I like baseball, but I don’t much like to watch baseball games on TV. For a guy who likes to get things done, baseball games take way too long. An at bat can last 5 minutes. Almost 30 seconds can elapse between pitches, more than enough time for me to grow disinterested and find something else to occupy my time. I want action, but the pitcher keeps taking his time to make the perfect pitch!
I love the community found in small groups, but sometimes I hate small group meetings. Too often, just when the conversational action gets going, the group facilitator or leader grabs the conversational ball and holds it, attempting to craft the perfect pitch to spur continual conversation. While he finds the perfect words, life gushes out of the discussion. The conversation stalls, which prompts the leader to work even harder to craft the next perfect pitch. More momentum is lost, until the whole meeting becomes drudgery.
While there’s certainly a place for well-crafted, thought-provoking questions in small group meetings, facilitators would benefit from taking a cue from the fast-paced game of tennis. In tennis, when the ball comes across the net, the opposing player quickly returns it, inviting the other player to do the same. Of course, some strategy is applied, but only so much that enables the ball to stay in play.
In tennis, keeping the play going is just as important as hitting the perfect stroke. In fact, maintaining the ball in play extends the play long enough for one player to hit a winning shot.
Small groups are no different. Keeping the conversation flowing is just as important as pitching the perfect question. As the conversation deepens and grows, the whole group grows more poised to pose the break-through question or comment. More often than not, maintaining conversational flow is a prerequisite for life-changing dialogue.
Volley, Don’t Pitch!
If you find discussion stalling in your small group, take a break from holding the ball and trying to throw great pitches. You just might be the reason you’re conversations are so lifeless. Instead, try volleying the conversational ball back quickly, and see what happens.
And if you give it a shot, let me know how it goes.