Coming together as groups
How best to bring a group of people together, and lay foundations for their working together successfully?
One common mistake when forming a Transition group is to think that because everyone is committed to the core purpose that initially drew them together, there won’t be any difficulty in working together. However...
From the outset, create clear structures and processes that help your group to work enjoyably and effectively – and take some time to get to know each other as people!
by Sophy Banks
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
One common mistake when forming a Transition group is to think that because everyone is committed to the core purpose that initially drew them together, there won’t be any difficulty in working together. However, everyone has their own idea about how groups should be run, based on past experience and beliefs, and on their own strengths and abilities. This ingredient doesn’t intend to specify one ‘right’ way that groups should structure themselves – each group will need to figure out its own way of working – but it offers some useful insights and strategies.
So, how can we create as many positive effects (the things we all love about being part of a project like Transition) as possible, and minimise what can be difficult (the things that turn a pleasure into a chore)? This ingredient strongly recommends investing time and energy at an early stage to save a great deal more time and energy later on. The tasks involved in this may well take up most of the first few meetings, and be things that are regularly on the agenda for the first six months or year, but it is time very well spent. (Later phases of group life are covered in Momentum (Deepening 9) and Healthy conflict (Tools for Transition No.11).
The first thing to establish is what the purpose of the group is. This might include a mission statement, and then some secondary sentences about how you will carry this out. For example, here is the Mission Statement of Transition Town Exmouth:
“Transition Town Exmouth aims to build Exmouth’s local resilience and independence from fossil fuels, and to reduce its carbon emissions by a process of energy descent.
We will do this by:
- Creating awareness and understanding of the mission and the Transition movement.
- Applying the Transition model to the town of Exmouth and locality.
- Empowering stakeholders to envision and follow pathways of energy descent and practical actions that contribute to the mission”.
Agreeing on the mission or aim of your group will help enormously in getting clarity about everything that follows – who joins the group, how you work together and where time should be spent, what are the priorities and so on. Some groups bring their statement of purpose to every meeting so they are reminded continually of what they set out to do. Include in your purpose something about how you will work as a group as well as what you will do.
Below are some very different kinds of activities that groups may have as part of their purpose. You may want to spend some time thinking about how much these apply to your group as you start.
- Getting tasks done.
- Reflecting and improving how the group works together.
- Building trust and safety and getting to know each other.
- Giving and getting support.
- Learning and sharing tools and skills.
You will also need to agree some basic ground rules, which describe how the group will work together. This also helps to reduce misunderstandings, and having it written down and available at group meetings keeps it in mind. Most groups update and add to these rules as new things arise. Agreements made at the start might include:
- When and where meetings take place.
- How meetings are run (agenda setting, facilitation/chair, managing the time, and so on – see Running effective meetings (Tools for Transition No.4).
- How decisions are made (consensus, majority vote, consent) and recorded.
- How you behave towards each other (respectful listening, arriving on time, supporting the group purpose, being willing to be challenged about behaviour, appreciating each other’s contribution and celebrating successes, maintaining confidentiality where appropriate).
- What kinds of things you will make time for in your meetings (planning, doing, reviewing tasks, learning, social time, feelings, visioning, reviewing and revising group agreements, giving each other feedback).
- Anything else that feels important to group members.
Agreements you might want to work out later in the group’s life could include:
- Is the group open or closed? How and when can people join, and how are they brought into the group? How and when do people leave? If new members keep joining you will stay in the forming stage for a long time – fine if the purpose of the group is to welcome people to Transition, but hard if you want to get things done, or build deep levels of trust and support.
- How to deal with disagreements.
- How and when to review and change the group agreements.
The last thing to consider is who you need in the group. What skills are needed? Which voices aren’t there that should be there?