Roleplay for Groups -a group dynamics exercise

Roleplay for Groups

-a group dynamics exercise


This roleplay exercise allows people to become aware of roles they may play in groups. People often assume roles in specific groups that are different from their normal roles because of how they want or need to be perceived. Often, they are playing a role but not aware of it. Some roles are healthy, some are not. This exercise helps create awareness of role characteristics. This exercise can be modified for use in about any kind of group.


This exercise is often done after a group has been together for a period of time so that roles in the group have emerged. You announce to the group that you will need some of them to play some roles that are often found in groups. State that you need eight (six to ten) volunteers to roleplay and they will draw their roles randomly out of a hat (basket). Each role is described and each will have one or two goals that demonstrate some characteristics of the role. In your introduction, make it sound like fun because it is in most situations.

Roleplayers will sit in a circle facing each other in the middle of the room while the rest of the group becomes observers. Their task will be to determine each role. “We will do this for 15 -20 minutes. The observers will then tell what they observed and then the roleplayers will tell what it was like to play the role.”

Before you start, ask the roleplayers if any of them have a role they do not what to play. Try to exchange it with another person or allow them to leave the group or quickly select another person or leave that role out. Some people may develop psychological blocks for certain roles and it would not be good for them to play it.

Designate one person as a leader. Help facilitate that person in getting the group started. You can actually start it yourself by saying something like: “Glad to have such a find group of people here today to have some fun. It’s time to start your roles. John, why don’t you start us off.” If John has a problem getting the group going, step in and help only the minimum, then step out of the circle.

You will know when to stop the roleplay because after awhile (10 –20 minutes) they will usually start getting silly, usually laughing at themselves. If not, just step into the circle and say, “I think we have developed enough of the roles to talk about them.”

Start your debrief of the roleplay. Ask observers what roles they saw? Then move to the roleplayers. You can ask them a number of questions about playing their role, like: Was your role familiar to you? Was it hard to play? Did you like the role? How did the role make you feel? Etc. Following the last debrief, you will need to go to the center of the circle and address each roleplayer to defuse any residual feeling they may have about playing the role. About half the people may get a role they have played. You need to tell them they are no longer playing the role before they leave the circle and ask if any are having a problem with this? A few may and you will need to process this with them so they can let go of the role.

I’ve found this exercise works better if you do some warm up exercise that is fun or creative first. This gets the creativeness going before they start. I like using the imaginary ball game (item13), but there are others that can be used.


The following roles are some I take with me to a group. (cut in strips ready to hand out) In addition to these, I often will write out a role that I see would benefit the group to see in the roleplay. Sometimes, I will modify a role to better match what is going on in this group, perhaps combine two. The object is for all to become aware that individuals will play roles in groups and that some roles are healthy and some are not.


This person has something to say about what everyone else says and talks frequently but really does not have much to say.

GOAL: Talk after someone else talks and do this 5 times. Pick up some word the previous talker said and make some comment about it.


The victim or the “poor me” person tells a number of sad stories and usually with added drama that people know is beyond the real story. They also often speak with a squeaky or high pitched voice and look down with their eyes but will look up to see if they are getting the pity they are looking for.

GOAL: Tell at least two sad stories acting out the characteristics of the victim.


This person will dominate the conversation in a group, talking about almost anything, but usually about themselves but keeping it "safe" and not reveal much about themselves. --see footnote on Dominator for why they do this.

GOAL: One time in the group, just start talking about something other than the subject. It can be what you did yesterday or some other day. Try to do this for at least 5 minutes. [most dominators talk for at least 15 minutes and may use all the time if the group does not stop them.] Do it a second time later on in the exercise if time allows.


This person may be another dominator and will coat-tail a dominator in an effort to avoid the real subject of a meeting.


This person has problems expressing themselves and just take a time to get it out. They get confused, backtrack, and take a long time to the their story. They don’t know when to stop talking.

GOAL: Tell your “story” in a confusing way and talk for at least 3 minutes. Start by saying you don’t know where to start or what to say but will start: “I was born in Kansas to good parents. My childhood was ……… When I was xx years old I ……… But that is not what I wanted to tell, uh, I’m getting confused now. OK, I’ve got it now… When I was born it was a cold winter day with lots of snow on the ground…. Etc.


This person comes into the group with a true sad tale to tell. He/She can’t hold the story until the group is really ready to hear it. So they “dump” into the group quickly without regard of the impact on others. This is often too much for some people to hear at this point. The response is too often that on one wants to hear it and someone often changes the subject quickly.

GOAL: You are the dumper and you tell a sad, even hair raising story within about 5 minutes after the group starts. Before this you show sadness by your actions.


The spoiler is the person that responds to the Dumper by changing the subject quickly after the dumping.

GOAL: You are the person that comes right in after the dumper talks and you say something about how nice a day it is and isn’t it great we are all hear together today.


This person is very fragile, easily intimidated, seemingly scared of their own shadow. They sometimes overcompensate by trying to play the opposite role, but quickly retreat. People feel like they are walking on egg shells around them. A person like this may say, “What you just said really hurt me deeply.” Yet what was said had nothing to do with them that you can tell. This person is similar to the victim but often is very sensitive and really hurts.

GOAL: Play the part once and use body language to show personal hurt.


This person comes into the group with a big chip on his shoulder. He / she is really angry and feels a need to take it out on someone, they don’t care much who it is. They enter the circle pounding their fist and making comments like: “someone will pay for this!
Goal: Lash out at someone in the group verbally. Then after the person replies, stand up, lean forward and double up your fist and say something like: "I'm going to clean your plow."


GOAL: Your role is to probe at least two people in the group to get them to reveal more about something they have said, preferably about themselves. You can do this by making statements like: “I really need to know more about .... or “I'm sure the group would like for you to you tell us more about . . . . . . . Do the probe more than once.


GOAL: You are to attack the perceived leader at least twice by demanding they take some certain action to "make" the group do what it should do.


GOAL: After someone says something to you that is somewhat derogatory. Just get up out of your chair and leave the circle say, “I’ve had enough of this and I’m leaving.”


This person has all the right phrases and right answers about how the group should work as a team. They can tell you about forming, storming, norming and performing. They avoid personal risk at any cost by making general statements. They often criticize others for not being on the team.

GOAL: play the part once.


Quiet to the extreme. Even when asked directly and repeatedly the clam has no real contribution. He provided vague answers but does talk.
GOAL: Act the part of the clam by being very indirect in any answer you may give. You may not be asked any question, so you may say: “No one is talking to me.” (nothing more) Then when someone asks you a question, reply very indirectly.


This person is master of the hidden agenda and uses the group for manipulative gain. Frequently presents issues then finds a way to blame others or credit self for outcome of what is said. Like: “You took what I said the wrong way.”

GOAL: Act the part of the phantom. This is often a hard part to roleplay, but try.


This person often throws out one thought after another. They will talk about anything and everything. They often shift topics without closure to a previous topic. They leave others dazed and not knowing what to do with this person.
GOAL: Throw out at least 2 subjects in the middle of other conversations and then shift the subject to another before closure is reached on the subject you brought up.


GOAL: Your role is to provide an intellectual framework to the group. You should state and expound on two well-known facts or theories before the end of the roleplay.


GOAL: Your role is to convince the group that life is great, the group is wonderful and everything will work out in a beautiful way. Make at least two happy statements and try to get one person to agree with you before the end of the roleplay.


GOAL: Your role is to devise a way to organize the group and make at least two attempts before the end of the roleplay. Like: “Let’s divide into smaller groups because I feel better in small groups.”


GOAL: Your role is to judge the statements of members in the roleplay in a skeptical and critical manner. Point out at least 3 faults by the end of the roleplay.


GOAL: Your role is to make it obvious that you are not participating in this group. Get at least one person to try to include you or draw you in by the end of the roleplay.


GOAL: Your role is to give advice to individuals and the group. Correct people when they are in error. Make it clear that you know the solutions to the problems of others. Offer at least three solutions to others by the end of the roleplay. Like: “If you would only do what I did, your problems would go away”.


This person makes commitments then never follows through. “I’ll go make the coffee in exactly 5 minutes”. Five minutes passes, then 10 and no coffee is being made.
GOAL: Make some kind of firm commitment to the group and then do not do it.


This person is often mad at the world, cynical and critical about everything. They may say, “was just waiting for you to say something stupid like that. I expected that from a person like you. At times, they may even form their arm in the shape of a snake and direct it at the other person in snake like motions. They often project on to others what they feel.
GOAL: Play the part once by using hand motions such as pointing a finger, etc.


These notes will tell why a person may assume a certain role in a group.


A dominator can totally destroy a group. There are a number of reasons for their behavior. The main reasons are high anxiety or a need to control or both. An anxious person will talk for long period of time nonstop, shifting from subject to subject, but the conversation is usually about themselves and it may go in circles. Dominators tend to be self-centered and even narcissistic. They often dominate to avoid talking about a difficult subject or to avoid intimacy. Dominators are often loners and may play the "victim" role too. They usually are not aware of what they are doing and how the impact group process. They are difficult and when stopped, may start in again. It takes firm facilitation to stop them and keep them stopped. In several cases, I've talked to them out of the group to make them aware of what they are doing to the group. Some will not stop with this, others will not and may need to be asked to leave the group.


A person that probes may really just want to know more. But often they do the probing to avoid talking about themselves. If you have two or more probers, then the probing may turn into scapegoating a person, which should not be allowed in any group. The facilitator must stop this immediatly. Certain types of people are most subject to scapegoading than others. They include the victim or the poor-me, or the clam

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