“Confronting Challenges” will be a recurring blog segment by Victoria Fann, who hosts Ben Franklin Circles in Weaverville and Asheville, NC and has several decades of facilitation experience.
So, you’ve started a Ben Franklin Circle, and you’re excited but maybe you’ve encountered some challenges. Perhaps it’s low or inconsistent attendance, members who share too much or not enough, or a lack of overall resonance or harmony within group, etc. and you aren’t quite sure how to address them.
You’re not alone.
I’ve been facilitating group for almost thirty years, and I’ve seen it all. Over the years, I’ve learned to create guidelines, to set clear boundaries and to use some tough love with members. One really important thing I’ve learned is that when things don’t go well in a group, it is NOT personal, nor is it a reflection on you or your skills. Rather, it is inherent in gathering groups of people together, that it may get complicated, messy or uncomfortable. After all, you are putting a group of often strangers together to talk about some pretty deep (and often very personal) topics.
I can tell you from firsthand experience of running dozens of groups, with a few basic tweaks, you can create an amazing group experience and the payoff is SO worth it. In addition, sometimes things do just flow without a need for much micromanaging or intervention.
In a series of posts, I’m going to help provide some tips and tweaks that can help achieve that. This post focuses on group dynamics.
When you take on the role of host, you are essentially being given the task of gathering people and facilitating a meaningful conversation. What this means is that you need to be tuned into the needs not only of the group as a whole, but also each individual. The main goal is that each person has a chance to share and be heard, and that no one dominate the conversation or hold back and not participate.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
When it comes to facilitating a conversation, some of the most common challenges include people:
- Not having much experience sharing in groups.
- Being nervous about sharing and because of that fear, not always being tuned in and on their best behavior.
- Coming to the groups with agendas that are above and beyond the intended focus of the group. They may have an agenda of meeting a soul mate, networking, selling a product, and so on. I frequently experienced these agendas when I ran some Meetup groups, and this is where I learned to use a tough love approach with certain members.
All of this is to say that the solution to problems that arise in a group is to keep one thing in the forefront of your mind:
The well-being of the group comes first.
This helps to move problems out of the personal into the bigger picture. When a problem arises, consider if and how it’s affecting the well-being of the group as a whole. If it is, here are a few options:
- You can set group guidelines that help remind members of the purpose of the group and the importance of balanced sharing. These guidelines might include speaking from “I” statements or personal experience because it feels more open and inclusive, whereas, speaking in general or in “we” or “you” statements feels more like philosophizing and lecturing. Another guideline might be to be conscious of how much time each person speaks so that no one dominates. And still another might be “no crosstalk” because interruptions and side conversations take away from the flow of the group conversation. What’s important is to have just enough and not too many rules.
- You can speak with specific members outside of the group about any specific issues that are coming up. It is better to talk with someone privately than in front of the group because it will give you a chance to help the person become aware of whatever behavior isn’t working without embarrassing him or her. In addition, you don’t want to use the group’s time to resolve issues with individual members.
- If the problem persists, you can tell the member that he/she can no longer be part of the group. Ideally, this should be a last resort, unless the member is highly disruptive to the group. Implement options 1 and 2 if possible first and then if after having a discussion with the member things don’t improve, then you can inform the person that you’ve determined that it’s not a good fit for either party.
- If there is an overall group dynamic issue that comes up, you can ask the members if they would like to use part of the group time to resolve it. Issues might include inconsistent attendance, following guidelines, managing sharing time, differing views on how to discuss the monthly topic, etc. Engaging members of the group to help improve the group experience can be a positive experience all the way around. It can create some necessary group bonding. It might also make people who are shy or nervous feel more comfortable because they have input into how the group is run, which can feel more inclusive than decisions made only by the host.
You are the steward and the custodian of your Ben Franklin Circle. You are tending to the well-being of your members. It is a wonderful and fulfilling role to play once you get into a rhythm.
Victoria Fann is a writer, transformational coach, group facilitator and workshop leader. Her Ben Franklin Circle meets in Weaverville, NC.