How to…..Run a Small Group

Our ‘How To’ series is developed to help start/develop your justice and peace group and are all available on the resources page.

2. How to run a small group

A group is more likely to succeed if:

  • the members share a common idea or values
  • its members work and achieve things together
  • its members relate well to each other.

Group Dynamics

The ideal size for a planning group is between eight and twelve. People tend to learn more from others, plan effectively, and form friendships when they work in small groups. How a group functions is crucial to the completion of the group’s tasks and the feeling of group members that time has been well spent. Look out for:

  • Non-verbal expressions: apart from what they say, what indications are people giving of their feelings and reactions, e.g. gestures, tone of voice, body language, order of speaking etc.
  • feelings, attitudes and hidden agendas: these have an important effect on the life and work of a group and must be taken into account. Sensitive observation of words and non-verbal expressions can give clues about feelings, but can easily be mis-interpreted. If they seem important, they should be checked with the person concerned, e.g. ‘you were frowning, Paul. Do you agree with that decision?’

The following points must be addressed before the first meeting:

  • Make sure the meeting is well advertised and open to everybody.
  • The venue must be organised. Refreshments are always a good idea.
  • Appoint a timekeeper and clarify the reason the meeting at the beginning, so that people know what their goal is.


Leadership should be seen as a service and should be rotated from time to time so that more people develop the necessary skills. The leader enables the group and all group members to feel satisfied that they have achieved the goals they have set.   Members therefore feel that:

  • They have every chance to air their views
  • They have been listened to and understood
  • Different ideas have been integrated to form a group plan of action
  • They are responsible for their decisions and actions.

Try this – as a group

Make a list of all the reasons you can think of why meetings go wrong. Look at that list and then draw up a list of tips for ‘making meetings work’.

Behaviour in Groups

The Training for Transformation booklets produced in Kenya suggest that the ways we behave in groups can be understood better by looking at the characteristics of certain animals. If your group is not running smoothly it might be a good idea to have a session – ideally with an outside facilitator – using all or some of the caricatures described below to assist analysis. Act out or read the sketches below and ask each person which animal they identify most with and to think of strengths and weaknesses of each one.

The donkey is very stubborn, and will not change its point of view.
The lion gets in and fights whenever others disagree with its plans or interfere with its desires.
The rabbit runs away or quickly changes the topic as soon as it senses tension, conflict or an unpleasant job.
The ostrich buries its head in the sand and refuses to face reality or admit that there are any problems.
The monkey fools around, chatters a lot or shows off and prevents the group from making progress.
The elephant blocks the way, and stubbornly prevents the group from making progress.
The tortoise withdraws from the group, refusing to give its ideas or opinions.
The cat is always looking for sympathy: ‘It is so difficult for me …’
The rhino charges around putting its foot in everything, and upsetting people unnecessarily.
The owl looks very solemn and pretends to be very wise, always talking in long words and complicated sentences.
The hippo sleeps all the time and never puts up its head except to yawn.
The fish sits there with a cold, glassy stare, not responding to anyone or anything.
The chameleon changes colour according to the latest opinion. It will say one thing to this group and something else to another.

Decision Making

If you are trying to come to decisions by consensus, the following questions might be helpful:

  • What are you trying to decide? (Be sure this is clear to everyone.)
  • What are the different possibilities?
  • (Consider as many as possible and discuss the pros and cons of each.)
  • What suggestion, or combination of suggestions, do you choose?
  • Who will do what, when, where and how?
  • Factors which help decision-making are:

√Clear goals                                                                                                            √Clarity about who has responsibility for the decision                                                √Good means of stimulating and sharing ideas                                                    √Effective ways of involving all the members of the group                                   √Effective criteria for evaluating suggestions                                                          √Prior agreement on what procedures will be most appropriate, e.g. majority vote.