How to Effectively Lead Groups

Leading a group of people can often be a tiresome, thankless job (akin to herding cats) and yet, many find the experience to be completely rewarding. Satisfaction is directly related to how well-functioning the group is. How to get a group of people to work together is both an art and a science. Volumes have been filled on numerous theories on how to make group more effective but mostly from a business context.

Outside of work life, groups form an important part of most everyone’s life. People are a part of at least several groups and they include a wide diversity of interests including: recreational sports teams, hobby groups, faith-based prayer groups, volunteering and charity organizations, playgroups. Groups form as long as there is a common interest. There’s often no boss to force people to participate in a group and so that leaves the leader to use more “carrot” than “stick” methods. We’ll outline some of the best advice on how to get groups in your own personal life to function better.


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    Understand the motivations. Don’t assume you know what people want. You really have to understand why they are participating and what they hope to get out of it. If you have good alignment amongst the members, then members will be motivated to participate. For example, you may have some people on a sports team who want to win the league championship and others who just want to learn. The best thing to do is to spend time with each member, ask open-ended questions and listen.
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    Craft a good set of goals. Once you understand what people want to get out of their experience in the group, it’s best to set up the goals that the group can largely agree on. Once the goals are established you can set up a great set of activities to support the goals. For example, a playgroup may have many different possible goals – perhaps the playgroup wants the kids to just focus on socializing. Others may want to have more of a religious-based instruction. Others may want to focus on learning a 2nd language. You may be surprised on how difficult this can be. Work together with your fellow members and agree on a good set of clear goals.
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    Plan some great activities. Once the goals have been agreed upon, brainstorm with the group to find a great set of activities to accomplish your goals. The best ideas rarely come from one individual – solicit opinions from group members, people from similar groups and from the Web. Think outside the box but also learn from the backs of others. Putting together a good schedule of activities will help make the group excited and engaged.
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    Keep everyone on the same page. Groups can quickly dissolve from lack of activity and communication. When it comes to people’s increasingly busy schedules, their personal lives often take a back seat to that urgent thing that regularly pops up. Direct and indirect communication is key to maintaining cohesion in the group, particularly as everybody has their own time. Regular get-together and meetings can help strengthen emotional bonds within the group. Setting up a group web page and group email is a great way to help provide indirect cohesion across time and space. For instance, using solutions like Qlubb enable a people to check the group calendar at any time and to volunteer on the sign up sheet at any hour. Setting up a central website and group email help provide needed communication infrastructure for the group for direct and indirect communication.
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    Delegate, delegate, delegate. Nothing makes members feel more involved in the group than when they take ownership. When leaders delegate they not only reduce their workload, but also get much needed “buy-in” from people who are involved in the process. When there are problems, don’t think you have to solve them yourself. Sometimes the critics are the best people to address the problems they are bringing up. Where possible, get volunteers and let them take responsibility for important things that make a difference.
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    Lead by example. Again, there are tomes written on leadership and no one article can summarize what it takes to be a leader. Pick the leadership style that works best for the group. Every group is different and has different leadership requirements. Beware of being the micro manager who must control everything. Be wary also be being so slack as to be irresponsible or lazy. Almost universally, good leaders lead by example, solicit ideas from everybody, listen carefully before acting, invest some time thinking a few steps ahead, and most importantly, trust their members.


  • Be a benevolent dictator - make executive decisions when stalemate occurs, but always listen to multiple views. Make your decision-making process as transparent as possible.
  • Keep communication transparent - be organized. Nothing is worse than a leader that is scattered brained. Keep the online group site up to date with dates, events, expectations, and task assignments.
  • Give people responsibilities - and don't micro-manage. Make people accountable but give them the space to take on the job. Don't nit-pick, it really doesn't matter in the end what color the paper napkins were.

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Categories: Leadership and Mentoring