It is essential to find a suitable structure for the working meetings in order to ensure long-term constructive cooperation within a group. How the regular meetings are to be organised does not have to be clear from the outset. However, if you do not have any long-term vision of the meeting structure, the group runs the risk of forgetting important tasks or having to do the same work twice work and hence losing group members in the long term. Depending on the size of the group and the tasks to be completed, different elements are available for the group meeting.
Group meetings are necessary to pursue common goals as a group. In the long run, however, it is not enough simply to get together and talk to each other without worrying about the structure of the meetings. Because the meeting structure and atmosphere have influence on how information is (can be) exchanged, which people are permanently involved in the company, how much fun the cooperation is, which decisions are made and how effectively the upcoming work is processed.
Meetings are important moments for group maintenance: Group members can support each other, feel their participatory abilities, built mutual trust and share enthusiasm. From this point of view, too, the structure of the joint meetings should be taken seriously.
It should be noted that any group will sooner or later develop a structure in some form. Jo Freeman (1973) describes this characteristic of groups in her famous essay Tyranny of structurelessness: “We cannot decide whether we want to have a structureless or hierarchy-free group or not, but only whether the structures and hierarchies are formalized, i.e. visible to all or not. Since there are always structures, the question is always: in which structure do you want to live and work?”
Of course, there is no off-the-peg group structure that fits all groups. The following aspects and examples contain impulses both for the organisation of group meetings in which all participants have a say as well as for groups led by steering groups (e.g. board members).
General considerations for the organization of group meetings
Spatiality of the meeting
It may sound banal, but the space for the meeting has a part in who comes to the meeting and how it goes. An uncomfortable, cold room in winter, for example, can make discussions unnecessarily exhausting. Finding the right space for a meeting can be more important for the first meetings than for the following ones. Because spatial well-being also plays a role in whether a newcomer wants to come back.
Please note: Some rooms, like e.g. pubs or rooms of religious institutions, deter some people principally.
Depending on the target group, accessibility is an important issue. It also shows that you try to be as inclusive as possible.
- Are there parking spaces for people with disabilities?
- Is there an accessible entrance?
- Is access to the meeting room barrier-free?
- Are there baby-care rooms?
Further import aspects:
- Can the meeting room be reached by public transport?
- Are there enough parking spaces in case you need them?
- Is there a clearly visible signage leading to the meeting room?
- If food is to be provided, there should always be vegetarian/vegan alternatives. Or to go one step further: In view of the CO2 footprint of food, which is disproportionately much more evoked by meat or animal products than by a plant-based diet, those should be completely forgone
- Providing water or tea for everyone increases everyone’s ability to concentrate
- What is the room´s temperature, how is the light and the air quality?
- How must the chairs be arranged so that people can lead themselves? In a circle, in rows or in a U?
Time of the meeting
There is no right time and no right interval for the group meetings. In general, meetings should be held often enough so that group members do not lose contact with each other and so that important tasks can be completed. For a small number of personal meetings, however, there must be a clear structure of the group and the (online) communication channels.
There are groups that meet on certain evenings of the week, other groups meet irregularly at different times. Some groups split up the contents of the meetings so that they have different functions: a discussion meeting, a vision meeting, a group dynamics meeting, an open meeting, and so on. However, the reason for the meeting should always be clear.
If a group has to make a lot of arrangements – perhaps because it is about to implement a project – it can be helpful to arrange meetings of different lengths.
A meeting at the beginning of the week to start the week together and briefly discuss the main tasks. A meeting at the end of the week to get in the right mood for the weekend and to quickly review the most important points. Additionally: Every two weeks a more detailed meeting.
Important questions regarding the scheduling of the meeting?
- Can all people attend the meeting?
- Do they have enough time to be there for the entire session?
The role of the moderator
Moderation is a central mechanism that influences the discussion and decision-making of a group and is important to bring the structure that a group has given itself to life. As already stated here, the moderation contains different aspects. The following are just a few of the key points for the organisation of meetings.
Unless otherwise agreed, the moderator has the task of preparing and initiating the meeting. This can include:
- To invite all people or to advertise the event. This includes providing information about the location, time and content of the meeting.
- To procure all necessary materials for the meeting (e.g. screens, pens, notes, beamer etc.).
- To determine the temporal and contentwise division of the meeting (scheduling breaks, being aware of the real urgent topics of the meeting etc.)
- Introducing the meeting: greeting the group, ice-breaker, getting to know each other, explaining the structure of the meeting, presenting the agenda, determining roles (minute-taker*in, time-keeper*in, atmosphere manager*in etc. – see example 2).
Inspirations for ice-breaker or get-to-know activities can be found below (Links)
Important aspects regarding the group dynamic
Below are some aspects of the group dynamic that may facilitate working together. Not all hints can always be implemented. But perhaps including a few of these hints in the group agreement, if there is one, may help improving the group dynamic:
- Everyone comes on time.
- Everyone prepares for the meetings.
- Ask early on whether you have understood a proposal correctly.
- Not prejudging each other.
- Appreciate each other’s abilities. The views and abilities of the other person do not always match their own. But at different times of an enterprise it takes different skills and different ways of thinking.
- Your own idea of how to implement something is not always the best!
- Focus on content and group dynamics, not just on content. If the atmosphere and structure are right, then the content is right too – the other way around, it’s not automatically true!
- clarification of our own questions, statements, dissatisfaction (e.g. “I, from my position as treasurer, must ensure that we do not spend too much money. I therefore lack the financial aspect of your proposal” or “I’m not interested in arguing against your idea, I just don’t understand it.”)
- After a statement it helps to ask others for their opinion (e.g. I think the best thing we can do in this situation is to do the following: (…) Do the others feel the same way?”
- Time for self- and group reflection
Shift power constellations in favor of the group
The unequal distribution of work can lead to unequal opportunities to become involved in the group. As already mentioned above, this does not always have to be a bad thing. An enterprise needs different skills at different times. However, the different opportunities to participate can also be reflected in unequal opportunities to participate in the decision-making process. This in turn has an impact on how someone identifies with the enterprise and on his/her willingness to work. Therefore, it may be a good idea to ensure that tasks cannot be done by just one person.
- To ensure this, roles and tasks can be changed regularly (or sporadically) respectively the number of jobs per person can be limited (e.g. moderation is only allowed once every two months)
- Or one introduces an affiliate program, so that certain tasks are carried out together by a knowledgeable person and a newcomer.
Of course, this does not mean that people should not follow their interests or talents, that there should no longer be specialists for certain tasks, or that people have to take on a task that overburdens them. Learning new skills can also bring happiness and pride and an increased sense of belonging to the enterprise. In order for the group to remain able to act at all times, the goal should be that there should not only be one person who can get a certain task done.
Another way to bring joy and a deeper connection to the project is the equal appreciation of tasks. This can be expressed in the fact that the small tasks (e.g. the collection of materials, cleaning up the common rooms, writing the minutes) are not taken for granted, but are explicitly acknowledged as work done. Furthermore, the people who do this work can be thanked in a similar way to someone who has taken on more obvious work (such as moderation or the important conversation with the bank). An honest “thank you”, which is briefly justified, can move a lot within a social framework.
Another strategy to deepen the cooperation is to do something common outside the usual activities. Interpersonal interactions in group meetings are very one-sided. Some people like those kinds of interactions more than others. The option to go to a pub together after the meeting can be a good idea, but maybe you just do the same thing – talk and sit – as before in a group meeting. In addition, the common in the pub builds up further hurdles: Not everyone can consume alcohol for financial, health or religious reasons.
For some groups, playful encounters are a helpful way to have fun, to get to know each other better and to deepen trust. The older the members of a group are and the more formal the course of the meetings, the more difficult it is to meet on a playful level. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
A simple game that many people are willing to play is, for example, Who am I?
More inspiration for Ice-Breaker or playful activities can be found at the links below.
Simple alternatives to playful encounters are cooking and eating together, walks or excursions.
Last: If it is easy within a group to give each other feedback and say how you are doing, then many conflicts can be avoided. This can be institutionalized, for example, through a regular time slot in the meeting structure, in which people can say how they are doing.
Some of the aspects described above are taken up again in the following examples. Additional methods for group structuring are described in more detail.
Overview of different moderation methods (German):
Detailed information on group moderation (English):
Moderation practice – practical methods (German):
Extensive collection of methods for groups (German): http://portal.zebis.eu/fileadmin/fileupload/Methodenkoffer/Methodensammlung%20%20%20ueberarbeitet%20%20%20Oktober%202013%20mit%20neu.pdf
More Ice-Breaker and initial actions (English): http://volunteerpower.com/resources/icebreaker.asp
The method database of the German Children’s Fund (Deutsches Kinderhelfwerk) (German): http://www.bpb.de/lernen/formate/methoden/227/methodendatenbank
Nick Osborne on Effective Groups (English): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCLwdvCGnkA