Seating Layout

Too Active

I remember once delivering training to a group of employees and removing all the tables from in front of them. They were seated in a large U-shape all 25 of them. I had also given them plenty of fun ice breakers. The result was that they became extremely active to the extent that they eventually broke out of control.


During a different training program I had trainees all sitting behind a large oval table. Their participation was relatively limited, they were not very active nor lively during the training session. Seating layout and how chairs and tables are arranged in a training room have a strong influence on the performance of training.

Perfect Circle

During group work, when trainees are divided into a number of groups, to reflect on a video they have just seen or discuss a topic specified by the trainer, the way each group arrange their seats has a noticeable impact on the performance of that group. If the group is sitting in a perfect circle this group will achieve superior performance. The circle layout allows every member of the group to participate equally and allows for a good deal of synergy to take place among all members of the team. You can almost sense the energy flowing unobstructed when passing next to such group.

If group members are instead arranging their seats in an imperfect circle with one of the members of the group sitting behind another member or more distanced than others then such an arrangement would break the harmonious flow of energy, not give each member of the group an equal opportunity to participate and drastically cut down on synergy among members of the group thus greatly reducing their performance.The lower performance of such group would be quite evident. As a trainer, you should go to such a group and ask them to arrange their seats in a perfect circle. You should do so early on in the activity so that they would have enough time to carry out the group activity with high performance.

Tables Reduce Activity Level

Generally speaking, having tables in front of participants shielding them from the trainer dramatically reduces their level of activity. Having participants face the trainer directly without any obstructions, by removing any tables in front of them, allows them to be way more active. The decision of chair and table layout is for the trainer to make. The trainer can control the amount of activity of trainees through making changes to seating layout. A trainer may start the training for instance with tables placed in front of participants then decide to remove them completely during the second half of the training day or during the second training day. This could provide variation and the right amount of activity from trainees.

U-Shape, Incomplete Circle and Crescents

Participant seats can be arranged in a large U-shape spanning the training room with the backs of the chairs towards the 3 walls of the training room leaving the fourth wall for the trainer to stand against. Another similar arrangement is to have seats arranged in an incomplete circle which provides the highest degree of synchronized and harmonized participant attention. A third variation is to have seats in a crescent shape. This arrangement is similar to that of the incomplete circle and has the advantage of allowing for several ‘waves’ of crescents to be arranged one after the other to allow for more seats to be used in the training room.


A competent trainer must be aware that seating layout in the training room is no trivial thing and that it should be taken seriously for it has a powerful impact on the performance of participants during the training.

What other seating layouts can be used in the training room?

Group Work Activities for Training Workshops

Interactive training workshops are more engaging than boring lectures and are more effective than mere presentations done by a trainer. Group work is one of the main kinds of activities that can make a training session highly interactive and engaging and thus enjoyable and of high impact.

Single Presenter

Here is basically how group work works:

  1. Trainer divides participants into groups.
  2. Trainer asks each group to discuss a specific topic and write down their thoughts in points.
  3. Trainer then asks each team to nominate one of its members to come and present the points of his team in front of all participants.

Multiple Presenters

A variation would be to ask each team to send 2 or even 3 of its members to present the points written by the team. This is helpful in team building training where you want participants to practice collaboration and cooperation. In such  cases, you must clearly state that both participants sharing the presentation have to share equally in presenting their team’s points. It is not acceptable that one participant goes ahead reading and explaining all the points while forgetting all about his colleague who is standing next to him and not leaving any points for that colleague to cover. The trainer must clearly state that this is not allowed. The trainer must state this before the teams start their presentations.

Time Stretching

The time it takes each team to present their points is proportional to the number of team members giving the presentation. If you ask each team to send 2 of its team members to give the presentation this would take them more time than if you had asked them to send only one team member to do the presentation. Similarly, 3 members would take a longer time in presenting than 2 members even though they have the same number of points to present. This phenomenon can be used by the trainer to reduce or expand the time of the group work activity in order to manage the training session time.


Before the teams start their discussions, you can provide them with flip chart sheets to use for writing their points. You may even ask them to cut the sheets themselves from the flip chart and divide a single sheet into 2 or 3 parts and divide it on the other teams.


It is of great value that you ask the teams to site in circles. As they start their discussions, if you find one of the teams not arranging their chairs in a proper circle go to them and guide them to do so. The seating positions during this activity have a very high and noticeable effect on the performance of a team. Sitting in a perfect circle makes it possible for everyone to participate and boosts synergy among team members creating what might seem like a sort of resonance.

Getting Creative

I remember once that one of the teams got creative during their presentation and threw in a mini-play instead of a mere reading and explaining of the points they have written. A trainer should praise and encourage such creative initiatives.


The topic of discussion can be to reflect on a video just viewed by participants or to try and find answers for a question or solutions for a problem or just to list any kind of information the trainer asks them to list.


Group work is an activity that participants usually enjoy greatly and benefit from. Nevertheless, the trainer should take care to alternate between it and other forms of training so that participants do not get over-exhausted. Group work is usually a fundamental part of every interactive training workshop.

What kind of training program do you think group work would not be appropriate to use in?

Setting Ground Rules During Training

In order to make the training session proceed smoothly it is essential that the trainer set a number of ground rules and communicate them clearly to all participants. Ground rules can be set after the trainer has introduced himself and mentioned the training style. Alternatively, it could be delayed till after the first icebreaker.

Preset Ground Rules

There are several methods for setting ground rules. The simplest method is to include a slide in the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of a training session listing a set of ground rules and to point to them as you proceed to that slide.

Sample of Ground Rules

Ground rules may vary from just requiring participants to switch off their cell phones or make them silent during the training session to a more elaborate set of ground rules including no smoking during the training session or inside the training room, asking questions only at the end of the training session and so on.

Collaborative Ground Rules

An alternative way for setting ground rules, other than listing them on a slide, is to have participants themselves suggest ground rules and write them down on a flip chart sheet. The trainer can then use voting to accept or reject any of those ground rules. The trainer may even go a step further by removing a suggested ground rule himself in order make a training session more relaxed.

he flip chart sheet can be hung on the wall at the side and in front of all participants containing the final set of ground rules clearly written in large type to act as a reminder for participants throughout the training program. The trainer can also easily refer back to it in case of any participant breaking any of the agreed upon ground rules. Icons can be drawn next to the ground rule statements for even better communication.

Allowing participants to participate in setting up the ground rules makes them more willing to abide by them.


Setting up ground rules from the start of the first training session in a training program can save the trainer a lot of effort and help make the training sessions run smoothly through such short or long set of ground rules be it preset by the trainer or decided on collaboratively by participants attending the training.

Do you think there are cases when it is not necessary to set ground rules? What are such cases?