer to either of these questions is yes, the decision must be changed, in doing so:
  2. When dealing with someone having difficulty with a challenge:
  3. If a person is creating a problem it is essential to accept the person and let them know they are still important, but you do not have to accept the behavior. Make it clear that the problematic behavior cannot continue.
  4. Feeling of lack of control leading to fear can be one of the greatest motivations for negative behavior. If someone is behaving negatively, they may be compensating and trying to create a sense of self-empowerment and control. When you see negative behavior ask yourself what needs for that person are not being met that may be resulting in negative, compensating behavior.
  5. In dealing with problems try to turn the problem into a solution - flip it 180 degrees. "Your disability is your opportunity." - Kurt Hahn

Example: Sarah is constantly hiking ahead of the group. She is in good shape and out distances everyone else. She thinks the group is too slow and everyone should catch up with her. Let her know that the challenge for some other is just hiking. She doesn't have that challenge. Instead her challenge is to slow her pace down and stay back with the others using her strength to help the others. You have flipped a problem into a solution.

Dealing with Someone who is Out of Control

Sometimes you may get into a situation where the other person is really having difficulty and their behavior is getting out of control, what is often known as an "in your face" situation. Here are some techniques you can use to settle the situation out.

Problem Situations

The following are some common personalities and situations that may appear on an OA trip. It is useful to think about how you would respond to the needs of this person and perhaps to the needs of the group.

  1. Group comes to a trail junction, hiking either route is possible. Half of the group wants to head down to the river while the other half wants to head up to the ridge. People start to argue about choice.
  2. One of the participants, John, has been hiking 1/4 mile ahead of the group all day. When you ask him to slow up and hike with the group he says: you all should catch up with me.
  3. Tom, one of the group members has been having trouble hiking since the first day of the trip. He has blisters from his new boots. He has to stop frequently to rest. At one stop he says he wants to quit and leave. He's sick of holding everyone up.
  4. It's been raining since early morning. The trail has been rocky and the wet rocks have been slippery making walking treacherous. Everyone is cold and damp and frustrated. No one is saying anything. The planned campsite is still 2 miles away.
  5. Suzie always seems to hang out by herself. She doesn't say much during the day hiking. In the evening when the group is playing games and getting camp set up, Suzie goes off by himself.
  6. Sam and Jill are the two OA leaders. Sam feels that Jill is be too active in the group always telling the participants what to do: put the tarp over there, the stove there, Jill always cooks dinner, etc. Sam tried to tell Jill to back off a bit. She tells him that she's lead more trips than he has and she knows what she's doing. Sam has stopped trying to change the situation.
  7. Eric and Betty have signed on to the trip as boyfriend and girlfriend. They spend all their time hiking together. When the group comes into camp they wander off by themselves. Several of the group members are grumbling that they don't help out with camp chores.
  8. The group has been canoeing down a flat stretch of the Delaware. Greg and Bill have been acting pretty wild all day. The group pulls into a campsite above the first rapid of the trip. While everyone is getting into dry clothes and setting up camp, Greg and Bill slip off and paddle down through the rapid. The leaders hear them laughing and yelling after the canoe swamps.
  9. Dave is a participant on a Freshmen Trip. He's been backpacking before and brought all his own equipment. He acts the part of the tough outdoorsman all the time. Putting down people who are having trouble carrying their weight or hiking up steep grades. The other members of the group are getting pissed off at him and generally feel that he is a jerk.
  10. You are the leader on a backpacking trip. You have set up camp early and everyone is hanging out on their own before dinner. You are coming back through the woods after taking a dump and you smell marijuana. As you peer through the trees you see two of your group smoking.
  11. Joe and Sara are leading a backpacking trip with 6 guys and 5 girls. The guys tend to hang out together and are pretty crazy, a little immature. The women don't really want to have much to do with the guys and stay together.
  12. The group has pulled into camp after a long day of hiking. There's 1/2 hour of daylight left. Steve, a participant, tells Julie (another participant) that he is going to head up the hill to catch the view before sunset. An hour later everyone is gathering at the stoves to start dinner. One of the leaders, Lisa, asks where Steve is. No one has seen him since Julie did. It is now dark.
  13. The group has been hiking along a rocky section of the AT. Alice steps into a pothole and falls over. She immediately starts screaming that her ankle is broken. The group stops and while the leaders attend to Alice the rest of the group shuffles around nervously anxious about Alice and unsure what to do.

Transferring the Experience

OA has the potential to be an extremely valuable learning experience for many people. The key to making it such an experience is transference; encouraging the person to transfer the things they have learned about themselves and dealing with others from the trip back to their daily lives. The method for facilitating transference is debriefing. The idea behind debriefing is to get the participants to think and analyze their experience. There are numerous forms of debriefing some which can be done throughout the trip. There also should be a final debriefing at the end of the trip, to bring the trip to closure and allow an opportunity for reflection.

Processing Methods During the Trip

Processing is an integral part of the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze process. It is through processing that participants are able to take the experience and reframe it in a larger context that they can apply in other areas of their life. In order to do so participants will need to reflect upon the experiences they have had, how they felt, reacted, and explore how they can use this new knowledge and experience. The essence of processing is self-disclosure, either to other participants or to oneself. Processing through shared group discussion is a symmetrical communication process which creates rapport and bonding. Through self-disclosure students learn more about themselves and learn how others experienced things similarly or differently. All of these insights can help lead to personal growth. You should think of processing as a regular part of your trip planning process, just like laying out a route or buying food. It is important to have some time each day for reflecting on the experience and tapping in to how people are doing and feeling.

When to Process

Leaders need to be sensitive to when to utilize processing techniques. Both for the group as a whole and when individuals in the group may need to process an experience. Here are some guidelines:

Processing Techniques

  1. Open Forum - with this approach you bring the group together and provide an opening statement in anticipation that the group will volunteer their perceptions and insights. An example of an opening statement that you might want to use is "I'm interested in hearing peoples' reactions to today's peak ascent".
  2. Questioning - this entails the development of a set of questions that you would like participants to respond to after they have completed the activity. The value of this pre-planning is that you establish specific objectives that you would like to achieve for the session. Through the identification of objectives you can develop questions that focus in on the specific issues that you would like to see addressed at this time. The sequence of questions that you use will vary according to your personal style. However, we suggest that you begin with the concrete and slowly *move on to more insightful types of questions. A general sequence that you may want to consider involves the use of three simple questions: 'What happened?', 'What did you learn?', How can you use this knowledge in the future?' Additional questions that you may want to consider appear in the section on questions for the levels of processing on pages.
  3. Rounds - a round is an activity in which every member of the group is asked to respond to a stimulus that you have presented to the group. Rounds are a very valuable tool to make use of. When time is an issue the use of a designated word or number round or a word or phrase round is useful for getting people to reflect and communicate in an expedient manner. It also gives the leader some important information about individuals that you can use as you transition from activity to activity or can follow up on at a later time either individually or with the group. Other advantages of using rounds are that they can be used at the beginning of group discussion to get members focused. Rounds give each person time to think about what they are going to say and also they get to hear what other people think about the topic of discussion. They also get individuals to think in greater depth about a specific issue. As will be discussed later in the section on reluctant individuals, rounds allow you to get everyone involved and finally the use of rounds permits you as the group leader to survey the group to get a general reading of how people are thinking and feeling. This can provide you with a quick survey of how things are going and provide stimulus for deciding what issues to focus on with the group at this time or in the near future. When using rounds it is a positive practice to vary the starting point so that different members get to speak first and last. At times you will want to begin with the person who you know is comfortable sharing his or her ideas. This will get the conversation flowing with energy and enthusiasm. This train of thought may also be extended to negative and positive energy people who are members of the group. By beginning with a positive energy person and trying to end with a positive energy individual, you can avoid the pitfall of allowing the negative energy member to shift the focus of the group if that is not appropriate at this given time. Finally, you may want to think about where you want to end the round especially if you have an individual that you know is reluctant to talk or who you know is in need of some help.

2. Writing

3. Dyads - two person conversations, increases the amount of personal involvement, useful before large group sessions

4. Small Group discussions

5. Time Alone

6. Drawing - often produces disequilibrium for adults, provides an avenue for those who aren't as verbal

Increasing the Effectiveness of Processing

Processing Issues

In most cases processing is done verbally through discussions or questions asked by the leaders. There are a number of issues to keep in mind while facilitating a verbal processing session.

  1. A What? Questions that deal with the factual experiences of the trip. These are easy to answer and help bring back basic memories about the experience.

  2. So What? Questions that ask why particular events were important or had an impact. These questions require greater self-disclosure and require participants to think about their reactions to the experience.

  3. Now What? These questions require self-assessment and ask that participants think about what comes next after this experience, how can they take what they have learned back to other parts of their lives.

Here is a sample ordering of questions that touch on a number of areas of a group experience.

A What?

1. Objective

2. Subjective

3. Expressive/Interpretive

So What?

4. Concrete

Now What?

5. Responsive

Fill My Cup - This can be a good activity to use as part of your final debriefing process. There are a number of different variations. The basic approach is to have one of the leaders start and say something positive about the person to their left. Then you go around the circle with everyone saying something about that person. You continue until everyone has been to focus of the group. Options for the specific statements include:

Final Debriefing

The final debriefing should be held at the end of the trip, preferably before getting back to campus. (Once back on campus it is difficult to recapture the mood of the wilderness and to get everyone together). This series of questions is adapted from the Thresholds Program as a method of processing an experience. The group should form a circle and the leader(s) should ask the questions below. (Other questions can be used, but notice the format of the questions below. They begin as easy to answer, without needing much sharing and work up to more intimate questions. Whatever questions you use follow this format). Everyone should answer each question. Hop around the circle asking people for their thoughts. If someone doesn't have anything to say at that point, remind them that they have the right to pass but you do want to hear from everyone so you'll come back to them later. Everyone should answer a particular question before you move on to the next question. Make the participants aware that there are no right answers. They should say whatever they feel. Leaders should acknowledge all responses with a nod or yes or some other sign of acceptance. Be conscious of your body language and attitude as you ask a question; often the attitude you take can influence the willingness of the group to respond. Remember that leaders are also participants in the debriefing process and should answer all the questions themselves. Once again, you are serving as role models so model a "pace" of self-disclosure that is appropriate for the whole group. Going "too deep too fast" will push the group back up to a superficial level, whereas, staying too superficial and light may never get people to really examine their feelings and the experience.

Sample Debriefing Questions

A What?

So What?

Now What?

Summary of Leadership Concepts

OA Initiative Games

Initiative games are a great way to bring a group together, particularly at the beginning of a trip when setting the tone is so important. They can help people get to know each other and begin that elusive process of establishing trust. Keep in mind that there is a level of interpersonal risk in some of these games. Use your leader's radar to assess where the group is and what they are ready for. Below is a list of some games. (See Section 15 - Bibliography & Footnotes: Resources for additional resources).

Initiative Games Teaching Outline

  1. Use games which are appropriate to the "level" the group has reached. If you push too much with games before the group has developed an identity, you may turn some people off.
  2. Safety comes first! In any situation in which people are off the ground they should be spotted at all times. It is too easy for someone to fall and injure an ankle, etc. which could ruin the rest of the trip for them. Also be aware if things start to get too rambunctious and out of hand; this can often lead to an accidental injury. Slow down the activity or stop it before something happens. Any unsafe practices such as hanging upside down, diving headfirst, throwing people, or overstraining must be stopped immediately. (See Section 10 - Safety & Emergency Procedures: Dynamics of Accidents).
  3. Consider things such as the weather and the physical condition of the group to decide the type of activity.
  4. Be careful of such things as glasses, watches and jewelry which can get broken (and can also inflict wounds).

The Name Game - Each member of the group must invent some action to go with their name (a graceful bow, somersault etc.). Each person says their name and demonstrates their action, and then says the name and performs the action of the others in the circle. This continues around the circle until each member has "performed" everyone else's name and action. This is a great tool to break the ice and get people to know everyone's name.

Name Game II - Each member is asked to give their first and last name and some history or some special thing for them about the name. (e.g. I am named after my great grandmother who immigrated from the moon, or I am named after my dad's first cat, etc.).

Human Knot - Stand the group in a circle. Have everyone put their right hand in the center of the circle with the thumb up. Then everyone should reach in with their left hand and grab someone else's right thumb. Make sure that right hands are attached to left hands and make sure that two people don't have both of each other's hands. Send a pulse around the group to make sure that everyone is connected (if not, exchange a few hands to connect everyone). Then try to unscramble the knot back into a circle. This is another great game to do at the very beginning of a trip to get people to "unwind." The knot should untangle unless you have an overhand knot (which cannot be undone, except by creative reconnecting).

Animal Size Lineup - Whisper to each member of the group the name of a particular animal. The group must line up from the largest animal to the smallest by making the animal's sound and/or acting like the animal. No talking. Then when they have lined up have each person present their animal to the group and the group must guess the person's animal identity. See how close the group came in its size lineup. This can also be done blindfolded by just using noises.

Circle Sit - Have the group stand in a circle facing in, then have everyone turn 90 degrees to the same side so that they are facing the back of the person in front of them. Tighten up the circle and have the group all sit at once so that each person sits on the lap of the person behind. Once sitting, try to get the group to move the circle around by having everyone lift the same foot and shuffle it forward, then move the other foot and "walk." Then have the group stand back up simultaneously.

Group Stand Up - Sit the group in a tight circle with their backs to the center and have them link arms and then try to stand up as a group. You can start with only part of the group then slowly add more and more people.

Monster Race - A Monster is formed by counting the number of feet and hands in the group and dividing by 2. That number is the total number of appendages (hands or feet) that can be touching the ground. The goal is to build a Monster with only that number of appendages touching and have the monster move as a unit from one point to another. If there are enough people, you can form two or more Monsters and have a race.

Circle Stand - Draw a circle 1 foot in diameter on the ground. The entire group must stay within the circle for one minute.

Caterpillar - Have the group lie down on their stomachs side by side creating a long line. The person on the end rolls over everyone down the line and drops in at the far end continuing the line. Go through the entire group moving slowly across the ground. Make sure that the ground is suitable-not rocky or covered with glass, etc.

Camp Setup - Have the group set up camp without talking and only using one hand per person. This should go on for a specified period of time or until some event (like the tarp setup) has been completed. For safety, all stove and fire activities will be performed using 2 hands , minimal talking is permitted.

A What? - Sit in a circle facing the center. One person starts the game by taking an object, turning to the person on his right and saying "this is a _______." That person then turns and responds, "A What?" The first person says, "A _______." Then the second person says, "Oh, a _______." The second person turns to the third person and the entire exchange repeats until it has worked all the way around the circle. Once people have the hang of it you can confuse everyone by calling the object some other name (for example pass a rock and call it a fish) and/or by starting another object going in the opposite direction from the first object.

Taffy Pull - First make sure that no one is wearing sharp jewelry or belt buckles, Then divide the group into two teams, the taffy and the taffy pulling machine. The taffies all sit down and link arms, legs and bodies to be a tangled taffy mess. The taffy pulling machine has the job of trying to gently pull the taffy apart into human sized bits. Keep in mind that the best taffy is made by smooth stretches-if you pull too hard the taffy will snap. And it's up to the taffy to decide how much s/he wants to stay part of the taffy mass. Each piece of taffy that gets pulled off becomes part of the taffy machine.

Killer - The OA leader should explain the rules of the game and then when everyone's eyes are closed s/he should pick a Killer by tapping the person on the head. (If the leaders want to play, slips of paper can be passed around and the one with the X is the Killer). The Killer kills by blinking one eye at his victim. The victim must see the blink in order to be killed and must wait for 5 seconds after the blink before "dying". (Be melodramatic!) Once killed you become a spectator. The survivors must try to figure out the identity of the Killer before they are killed. If someone has a suspicion one can announce, "I have an accusation." Unless someone else says, "I second the accusation," the game continues. If someone does second the accusation, the two accusers count to three and then each point to the person each one suspects. (Without conferences, gestures, etc. before pointing.) If they both point to a person who is innocent or if they both point to different suspects, (even if one of the suspects is the Killer), they are both dead because of poor detective work. If both point to the Killer, s/he must confess and the game is over.

Red Handed - The group forms a circle facing in and one person, who is selected to be IT, stands in the center. The IT person closes his/her eyes while the other players pass some small object (e.g. a pebble) from person to person in the circle. The sneakiest pass is to hold the pebble in one fist, palm down, and drop it into the palm-up hand of the next person in the circle. After the object has begun to make the rounds IT opens his/her eyes, searching for the object. If IT suspects someone s/he taps that person on one of the person's hands. If the suspect is empty-handed, the game continues with IT searching. If the person has the object, that person becomes the new IT and the old IT joins the circle.

Trust Circle - Group members stand in a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder facing in. One individual stands in the center of the circle. This person should stand straight, with feet together on the ground and arms at his/her sides-continue to stand straight but not rigid. S/he then closes his/her eyes and gently "lets go" falling to one side of the circle. The group members, standing with their palms facing the person gently catch the person and pass him/her across and around the circle. If the person gets out from the center of the circle, stop the person, hold him/her gently, and move the circle so the person is once again in the center. After a time the members of the circle can move out a bit. As this is done the circle members should stand with one leg behind them to serve as a brace for when they take the person's body weight. Don't step back too far. The goal is to gently pass the person, not throw them back and forth across a huge circle.

Back Rubs - In pairs, a line or a circle, work the kinks out gently. Remind your group members that people have different tolerances for how hard/soft a back rub they want.

Trust Walk - Have the group line up holding hands. One person at one end is the leader. The rest of the group closes their eyes (or is blindfolded) and the leader leads them over, under, around and through various obstacles. The leader must guide the person directly behind him/her by vocal and/or tactile directions and that person must do the same to the "blind" person behind him/her and on down the line. This can also be done in pairs. It is an interesting way to let people explore an environment (trees, bark, leaves, wet moss etc.) Be careful of people falling, glass etc.

Trust Fall - Find some object (tree stump, rock etc.) that can be stood upon which places a person 4 - 5 feet off the ground. It must be a stable object. Form the group into two parallel lines facing each other. People should interweave arms with the people across from them to make a "zipper". Have one person stand on the stump or rock, close his/her eyes and fall gently into the net. The person must keep their body completely rigid with their hands crossed over their chest. Start with someone fairly light so the group gets the feel of it before doing the heavier members of the group. With heavy people make sure the you have strong folks at about the middle to catch and support the major body weight.

Dyads - Separate the group into pairs, preferably with someone they do not know well and have them find a space together to talk. Each person in the pair will spend X minutes telling his/her partner anything s/he would like the other person to know about home, hobbies, family, things they are good at, goals, Princeton, etc. The partner will simply listen, asking few questions and making a minimum number of comments along the way. Reverse roles. Then have everyone regroup and have each person introduce their partner by saying some of the interesting things they learned about their partner.

Find Your Feet - Have everyone in the group sit in a circle blindfolded and without talking. Each person must take off two items of clothing (shirts, shoes etc.) and place them in the middle of the circle. Mix up all the items. Then everyone must find their own things and get someone to put them back on (without seeing or speaking).

Crevasse Practice - Tie a rope round the waist of each group member about 6' apart (you may need to have several ropes with several persons per rope). Have the group break camp in the morning.

Cookie Machine - Form two lines facing each other standing shoulder to shoulder with elbows bent and forearms in front, palms up. Alternate arms with the people to your left and right to create a "zipper." You are the giant conveyer belt of a cookie machine. The person (cookie) should stand back from the line and announce what type of cookie they want to be. They cna then slide into the arms of the cookie machine or run and jump with arms outstretched. They are then passed down the conveyer belt and are bounced and rotated so that they bake evenly. Meanwhile the machine should give some baking sound effects. Be careful lowering the person to the group at the end. Also be careful of glasses, watches, and jewelry for both the cookie and the machine. - from More New Games

Yurt Circle - A yurt is a type of Mongolian nomad tent in which the roof pushes against the walls in equilibrium, keeping the structure standing. Form a circle with an even number of people. Everyone should be facing the center and standing shoulder to shoulder holding hands. Go around the circle, one person says 'in" and the next person says "out" alternating around the circle. Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground. On the count of three all the "ins" lean toward the center of the circle and all the "outs" lean back. The yurt stays upright because each part lances and supports the whole. - from More New Games

Night Activities

Bivouacs - ridge tops on clear nights with good weather are great for these. Even if its just getting the group out from under the tarp to sleep out under the stars (and not be so dependent on the plastic).

Minute Mysteries

These have become a fun thing to do while hiking down the trail. The person presenting the mystery should give the situation and ask what happened. The others participating must solve the mystery by asking questions. The presenter can only answer yes, no, maybe, or it doesn't matter. (Solutions are listed upside-down on the following page)


  1. A man is lying dead in the forest, with a matchstick clutched in his hand.
  2. A man walks into a bar, sits down and asks the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender pulls out a gun and points at the man. The man says, "Thanks," and walks out of the bar.
  3. A man is driving along a mountain road, listening to the radio. Suddenly, he drives off the road and over a cliff and dies.
  4. There is a table with 53 bicycles on it. A man, sitting at the table, is hunched over, quite dead.
  5. A man gets on a train in town A and heads to town B. He boards a train back to town A. Halfway there, he becomes distraught and leaps from the train, killing himself.
  6. A man wakes up in the morning and reads the headline of his local paper: "Mrs. Smith Dies in Ski Accident in Switzerland," and he announces, "That wasn't an accident. That was murder!"
  7. There is a man standing next to a box. Seven people walk in, look in the box, nod to each other and then the man, and walk out.
  8. A man goes into a seafood restaurant down at the harbor. He orders the special for the day, albatross soup. He takes one bite, then goes out to buy a gun and kills himself.
  9. A man is found dead hanging from the ceiling in a completely empty room with all doors locked from the inside. There is a pool of water on the floor.


  1. Three soldiers were flying in a balloon on a reconnaissance mission over enemy territory. Unfortunately, the balloon started to lose altitude. Realizing that if they crash they would certainly be caught and killed, they decide to take drastic measures. Since they had already thrown all their ballast overboard, they decided to draw matchsticks. The person with the shortest match stick would have to jump, allowing the others to escape. The person dead in the fall was the unlucky one.
  2. The man who walked in to the bar had the hiccoughs. The clever bartender figured that scaring the person with the gun would be better than a glass of water, and he was right.
  3. The man in the car is a disk jockey at a nearby radio station. He had just committed a murder for which he knows he will be the prime suspect. In order to set up an unshakable alibi, he taped his radio show ahead of time and committed the murder while the tape was being broadcast. On the way back to the station he hears the tape machine malfunction and stop on the radio. He realizes his alibi is useless and kills himself.
  4. The 53 bicycles are actually a deck of cards, with bicycles on the backs. The dead man was caught cheating (slipping an extra card in), and was shot by another player.
  5. The man who lives town A has been blind all of his life. He has an operation performed on his eyes in town B in an attempt to restore his sight. The operation was a success. However, on the way back to town A, the train enters a tunnel and suddenly there is no light. Thinking he has lost his sight forever, he jumps from the train.
  6. The man is Mr. Smith's travel agent. Mr. Smith murdered Mrs. Smith while they were vacationing. The agent knows because Mr. Smith, a real penny-pincher, bought a two-way ticket for himself to Switzerland and only a one-way ticket for his wife.
  7. The seven people and the man were shipwrecked on an island with no food. Finally, in order to survive, they resorted to drastic measures. They had the man, who was a surgeon, remove one hand from each person so the group would have food. The surgeon kept both of his hands so he could perform the operations. Eventually, the group was rescued. As part of the group's agreement the surgeon had to have one of his hands removed when they returned to the mainland. His hand was in the box in the room. The seven entered, saw that he had fulfilled his part of the agreement, and left.
  8. The man was part of the crew of a freighter that sank in the Pacific. He, and two other crewmen, his best friends, were adrift in a lifeboat for weeks. They had no food and all their attempts at catching fish had failed. He became weak and delirious. One of his friends died and the other cut up the body to keep them alive. The surviving friend told the man that he was eating an albatross that had been caught. When the man ate the albatross soup in the restaurant it didn't taste anything like what he had eaten on the lifeboat. He realized what had happened and killed himself.
  9. The man committed suicide in the locked room. He hung himself by standing on a block of ice, which melted.


Copyright © 1995 Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.