Large groups must be structured and moderated. How? This is shown by the group Life’n’rhythm – a school project.
The group of actors Life’n’rhythm – the school project (in the following LnR) consists of about 60 colleagues, some of whom change every year, who carry out a project week once a year in a secondary school. The project week is an extraordinary situation: this week the colleagues concentrate on the project exclusively. Ahead of each project week, many decisions are already made by a small management team. The following describes the decision mechanism that the group uses for making decisions with all employees during the week.
During the project week, the group meets once a day for an staff meeting. Ideally, the group should consist of all the project employees, and therefore about 60 people need to discuss the topics in a concentrated and attentive manner.
Start: All employees are requested to collect their agenda items to be discussed on a pinboard in advance. Here an independent pre-structuring of the topics already takes place. For the group, the division into organisation, music/ technics/ programme and various other has proven to be useful.
It is inherent to the project that all points must also be discussed and none can be postponed. (For the transfer to other groups, an independent prioritisation of the agenda items by different coloured cards would be conceivable.)
- Funny titles of the topics: Within the group, it has become a sport to come up with funny titles for items on the agenda. This has the advantage that a new topic is often rung in with a laugh.
Procedure of the exchange round: The exchange round is led by a moderator. First he/she goes through the events of the past 24 hours. With this review, success can be appreciated, problems in implementing certain actions can be discussed and beautiful moments can be shared within the group.
After that, the actions to be taken within the next 24 hours are discussed and planned. This preview helps to bring all members up to the same level of knowledge and to prepare them for the future.
The moderator changes daily during the project week.
The card system: Messages are made throughout the session using a card system. Each colleague is dealt three cards: a red, a yellow and a green card. You answer with one of the three cards.
- With the red card you announce you want to say something exactly on the subject that is currently under discussion. These requests to speak shall be prioritised.
- If you sign up with the yellow card, you indicate that you want to say something about another topic. These speeches will only be heard after the red cards.
- The green cards are used to show approval or enthusiasm for an expression that was previously made.
The card system allows each employee to think about his or her own request to speak in advance and perhaps ask the following questions: Does my speech fit in with the topic under discussion? This is a very important question, as many discussions become strenuous because one topic changes into another without a conclusion being reached for the topic initially discussed. This is especially the case when participants are tired of a discussion or are used to the habit of just talking. The card system therefore also works against existing hierarchies, since – if it works well – no one will be able to shift the focus of a discussion by simply speaking out on top of it.
The green card also serves an important purpose, since it reduces the number of requests to speak, which have a similar content, and also gives the opportunity to ‘celebrate’ what was said earlier. For example, when someone says “On Monday we had a nice info-booth in the city centre, which attracted many visitors” and many people in the group wag their green cards, then it connects the group and shows the organisers of the info-booth that many of the group members liked their action. This results in fast but effective feedback from the group for the individual team members.
In addition, the green map makes it possible to visualize the current mood of the audience without explicit queries. For example, if a suggestion is made in which many people immediately wave green cards, the moderator or the group as a whole will see that this is an idea many members approve of.
Of course, the card system also stands and falls with the willingness of the group to really use the cards and, with the abilities of the moderator, to reject the speeches if necessary because they do not match the colour of the card, to carefully break off long word contributions or to point out that for similar statements please use the green card.
Instead of the card system, hand signals can also be used. A detailed list of helpful hand signals can be found on the educational website wall-skills.com (http://wall-skills.com/2017/hand-signals-for-discussions-in-large-groups/ )
However, the use of hand signals is not advisable for all groups. Many people are not used to consciously using their body or hands during a discussion and quickly feel uncomfortable when asked to do so. There is also the same risk that some group members will make fun of the hand signals, making it impossible for the whole group to use these.
Conclusion of the round: Discussion and debating sessions can be very strenuous – even with good moderation and productive work. Even with the best possible cooperation in joint decision-making.
One way of countering the dissatisfaction that can arise from this exchange is to set a common conclusion. The LnR group, for example, ends its exchange rounds with a joint gesture similar to a jubilation. All participants of the round stand up and come together a little closer to form a narrow circle. Then everyone moves their arms and hands as if they were pulling on an imaginary rope. The group and each individual becomes faster and faster in his/her movements, the increase in speed is indicated by the increase in the sound, which all hum. At the most intensive point all participants of the round raise their arms into the air in a single movement – similar to sports fans who start a mexican wave.
Such an action at the end of a round of discussions puts a physical end that can be experienced together, which can channel vigorous talking into a more euphoric ending. However, it requires the willingness of the group to engage in such a playful action. For other groups, a more formal consolidation of points discussed may be more appropriate.
Overview of different moderation methods (German): https://wpgs.de/fachtexte/fokus-gruppen/4-moderation-und-ablauf-von-gruppendiskussionen/
Detailed information on group moderation:
Moderation Practice – Practical Methods (German): http://arbeitsblaetter.stangl-taller.at/KOMMUNIKATION/moderationspraxis.shtml
Complementary methodology collection for groups (German): http://portal.zebis.eu/fileadmin/fileupload/Methodenkoffer/Methodensammlung%20%20%20ueberarbeitet%20%20%20Oktober%202013%20mit%20neu.pdf
More icebreakers and initial actions (English): http://volunteerpower.com/resources/icebreaker.asp
The method database of the German Children’s Fund (German): http://www.bpb.de/lernen/formate/methoden/227/methodendatenbank
Nick Osborne on Effective Groups (English): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCLwdvCGnkA