I recently observed a group that is in the habit of regularly taking time to meet for the purpose of looking into member's reactivity. (Good for them!)
When getting together for that, participants are asked at the front of the meeting if they have anything they want to work on, and to indicate their relative level of urgency—with the understanding that whoever wants it most will get attention and that no one will be pressured into the spotlight. There is the further agreement that each participant is fully responsible for getting their own needs met.
As you are undoubtedly aware, there is an incredible array of options for doing personal work, yet this group has a particular approach that it used most often. It's based on the assumption that if you have a reaction to something that another person said or did, then there is probably a self-judgment in you about doing versions of the same thing and it's useful to root that out—so that you can better understand where you're unresolved; so that you can better understand how you're triggered by others; and so that you can more easily move beyond your reactions. It's powerful stuff.
Let's suppose that Chris had a reaction to Adrian. If Adrian isn't present, then it's turned out to be relatively straight forward maintaining focus on Chris. However, when Adrian is present, things get more complicated.
On the one hand, Chris still has personal work to do (looking for the self-judgment). On the other, Adrian may have a reaction also, after hearing Chris' upset. Maybe Adrian is surprised to learn that Chris had a reaction, or perhaps Adrian is knocked off center by the strength of Chris' expression of upset (while the group may have helped Chris by encouraging them to "get it all out," that may not be so wonderful for Adrian, who is the landing spot for Chris' judgment). Think of it as a multi-car accident.
Where does the group give attention now? Do you stay the course with Chris, and hope you have enough time afterwards to tend to Adrian later, or do you hit the pause button with Chris to give Adrian mouth-to-mouth? What if Adrian asks for attention in the midst of focusing on Chris (putting the group in an awkward situation)? What if Adrian is too overwhelmed to know what to ask for? What if Adrian feels it's too disrespectful of Chris to interrupt the focus that Chris has requested, even though Adrian needs help? In short, it's messy.
I think it's best to approach this dynamic using triage principles: go first where the need is greatest, and work your way through the room. Thus, Chris should still get the chance to do personal work, yet there may be times when that's interrupted to handle an emerging reaction in real time.
While that's my view on how to manage the dynamic where more than one person has something "up" for them simultaneously, there are other ways to see this. For example, you could take the position that if personal work is the primary purpose of the group, then ermergent relational dynamics should take a back seat, and group attention shouldn't be deflected from Chris regardless of what Adrian experiences: it's Chris' turn and Adrian will have to wait.
Further, some hold the view that relational work always proceeds better after personal work has been completed. If you buy that, then examination of the Chris/Adrian dynamic will be enhanced by the delay to focus solely on Chris.
Of course, going the other way, there is surely a component—perhaps the main component—of the Chris/Adrian kerfuffle that is personal work for Adrian. Thus prioritizing Chris over Adrian may not translate into emphasizing personal work over relational work; it may simply be giving people attention in priority order at the outset and agreeing to not change focus to another person until work with the first is completed, regardless of what bubbles up in the examination.
In working with this group there have been two occasions where I witnessed a Chris/Adrian dynamic where the person in the Adrian role was clearly struggling with what the Chris person had reported, yet the group doggedly kept the focus on Chris (which was the norm), even when Chris got stuck in their story and was having trouble getting traction on their personal work. It was excruciating watching Chris flounder while Adrian needed oxygen. In both instances I expressed my uneasiness with the choice to stay with Chris, and the group is chewing on whether it wants to do anything differently in the future.
While I still prefer my approach to this dynamic (giving focus where the need seems greatest, even if that means switching from one person to another before the work with the first person has been completed), it's important to report that in both cases I named, the Adrian character ultimately got attention and the meetings in question ended satisfactorily for all parties. So I'm not talking about disasters; I'm talking about minimizing anguish and what constitutes effective work.
There is integrity to any of the approaches I've outlined above. The important thing is reaching agreement in the group about how it wants to handle it, which includes an analysis of what will ultimately serve group members best, helping them be more fully actualized and aware.
While I firmly support the view that doing personal work will enhance one's ability to respond constructively when encountering relational tension, when I work conflict in cooperative groups I proceed without reference to personal work (since there's no agreement to go there, and I'm not a therapist). Instead, I work directly with how people are feeling and thinking (never mind how they got there) and try to bridge differences what's available in the room. With diligence, compassion, and good intent it's almost always possible to get the job done. While that work may benefit people on a personal level, I make no claims that that will happen.
I operate from the premise that everyone wants and deserves to be heard and understood, and that unresolved tension among group members is both unpleasant and expensive. Let's see what we can do to restore flow without anyone being "bad." While this approach would undoubtedly be more potent if everyone were committed to doing personal work, it still works.