Category Archives: Small Groups

Small Groups

Typically at social gatherings, we speak about trips we’ve made, people we’ve met, and projects we’re involved in. Rarely, we touch on genuine interesting topics like “Are we happy?” or “After all we have been through, what does victory actually feel like?”

Do you feel obliged to behave as if you are contented and fulfilled, even if you actually ask yourself: “What shall I do with my future, now that I have everything I ever dreamed of ?“


Do you spin in an endless cycle of obligations, lacking life purpose or peace. Regarding wealth, we may either driven to amass more or playing defense with what we have. Are you open to a spiritual connection, but don’t know where or how to begin. You may have few friends or mentors who will tell you the unvarnished truth. Our lives may look good on the outside, but inside we’re beginning to question: “Who am I…  What is all this for?”

Discover the Power of Trust Among Peers
Small Groups are a powerful institution to reconnect with what is really important. Small Groups are monthly gatherings for people who seek transformation and renewal in their: vocation, marriage and family, sense of life purpose, friendships, spirituality and identity. A Small Group is the safe haven and sounding board that every senior executive needs – but too few actually have. Small groups meet to share challenges and concerns in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust. Open, honest exchanges are possible by a rigorous Small Group protocol creating a powerful tool for connection and communication.

Over the past years, I have experienced great Small Group meetings that broadened my insights tremendously. As member of the YPO, our Small Group (called Forum) brought us life changing events and deeper friendships. Outside YPO, I started a monthly ‘Update’ dinner with Dutch business friends in Geneva, loosely based on Small Group/Forum protocol. It amazes me each time what kind of deeper discussions are possible by applying simple protocol. If above resonates with you, please feel free to contact me for more information.

Coaching Companies

This post is a summary of Off-Sites at Frederique Constant during the past years. Its purpose is to show what such Off-Sites can do for the development of results at other Small and Medium sized companies.

Build the Team
It all starts with a good Team, nowadays the CEO cannot do it all by him or herself anymore. A Team Survey shows how members think and act. It increases understanding, communication and trust. Five levels of team building (Patrick Lencioni) learn what is required for a robust debate and extraordinary results. Emotional Intelligence enables better cooperation.

Lay the Foundation
Based on Jim Collins’ Building a Company Vision, this Off-Site will clarify what the company is all about. Mission to Mars, Value Ranking and Visual Values exercises will let a Team describe the companies Core Values, its Purpose and the long-term goal.

Determine Strategy
What makes the companies Product, Pricing, Promotion and/or Distribution strategy unique? How to create a long-term sustainable strategy, what to DO? Deliverable of this Off-Site is a one page Strategic Plan for the company, Business Unit and/or Department (Verne Harnish & Patrick Thean).

Often excellent execution is the most difficult to realize. This framework aligns everybody’s work and drives results: MBOs, Actions, Leading KPIs, and Monthly Reviews (Bossidy & Charan). MBOs are the four large year goals, each 25%, that determine the year-end bonus. These are the goals you want to reach at the end of the year. Actions describe what is the person going to DO to realize the MBOs? Must be concrete actions. Who is going to do it and when? Leading KPIs determine what is necessary to reach the MBOs. Should be on the Actions, should be measurements to see if actions are being DONE. Then, schedule Monthly Reviews where the Leader will prepare input and issues overview. Give instruction NOT to come with stack of PPT slides, only One-Pagers are allowed. 25% of time should be spent on reporting, 75% on solutions for issues.

Detailed agendas and exercises are available for all four Off-Sites. Please contact me.

Small Group Benefits

Business benefits

This is perhaps the most obvious benefit of Small Group participation. Participants gain from exposure to business and career histories of other Small Group members. No professional service could offer the collective expertise represented by the group. Since Small Group members have no vested interest in each other’s companies, they can be open in expressing their views as fellow CEOs.

Family benefits

In the course of your life in Small Group, you and your Small Group peers could experience aging parents, health problems, parenting challenges, changes in fortune, empty nest syndrome, wedding anniversaries, divorce, remarriage, graduations and a whole range of other issues that arise during various life stages. Small Group is an opportunity to share and celebrate the best of those experiences and to share and talk through the most difficult. Many participants have commented that as an additional benefit, the listening and feedback skills learned in Small Group help them at home.

Personal benefits

Stress is not compartmentalized. As much as we’d like to escape this fact, what affects us in our personal lives, makes a difference in our business lives. Small Group is an appropriate place to recognize this dynamic and address its impact. 

Successful Small Groups

A successful Small Group is characterized by an extremely high level of personal respect shared by all members.

Members create an atmosphere of trust and openness in which each person can contribute and where individual problems and opportunities can be identified and explored. Years of experience across hundreds of Small Groups have shown that following four principles create successful meetings. In most cases, failures are traced to violations of one or more of these principles:

  1. Confidentiality

  2. Commitment

  3. Protocol

  4. Meeting Structure

In strong Small Groups, members share a common vision and purpose and have similar Small Group-related values. For Small Group members to have shared vision, purpose and values, they must state their individual expectations about the Small Group and what they want from their Small Group experience.

Consider the following when developing your shared vision, purpose and values statement:

1. What do I want to get from Small Group?

2. What am I willing to give to Small Group?

The Small Group experience offers diversity by including members
of different backgrounds, with varied interests, values, beliefs, genders and ages. It is recommended that the Small Group be free of conflicts of interest in regard to members’ businesses, families and integrity issues.

One of the values gained from Small Group is the different perspectives each member brings to the table. If I already know what everyone is going to say, where is the value for me? Diversity is key. Diversity in Small Group membership, expressed by differences in age, gender, religion, culture, industry, business, etc., is encouraged, as it provides for varied and vibrant interaction and broad feedback. The more diverse a Small Group, the greater the growth experience.

There are situations, however, where diversity cannot be achieved. Small Group can still thrive in these circumstances, but there may be occasions where a member needs to present to the Small Group on an important issue but cannot do so in the presence of another member or members who are in the same industry. In these circumstances, the member or members may be asked to excuse themselves for the duration of the exploration and discussion so that the presenting member can speak freely without concerns about sensitive information reaching his or her competitors.

Small Group Confidentiality

Confidentiality needs to be emphasized at every meeting. Small Group members must have total certainty that matters discussed in Small Group remain confidential. Small Group members must never breach confidentiality. A breach of confidentiality usually means expulsion from the Small Group. Confidentiality is not selective.

confidentialityConfidentiality is forever!

When a member leaves a Small Group, confidentiality is maintained by the exiting member as well as by remaining members. This confidentiality relates to all Small Group discussions and Small Group experiences. Each Small Group should enforce confidentiality by having members sign a confidentiality contract.

Safeguarding confidential information

Nothing of a confidential nature is sent to members before the meeting. Time is given at the meeting to read any confidential information. At the end of the meeting, the confidential written information is collected and destroyed.

No one outside of the Small Group — including spouses or partners, significant others, secretaries, administrative assistants — should be privy to confidential issues discussed in the Small Group.

New Members in Small Group

Part of integrating a new member into a Small Group is reviewing the Small Group’s confidentiality norms with the member. New Small Group members must understand and adhere to the confidentiality norms of their Small Group.

New members to the Small Group are not privy to any previous discussions or experiences related to current or former members unless shared by these members directly.

Remember that when a new member joins a Small Group, all previous Small Group conversations fall under the confidentiality norms, and therefore are not to be discussed without the permission of the person who “owns” the information.

Outside Resources

If your Small Group uses a resource who has not worked with your Small Group and has not been exposed to the confidentiality principle, make sure that the resource understands and commits to the confidentiality norms of your Small Group.

Confidentiality breach

When a Small Group member has breached another member’s confidence, he or she must take responsibility, admit it directly to the injured party, and apologize for it. The member must then tell the moderator and offer his or her resignation. In most Small Groups, a breach in confidentiality leads to acceptance of the resignation. Small Group members may decide to make an exception and allow the member to remain.

A member who has had his or her confidentiality breached should contact the moderator to discuss the situation. The moderator investigates the incident and brings the matter to the Small Group for discussion and resolution.

Frequent reminders

The moderator reminds members at every meeting of the absolute expectation of confidentiality. At regular intervals during the year, the moderator initiates a discussion about the group’s understanding of confidentiality and has the group discuss a confidentiality case study.

Confidentiality and the law

It is important for Small Group members to understand the limits of Small Group confidentiality. Although Small Group members shall not voluntarily disclose any information that is discussed in Small Group, a Small Group member may be compelled to disclose certain information as required by process of law, such as pursuant to a subpoena in a court proceeding or investigation.

Small Group members should expect that, unlike attorney-client privilege communications that are generally respected in the United States, Small Group confidentiality would not be respected by a court in legal proceedings. Thus, if an attempt is made to compel testimony of a Small Group member in a legal proceeding or investigation, courts will require individuals to testify about relevant discussions and other information that occurred in Small Group.

The specific application and scope of Small Group confidentiality may vary worldwide as determined by the laws of each particular jurisdiction.

Small Group Commitment

To create the type of atmosphere necessary for success, it is essential that every member be committed to the Small Group. Members who give high priority to the Small Group arrive on time, are fully attentive to and respectful of other members, participate with vigor, stay until the conclusion of the meeting, and arrange their busy calendars with the Small Group in mind. 

Small Group Protocol

When functioning correctly, a Small Group is a caring group where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Small Groups use a communication model, known as the Small Group protocol, to establish and maintain a safe environment in which members openly and freely interact without fear of judgment. Small Group protocol consists of listen, accept, question and share.


Focus on the feelings first and the issue second.

Use active listening:

  • Listen to understand; don’t just wait to reply.
  • Recognize your own reactions to the speaker’s feelings, content, language and intent.
  • Pay attention to body language and tone of voice to determine what the person is feeling. Then, offer feedback about what you heard to check for accuracy and promote further discussion.
  • Active listening communicates:

–  I understand your feelings.

–  I take you seriously.

–  I am interested and concerned.

–  I do not want to change you.

–  I respect your ability to solve your problems.


Accept others without judgment

  • Recognize that the speaker’s statements are true for him or her, even though you may disagree or reject his or her conclusions, decisions, etc.
  • It is important for members to feel equal; thus, avoid using “you must,”“you mustn’t,”“you should,”“you shouldn’t,”“you need to” or “you have to.” All of these statements create a situation where members are dictating advice.
  • Judgmental language creates a defensive climate and an unsafe environment. It closes the door to open and meaningful communication.
  • Allow the presenter to express his or her true emotions about the issue. Don’t deny or try to diminish an emotion just because you aren’t comfortable with it.


Ask questions to help better understand the story.

  • Don’t get into rational problem-solving.
  • Avoid questions to embarrass or lead the speaker to your own interpretations or conclusions.
  • Tell the presenter why you are asking the question and then ask the question. This helps the presenter feel safe and provides insight.
  • Clarifying questions benefit the listener by clarifying which experience to share. Avoid too many questions, which may put the presenter on the defensive.

–  How many employees do you have?

–  How long have you been married?

–  How long has this been an issue?

  • Thought-provoking questions help the presenter to see his or her situation from a different angle. Avoid embedding questions with advice or judgment.

    –  What’s the worst-case scenario?

    –  What’s the best-case scenario?

    –  If your partner were making this exploration, what would he or she say that is 
different from what you’re saying?


Speak from your own experience, rather than giving advice.

Use “I” statements. Speak only for yourself. Take ownership of your comments.

Be specific and brief. Make your point and then give the floor to the next person. If your point has already been made, do not restate it. Move on to the next point or the next person.



Small Group Meetings

Small Group meeting structure is the backbone of the meeting. It does not exist to confine. Rather, structure creates freedom to allow open discussion and to allow everyone in the Small Group to participate. Meeting structure keeps the Small Group focused and increases take-home value.

Most Small Groups meet for four hours. The recommended meeting structure is as follows:

Fast check-in

The moderator welcomes everyone and invites members to briefly check in about how they’re doing.

Clear the air

Any issues between Small Group members are brought to the surface.


The moderator reminds members about the importance of confidentiality and asks if any issues are limiting members’ trust today.

Communication starter

The Small Group conducts a communication starter (usually selected before the meeting).


Members complete an Update Preparation Form, then briefly share their updates while other members listen without interrupting.


A core element in a Small Group meeting is the exploration called Case in which a member speaks about an unresolved issue or opportunity (“frames the exploration”). Through self-curiosity, the other members engage in deep sharing of personal memories and experiences. Usually the presenting member is seeking to reach clarity about something with which he or she is struggling. The other members help by speaking from their own experience.


The moderator asks members to destroy papers with confidential information, conducts process feedback, leads a brief closure exercise, and provides a final confidentiality reminder.