Celestial Navigation: Managing Group Conflict

by John Goldberg & Dilip G. Banhatti

Activity Summary

A metaphorical look at the types of group participants with methods for managing conflict among them.


  • To understand the different types of participants in a group.
  • To explore the conflicts that may arise among them.
  • To discuss methods for managing conflicts in groups.

Group Size

Sixteen to forty.

Time Required

1.5 hours.


  • A copy of the Celestial Navigation handout for each participant.
  • A flip chart and a felt-tipped marker for recording.
  • Masking tape for posting flip chart sheets.

Physical Setting

A room large enough for the groups to work without disturbing one another. Writing surfaces should be provided. Wall space is required for posting flip chart sheets.


1.  Introduce the session by explaining that participants in a group can be described as different types of celestial objects.

2.  Distribute a copy of the Celestial Navigation handout to each participant. Read the descriptions aloud while they follow along.

3.  Divide participants into eight groups. Make sure that each group selects a unique celestial object so that all objects are discussed by the groups.

4.  Ask each group to discuss its chosen type of participant in terms of the celestial object related to it and brainstorm the kinds of conflict that might involve this type of participant. Allow approximately five minutes for the task, giving the participants a one-minute warning before calling time.

6.  Ask each group to brainstorm a list of interventions that a facilitator could use to manage the conflict that a person who is like their chosen object might be involved in. Allow approximately five minutes for the task, giving the participants a one-minute warning before calling time.

6.  Reconvene the whole group. Ask the small groups to report about the conflicts their type of participant might be involved in. Allow approximately 10 minutes for the task.

7.  Ask groups to report about the interventions a facilitator could use to manage those kinds of conflict. Allow approximately 10 minutes for the task.

8.  Direct the participants to form groups of eight persons each. Ask the group members to choose a facilitator in each group. Specify a controversial topic of discussion such as whether or not Pluto is a planet or what to do about global terrorism. Any controversial topic will work.

9.  Explain that the members of each group will role play a meeting in which each of them will represent one of the celestial objects discussed above. The facilitator is also a role player representing a celestial object. The facilitator’s additional task is to manage any conflict that arises in the group. Allow approximately 20 minutes for the task, giving the participants a 2-minute warning before calling time.

10.  Ask each group to discuss the feelings they experienced during the role play. Allow approximately five minutes for the task, giving the participants a one-minute warning before calling time.

11.  When all groups have finished reporting, ask the following questions, using flip chart sheets to record significant issues and posting the sheets as necessary:

  • What behaviors led to conflict in your group?
  • What was the nature of those conflicts?
  • What did the facilitator do to manage those conflicts?
  • To what extent were the facilitator’s interventions helpful in managing the conflicts?
  • What else could the facilitator have done to manage the conflicts?
  • How can you use what you learned today?


Present a slide show or display a poster with the list of celestial objects rather than providing a handout.


John Goldberg provides training in leadership, communication, teamwork, and career and personal development. He served for seven years as Manager, Organization Development for a Fortune 500 company. John teaches at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management. He is active in the California Network of Learning Professionals. John lives in Sacramento with his wife and two children.

Contact information. John Goldberg, MBA, 442 T Street, Sacramento, CA 95818-2122. Telephone: (916) 444-3353. Email: johngoldberg@hotmail.com. Website: JohnGoldberg.com

Dilip G. Banhatti teaches physics at many levels, especially at the university level. He first trained in mechanical engineering and then extragalactic radio astrophysics. He is also interested and active in science outreach. He has resumed at Madurai this year after being away in Europe for three and a half years with his wife (and two adult children off and on).

Contact information. Dilip G. Banhatti, Ph.D., School of Physics, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai 625021, India. Email: dilip.g.banhatti@gmail.com. 


The following are astronomical metaphors for the types of participants that can be found in groups:

Asteroid: A rocky object with a rough surface and a stable or unstable orbit around a star. Asteroids vary in size. A large asteroid can have a devastating impact on a planet if it collides with the planet.

Black Hole: An imploded, spinning mass with the ability to suck in all matter around it, sometimes expelling energy in powerful bilateral bursts along the axis.

Comet: A dirty snowball in a long, elliptical orbit around a star. Displays one or two bright tails until, in the case of periodic comets, after many orbits it loses its volatility.

Dark Energy: Very common, yet little understood, form of energy that pushes or pulls other objects apart from one another and, in the process, expands the universe at an ever-increasing rate.

Moon: A natural object that orbits a planet. There can be one or many moons orbiting the same planet. A moon can be formed from collisions of large rocks. Can have a significant influence on the planet it orbits.

Planet: A body that orbits a star. It has enough mass to become round as a result of gravity, but not enough to have a fusion reaction in its core like a star. So it is not self-luminous, but shines with light reflected from its star. Its gravity has cleared the area around it, so it is isolated from other, similar bodies.

Star: A large, bright self-luminous ball of matter massive enough to spontaneously ignite a fusion reaction in its core. Stars can be extremely hot. Many stars eventually collapse on themselves.

Supernova: Extremely bright self-destroying explosion of a large star that creates massive outgoing shock waves. Supernovas disperse materials that become parts of next generation stars.