Once you have decided to form a group to start a project, it is important to look at how the group will run and how members will work together.

Once you have decided to form a group to start a project, it is important to look at:

See the partnership principle for more information.

You can also use the working well as a group worksheet (PDF, 59K) to record ideas and decisions for how you want to work as a group.

Establishing your group

It is important for most groups to discuss early on how they want to work together, particularly when they include representatives from other groups, agencies and organisations. Getting these things clear can help build trust and understanding of each other’s roles, strengths and constraints from the beginning, and reduce tensions later on.

There are many ways of setting up your group. In successful projects people discuss and agree how to work together and take time to review how things are going.

Some key points to consider when establishing how your group will work together are:

Interests and roles

A good place for groups to start is by identifying each other’s interests and potential roles in the project or issue. ‘What do we each want or need to get out of this project?’ This process will often identify a variety of different needs and interests.

It is also important to identify what different people or agencies can offer. ‘What are we each bringing to this group or project?’ This can help identify the skills and resources jointly held by the group.

Process and structure

It is important to discuss how you want to operate as a group. In particular:

  • How you will reach decisions.
  • How you will communicate between yourselves (and with people outside).
  • Rules or protocols to be observed by all group members.

You may also want to consider membership, either with a view to establishing a subscription, keeping things a manageable size or ensuring access to the right skills and resources.

Groups can be informal, with members sharing the coordination role and teams established for discrete tasks. Alternatively, groups can choose to be formal, with assigned roles, such as treasurer, secretary, chairperson and a committee. Both structures can work successfully.

In some cases a group may need to become a legal entity e.g. to access funds or where a group wants to take on significant responsibilities for a conservation area or species currently managed by someone else (usually an agency).

The most common options available to groups are to become a Trust or Incorporated Society.

For more information on the common structures available to community groups and assistance in deciding which structure best suits your group, check out the Social development partners website. This website has a lot of useful information to help groups understand and meet their legal obligations e.g. the legal form of your organisation, health and safety, volunteers and employees.

Another practical website is CommunityNet Aotearoa which includes a resource kit for people setting up and running community groups e.g. planning, organisational structures, governance, financial management, raising funds, employment, communication, meetings, and record keeping.

Record agreements

Many groups may be happy to ‘minute’ the agreements reached during discussions about how the group should work. For other groups, a formal ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MOU) may be necessary. This is a signed document that captures the agreements made about how the group will operate.

An MOU document may be relevant where a group wants to enter into a co-management arrangement with an agency for an area or species, for a large project involving a number of agencies or where there is a history of mistrust between one or more group partners. An MOU can include a mechanism for what happens in the case of a disagreement or dispute.

To help with your thinking, see a memorandum of understanding example (PDF, 181K)

Maintaining group momentum

Once your group is established with a clear direction and an action plan to work on, it’s important to pay attention to how you will maintain momentum. What’s needed to get things happening and to keep up the motivation and enthusiasm of your group?

Some ideas to make sure your group continues to work together effectively include:

Regular, two-way communication

Good communication is vital to keep the group cohesive, motivated and involved. Successful partnerships emphasise the importance of regular, two-way communication and information sharing. Working out how you’ll communicate and what protocols you might have are important early steps. The more partners involved in your project, the more critical it is that you maintain regular and transparent communication.

Some possible methods for communicating your group’s progress include:

  • A telephone tree (each group member has a list of people to call) and regular meetings.
  • Reports at regular meetings and recording who’s doing what by when.
  • Circulating minutes to all members, using email, post or website.
  • Protocol requiring copying of all memos or emails routinely between all partners so everyone knows where things are at and only one version of a message gets around!
  • Newsletters - for sharing information within the group and with the community. Consider circulating your newsletter to partner agency staff, sponsors, local businesses and the local paper.
  • A brief, regular article in the local paper or school newsletter.
  • Open days and celebrations, inviting as many people as possible.

Inclusive processes for planning and decision-making

It is important to use inclusive or ‘participatory’ decision-making when planning and implementing activities. Techniques that involve all partners in planning and decision-making are more likely to build a clear sense of purpose, enthusiasm and ownership.

See group planning for information and techniques to help groups work together more effectively.

Encouraging participation

A very real risk encountered by many groups is that too few people end up doing much of the work. This can lead to burn out and sometimes even the collapse of a group or project. While it seems almost too much effort to get lots of people involved, it can become your group’s ‘insurance policy’ for the future. Remember, involvement builds ownership!

  • Here are some ideas to help involve and encourage more people to participate:
  • Try to make all experiences and tasks rewarding so people want to stay involved e.g. share a cake after stuffing envelopes or incorporate a ‘pot luck’ meal into committee meetings.
  • Have flexible timeframes - don’t be too rigid about things happening on time.
  • Understand and manage expectations - what can realistically be achieved.
  • Keep tasks manageable, so people aren’t daunted. Provide a range of different sized tasks - small ‘one-off’ contributions and bigger more challenging tasks.
  • Focus on having successors for group roles e.g. use a mentoring system so the next secretary is being trained on the job by the existing one.
  • Build capacity for the long-term sustainability of the group. If people simply lack skills, look at training opportunities, as this can be a real motivator.
  • Reward people’s efforts e.g. organise a special field trip or social event for volunteers, making it attractive for people to contribute.

Dealing with conflict

Conflict is normal in a group. It inevitably arises where people are working together and trying to make things happen. It is important to deal with it as it arises and try to learn from it, both individually and as a group.

Here are some strategies for dealing with conflict:

  • Separate people and personalities from the situation - consider issues only.
  • Try to look at things from different points of view.
  • Look for options where there are mutual gains.
  • Focus on mutual interests - agree on solutions.
  • Emphasise common concerns and points of agreement.
  • Agree to disagree and come back to the sticking point at a later time.
  • Be honest if you don’t have an answer.

See managing conflict in a group for information, techniques and strategies to help guide a group through conflict.

Celebrating achievements

While seeing results is reward enough for some people, most of us like to hear that we have done a job well and that our work is appreciated. A letter of thanks, a certificate or award, or publicity that recognises people’s efforts, can both motivate and strengthen a group.

Here are some ideas for celebrating group achievements:

  • Creating publicity about a group’s activities e.g. local newspaper coverage of events, publishing monitoring results and items in a group’s regular newsletter acknowledging people’s efforts and achievements.
  • Holding social functions and special outings e.g. an end of year get-together or an outing to another conservation project.
  • Individual acknowledgement e.g. saying ‘thanks’ for all efforts, no matter how small, yearly awards and training opportunities for active members.

Reviewing progress regularly

Successful groups tend to be better at asking ‘how are we going?’ on a regular basis - taking time to reflect on progress and to learn from what they are doing.

The information in monitoring and evaluating progress will help with this task.


Monitor and evaluate progress 

Back to top