It continues to amaze me how every group has a different chemistry. Often the presence or absence of one person can make the difference. Yesterday I had a troika that began with three men, who began to carry on a fairly high powered business conversation. A woman joined the group, and the tone immediately changed to more personal level. In this case the woman assimilated herself into the group, but changed the tone. There are many factors that determine the ways in which a group can change. Some are: age, gender, dominance, interests, listening skills, and chemistry. The homogeneity of a group is also quite important. A department meeting or a discussion among lawyers will change with the addition of “outsiders.” Many business people fail to account for group dynamics as a major factor in how a particular group functions. Pay attention to this factor and how you might influence the chemistry of the various groups in which you are involved.
I don’t know who originated the concept of breaking up into smaller groups for more in-depth networking, but it was a stroke of genius. There is only so much you can do in a large group. Discussions are often superficial, truncated, or drowned out by excessive ambient noise. Introverts and quieter people are disadvantaged in the large group settings. There is a great opportunity for deeper, more intense discussions in the follow up meetings. The networking groups I am currently involved in break people into small groups of three or four during the main large group meeting. The “troika” or “mini” members then decide on a breakfast or lunch, a date, and a location. In any case, there are many forms the small group can take. Sometimes the individuals simply go around the table and talk more about the specifics of their business specialty and what kinds of referrals are useful to them. Other times people talk about current events, hobbies, children, or the networking process. Every small group is different from all others, as the chemistry and group dynamics shift with each configuration of people. We usually order food, and it is standard practice that the bill is evenly split, unless someone doesn’t order anything or is a first time guest to the networking organization. Some people insist on “picking up the tab,” though that should not be an expectation. There is normally a sense of equality, and it is a norm in most professional groups that people don’t quibble over minor discrepancies in the cost allocation. It is standard for all participants to throw in their credit card and the bill is evenly split among everyone.
Sometimes one individual takes charge of the troika/mini and facilitates the discussion. In some cases one person dominates the conversation and time runs out before all individuals have the opportunity to share about themselves. You can counter this tendency by gracefully asserting some time limits or redirecting the conversation. Some people need to be reminded of the importance of allowing everyone to speak. Often business is not discussed at all especially when everyone knows the other people very well. It can be a great time just to deepen the rapport and relationship and get to know more about people’s background, education, and lives outside of business. However, the ultimate goal is about sharing business with one another, finding gateways to others and increasing our knowledge base.
A large part of this process is based upon intuition, emotional intelligence, and people skills. We are able to “go with the flow” in a small group situation. If everyone in the small group wants to talk about the Academy Awards and you want to talk about business, then you might need to wait until the group gets around to business talk. By realizing and accepting the fact every group is a bit different from every other group, you will learn how to adapt to the needs and interests of each group.
It is useful to find out about a person prior to the small group session through their profile or an internet search in order to be prepared for the small group encounter. If the participants already know each other and what everyone does, then referrals and advice can take place during these small group sessions. Some people are quite specific and intentional in the small group meeting and come prepared with names and contact numbers for other individuals who might assist them.
In general, the smaller the group, the more potential for deeper and more intimate communication. For this reason many people adopt the philosophy represented by the expression, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd”. There is no doubt the dynamics of a small group changes as the size increases. As a group size increases, there are other advantages, like division of labor and more diverse ideas. Larger groups also give you the opportunity to observe others interacting with one another. This preference for more people is best reflected in a counter expression, “The more the merrier”. Some groups are more open to new or additional members than others. It is useful to understand the advantages and disadvantages of small and large groups for accomplishing different things. Sometimes we want a one on one, intimate, quiet conversation, whereas other times we prefer more people. The dynamics are different in each situation. In fact, the addition or subtraction of one individual can significantly alter the feel or dynamics of a small group.
Some people do not favor the random nature of troika/mini assignments, and opt to pre-select those with whom they will have small group meetings. They either request certain people to be assigned to, or avoid the troikas altogether. Though I don’t agree with that approach, it suits some people.