Three Questions to Jumpstart a Peer Group Meeting

A common thread that ties peer assistance work to mentoring and coaching is the increasing use of group models (peer coaching and peer mentoring along with peer helping) to provide services or supervision, and assist participants to accomplish their goals more effectively and more quickly.

In both peer mentoring and peer coaching, group members typically distribute leadership within the group and take turns initiating activities to act as a catalyst for all members. Peer assistance differs somewhat because there is typically an assigned leader or supervisor, but the leader still works toward increasing the empowerment of each member to act as a leader for all other members.

Participants in all three types of groups, when given the opportunity to act as the group leader for any session, often wonder about how to start the group. Typically, this start-up is called a warm-up, transition or check-in activity. Most leaders want to get off to a good start and energize, focus, or center the members with an activity that will act as a lead-in to the group’s agenda or purpose for being together. And while often a leader’s desire is to use a “fun” activity, all too often the activity chosen is only marginally related to the group’s purpose or more formal agenda.

Peer Resources has devised a group beginning activity that is highly effective in helping a group get started with an enjoyable “ritual”, deepen the connection of the group members to each other, provide a strong foundation for the group’s upcoming agenda, and provide an opportunity for participants to help, support, and encourage one another. The activity is called “trinity,” and while it has a strong spiritual element, it is spelled with a lower case “t” so that it won’t be confused with the more religious meaning of Trinity.

Trinity consists of three questions. Any member of the group can start and provide an answer to the first question and from there each group member, one after another, provides their own unique answer to the first question. The first question is: “What am I grateful for today?” The range of answers to this question can be far-ranging, and it is purposely asked as a “what” question instead of a “who” question, although it is perfectly acceptable to identify a person. No discussion of responses needs to occur; the idea is to quickly create an atmosphere of “gifts” we each have in our lives and a mood of heartfelt connection.

When everyone in the group has volunteered their response to the first question, another group member can ask and be the first to respond to the second question: “What are my intentions for today?” Responses to this question can focus on outcomes, feelings, accomplishments, or even how a participant wants to respond if things don’t go as planned.

The third question that concludes this opening ritual is started by a group member asking, “What’s most important today?” In peer assistance groups a variation of this question is: “Considering what you are going to engage in over the next week as a peer helper, what’s the most important thing you want to accomplish today?”

Sometimes a fourth question is included after participants have identified what’s important: “What can I do today to integrate my gratitude, my intentions, and what I think is important?”

While it might be possible to spend an entire session on the answers participants give to just these questions, the questions are really meant to create a start-up climate or mood that will help every participant to be present and focused. Various responses can be noted or placed in a “parking lot” for further exploration at a later date, if appropriate.

If SpiritMentor readers try out these questions, I’d appreciate hearing about how they worked. I’m grateful to communications specialist and writer Laura Lallone for providing the reminder of the power of these questions and giving permission to adapt them here.

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