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.
Hi Jesse, It’s wonderful to see what your group has meant to those involved. Thanks for sharing the success secrets and ideas for making the group relevant.
Are you still in my hometown area of Sarasota? If so, I’d love to chat.
Glad it was helpful, Dan. When my group read this today, we started reflecting on a lot of other things we’ve learned. But in the end, it’s not complicated at all. I encourage anyone who is interested to talk with some likeminded people and just start one and figure it out together. If I were going to offer only two pieces of advice, it would be:
1) Commit to meeting once a month and set the dates.
2) Make it personal. If you discuss a general topic, do it from the perspective of how it affects you personally, don’t just keep it intellectual.
Jesse, I love this idea and want to start a group of my own. Thank you for the helpful tips.
That’s wonderful, D’Anne! Even discussing a common interest can be rewarding. But if you all commit to meeting regularly, as time goes by and trust builds, you begin to share more deeply and it gets even better.
This is such a great practice! Myself and three other guys have been meeting weekly before work since December, and I cannot recommend it enough!
I’m so glad you shared this, Jonathan. Groups of all men can be quite fulfilling. Twenty years ago I did a lot of work training YPO (Young Presidents Organization) Forum moderators. At that time, they were all men. The Forums were groups of 10-12 who met monthly like you, and who did a weekend retreat once a year. I facilitated many of their retreats and was always touched by the authenticity, connection and the deep support these high powered business men provided to each other.
This article ties in so beautifully with what I’m trying to demonstrate to my readers about the value of having a power circle. Thank you for sharing your experiences; I always find your posts inspirational and heartfelt in a way that I hope mine are as well. Best wishes for continued success, and thank you again for all you do!
Your comment reminds me that there are so many different descriptions and roadmaps for these kinds of groups, but what they all have in common is the support for deep sharing and connection. One might say you can get that in an intimate relationship, but a group offers something you can’t get from one-to-one relationships. Mallory, if you have a link to something you’ve written about power circles, I’d love to read it. And thanks for your kind words about my blog.
Oh, this is such a powerful post! It’s so interesting that while you all started as professional colleagues, you morphed into an “integrated life” support system. I couldn’t agree more:
“Who we are at work cannot be separated from the rest of our lives.”
Thanks for sharing not only the “heart” of this message but also the “how to” should someone want to embark on this type of journey.
Thanks, Jennifer. We did morph quite quickly. I think the sudden death gave us no choice but to connect on a deeper level. I was speaking with someone yesterday who told me how her book group had started to transform into a group of deeper sharing but then stopped because they were a “book group” and not a “support group.” It reminded me of how important it is to keep revisiting the purpose of the group, and to allow it to morph.
Jesse, I can’t thank you enough for this idea. I belong to a number of informal groups or small local chapters. The trick is making them sustainable. The framework your group has created is inspiring.
Alan, I would be absolutely delighted to learn that you had converted one of your informal groups to an intentional community. I think the trick to making them sustainable is a) clear agreement on the purpose of the group b) clear agreement on the norms, c) a workable structure – meeting a minimum of once a month and, d) discussing and revising all these when it’s not working. I’m always reminded that when we put the first man on the moon, although NASA had planned the trajectory, they needed to make over a thousand mid-course corrections. Sustainability is not about getting it right, but being able to make the needed adjustments in the context of commitment. (ps. I know you already know this, but you stimulated my thinking and I appreciate the opportunity to further clarify the power of this kind of support.
Nice Advice. I might start one sometime. 🙂
Thanks, Gurmeet. It’s worth contemplating.
I’m in Jesse. I miss the camaraderie, support, depth of relationship, joy, tears and growth that you describe. On to consider the “who” of my X Around.
So glad to hear that, Anne!
Jesse, this is great to hear about. We published a book on how to set up groups like this titled, True North Groups by Bill George and Doug Baker who have participated for decades in a group themselves. In the book they give advice on how to set up a group and offer resources to support you in running your group.
Thanks, Kristen. I did mention True North Groups in tip #9, but I appreciate your mentioning the book because it gives me an opportunity to provide the link.
For those who are interested in learning more about how to set up these kinds of groups, this is an excellent reference: http://www.bkconnection.com/ProdDetails.asp?ID=9781609940089&PG=1&Type=BL&PCS=BKP
Thank you for this inspiring post. I have twice in my life been involved with “5 around” groups. The experience, each time, was life-affirming and life-changing. Each helped propel me into a new phase in my life. And while these groups did not have the awesome longevity of yours, many of the relationships have endured.
Continue to thrive and shine! Achim
Thanks for sharing your own experience, Achim. A strong testament to the power of these groups!