Managing Small Group Meetings

Learning Objectives

Describe strategies for managing small group meetings.

In the previous section, we explored steps group members and leaders should take in advance to ensure a more successful meeting. In this section, we’ll look at some best practices for managing and communicating effectively during an actual meeting.[1] We’ll continue using the example of a group of six students assigned to a semester-long group project in a research methods class.

Come Prepared

Group members need to show up on time, having reviewed the agenda and completed any tasks they were assigned. For a group project, group members need to have read the assignment carefully and have a clear idea of what is expected. They may have done some initial brainstorming about the group project so they have ideas to present.

Stay Focused

When group members have a clear agenda and goal for their meeting, they are more likely to stay focused. If the discussion goes off-track or some members spend an unnecessary length of time on one topic, members can use the agenda or goal to refocus. For example, in the research methods group, Silvia might say, “I know we’re all concerned about the presentation, but that’s not for six weeks, and right now, our main goal is to figure out our research question and methodology.” On the other hand, during a meeting, goals might shift and be re-defined, so that focus often needs to be balanced with flexibility and a willingness to change plans. For example, the research methods group might be meeting to choose a methodology, and then realize they need to first choose a research topic. In that case, the group might pause and spend 10 minutes determining their topic. Finally, staying focused involves watching the time and managing time limits for each part of the agenda.

Pause and Summarize

During discussions and decision-making, it is invaluable for a group member or leader to pause regularly and summarize what’s happening. In the research methods group, Joe might say, “It sounds like we’re all on board to move ahead with the topic ‘Sleep habits of high school seniors.’ Are we all in agreement and if so, are we OK to move on to developing our research questions?” These types of pauses and summaries allow group members to clarify what’s happening and avoid misunderstandings. They also provide an opportunity to determine the next steps and assign tasks.

A man speaking in a small group; he looks agitated

Managing disagreements is a key aspect of small group facilitation. 

Manage Conflict

Disagreements about roles, goals, and processes are entirely normal and expected in small groups. Productive conflict includes questioning or challenging ideas and providing alternative perspectives or new ways of thinking. Managing conflict by consensus is generally more effective than a majority vote. Consensus involves everyone in the small group agreeing to a final decision before moving on. While this is often time consuming, a consensus approach gives voice to all group members who will then be more invested in the final decision. In the research methods class group, the first meeting might be spent debating the merits of different possible topics for the group project. An emergent or assigned leader might elicit input from each group member and create a pros and cons list of each idea.


Note-taking during the meeting can help with accurate and timely follow-up. An email or other message sent to all group members shortly after the meeting with notes, assignments, and deadlines can not only remind and focus the group, but also verify that everyone left the meeting with similar perceptions of next steps. The follow-up email can also be a useful starting point for creating an agenda for the next meeting.

Practice Question

  1. O'Hair, Dan, and Wiemann, Mary. Real Communication: An Introduction. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012.