Dear Auntie. Please help! I am finding our Initiating Group’s meetings very frustrating! It seems to me that everyone wants something different, we can’t even seem to agree on how to hold a meeting. It’s driving me mad because it’s paralysing the group and it means we never actually DO anything. I’m sure we can’t be the first group to come up against such a challenge. Can you help? L.S.
In many groups starting up there’s a ‘Forming Stage’ where people figure out whether this group is right for them, find their place, and the whole group is finding its feet. This process is sometimes very polite, where everyone agrees – and sometimes it can feel messy and chaotic. Letting this process take some time is a really good idea – don’t feel you’re failing if you haven’t got anything to happen for the first few meetings.
Most groups need to go through a “storming” phase where you disagree with each other. It can feel really uncomfortable if you don’t like conflict, but it’s essential that the group can cope with different views, and figures out how to manage conflicting views and get to a resolution – your group appears to be getting it out of the way at the start!
One of the foundations of any group is to know what your purpose is, and this might be a good thing to focus on first. There may be different versions of what Transition is – in which case you might need to refer to the website, get some training, or check in one of the books about Transition. You’ll also be figuring out how you’ll work together – how often you meet, how the meetings are run.
And there’s a more invisible layer as people are getting to know each other and find their roles within the group – who looks after others, who makes jokes, who makes sure you get things done? All this is happening in the first few meetings – and it’s fine for it to take some time.
I also encourage groups not to worry if some people leave during this process – in a way it’s remarkable if a group of strangers can come together and find that they all want the same thing and can work together! The suggestions below give a bit more focus to the three areas of group life – your purpose, your structures and your culture. There are materials in the project support offer to help you with these different areas.
What are you here to do? What’s your mission statement? Do you have the same understanding of the process and model that is Transition? What area will you cover? Here are the elements of the Support Offer which can help with the activities of the group:
- Connecting and building good relationships with some of the other groups in your place
- Engaging with people in your community through events and workshops
- Doing some practical actions to inspire and create a Transition future
- Developing your group’s vision of a post – Transition future (you won’t all agree on one vision! Learning to disagree and be at peace is also important!)
But there are other things which are important, and which will help your group to work well and be effective. Research shows that groups which spend at least 25% of their time on these types of activity are more effective in the long run than those which only talk about tasks.
You will also need to start creating agreements about structure – for example, how the agenda is created, roles for facilitating and time keeping, writing down decisions and actions, following up at the next meeting and so on. There are three elements which help with this aspect of running a group.
- How to start Transition – developing an Initiating group
- Forming and developing the group itself
How will you work together? You might create group agreements – that you will arrive on time, not interrupt each other, be respectful in meetings. Many groups include a go-round at the start which helps people to feel included, and gives you a chance to support each other a bit – creating a deeper sense of belonging and caring.
- Inner Transition – creating a healthy group culture which is positive, caring and energising.
How you structure and facilitate these early meetings can really help, including naming the process you’re in – forming a new group that’s going to do things together and working out these three areas of group life. Above all don’t let the meetings get too stressful or tense if that’s possible – encouraging a sense of questioning and curiosity about each other, about the process, even some tactful humour, can ease some of the tension. And some groups just have to have a really big storm before they can set sail together!
Today’s Agony Aunt was Sophy Banks. Any questions for the Transition Agony Aunt? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.