I believe in the universal power of small groups. Small-group dynamics are useful for business teams (where I’m sure there are a lot of frameworks already in place) to common-interest groups (from knitting to Star Wars fans). I’ll be using a spiritual common interest for my examples here, but the principles apply to all small group work (or play!).
Purpose and Focus
If you want to use groups in your own coaching or inspirational business, or in a personal group, give your group meaning from the start. It will last a lot longer and provide more satisfaction for everyone. That’s what I liked about the meditation group I belonged to in the 1990s—we always started with a short meditation to get everyone centered, and then we’d talk about different meditation techniques or some inspirational book we’d been reading. But we kept to the overall focus throughout the “meeting.” We also made sure to practice what we discussed rather than just talking about it. I felt a common thread and “rhythm” in this group every time. Very comforting.
Depending on the range of interest and initial purpose of your group, you may want to be looser about what your group talks about or does. In a long-running spiritual discussion group I belonged to in Houston, Texas in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we started out as a book study group looking at the inspirational books by Neale Donald Walsch. As time went by, we used the size of our group and the members’ common interest in New Age spiritual ideas and practices to expand our study into other aspects of personal spirituality. Notice that the focus still had an outer limit (we were not a Christian Bible study group, that’s for sure!), but we allowed the group to move into different areas as our interests shifted.
This is the beauty of the small group. Focus and flexibility can both work at the same time because the group is small enough for everyone to be heard.
Nice thing about having up to ten people or so and no more than, say, fifteen, is that consensus governance works well. Assuming yours is a purposeful spiritual interest group, small size makes sure that in most cases everyone has full say in decision making. Debate will be much, much shorter than in the U.S. Congress (thank goodness!), and factions are unlikely to develop. Leadership becomes facilitative rather than authoritarian. Everyone gets a chance to initiate ideas and activities.
That said, I have seen small groups become dictatorial fiefdoms or back-stabbing gossip pits. In those cases, the group probably needed a complete overhaul of their purpose, transparency, or even members. Intimacy has its price when it goes negative.
One way to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to negative group vibes (regardless of group size) is to put the governance structure in writing. Kind of like the behavior rules for discussion forums or social media groups online, you can make a few basic rules on the conduct of your get-togethers to avoid problems or resolve them. Then again, you may not need anything formal at all; my spiritual discussion group had clocked in at least ten consistent years at the time I moved out of Houston in 2014, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they are still meeting once a month.
The Gift of Physical Intimacy
In these pandemic times, we are doing group stuff remotely, and largely online (although I know some local folks who have gathered in a really big field all social distanced to have lunch together). Virtual group stuff does work, to a degree. You get the ten-people interaction dynamic, sound and visual feedback, but I know there will always be something missing.
Even though I believe that people’s energies can span great distances in an instant through the quantum “ether,” there’s no real substitute for physical proximity in a small-group environment. If you’re doing a workshop to get folks to shift their thinking or behavior, small-group work is where the real transformation occurs. Being inside someone’s actual personal energy field, making eye contact, seeing, smelling, hearing, and most of all, touching are just magical. This is the intimacy of the small group and its greatest gift.
And remember that the pandemic environment of social distancing won’t last forever, just a couple of years, I think (I know that seems like a long time, but I’m old, and it’s not!). Small groups will also be healthier to be in face-to-face than larger ones, so there’s another vote for small groups! Meanwhile, virtual connection still works. It also creates more opportunities for people from different parts of the world to share their common interests and work on things together.
Which brings me to leadership. I know I wrote about consensus before, but each group I’ve belonged to has had at least one person who was the driving force behind keeping it going. You can share this leadership role, but I’ve rarely seen a group that survived for long without a founder or later volunteer who kept communication going between face-to-face sessions, came up with ideas for activities when no one else had any, and facilitated decision making on what to do next. Two things to remember about leadership: 1) support it and 2) don’t wear it out.
Remember that someone who steps up with ideas or facilitating skills needs everyone else not only to support their choices at times, but also to be honest about what the members want from the group. Neither sheep nor snakes does the leader need. And don’t assume that the fearless leader will always have the energy and want to come up with all the ideas. I’ve lived through several situations in which I’ve had a terrible time getting out of a leadership position after my time was really up. If everyone takes a turn, it will improve the group dynamic and provide someone new with a great opportunity for growth. Remember, the group is small, so the responsibility will be smaller, and often easily shared.
So, whether you are all sitting in a circle knitting or meditating, or talking about books or your latest hiking adventure, take advantage of the opportunity to step away from your individual experience of the world to participate in an ongoing relationship with real people in a real or virtual world.
I do it primarily for the hugs, and I miss them these days. But even if hugs are not your thing, there are so many advantages to small groups that I urge you to participate, and if you are a workshop leader, to use it to inspire others and build your tribe.