The invention enables two nodes in a communications network to dynamically establish the transmission group number used to partially identify a given link between the nodes. When the link is being activated, both nodes simultaneously propose either a zero or a non-zero number to each other in an exchange of exchange identification (XID) messages. If only one of the nodes proposed a non-zero number, that non-zero number is selected as the transmission group number. If both nodes had proposed zero or both had proposed non-zero numbers, predetermined criteria are employed to select a controlling node. The controlling node chooses the final transmission group number and communicates that choice to the non-controlling node.