Planning a Team discussion
Have a clear purpose
Starting a discussion with clearly articulated objectives can help shape the nature of the discussion.
Examples of general objectives include:
Increasing awareness about the topic by providing information that is not generally addressed in informal discussions
Providing critical thinking to help team members to understand the complexity of the issues
Relating team discussion to the roles that athletes have as citizens within the larger society
More specific objectives for discussion about social conflicts, especially those involving language of hate or bias, may focus on policies, social conventions, or civic responsibilities, including the following:
Identifying a core problem underlying social conflicts and exploring possible solutions.
Analyzing the root causes or reasons for a social conflict (i.e., a past-oriented discussion).
Exploring possible consequences or implications of a conflict (i.e., a future-oriented discussion).
Planning practical actions to reduce such incidents and support vulnerable populations.
(This second list is adapted from Ronald Hyman, 1980, In Improving Discussion Leadership. New York: Columbia University, College Teachers Press.)
Establishing ground rules or guidelines
In teams, coaches or facilitators can either work with a team to establish ground rules for a discussion; or present a set of pre-established guidelines and then take suggestions from the group to modify them. Referring to these community agreements can be very helpful if the discussion becomes tense. Some suggestions include the following:
Listen respectfully, without interrupting.
Listen actively and with an ear to understand others' views. (Don't just think about what you will say while someone else is talking.)
Criticize ideas, not individuals.
Commit to learning, not debating—comment to share information, not to persuade.
Avoid blame, speculation, and inflammatory language.
Allow everyone the chance to speak.
Avoid assumptions about any member of the team or generalizations about social groups. Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group.
Participants must agree to abide by the ground rules before the discussion begins. See this page for some further examples and considerations around using guidelines.
Provide a common basis for understanding
Providing team members with a common basis for understanding from the start will help keep the discussion focused and provide concrete case studies or examples. You can draw upon members' knowledge to establish a common basis:
Introduce the initial situation and let the team reflect openly on their feelings and opinions.
Collect the standpoints without a discussion to visualize the diversity within the group
Creating a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow
Because any social conflict is a complex topic, it is important to create a framework for the discussion in addition to having clearly defined objectives. Your framework can be a guide, balancing the need for a clear purpose and direction while being open to observations and reflections.
The following strategies can help you maintain the focus and flow of the discussion:
Begin the discussion with clear, open-ended but bounded questions that encourage discussion.
Avoid "double-barreled questions" which pose two problems simultaneously or leading questions that search for a specific answer.
Ask questions that prompt multiple answers rather than short factual responses or simple "yes" or "no" replies.
Prepare specific questions to use if the team is silent or hesitant about speaking. Some examples include: "What makes this hard to discuss?" and "What needs to be clarified at this point?"
Encourage team members to elaborate upon their comments where needed. With probing questions, an instructor can prompt athletes to share more specific information, clarify an idea, elaborate on a point, or provide further explanations.
Recap the key discussion points or issues at the end of the meeting, in writing, if possible.
Including everyone's perspectives in a group discussion can be challenging, especially if individuals are dealing with unfamiliar or controversial material. Using small groups, your team can hear from athletes who may not speak otherwise, including those who see their views as marginalized. Moving beyond a full group discussion format allows all team members to participate and helps prevent the most talkative or opinionated individuals from dominating the conversation.
Some methods for increasing the number of discussants include:
The Round: Allow everyone to respond to a guiding question without interruption or comments. Provide them with the option to pass. After the round, discuss the responses.
Think-Pair-Share: Give the team a few minutes to respond to a question individually in writing. Divide the team into pairs. Instruct them to share their responses with group members. Provide the team with explicit directions, such as "Tell each other why you wrote what you did." After a specified period, have the team reconvene to debrief. You can ask for comments on how much their pairs of views coincided or differed or ask what questions remain after their paired discussion.
With each method, the instructor can play an important role in summarizing or synthesizing the various responses and relating them to the discussion objectives.
Being an active facilitator
To keep a discussion focused and purposeful, being an active facilitator rather than a passive observer is important. Be careful to maintain some control but not over-control. Your role as an active facilitator can include rewording questions posed by individuals, correcting misinformation, asking for clarification, and reviewing main points. If the facilitator is asked about their personal opinion, it is important to reflect if that person is part of the team and, therefore, part of the discussion or not. If not, you may want to keep your opinion to yourself and clarify that this isn't necessary for the team discussion. If you are part of the team, sharing your opinion could undermine your integrity in the discussion, so preparing an answer to this question before the meeting can be helpful.
Summarizing discussion and gathering team feedback
It is essential that you conclude by summarizing the main points of the discussion. Individuals are more likely to feel that a discussion is valuable if the facilitator, with the team's help, synthesizes what has been shared or identifies the key issues explored.
To obtain feedback about the quality of the discussion and to identify issues that may need follow-up, you can dedicate the last five minutes of the meeting to collect it. Ask them to respond (in writing) to some or all of these questions:
What are the three most important points you learned today?
What important questions remain unanswered for you?
What did you learn specifically from what someone else said that you would not have thought of on your own?