How to Segregate Sticky-Pairs at Workshops

(Also listen to the audio at the end of this article)


You see it in sci-fi movies.
You see it at workshops.

It’s called the ‘force shield.’

Once the ‘force shield’ is up, nothing can penetrate the shield. The people within the shield are cocooned. And the people outside the shield are isolated.

Sticky-pairs cause force-shields at workshops

So what are sticky-pairs?
Sticky-pairs are people who know each other.
Like husband and wife.
Like co-workers.
Like friends.
Like participants who speak a common language. Or have a country/city of origin.

They stick to each other like glue. And in doing so, create a clique; a force-shield.

And your first job as a presenter or facilitator, is to destroy that shield.

And there are good reasons why.
1) Other participants avoid sticky-pairs.
2) Sticky-pairs get less working time.
3) Sticky-pairs get less ways to solve their unique problem.
4) They end up unhappy, and grumbly.

So let’s quickly see what happens at a workshop.
Sticky-pairs tend to stick together at breakfast. At lunch. At dinner. And are almost always seated right next to each other in a workshop.

This causes other participants to get intimidated. That’s because it’s two people vs. one. As a result, when they bring up a problem in the group, the problem is treated as a single problem.

So if the group has one hour to work on their own business, and about fifteen minutes is allocated per person to a group of four, a sticky pair is often treated as a unit, and given less time by the group.

So they tend to get the same fifteen minutes even though they’re two. And should logically get half an hour.

But that’s not all. If the sticky-pair weren’t so gooey, and separated into two groups, they’d find they’d get two different points of view to solve the same problem.

But because they’re part of the same group, they invariably end up listening to just one angle, thus depriving the pair of different viewpoints.

If your workshop lasts for less than a day, this stickiness isn’t quite as noticeable.
If it lasts for a day, it kinda surfaces by the second tea break.

But if the workshop lasts for three days (as our workshops do), then the sticky-pair becomes totally isolated.

Of course, no one is isolating them on purpose, but invariably the isolation kicks in. You’ll find that sticky-pairs then get more grumbly, and are far more dissatisfied.

As you can tell this situation isn’t good for the stickies, or the group, or the facilitator.

So the best thing to do is un-stick them as soon as possible.

So what’s as soon as possible?
And how do you un-stick them?

The sticky-pair need to be un-stuck before the first workgroup session itself. The sooner they’re separated, the better. And the way to separation, is an overt as well as a subtle method.

So let’s look at the overt method.

You announce to the group about the sticky-pair syndrome and why it causes an issue. This brings the problem of stickiness to the fore. Now the sticky-pair, as well as the rest of the group are aware about the issue, and with a little luck, they’ll quickly separate.

But luck isn’t always a good method, so it’s time to use the subtle method.

And here’s how you do it. Any big group can be split up into smaller groups of four or five members. Well, let’s assume they’re five. And let’s assume you call those five the following: A, B, C, D, and E.

Here’s what you do next…
You assign the letter A to the first person. And then B to the next. And C to the next and so on.

So now the first five people have the letters from A-E. Now continue assigning letters to the group, going from A-E.

As you’ve figured out, the sticky pair will be A and B. Or B and C. Essentially, they’ll be consecutive letters, because they’re seated right next to each other.

But your next command is simple. You tell all the A’s in the room to form a group. And all the B’s to form a group, and so on.
In a second, you’ve separated the sticky-pair.

But won’t that make the sticky-pair feel a little unsafe?

After all the reason they got sticky in the first place was because they share a common background. And in an alien workshop, sticking together provides a sense of comfort.

And yes it does, but only for so long, because eventually the pair alienates themselves, and in turn gets alienated from the group.

Bring down the force-shield. Get the sticky-pair unstuck. And your workshop and experience will be more sticky as a result!

Want to get more goodies?
Next Step: More Goodies:
Find the entire series on speaking secrets in text and audio with cartoons!
Subscribe : Get Updates via RSS | Get Updates via Email (Fill in your details in the top-right hand form)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus
  • Add to favorites
  • Print
  • Email


  1. says

    I will blog this series on my education blog in the next few days and have already mentioned it to colleagues. It’s important stuff for me as I often work with people who’s first language is not English. It is vital for their learning that they don’t form these sticky groups.
    I do agree that they need to feel safe enough to let go of each other too. Big challenge! Really interesting discussion.

  2. says

    @Sundi again :)

    I just wanted you to know as well that there are times when you can’t control the stickiness. And if the participants resist your attempts to separate them, then just let them go. I’ve had situations where one of the partners just refused to be out of visual sight of the other. And that happens.

    So you also have to be careful not to overdo it. The most important thing in a workshop or teaching situation, is to create a safe zone.

    If it creates a factor of ‘not feeling safe’ and that factor continues, then it’s not a good thing. Sometimes stickiness is inevitable.

    P.S. Thanks for referring this to your clients as well :)

  3. says

    Sundi: Most people who know each other are ‘sticky.’ This is because it’s safe to be sticky. When you’re in a strange environment, you go with what you know. And who you know. It’s good both for the participant as well as the presenter to recognise this pattern, and then make sure the stickiness goes away.

  4. says

    This series is so useful for me, not just for workshops etc. but also as a lecturer. It’s stuff I should know but you are great at just jogging my memory!

  5. says

    Of all the years I’ve been supporting coaches and speakers I *never* thought about this. I’ll admit I’ve been in a sticky-pair before too! Thanks for putting up a great resource for my clients. I’ll definitely be sharing.

    Create an amazing day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>