Pattern Language – Helping Groups Work

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group works cards and box

The art of conversation is integral to creating cultural shifts, and so our meetings and gatherings are golden opportunities for transformation.

Yet it is all too common to find that a gathering or meeting is not generating anticipated results – enthusiasm dissipates, discussion gets bogged down, energy levels drop.

The creators of The Group Works Card Deck decided to create a pattern language, a set of ‘design factors’ for bringing life to meetings and other gatherings. This project manifested from their questions:

Why is it that some meetings bring life to your soul, while others leave you wishing you’d never stepped in the room?  What happens at the best ones, that makes them productive, fulfilling, sometimes even magic?

The Deck, a product of the Group Pattern Language Project, was three years in the making, and is the result of input from a team of over 50 people. Created to support group convenors, facilitators and participants in group and process work, the Deck draws on the collective wisdom of the developers, and their knowledge of the most effective events, processes and dynamics they have experienced:

We looked at meetings, conferences, retreats, town halls, and other sessions that give organizations life, solve longstanding dilemmas, get stuck relationships flowing again, deepen understanding, produce clear decisions with wide support, and make a lasting difference.  We also looked at routine, well-run meetings that simply bring people together to get lots of stuff done.  And we made sure to consider what makes such conversations juicy and fun.

This wisdom has been distilled into 91 full-colour cards that ‘…name what skilled facilitators and other participants do to make things work.’

Image Credit (click image for high res version)

Described by its creators as ‘a navigational tool for powerful conversations’, the patterns address a number of themes:

context – understanding and working with the broader context and circumstances both in place and in culture

creativity – using multiple intelligences and a variety of modes to open up creative possibilities

faith – trusting and accepting what happens in a spirit of letting go and letting come; the mystery, synergy, and ineffable, complex magic of emergence; you can invite it, but you can’t control it; felt as a deep sense of connection not only to those assembled and to the work’s purpose but to the larger universe as well

flow – rhythm, energy, and pacing; when we do what, and for how long; things to pay attention to both in anticipating the event and in responding to circumstances in the moment, to support movement along the intended trajectory toward the desired outcome

inquiry & synthesis – discovering coherence and moving toward convergence. From gathering information to exploring knowledge to arriving at understanding, shared meaning, consensus, or clear outcomes

Cards in the Inquiry & Synthesis theme – image credit

intention – serving and attending to the larger purpose for the gathering and how it is manifested, including addressing its longer term meaning and consequence. Why are we here, what’s our shared passion, and what are we aiming to accomplish

modelling – essential skills and responsibilities for both facilitator and participants, to demonstrate good group practice and ensure the process goes well; includes monitoring, nurturing and mentoring the group, enabling their effective personal and collective self-management

perspective – noticing and helping the group more openly and thoughtfully explore different ways of seeing an issue; watching, understanding, and appreciating divergent viewpoints, ideas, values and opinions

Cards in the ‘Perspective’ theme – image credit

relationship – creating and maintaining quality connections with each other, honouring our full selves, and recognising power relations

There are many possible ways in which the cards can be used – the Deck includes a booklet explaining the purpose and history of the project and suggested uses for the cards, as well as inviting feedback on any new approaches from those who use them.

The cards could be useful for:

  • group learning or teaching of facilitation skills
  • post-event reflection and debriefing
  • for intuitive guidance – the cards as oracle
  • assignments during a group session – people are responsible for bringing the pattern on their card into the group as needed
  • methodology mapping – to illustrate how process methods work (eg. Open Space Technology, Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search)
  • during an event or process when the group is ‘stuck’

Aside from its use within and around group work, the Deck also has the potential to act as a framework and learning technique, and can provide a common reference point for practitioners.

The Group Works Card Deck is available for preview, or you can download a free pdf and create your own set, at

You can also purchase the deck as a boxed set, and a smart phone app featuring the whole deck is in development.

To find out about the ongoing development of the pattern language, and explore the patterns in greater detail, go to:

For more on patterns, see Anthony Lawlor’s book, 24 Patterns of Wisdom.

Have you ever been to a truly memorable meeting or gathering that transformed you in some way? What was it that created that feeling or outcome?

How do you think you might use this deck in your work?

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