Transition – healthy groups

Learning how to work well together

People often look at the great projects that come out of Transition: community energy projects; local currencies; ambitious food projects and so on, and they assume they happen by magic. But central to any project being successful is a healthy group. Creating healthy groups is something we aren’t taught in school, or in most work settings. It requires a set of skills and tools that we may well not have. So over the last 10 years we have created various resources that will support you to co-create a group culture based on the trusting, caring and compassionate relationships needed to make decisions effectively, run nourishing and successful meetings and events, avoid burnout, navigate conflict healthily and maintain members in the longer term

People often look at the great projects that come out of Transition: community energy projects; local currencies; ambitious food projects and so on, and they assume they happen by magic. But central to any project being successful is a healthy group. Creating healthy groups is something we aren’t taught in school, or in most work settings. It requires a set of skills and tools that we may well not have. So we have created a number of resources about healthy groups that will give you a clear understanding of how groups develop, the ability to make decisions, the ability to run successful meetings, keep people in your group, document what you’re doing and manage conflict.

“When we get together, it’s like everyone is feeding everyone else. There’s this atmosphere of ‘I tell you… you tell me’. Everyone listens, then someone comes up with another idea. It’s like collective excitement, collective inspiration, collective knowledge, coming together for the profit of the group. You can feel the thrill”

 Your first meeting

Your first meeting is really important. It will set the tone, and the culture, of how your group will work together. The aim is to get your group off to a good start, agreeing what you’re all here to do, finding out about each other, establishing how you will work together, becoming friends. Some groups try to get on with doing things really fast, but often come unstuck later so let these early stages take a bit of time. This will give you a solid foundation to build on.

There are a few things you’ll need to do in advance of the meeting:

• Invite those who are going to attend: give some thought to who should be there, and, so far as it’s possible, try to get as much of your community’s diversity in the room as you can

• Choose a venue: somewhere comfortable, that doesn’t exclude anyone (whether through accessibility, religious or cultural reasons, or inaccessibility for those dependent on public transport)

• Appoint a facilitator: it’s important to get into the habit of having a facilitator. This role can rotate, but for the first meeting, make sure someone knows they will be taking the role

One of the keys to good meetings is to open and close them successfully. So here are some ideas for your first meeting, as well as some suggestions for how to open and close them well.

Opening:

Start with a check-in. Start your meeting with a go-round where everyone speaks, uninterrupted, for a couple of minutes. They should introduce themselves, talk about how they are, what’s happening in their life. You could also ask everyone, once they’ve done that, to reflect briefly on something they are grateful for at the moment or something they love about living in this place. Starting in this way sets the culture that we meet as friends who care about each other rather than as colleagues with an agenda to speed through. It really makes a difference.

The body of the meeting:

You could do all sorts of things during the meeting itself:

• Get to know each other, find out more about why each person is here and their hopes for the Transition group

• Develop a shared understanding of Transition

• Decide what area you want your Initiative to cover

• Find out what skills people have and other groups they may be linked to

• Understand each other’s ways of dealing with stress: see our activity at https://transitionnetwork.org/resources/become-stress-busting-experts-innertransition-activity/

• If you have a programme of events planned, involve people in helping with these – it’s good to do some things together to find out how you work as a team

• Actively develop the group, its relationships, understanding and ways of working

Take time to get to know each other. It is the relationships that you form that are a key part of what is going to keep you going through the rough patches, when there are disagreement and things maybe aren’t going very well.

Our activity sheet ‘Inner Transition activities for meetings’ has some great practical exercises for bringing depth and energy to your meetings you can find it here: https://transitionnetwork.org/resources/inner-transition-activities-meetings/

Closing: Make time to reflect on the meeting

It is good to get into the habit of making time at the end of your meeting to reflect on how it went and what worked, as well as what didn’t work? What could be done better next time? Without it, there is no way to pick up if people are feeling excluded, frustrated or confused. It also creates a space to thank those whose good work made the meeting go well (see ‘Stages of Group Life’ above).

You might also need:

Tea, biscuits/cake, flipchart paper and pens, a laptop for taking notes, some way of keeping time.