• Richard Bartlett

How Do We Want To Be Together?

This is one of the most powerful questions you can bring to a group: “how do we want to be together?” This conversation will bring the implicit norms (unwritten rules) out into the open.


Here’s a process we use in new groups, to help answer this crucial question:


  1. It starts with information gathering, hearing from everyone’s experience and opinions. Then you have a conversation together to build shared understanding.

  2. Then a smaller committee or working group will take away all that information to refine it into a proposal and formal agreement.

  3. Then we revisit the agreement periodically to maintain alignment between our ideals and our reality.


Step 1. Gather input


For this step you’ll need the full group, a facilitator, and about 60 minutes.


  1. 💭 Ask everyone to reflect on their own: thinking about a time in a group when you felt welcomed, supported and that you could be at your best... (2 min)

  2. 👉 In pairs, take turns to share your stories. (10 min) The person listening pays attention to what is important to the other person. ❓What attitudes/behaviours/qualities helped them to participate well in that example?

  3. ✌️ Then we combine the pairs into groups of 4. In your small group, each person shares the key things they heard that are important for the other person. Discuss together: what do you all need to be welcomed and to participate well in this group? (15 min)


We collect notes on a whiteboard. For example, here’s what one group came up with on Mural:


whiteboard with many post-it notes: e.g. "empathy", "listening", "appreciation"


Then with the whole group, we have a conversation about what we see on the post-it notes. Check for agreement, explore similarities and differences, and develop shared understanding with questions like “Are there any of these points that you can’t agree with? Are there any of these principles that you can’t commit to? Do you have concerns? Is something unclear? Is there anything missing?”


Unpack the values & principles into actions

For example, someone suggested “leaning into conflict”, but maybe it’s not immediately clear what that means. So we’ll have a conversation to unpack the concept into specific behaviours. In this case, we learned that “leaning into conflict” means not letting problems develop invisibly in the background, but proactively addressing tension as soon as possible.


Negotiate boundaries

For example, one of the post-it notes says “vulnerability”, but that might need more clarification. We probably don’t want to share everything with each other all the time, there are limits and boundaries. Discuss these boundaries together: how do we encourage people to share authentically? What limits do we want to put on what we share with each other? Is everyone expected to be vulnerable, or can they choose?


Step 2. Delegate to a working group

Before this becomes a solid, formal agreement, you will probably need to work out some details, e.g. developing specific terminology and definitions, thinking about scenarios like “what happens when...”.