Running Groups: A quick and dirty mind-dump

We recently put together a very quick, but deep, set of pointers for a team of Volunteer Facilitators helping us make the #GEveryone an amazing experience. And it seemed to us that this would be a great resource for the entire community! If you ever run groups at work or for events, these are some great pointers:

Set Up Group Rules

Kick off your sessions by setting some basic rules for your group to abide by. Set brainstorming rules and group dynamics guidelines.

Push for Specificity

It’s really easy for groups to get into abstract land, especially with loose topic constraints and really diverse participants. When it is time, push your group to be concrete and specific. It’s great to go wide in the beginning, but pushing your group towards real ideas someone could touch, feel or experience is almost always more useful.

Use Positive Affirmation

Let your groups know when they’re doing a great job and heading in the right direction. Statements like ‘You guys are doing great’ or ‘I’m really excited what you guys are coming up with’ can go a long way in boosting team energy and letting people know they’re moving in the right direction.

Use Humor and a Sense of Play

When we hear laughing, we know a group is really getting work done. Tense standoffs don’t move anywhere. Whereas laughter and playfulness, even with serious topics, can help move things forward. We’ll rarely get to the ultimate best answers—getting something off the drawing board and prototyping it is better than talking about it forever.

Use Ideation Music

Bust out a phone and turn on some ideation music. Own your room and leverage the tools you need to in order to design the experience you want.

Encourage Team Celebration and Clapping

Using kinesthetic, high energy affirmations like clapping and giving high-fives helps create a really positive emotional memory for people. They should be excited about the work they’ve done—so be the first to demonstrate that by having them celebrate their win as a team.

Balance Outcomes vs. Experience

Before each event, try to envision what the ideal outcome would be. Have you cracked the code on world peace? Have people met someone new? Did people learn something new? As a facilitator, maintain awareness of what you want people to walk away with, and balance your facilitation accordingly.

Actively Engage Each Member of the Group

Often team members can fade from the main conversation. This tends to happen in bigger groups and open spaces or long tables. As a facilitator, keep an eye out for early signals that people are starting to get disengaged. Start actively asking them for their input or thoughts as soon as you see this happening, or get people to stand up and switch places. Sometimes people just aren’t interested, but other times people just learn and communicate differently, so toggle between visual, kinesthetic, and auditory facilitation.

Beware of Talking too Much

Beware of moments when you find yourself in front of the room talking or teaching for an extended period of time. We’re most often not the content experts, so the more time we’re talking, the less time we’re spending extracting deep content expertise and ideas from our team. Try limiting yourself and pushing questions back to the group. If someone asks you a question, use a phrase like, “Well, tell me what you think.” or “What does the rest of the group think about that?” to redirect the question back to them.

Synthesize but Don’t Put Words in Their Mouth

It can be really valuable to rapidly synthesize what you’re hearing a group dance around. If you heard a lot of people talking about writing to politicians, don’t be afraid to offer up the title of “Ok, it sounds like you all are circling around strategically engaging local politicians.” If they agree, then you were able to close that conversation and move on. If they don’t agree, then you’ve at least put something down for them to respond to. However, beware of speaking over your group or putting words in their mouths. Make sure your synthesis is actually just a combination of what you’ve been hearing, perhaps in a more provocative or pithy way, as opposed your personal opinion of what is right.



The Design Gym
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