I just arrived in Sarasota, Florida for my 5 Around Retreat. Twenty-three years ago, we began meeting as a group of business executives and consultants with the intent of using each other as resources to address the challenges we were facing in leading organizations. One of the women was the first female officer of the Stanley Tool Companies, and we met after work in her corporate office.
We had only been meeting for about four months, when unexpectedly, her husband suddenly died from a heart attack. And just as suddenly our group was transformed as we struggled to support her. We discovered that who we are at work cannot be separated from the rest of our lives.
We moved our meetings to each other’s homes and opened up our conversation to include whatever is up for us, spanning the full range of professional to personal. For many years we held two or three weekend retreats a year, often focused on learning something new like the Enneagram Personality Type, MBTI, and even reflexology. Once our retreat was held during a snowstorm when I was 8 ½ months pregnant. We parked our cars facing downhill toward the road in case we needed to make a sudden run to the hospital.
Following the course of our lives, we have been through birth, death, divorce, retirement, and everything in between. As the circumstances and needs of our lives have changed, so has the structure of our group. We still meet monthly, but one of our members now lives in Sarasota and joins us via Skype. And instead of a several weekend retreats, we now hold a longer one once a year.
Our group is not about socializing, although we do that. It’s not a support group to get advice or complain, although we might do that also.
5 Around is about supporting each other’s exploration of what we care deeply about. We hold the space while we each explore our hopes, dreams, fears and struggles, and as a result we not only experience real connection, we learn more about our own lives and what it means to be a human being.
Tonight I asked them this question: what advice would you give to others who are thinking of starting a group, and why would you recommend it? Here’s what they said:
Advice for starting a group:
- A good size is about 4 to 7 people. It works best when everyone attends regularly; setting up a schedule that everyone can commit to can be difficult for a larger group.
- The group should gather at least once a month.
- You need to be intentional about setting it up and keeping it going or it won’t happen.
- Share leadership. Since we were meeting in homes over a meal (hence our name “5 Around the Table”), we created the role of “feeder/ leader.”
- Originally a theme might bring you together, but there’s a pivot point where you start going toward what’s real and deep, and you discover that when you bring your whole self to the group, it deepens and is more satisfying.
- Everyone needs to be truthful and authentic.
- Trust and respect that each person has the ability to discover what they need. Ask questions that help deepen their exploration instead of leading them to the answer you think is the correct one.
- Pay attention to your group process so you can continue to mature as a group. Talk about what works and what doesn’t. We discovered that because we were a group of bright women who were used to solving problems, we had a tendency to rapidly offer lots of suggestions. We realized we were acting like blackbirds, swooping in and rapidly picking up all the pieces. We now call that “blackbirding” and try to avoid it.
- Choose a name for your group. We call ours “5 Around.” Don’t just refer to it as a Mastermind Group or a True North Group. When you give your group a name, it creates its own unique identity.
Not only will you improve your leadership skills and grow in all facets of your life, you have the opportunity to develop a group of true friends who:
- Listen without judging you.
- Challenge you on what needs to be challenged.
- Don’t let you get away with things that aren’t good for you.
- Are courageous enough to tell you the truth because they love you.
- Allow you to relax inside yourself.
- Don’t care what you look like or how you’re dressed.
- Savor when you look good and aren’t jealous.
- Delight in your success as if it were their own.
- Deal with issues and don’t shove things under the rug.
- Are interdependent, but not dependent on each other.
- Ask for what they need so you don’t have to guess.
- Stay grounded in the presence of each other’s anxiety.
- Have fun together. And sometimes just hangout with a glass of wine, watching the sunset.