You’ve decided to use breakout groups to make sure your session doesn’t just feature a talking head…just talking and talking. How do you make sure the breakouts don’t break down? Here are three quick tips to make breakouts so successful that participants will consistently rate them as the best part of your programs.
That means clarity on what the activity is, the order of participants (if necessary), how long each person or portion should last, what specific discussion questions are included if relevant, structure or rhetorical models for language (i.e. peer to peer feedback, storytelling, “I” statements, etc.). Each of those are not mandatory nor comprehensive, but rather a list to get your juices flowing. There really is no such thing as being too specific — it doesn’t constrict the session, but rather provides people the structure within which to feel free.
Assigning folks randomly is a totally valid approach. But ONLY if you’ve determined that makes sense for a variety of reasons (the difficulty of predicting who will attend, the importance of randomized diversity in each group, convenience because of total group size, etc.). Similarly, it’s totally valid to group folks together based on commonalities or differences. Make groups homogeneously based on seniority level, job description, role, or challenge. Or, make groups heterogeneously if randomized diversity of attendees, widely divergent experience, or cross-functional collaboration is the most important.
If participants feel stranded or have the impression that the breakout attendees are just being set adrift, you’re sabotaging the group’s experience of feeling safe. So, be clear with participants about what they should do if tech mishaps happen, who they should contact if they encounter challenges, and what are any potential glitches or tech challenges they might face. If possible, have an administrative person ready who can respond in real-time for challenges and even drop in to various rooms if needed. Remember — just because folks are in breakout rooms, doesn’t mean you’re still not hosting the gathering. Be as vigilant during the breakout as you are during the large group lecture.
Use these tips to make your breakouts and your full session as powerful as possible.