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Global Flipchart #9


September 2017
| Issue #9

The buddy system

By Jane Haskell

We’ve been growing community vitality in rural Maine, guiding people in the mechanics of effective, efficient group processes. And we discovered something. Training cohort members often feel isolated and disconnected from other group members between sessions.

This happens whether groups meet virtually or face-to-face. When a group member is absent, the isolation or disconnect may become even more pronounced. We carried out a pilot buddy system to see whether mindful learning partners become friends and reduce isolation.

Piloting Mindful Learning Partners

After reading Grove’s “A Buddy System for Virtual Teaming” (by Rachel Smith, 2016), I piloted four citizen facilitation cohorts to be Mindful Learning Partners. As partners, they helped each other practice and develop leadership confidence by using an evolving reflective model that nurtures skill development.

Citizen leaders have a common bond: most work, receive little leadership training, live in remote towns, and struggle to be volunteer leaders in isolation. With help from learning cohorts, we are modifying Smith’s buddy system to bring deep, personal benefit for people learning to be citizen facilitators and leaders.

Smith suggests virtual buddies ‘remember’ the absent person in meetings - they advocate for them and check in with them. Consequently, they develop a deeper connection with that person. We found a similar rapport develops for cohort members who partner and reflect later on a meeting they both attended.  

We encourage learning partners to be curious and flexible in their mindful conversations between training sessions:

  1. Agree on a topic, e.g. what do I notice as I hone a skill? What surprised me in a recent meeting? Why? What happened in my body? What meeting behavior am I noticing more? What meaning do I make? What has been challenging me this week? What change do I notice?
  2. Agree that this is a deeper processing of the leadership and facilitation skills they are strengthening.
  3. Agree that they are observing their own mindfulness development and that being too perfect or too rigid may thwart their curiosity and ongoing inquiry.

What we learned from the pilot sessions

Citizens who find themselves in community leadership roles and show up in our training sessions are passion-driven and are extraordinarily willing to try new things. We’ve learned several things from our non-prescriptive beginning through partner journals and exit interviews:

  • Discuss mindful learning partnering as a full group before cold calling a partner to get to know each other a bit.
  • Define a structure within which to be flexible.
  • State additional expectations, such as exit interviews or long-term evaluations.
  • Share that past partners recommended 15-20 minute, face-to-face meeting (in-person or video conferencing) rather than email/text/chat as more personable and includes visual learning.

As partners leaned into the partnership, friendship grew and isolation lessened. They reported becoming more interactive and less prescriptive. They drew on each other’s aspiration and in some cases focused on the development of the other.

Feedback from participants

Nearly 50 people provided feedback about how Mindful Learning Partnering during the 3-5 month training helped reduce isolation and build relationships. Read some of the comments below:

  • “If I am absent from a meeting, I have a hard time getting caught up. There is something about being physically and mentally present. I use all my senses (visual, audio, tactile, even olfactory and taste) when I am physically present to help me remember things. If someone takes the time, and a really good amount of time, to talk to me about what was discussed, then I feel much better about it.”
  • “I think that prior connection strengthens our ability to be open and real with each other, and that really enriches our conversations.”
  • “The time we took to process and diverge from specifics felt like a breakthrough. Our time felt more personalised. It met a need I had been feeling in our partnership.”
  • “Connection helped integrate meeting material on a deeper level, explored concepts further, made new content connections and we discovered additional questions.”
  • “I felt compassion when my partner talked about fear of conflict and how she withdraws when there’s conflict. I do the same thing, and want to grow in that area, too.”
  • “We both have very busy, very overwhelming lives and taking care of ourselves sometimes slips through the cracks. We decided to continue to check in with each other to make sure we follow through with self-care.”
  • “There is a growing common understanding. We no longer look at the other person for validation or encouragement, but just share our experience. It’s comfortable. Opinions don’t matter. It feels more authentic and open.”

Want to know more?

If you’re interested in knowing more about more effective facilitative practices in remote settings, read an interview with Rachel Smith on the virtual experience.