Groupwork Centre Blog

Good foundations build strong houses

When we’re discussing providing facilitation services with new clients there can sometimes be push back about the time we devote to setting up the activity, to establishing the group.

Clients will usually defer to our judgement and experience, but sometimes hesitantly, concerned that it might not be within their normal culture and practise.  Afterwards there can be surprise at how everyone ‘went with it’ and the difference it made to participation.

So what sorts of things are we talking about as part of a set up?

Taking a moment to settle

This can do wonders to a readiness to take part.  Often people are busy with running minds, heading from one activity to another, giving up time in a hectic schedule to be present. They’ve just got caught in traffic, had to get kids to school, all sorts of distractions. A short centring, a chance to catch a breath, to get permission to leave other needs at the door, is magic for helping people really arrive and be ready to give their attention.

Checking in on how people are, and inviting a simple sharing

The chance for everyone to name and hear how each other is ‘today’ helps the sensitivity of the group and gives the facilitator insight into possible dynamics. If everyone knows that people are tired, distracted about something, or excitedly sitting on something, then people see behind their face and empathy starts to build.  Sharing this along with something like a hope or a strength also gets everyone talking at the start, which can help with issues of rank and uncertainty in the group.

Purpose and Agenda, being clear about what’s planned to happen

Making sure everyone is at what they’re expecting to be at can’t be understated. Sometimes this is the first time individuals might have focused fully on the session. Taking the time to clarify or refine the purpose, and the process for getting there, builds ownership of the time spent together, particularly clarity around break and finish times!

Setting agreements for the session

A conversation about the environment we want to create for this session, around what everyone needs to be in place to be able to give of their best, is enormously helpful for setting the tone and culture of the group. People might only need some of the individual points raised to be in place e.g. listening deeply, sharing speaking time. The key is the overall agreement to support the described environment for the benefit of all. Everyone in the group can be part of reminding each other of what’s been agreed to keep the session on track.

And when it’s all over, ending well is also a chance to build culture.

Checking out, closing the session

This is a valuable bookend to the day, and is easy to negotiate.. Hearing a little on ‘how are we now?’ and ‘how did we go as a group?’ is a group-building exercise, helpful for individuals, the group, and the process.  It can happen quickly, even in just a few words if you’re pushed for time, and ’s invaluable in completing and even building on the experience.

– Justine McSweeney

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