Connecting individuals in a large group meeting

May 5th, 2011

This week I’m taking part in a global meeting of about 80 or so people and have about an hour to do some connecting activities. The question has been asked as to why we need connecting activities when ‘most people know each other’? Good question.

Groups are strange beasts, made up of individuals – and no matter how often groups come together, each time they are unique, even if the people remain the same. I suppose that’s self evident. What really interests me is the human connection between individuals that forms the glue of groups. It’s this human connection that, I think, can help or hinder groups in the work they need to do. That’s why I think connecting activities are useful. Even groups that meet often and where the participants are well known to each other can go a little deeper in connecting and knowing each other.

I learnt from one of my facilitation mentors, Antony Williams, that individuals generally come to groups with the need to be seen as an individual within the group (everyone likes to be recognised for being themselves first, a member of the group second) and to understand the connections. One of the first things I like to do when attending an event is to see who else will be there, and who I know, or people I’d like to meet in person. I don’t think I’m alone. Antony helped me understand that individuals are making choices and connections in groups all the time, whether conscious or not: where to sit and with whom, who to talk to, what questions to ask.

So here I am with this large-ish group and some choices of my own to make. Nancy White prompted me to write about what I’m pondering (and I’ll do a follow-up post on what I actually did). Thanks Nancy!

So here’s my ideas (and in true improvisational style, I’ll most likely make  decisions in the moment tomorrow).

I’ll probably start with some sociometry (that’s just a fancy term for measuring individual connections within a group)

  • Birthday months: ask people to find others who share the same birth month and clump together  (and, of course, I’ll be looking to see if anyone is celebrating their birthday during the workshop so as we can organise a suitable celebration. Sneaky, eh?) Sometimes I do this as a line-up, but generally I think it’s more fun forming groups.
  • World Map: people at this meeting are from across the world so it’s nice to know where. There’s lots I can do with this, like where are you currently working? where were you born? where was your last deployment? where would you most like to go for a vacation?
  • Number of years with the organisation or number of times you’ve attended these meetings? Lots to do with this as well – pair newbies with old hands to share expectations and advice for example.

And then I have lots of other options:

  • Speed dating: 60 seconds to say hello to someone, ring the bells and find someone else – do this a few times, depending on the energy and mood of the group (this is a great activity to have up your sleeve for all sorts of sharing – certainly beats dreary reporting back to the whole group approaches IMHO)
  • Come here, come here: this is a great way of helping a large group meet a lot of others in a short time.
  • Jumpstart stories and/or Story of Your Name (that’s sorta self evident too, I think) combined with star sociometry and/or speed dating.
  • Or I could introduce them to the Wave Analysis, exploring some of the organisational practices that are outmoded. Hmmm, that could be interesting.
  • Or I could be really brave and do James Bond Aerobics (just for fun)
  • And umpteen improv games

Whatever I choose, there’s two common elements, physical movement, and sharing information about themselves. What’s helpful is that I learn a lot about the group in a short amount of time (which will influence my facilitation) and they can be participants/observers at the same time, learning a bit more about each other.

See, I have lots of choices and can’t possibly do everything. And no doubt I’ll have other ideas over night. If you have any ideas, or a favourite connecting activity, let’s share in the comments.

8 Comments so far

  1. Chris Corrigan on May 5, 2011 2:35 am

    And don’t forget the ongoing connection activities like turning your name tag around and introducing yourself to others with a question or a gift rather than your name.

  2. Connecting people in large groups « Chris Corrigan on May 5, 2011 2:39 am

    […] people in large groups Viv McWaters posts her thoughts on how to connect people in large group settings.  This post is a great start: […]

  3. Nancy White on May 5, 2011 6:39 am

    Great stuff. The James Bond Aerobics cracked me up.

    Here are a few more…

    Human Spectrogram and variants such as Land and Sea or sociometric intros

    Or more here!

  4. Catching my attention - connecting | Lynn Walsh - facilitator on May 5, 2011 8:55 am

    […] of that intention and into some new conversations and connections.  This post from Viv McWaters on ways of connecting individuals at a large gathering was a timely ‘nudge’ to be aware of my behaviours as a participant […]

  5. Dwight Towers on May 5, 2011 9:09 am

    Brilliant. I shall steal these and pretend I invented them!

    Best wishes

    Dwight Towers

  6. Viv McWaters on May 5, 2011 11:45 am

    @Chris Corrigan – thanks for reminding me of this one Chris. This is why we facilitators need each other (well, one of the many reasons) – it’s hard for me to remember all these great activities. The ubiquitous name tag offers all sorts of opportunities.

    @Nancy White – thanks again for the nudge Nancy and for the links. Even more ideas. Yikes! Now to choose.

    @Lynn Walsh – it always amazes me how much we can learn about facilitation by being a participant. A great reminder Lynn, for me to put myself in the participants’ shoes.

    @Dwight Towers – please do!

  7. Meaningful meetings and connecting individuals | rhizome: participation|activism|consensus on May 6, 2011 4:48 am

    […] secondly some nice theory and ideas for Connecting Individuals in a Large Group Meeting from Viv McWaters: Groups are strange beasts, made up of individuals – and no matter how often […]

  8. Urmila Prabhu on November 28, 2016 3:28 am

    We need conversations to flow to connect beautifully with our fellow beings…

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