Finding commonalities in a group

A few days ago I was tasked with asking people what they would like to see in a group, relating to the topic area we are currently working in. Essentially I have to find what the members of the group have in common.

Before I can talk to anyone, I feel like I have to figure out what questions to ask. This is hard because, to be able to frame the question, I have to have some high level preconception of what forms the answers will take. So how high level should I go? How can I figure out good, open-ended questions that will elicit good responses? By good, I mean responses that both align with the group as well as show the members’ individuality. We would have to feel invested in what we suggest, to have the capacity to see a project through to completion. And I guess part of feeling invested in a group is being asked what your opinion is about the future of the group, and to see that your opinion is being heard and acted upon.

My boss took a phased approach to getting to this stage. First a workshop with presentations was held to solicit input from proposed members about what the group should be about. An Expression of Interest to form the group was written. The group was then formally formed. We had a meeting with another Professor about the group. Then there was a meeting with the handful of core Professors of the group. Now we are again soliciting input from the greater group, given the framework of ideas discussed in the previous meetings, this time with the aim of forming projects associated with the group.

The format of the workshop is important to be able to generate new ideas and effectively capture these thoughts. It has to be structured so people know what others are currently doing, and launch ideas from there.

But back to the commonalities of the group. I think that first I have to figure out at a high level what the centre will be about. Then I can find out who to call, based on what their research interests are. I will figure out what question to ask, how to introduce it and frame it. Each person will have a specific set of questions, based on whether we want them to form part of the core team, or join as a researcher, or just as a consultant. I also have to know what other groups have done in the past, and what we can do better.

I wonder when my boss is expecting this to be done?


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