The best way to find a Briarpatch where you live is to just start one. Here are a few tips that have served us well.
What's your purpose?
Every business support network is different. Most combine both emotional support and practical business counsel in various mixes. A clear purpose will make it easier for you to attract others.
Recruit at least one buddy.
If you already meet regularly with a support buddy, the two of you will make the perfect kernel of an organizing team. Each of you can invite another person and you’ll have a support group. As each new person invites their friends and associates, you’ll become a network.
Many groups form around the similarities we see in each other, and that’s ok. But for longevity and innovation and the opportunity to change and grow, make a focused effort to invite people who are different. Of course you will want to invite experts in accounting, law, marketing, and so forth. That’s just good business sense. But also invite all genders and multiple ethnicities, and make a special place for the creative, the strange, and the wonderful.
Choose the right meeting place.
Bay Area Briars have met in the posh San Francisco Tennis Club, member business board rooms, the meeting rooms in local restaurants, right in the middle of bustling cafes, in school classrooms, at different member homes and just about any place you can think of. Our longest continuously running meeting took place once a month for 6 years in an art gallery (Carole Rae’s Live Art Studio) where we stored tables and chairs that we brought out each time we met. Mutual support was the main attraction, but members also looked forward to the continuously changing exhibits. The place you choose will have a profound effect on the “look and feel” of the meeting. Make sure it’s in alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish.
Meet regularly and continuously.
If members know the regular time and place and that the meeting will always be held, you’ll save on the time it takes to keep everybody informed about the meeting and folks will incorporate the rhythm of the meeting into their routines. Experimentation has shown us that support buddies (2 people) should meet once a week, but support groups work best if they meet once a month.
Forget about "Robert's Rules of Order"
Use consensus-based group facilitation, instead.
Ask for volunteers for three roles:
- The facilitator helps the group build an agenda
- Consensus is used to build an agenda.
- Agenda building is limited to the first 5 to 10 minutes of a meeting.
- Agree on a time limit for each agenda item.
- Most groups work together to keep the meeting moving. The timekeeper is a backup to that by letting the group know how much time is left on each agenda item.
- The recorder uses words and images to record major points on a chart pad or whiteboard.
- The participants give feedback to the recorder in real-time about whether their points are adequately recorded.
- The group as a whole ends the meeting with a review of action items and the recorder creates a table of “Actions,” “By Who,” “By When,” and “Reported to Who” (for accountability).
- Action items from each meeting are reviewed and the beginning of the next meeting.
Meeting over lunch draws more attendees because no matter how busy you are, you have to eat. Lunch is a time that no one is expecting you to be at your desk to answer the phone. Many groups are successful at organizing potlucks, but it’s a lot of extra effort. Bay Area Briars held a monthly bring your own “brown bag” lunch successfully for more than 12 years. Participants often brought food to share, but it wasn’t a requirement.
In groups of 3 to 6 people, most folks will make sure that everybody gets a turn. In groups of 7 to 12, it helps a lot to ask someone to facilitate the process of making sure each person is heard. The facilitator should agree to not participate while in that role to build trust and demonstrate fairness. Rotate roles each meeting so that no-one feels left out of either facilitation or participation.
With the combination of a facilitator, timekeeper, and recorder you’ll experience dynamic, productive meetings like never before.
In the Bay Area Briarpatch, we often spend the first hour giving each attendee 1 or 2 minutes to introduce themselves and describe their business or project. If there are more people than there is time for introductions, the coordinator helps attendees move quickly through their 7 to 20-word “elevator” speeches. Then the floor is opened for brainstorming about individual attendee’s wants, needs, and sharing of news and announcements.
Information exchanged often ranges from simple resource referrals of suppliers or professionals to shared words of wisdom from hard-won experiences. The coordinator often plays multiple roles, making sure everyone has a chance to participate, keeping people to the time limit, and sometimes recording on the walls. When everyone else has had a turn, the coordinator steps out of those roles and makes an introduction or request for whatever might be needed. At the end, time is made for informal networking and schmoozing.
Since the 1990s it’s been possible to hold meetings over the Internet. With the advent of CoVID in more recent times, video/web conferencing has become commonplace.
When holding meetings online, the roles of facilitator, recorder, and timekeeper are still possible. To make it work the best for your meetings, master the tools built into the platform you are using.
There are often tools such as special icons for applause, slow down, or speed up, for example. Participants can use these to give feedback to the facilitator about the flow of the meeting. The facilitator can use polling to assess consensus and there is usually control over audio and video so that the facilitator can minimize crosstalk and interruptions during a speaker’s time “on the floor.”
Zoom and other web conferencing platforms often include a “whiteboard” app you can use to record the building consensus of your meetings.
A timekeeper can use the built in text-based chat to remind people of how much time is left during each item on the agenda.
Briarpatch Monthly Online
In 2004, we moved our monthly “brown bag” online. People come from all across the U.S. and, on occasion, from Canada, the UK, and Sweden. A subset of the network members asked to be notified by email in advance of each monthly meeting. From that group, from 6 to 16 people join each month, with only half a dozen attending almost every time. So those who do attend get to meet new people doing interesting projects.
Over the years, we have tried a number of online meeting tools. For the last several years, we’ve settled on Zoom. But we’re open to testing new technologies if they seem to serve.
If you’d like your name added to this meeting reminder list, use our contact form.
This is a mutual support event. So, if you’re main purpose in attending is to sell something, that’s not a good idea. Come introduce yourself and tell us about what you’re up to, what your hoping to do in the future, or any brainstorming you’d like us to help you with.probably