The intersection of technology and leadership

Splitting Groups

We do a lot of group work during training so we split a class into smaller groups for more effective discussions. Over the last few months, we’ve used a number of techniques for splitting a large group and I thought it might be useful for some future trainers, meeting facilitators, or on projects where you need to randomly divide into different groups. They include:

Splitting Groups

Picture provided from Ben Tubby’s photostream under the Creative Common license

  • Counting Off – Determine how many groups you want to split the group into (e.g. 3). Get everyone to count off to that number (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3). Ask for people with the same number to come together. Variations include letting the participants to count off, or to direct the count off (pointing randomly around the room). You might also use other similar concepts such as city names, animal names or different sorts of fruit and vegetables (staying away from numbers avoids the “We’re number 1 syndrome”.
  • Line Up – Ask the group to arrange themselves into a line using some sort of order. This is a little bit more of an energising activity to introduce movement into the class. Different systems you can use include people’s height (shortest to tallest), first name or last name (alphabetical order), birth day and month (avoid year just in case people are sensitive about their age). Vary it up again by choosing ascending or descending order. Once they’re in a line, ask them to validate and then split the group using either Count Off, or simply split the line into equal groups.
  • Group by Token – In this activity, decide on how many groups you’d like and how many people should be in each group. Pick a token system and choose the same token to represent the number of people in a group, and different tokens to represent different groups. We’ve used coloured notes, coloured lego blocks, different types of sweets. Put them into a box or a bag, and get people to pick one and then find people of the same group. For instance, if I had twelve people and wanted three groups of four, I might choose to put into a box, four blue lego blocks, four red lego blocks and four white lego blocks for people to choose from.


  1. Recently I’ve been avoiding random group allocation and instead split based off of natural affinity, if only to learn what those groups are.

  2. Jason, how do you ask them to split based on natural affinity (based on those who work closely with each other, or based on role?).

    For training, this becomes a little difficult as we sometimes want to break natural affinity group to break down them-and-us mentalities.

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