I have been leading men's groups for over 10 years in many different formats and communities. I can tell you that there is no "right" way to do a men's group but there are a few tips that I think can be applied to most any group to help it be as amazing as it can be.
If you are reading this I'm going to assume that you already understand the value of having a men's group. Maybe you have been to one or you just know that it is something you need in your life. Men's groups have changed my life for the better and I know they can do so much for our society as a whole.
I'm also going to assume that if you are reading this, you have some idea of what a men's group is. With that said, I'm still doing to give my definition of a men's group as it will help contextualize the considerations and tips that are to follow.
My definition of a men's group is where a group of men get together and share in the experience of deeper truth. Another way of saying that is guys getting real with each other. This usually means some amount of talking about what is going on in life but there are non-verbal aspects of a men's group that are often the most powerful part of a group.
Sometimes just getting together with a bunch of dudes, then howling and rough-housing is the best medicine. It also means that a men's group can be a few close friends getting together at a local bar and just talking about what matters. The Masons, for example, is essentially a large network of men's groups that has been going for hundreds of years. Men's groups can take many forms and I'm open to the options.
And without further ado, my top five tips:
1.Make it more than just talking
Breath has no story. Movement doesn't lie. If men's groups are a place for guys to get real with each other, sometimes getting away from the "story" of it all can be the most valuable thing you do.
The fact is that we live in a society where we are constantly processing data in our brains. Talking and listening is often more comfortable because we are used to it, but it does not necessarily lead to the most growth. As my teacher David Cates would say, we are big mammals. Allowing ourselves to be in our bodies, to make noise, to get out of our heads; all of this is extremely valuable.
There are an infinite number of ways to bring non-conversational realness to a group. I have been in groups where we always have some kind of physical practice at the beginning. I know of other groups where all they do is free form movement and dance. Any group that I host will have some type of embodiment practice. Sometimes just sitting and taking a few breaths together can suffice.
The following are some non-verbal things you could try with your group:
Controlled pushing against each other
Trust falls (I like the one where the person falling is in a circle of others and gets to fall in all directions)
Platonic physical connection - Hugs, back massages, etc.
Lift one man up like he's crowd surfing
It's up to you to find what non-conversational characteristics work for your group, but I highly recommend something.
2. Have shared agreements:
I like to have agreements instead of "rules" because "agreements" tend to be more collectively generated and it implies that it is something that you choose to agree with or not. Rules by contrast feel more like things you have to do, which tends to breed resentment.
The main reason for agreements is to "create the container", to help people relax and share what they might not normally share (deeper truth). This is important to keep in perspective so that you don't create unnecessarily long lists. I have been in groups where the agreements took up the first quarter of the group. Ask yourself what is really needed as an agreement, and what is a social norm.
The most common agreement is confidentiality. This is fairly obvious, but it's worth stating that people will tend to open up more when they trust that what they share will not become the latest gossip in their community or friend group.
Other agreements might be things like agreeing not to interrupt each other, or to use "I" statements, speaking from your own experience.
One of my favorite agreements is to "Witness instead of fix". This means you hear the other man and just honor his share without thinking of solutions to his situation. This helps people feel honored for all the complexity of their lives without people telling them simple fixes for complex experiences. Often, just talking something out gives all the clarity needed. With this agreement, people sharing can still ask for advice, but the default is to not offer advice unless it is specifically requested.
3. Decide if the group is Open, closed, Invitation Only:
This is an important consideration as it will drive the energy of the group. I don't think there is any one format that is better than others.
I have hosted open groups that I advertised on Meetup.com and these groups are often fantastic in the constant engagement of new people (in addition to regulars). I find sometimes men feel more comfortable talking to someone who they have never met and expect to never meet again. Drawbacks to an open group is that the vibe is always different and some men take time to open up. I also end up spending more time on agreements every time to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Closed groups or smaller groups of dedicated individuals can be awesome because y'all get to know each other really well and start to see each other's tendencies. You can often support each other better when you know each other better. You can build a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie which is as joyful as it is empowering.
One of the drawbacks of a closed group is that people can get used to each other's stories. People can build up resentments that need to be cleared and the vibe can become stagnant if y'all are not keeping it fresh.
Open but invite only is a nice option because it keeps a core vibe but brings in new energy. This allows for a certain amount of vetting for who shows up, and the inviter can make sure the new guy is up on all the agreements before he comes.
The most important in this consideration is to make sure you have a core group of guys who are dedicated to showing up on a regular basis. If people feel like others don't care, the group can easily and quickly fall apart.
4. Check your Agenda:
If you are reading this, you are likely a guy who is organizing the group and putting things together because you see a need in your friend group or community. But if you bring the group together looking to drive your agenda with other guys (no matter how positive), it is likely to cause resentment and push people away.
The approach I recommend is to be clear about what you hope to get out of the group for yourself and allow other men to share what they want to get out of it. Chances are your goals will be compatible and it feels way better when there is a shared sense of purpose and ownership.
It's also possible that in the process of asking each man what he wants to get out of the group, that you find some incompatibilities. For example, some number of people in the group might really want a group to hold each other accountable, while others might just want a place for emotional presence. These are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to accommodate.
If I'm hosting an open group, I might start by asking each man why he is there. This can help the group get on the same page and feel a sense of shared purpose.
5. Keep learning, Keep it Fresh:
This last tip is my sort of catch-all because there is so much out there that could not possibly fit into one blog. There are literally books written about this. There are innumerable schools, skills, tips, games, and tools for creating deeper presence and connection. The more each man brings to his group the better.
The key here is that all group members need to be willing to try new things and shift it up a bit. Humans are creatures of habit (and I love the efficiency of shared expectations) but sometimes that is not what brings the realness.
I'm a huge fan of Man Kind Project, their new warrior training weekends and their i-group formats following. They have EXTENSIVE and extremely valuable processes. Check out an i-group, and if you are brave, do the new warrior training weekend. You won't regret it.
I also highly recommend Men's leadership Intensive run by The Brotherhood Community (and pretty much anything these guys do). The facilitators are as skilled as they are lovable and they always draw an incredible group of guys.
There is also Authentic Relating games and Circling practices (both open to all genders) that have wonderful tools, games and processes for bringing the deeper meaning out of human interaction.
Furthermore, there are books, teachers, coaches, and gurus who have so much to offer in terms of deepening the truth of human connection. Keep reading, keep learning, branch out, mix it up, and keep it fresh.
If you want to stay in touch with me, you can sign up to receive updates from my blogs or join my Facebook group "The Art of Authentic Swagger" I look forward to hearing from you.
Photo Credit: Stephen Flynn Photography