Ten suggestions for break-out groups at a large meeting or retreat

If you have a large meeting, perhaps a Town Hall or an off-site gathering, it may be useful to break the plenary group into smaller groups. The smaller groups can push the discussion ahead and then report back to the larger group. Here are some suggestions for how to succeed with break-outs (See my post of Feb. 12, 2008: retreats and conferences with 8 references.).

  1. Have sufficient rooms or locations for the splinter groups; be mindful of the noise that groups make so don’t locate them too closely together.

  2. While everyone is still in the full group, put the logistics up on the screen or an easel. Clearly, slowly, explain who should meet where, how long to meet, the need to choose a spokesperson, and other details – and then repeat them. Ask for questions.

  3. Allow at least 10 minutes for the large group to segment into the smaller groups and get underway, more time than you think.

  4. Tell the groups that at the start they need to pick at the start a person who will take notes and report back to the large group.

  5. Give very clear goals to groups and suggest how to report out their conclusions.

  6. Stock the group meeting area with an easel, wall tape and markers.

  7. During the break-outs, walk around and field questions on the assignment.

  8. If you let attendees choose their break-out group, count them as the numbers tell you about the perceived importance of the topics.

  9. In the play back of key ideas to the entire group, give permission to speakers to piggyback on points made before them.

  10. Consider scheduling lunch or a break after the break-outs end, in case some groups want to stay longer.

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