9 ways to keep group members engaged

Keeping the group engaged

Ever had the feeling that the group is not with you? They are physical present but their heads seem somewhere else? I imagine that if you have been running groups or programs that this is not an uncommon experience. Moving group members from visitors to engaged participants takes skill and thoughtfulness. Below are a range of techniques that I have used that allow me to better connect with those coming into groups I run. That way I can make the most of the opportunity.

  1. Connect with each member as they walk in the door –this shows interest, respect and a willingness to connect with the person
  2. Remember important things about the person – a task they had to achieve through the week, a tough situation to get through, something they were looking forward to – this says loud and clear, “I listen to you and am interested in you as a person grappling with the challenges of life.”
  3. Find out how participants connect to the issue.  If group members cannot find a connection to the issue then they are not likely to put value on spending time exploring it. Remember we are asking people to give up time to work with us. I don’t know about you but my time is really valuable and I don’t like having it wasted.
  4. Work the group, not the individual. I have often witnessed group facilitators and trainers working with one person at a time in a group. I call this individual work with an audience. Widening the issue gets everyone’s engagement and makes for more engagement and solution development for all involved. I will talk more about this a later blog around session design.
  5. Engage at multiple levels for the participant.  As adults we learn in many ways through many mediums: emotionally, cognitively, spiritually, and physically. Although these are important, layering learning styles using kinasethic, verbal, auditory, and reader/writer delivery styles can mean that we can increase hugely information take-up.
  6. Show your interest by responding from an inquiry mode – We all have narratives to tell around our experience of the world. It is not my role to judge but to understand. I might inquire using questions such as: “I am interested in how you came to that point?” “Tell the group more about your thinking around that issue?”
  7. Break it up – ever sat in a group where the group stays together for the whole session. I don’t know about you but I tend to go to sleep, turn-off or start thinking about what I might cook for tea. In addition to whole group processing, use sub-group activities, pair discussion, and problem solving tasks.
  8. Lots of sign-posts. When we drive down the road we have signposts aplenty. They help us to measure progress towards our destination. In a group what sign-posts are we putting up for the participants?  Do they know where we are heading, the destination, progress (are we there yet?), and what they need to be noticing along the way?
  9. Do lots of mini reviews and reflections throughout the group process. This allows for consolidation of ideas. When people they are falling behind they start to feel lost and get frustrated. Frustration leads to irritation, irritation leads to distraction, distraction annoys others in the group and conflict develops.

Actually I lied in the heading. There is a 10th technique. Well not actually a technique, but an over-arching idea that will make a huge difference to how people respond in the room.

Be well prepared – perhaps this should have gone first. I was taught by an ex-teacher the motto that ‘Failing to plan was planning to fail’.

My challenge to you is to choose one thing you will do differently in your next group session. At the end of the session reflect with your co-facilitator if you have one, what was different about the group in terms of engagement, willingness to work,

Let me know how you got on. Love to hear from you.

Published on Tuesday, February 14th, 2012, under Learning & development, Practice tips and techniques

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