For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of facilitating the Shared Space Managers Roundtable on behalf of Denver Shared Spaces. The Roundtable has taken the form of a small group that meets on a monthly basis to discuss issues in managing shared spaces. Denver is fortunate to have a critical mass of practitioners that can offer support to one another. Roundtables, working groups, or communities of practice can be an excellent addition to your shared space, as a low-cost opportunity for peer learning and professional development. If you’re thinking about setting up a Roundtable, here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned.
- Have a clear purpose. It’s important to be clear on what the group is meeting to do and share. Clarity helps you recruit the right people, and also helps you define the length and frequency of your meetings.
- Start with structure, and relax over time. I learned this lesson the hard way. Our first Shared Space Managers Roundtable didn’t have a firm structure, and it was easy for us to get off topic. During our second year, having a structured curriculum helped people to connect and build trust quickly. Looking back now, I realize we could’ve provided more unstructured time for conversation after the group started to form strong bonds.
- Dare to ask people to step out of their comfort zone. One of the hallmarks of the Shared Space Mangers Roundtable is that I’m going to ask the participants to do an activity that gets them thinking outside of the box. It might be a role play or a speed dating exercise, or maybe I’ll have you drawing a map. Creative activities open up different parts of the brain and allow you to share in new ways.
- Make commitments. Although the participants may tell you otherwise, asking people to commit to doing some homework between meetings was often one of my favorite parts of our gatherings. Our commitments could focus either on work that members were already doing or new projects that grew out of our conversations. It gave us all insight into each other’s work, and it provided some accountability for those with projects that had been on the back burner for a little longer than we’d like.
- Have a facilitator and a note taker. For the first year, I tried to combine these two roles; however, it’s difficult to facilitate and capture important details at the same time. Make sure it’s clear who will be facilitating the group and your expectations of that person. You may also consider bringing in an outsider as a facilitator. I’ve never managed a shared space, but my experience in sparking conversations proved to be a great asset to the group.
Throughout this process, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for the power of peer learning. In a shared space, I see a wide range of ways to apply it as a tool. For example, you could convene a group of nonprofit marketing and communications professionals or bookkeepers to share their tips and tricks. On the flip side, you could convene learning circles of groups that are interested in sharing about subject specific work, like client advocacy or self-care strategies. The Shared Space Managers Roundtable created a supportive community in a very concrete way, and I’m grateful for the Tuesday afternoons I’ve been able to spend with this group.