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Why is using small groups so important?

It cannot be overstated how powerful and important the use and application of small groups is (for a definition, see: "What is a small group?). Small groups are, arguably, the single most important component of an authentic and sustainable form of personal and collective transformation. This belief in small groups is not at the expense of caring about the individual person or the large gathering. In fact, small groups are arguably at their most potent within a large gathering because we experience their intimacy within a bigger context.

Shoremount's particular approach to the small group model is through the design and application of Teylu. You can read more on Teylu in its dedicated website - teylu.com - and the Teylu help section in this Guide.

Here are some reasons why small groups - and Teylus - are so important:

They allow every voice to be heard

Once you go beyond 6-8 people, voices become lost; whether through not speaking up or becoming drowned out. The small group ensures everyone can be heard. It is a context where voicelessness is painfully obvious. And that clarity makes it easier to draw people into the dialogue to gain their perspective, learn why they feel quiet or prevent them from withholding their unique contribution.

They provide a structure to pursue new ideas

New ideas and new futures are brought into being primarily through conversation. But quality dialogue needs a structure; not necessarily an agenda or a formula, but something intentional. The small group format offers this. Think of it as the linguistic version of a garden trellis. The content of the conversation can grow in any direction it likes, but there is a constant structure there to support, anchor and sustain it. The fact that small group dialogue is so simple - in an era when we are addicted to complication - is perhaps a testament to how powerful they are.

They welcome our whole being and meaning

Small groups are the space in which we can offer our whole selves. Where we can release our full humanity, awaken community and nourish our desire for purpose. The pursuit of meaning is an intrinsic human desire that needs a space for exploration. Organisations and communities with more heart are better, and the small group is where the heart and meaning are nurtured.

They shift the narrative from scarcity to abundance

The status quo rests on a philosophy of scarcity; the money it lacks; the training not taken; the resources it can’t access. This mindset feeds fear; of failure, of retribution, of being out-competed. The small group enables us to build from the alternative foundation: abundance. Abundance believes what we already need is in the room. That there's no need to wait for what we don’t have to arrive first; that we can make meaningful progress with nothing more than who we are today.

They act as a bridge between the individual and the whole

The status quo believes change comes from investing at the individual level. Whilst this has its place, community transformation also requires a set of activities at the collective level. This requires something to act as a bridge between the individual and the whole. Social environments where there is a lack of this “intimate in between” end up carrying a range of negative characteristics; everything from a sense of loneliness despite being surrounded by people, to an excessive focus on the self at the expense of the whole.

They are the best quick learning, self-correcting environments

As an individual, we can lack accountability and be slow to change. Whereas in large groups it is easy for our failures can either be missed or not learned from for the greater good, in the small group we can we be held fully accountable and more easily turn negatives into positives. Only in a small group can we find quick, self-corrective behaviour. Small steps in small groups are the best way to transform a community; one reason why it carries much less risk to place our faith in small groups than it does to place it in the individual or the whole.

They generate the future we seek in real time

The future doesn’t self create or come into existence merely at the behest of leadership. We create the future every time we gather by modelling it; choosing the nature, content and aesthetic of our dialogue. The characteristics of the small group give birth to the future we seek.

They encourage engagement over problem-solving

Problem-solving has its place, but it cannot create something new: it can only iterate an existing reality. And it drains our energy and enthusiasm as we cycle from negative to negative. Small groups encourage a dialogue that raises our level of engagement and ownership whilst shifting the conversation from a focus on problems to one on possibilities.

They are based around a peer-to-peer structure

The status quo focuses on the content over the structure. How we structure our learning and conversations is as important as the content; sitting and listening to a lecture imposes a very different set of norms compared to group conversations. Peer-to-peer is the power of citizenship we need.

They focus on high power conversations: me and here

The dominant narrative of social change is low in power: a focus on the other - something or someone we can ascribe blame or responsibility to. The small group narrows it down to the here and now. It asks us to focus on a high power conversation: something we can actually act upon - ourselves and our immediate context.

They increase our sense of belonging

Time spent in a small group shows us we are not alone. That there are others who share our perspective or are willing to hear ours. That there are others seeking quality conversation with us. That everyone else has their doubts, fears and questions they don’t know what to do with. That we can be vulnerable and authentic and be valued, honoured and loved in return.

They invest in relationships over processes

We have come to believe good governance is determined by how much activity can be covered by processes, ruled from the centre; which speaks to the lack of commitment we believe exists. Whilst some process has a role, good governance is far more about the quality of our relationships, our commitment to one another and our communal purpose.

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  1. John Featherby

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