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Starting Your Own Group

In a recent post, I talked about how folks who can’t find their own coven could, in fact, start their own groups. I know. It sounds like a butt load of work, and it is, but there are many benefits to starting your own group:

  • Hang out with your friends
  • Do your favorite things
  • Works with your schedule
  • Focus on topics you are interested in

If you are in college the best way to start a group is to start a club on campus. Usually in the Student Life section of the campus directory, there will be an office that is focused on clubs. Learn what you need to do to start a club and then follow the directions. They already have an established procedure, so no need to reinvent the wheel.

You will probably need a certain amount of people to establish a group. I searched for folks on Witchvox and met them for coffee before talking to them about starting a college group. You can also post fliers around campus (make sure you follow the rules about that or they won’t let you post anymore! Why get on their bad side, eh?). I kept my ears open in class for students who seemed to have rather Pagan-like ideas. Not everyone in the founding charter needs to be Pagan, but they must be willing to sign the document and try and come to a few meetings. Try asking your sympathetic friends to help you get started.

If you are already out in the real world, you can start a group that meets at your local library, UU church, Masonic Lodge, cafe, or in your own home. Think about what kind of activities you will do and how many people might come and plan accordingly. Planning on wine? Most public buildings won’t allow the consumption of alcohol. Live in an apartment? Maybe not the best place for a drum circle. Want to do skyclad? Probably not a good idea at a school or cafe.

Define the purpose of your group. Will you focus on discussion and teaching each other? This is an excellent idea if you are at a college, since members will come and go. Will you focus on a single tradition? If you are already trained in a degree and have the leave of your elders to do so, this may be a good option. Will you focus on public service? I know a group who puts on a big psychic fair every year and the money goes towards people in the community who are going through personal and family tragedy. Will you focus on literature? A book club might be a great way to help each other learn, or to get through a book course.

In any group you are in, you will probably have to make up a charter, which will become the most important document in your group. It defines the mission of the group, how they will vote, what leadership roles are required, and a group philosophy on how to handle problems. Likely this will require the work of one individual doing the writing and most of the thinking, but do take everyone’s ideas in. Define if decisions will be made by democratic vote, membership quorum, consensus, or hierarchy.

Get connected–find a method to talk socially and about group subjects beyond your meetings. Consider starting a yahoo group, facebook, myspace, or Witchvox posting. This gives interested people an opportunity to see what you are doing without actually going to your meetings. Creating a social network may allow the word to get out about events you are putting on.

Decide who will be the leader. The person who founded the group does not necessarily have what it takes to lead the group: whether it is people skills, organization skills, desire, or simply time. There are many kinds of leaders, and different strengths may be required for different groups.

Your group dynamics will change. Groups go through a lifecycle, and if you are aware of what changes to expect, your group leadership can roll with the punches.

  • Forming. In the forming stage, personal relations are characterized by dependence. Group members want to belong and know the group is safe. Folks keep things simple and avoid controversy while they are checking out the group. Everyone is very polite. The group defines what they will do together.
  • Storming. The next stage, usually called storming, is characterized by competition and conflict in the personal-relations dimension an organization in the task-functions dimension. Group member ideas, feelings and beliefs must conform to suit the group. Desire for commitment. May conflict over structural issues such as leadership, voting structure, authority, etc. May be some competition and hostility. Most groups break here, especially if firm ground rules have not been set, or the leadership is too demanding. Utilizing your group charter can be a neutral way of enforcing the rules.
  • Norming. In Tuckman’s norming stage, interpersonal relations are characterized by cohesion. With the use of listening and communication skills, members change their preconceived ideas about what the groups “should” be, and cliques begin to dissolve. With the group so defined, members experience a sense of belonging as interpersonal conflicts are solved. They readily share feelings, ideas, feedback, and alternative possibilities. There is a lot of creativity. However, with the group being so comfortable, they may resist change and fear the breakup of the group.
  • Performing. The performing stage is not reached by all groups. If group members are able to evolve to stage four, their capacity, range, and depth of personal relations expand to true interdependence. The group does what it has set out to do. The leadership and authority adjusts to the needs of the group and individuals. Members work independantly, in subgroups, and as unit with ease and comfort. A lot gets done because members are not worried about their group status–moral is high and members are very loyal. There is genuine problem solving and support for experimentation.
  • Adjourning. Tuckman’s final stage, adjourning, involves the termination of task behaviors and disengagement from relationships. With the major projects complete, or the school year ending, members move on to other things. Loss of leadership or change in membership can create a minor crisis, in which the group has to redefine itself around the changes. Leaders have to give up control, and members give up inclusion and exclusion. Time to tie up loose ends and disengage from the interpersonal relationships.

The best way to deal with these changes is to recognize and honor the process, especially when it is time for the group to end. Since we are Pagan, consider marking it with ritual. Not every group will go through every stage in the same order, or at all. But Tuckman’s basic group theory gives some guidelines and structure for what to expect. If you suspect your group might get stuck on storming, perhaps teach some interpersonal communication styles, or come up with one or two the club uses.  Remember that change is inevitable, so count on it, even in the norming and performing stages.

Ultimately, the best advice for starting a successful group is to have a good meeting time and place, defining the rules of the group, having a stated purpose, and keeping an open mind to change.

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