Monday, August 10, 2009



· The live exchange of ideas between all kinds of minds. (Good: Exchanging ideas via the internet. Much Better: Exchanging ideas in the flesh.)

· Accountability and structure.

· The opportunity to make relationships with new and interesting people that I may not have met in the course of my day-to-day routine.

· The chance to contribute to something greater than myself, while also moving forward in my own personal or professional growth.


· Even if the group is run via democratic processes, there still needs to be someone who is in charge of thinking about the overall functioning of the group and its members.

· Create a clear purpose or mission statement which you can always come back to when you are evaluating the group’s programs and activities.

· Model the “vibe” you want to create – e.g. as the facilitator, make sure you set a friendly, welcoming tone if that is the mood you want to foster.

· When beginning a group meeting, it’s useful to have a brief activity that allows people to clear their heads and get into the present moment. Sometimes, I’ll have people go ‘round the circle and say something good that happened between the last meeting and the one at hand. One time, when I was moderating a panel, I had audience members introduce themselves to the people sitting around them.

· Give credit where credit’s due. Make sure you publicly thank other folks who help you organize group activities, including meetings.

· When it makes sense, split members off into pairs or groups to brainstorm solutions to problems. Not everyone likes to talk in front of the larger group.

· When facilitating group meetings, make sure that members stay focused on generating solutions and strategies to problems or challenges, not on letting any one person vent at length about a personal issue. Otherwise, you run the risk of running group therapy (which is fine if it is actually group therapy!)

· When having group members brainstorm ideas or solutions, figure out a way to create safety for people. For example, set a ground rule of “No cross talk” – meaning no one can interrupt another person when she is talking or censor another person’s ideas.

· If certain individuals or groups within the group tend to dominate discussions, find some clever ways around that dynamic. When leading trainings for parent volunteers in the public schools, I would sometimes say “Who would like to speak that we haven’t yet heard from?” Often, the super-chatty folks would be silent – at least for a little while!

· Find a balance between theory and practice. At our most recent meetings for women artists and entrepreneurs, the facilitators implemented the agenda in this order:

1. A discussion about the particular challenges women face around being visible in the world

2. A brainstorming session, done in pairs, around strategies we could use (including social networking) to increase our visibility as artists and entrepreneurs

· End group meetings on a positive, upbeat note so folks want to come back next time! Have folks say what they found useful, or what they learned.

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