The Engage Network is often referred to as “the small group people” because we have a particular passion for the connection and opportunity that can only be cultivated in small groups. Small groups are distributive structures through which an organization or network delivers its mission to its members in a hands-on and personal way. In our experience, the most successful groups are comprised of 6-15 people with a shared purpose who gather on a regular (weekly, biweekly, monthly) basis. The groups that persist tend to include significant social time, pursue shared interests, and provide a structure for personal support of group members.
Here is a list of some of the most common missteps we’ve seen in launching and operating a small group network:
Top 5 Ways to Ruin Your Small Group Network
- Launch it with a hidden political agenda.
- Make it an add-on/afterthought to an overt political agenda.
- Rush its development in time for a funding cycle or political campaign.
- Suffocate it with rules, reporting requirements, programming and expectations about specific outcomes. This includes creating your own complicated online tools to “help” manage the groups’ activities without getting their input on what they want and need, and/or developing complex online infrastructure before groups are even launched. Your groups will show you what they want if you let them.
- Provide no ongoing messaging or inspirational big picture about why people should participate in a small group within your larger/meta community.
The best way to inspire a small group network is to provide accessible (short, sweet, clear) stories showcasing shared values and constant reminders of why being in a small group forwards those values in the world. Give leaders guidelines and tools, but let them lead. Encourage groups to form communities of care- to approach personal topics and create support structures for one another in managing their daily lives. And, like every distributive organizing tool: build it with the people who are to be in it, evaluate, celebrate failure, learn, iterate and evolve.