Small Group Discussions

Learning Objectives

Identify strategies to effectively participate in small group discussions and decision-making.

Because small groups are interdependent, each member needs to participate ethically and fully in discussions. Some strategies to take part in group discussion are geared towards group leaders while others apply to all group members (keeping in mind that all group members might take on leadership roles at different points). This section will outline strategies and approaches that will set a small group up for successful discussions. We’ll use the example of five family members who are working together to plan an affordable and fun family reunion the next summer for their extended family.

Commit to the Group’s Goals

Individual members need to “align their personal goals with the group’s goals”[1]. When group members have personal agendas that contradict those of the group, there are going to problems. For example, if Uncle George is on the family reunion planning team and wants to rent out his vacation cabin at a mark-up for the reunion so he can make some money, his goals contradict those of the group. If a cousin agrees to join the planning group to get back at a family member whom they dislike, that goal will likely lead to some problems. Because small groups are interdependent, the actions or hidden agendas of individual members can jeopardize the success of the group.

Complete Your Tasks

A small group’s success in achieving its goals is reliant on individual members completing their assignments. Completing tasks of course involves following through on any assigned tasks, but also paying attention during discussions to fully understand what is expected and who will be doing what. If Aunt Nancy is distracted and texting during the reunion group’s discussion about meal planning, she might agree to a task that she does not fully understand and can’t deliver on. Each member needs to listen carefully and do their best to fulfil each assignment.

Avoid Interpersonal Conflict

Productive conflict is natural and needed in group discussion. Debating or questioning the merits of ideas and decisions is a necessary and healthy part of small group discussion and decision-making. However, personal attacks or fighting undermines a group’s unity and success. When Cousin Maria proposes a rental house that far exceeds the group’s budget, Uncle Markus could say, “Are you crazy? We’re not all as rich as you are, thanks to your shady businesses!” That is obviously a personal attack that can likely lead to bad feelings and a lack of unity. In contrast, Uncle Markus might respond, “That rental will not work with the budget we put together last week. Let’s look at some options that we like but will fit in our budget.” This response disagrees with the content of Cousin Maria’s proposal rather than attacking her character.

Encourage Full Participation

Full participation by all members of a small group is most likely to happen when there’s a climate of respect, listening, and openness. Supportive communication and positive feedback, even when disagreeing, will help more shy or inexperienced group members feel comfortable participating. Arriving to any discussion or meetings prepared will likewise encourage participation. Following an agenda with assignments for different topics can also ensure every member’s voice is heard. Even then, personality, background, and cultural factors might mean some members are more vocal than others. In some meetings of discussions, the group leader might ask each member to comment individually on a topic. If the family reunion committee assigned each member a specific role, they could each report updates on their progress at the beginning of the meeting. The meeting or discussion could conclude with asking each member for feedback on a specific topic.

Keep on Track

As mentioned in the previous section, an agenda can help small group discussions encourage full participation from all members, but it also helps the discussion stay focused on the group’s goals and tasks. Some banter and side comments can be fun and promote closeness in the group. However, if the discussion goes too off-track, the group can lose focus, waste time, and not accomplish its goals. It’s the responsibility of each member to pay attention and step in to keep on track. When Uncle Markus starts complaining about everyone’s food sensitivities at length during the reunion meeting about meals, Aunt Nancy might interject, saying, “We know there are several allergies and food preferences, so let’s look at this list of meals I compiled and decide which ones we want to include.”

Practice Question


  1. Lucas, Stephen. The Art of Public Speaking. United States, McGraw-Hill Education, 2020, p. 377.