Moving Together:
7 Reasons that Group Work Works

* I’m referring here to the tendency of systems—including that of an individual person’s heart, mind, and body—to remain at and or return to baseline. “Normal” is actually a powerful force that in and of itself resists change, whether for the better or worse. Read more: Brianna Wiest, The Mountain is You.

Growth-oriented. Storyteller. Creative. Change-maker. 

I must confess, that even though I cringe at these buzzwords when I see them in headlines, I use them constantly in conversation. Perhaps it’s because when capitalized and enshrined in bold letters, they remind me of the hustle culture that left me wrecked after a decade of “the grind.” And also because, despite that association, each of those terms is helpful in naming and describing an experience of positive discontentment that I still admire in so many of my friends and colleagues. At their best, these words speak to a perspective that observes what is and imagines what can be. And for those of us who may use terms like these to describe what we do, they represent a hopeful but very real and difficult commitment to forming a future that is more just and beneficial than the past.

But for many who’ve walked these paths for a long time, there’s often a darker side to that experience. 

Whether you are working with the status quo to change what is into something better or creating something new, you’re likely to run into the same problems: 

  1. it takes an enormous amount of personal energy, 

  2. it often requires solitude that can morph into isolation, and 

  3. you will meet resistance at every step as the homeostatic mechanisms* of “what is” kick in against even positive change.

You may have noticed by now that these terms, helpful as they are, often have an individual and singular pointedness to them. “She is a thought leader.” “He is so creative!”

So, to avoid the dark side—the isolation, exhaustion, frustration, cynicism, and burnout that often await individualistic travelers—the simple solution is this: Don’t go it alone.

“It takes two flints to make a fire.”

How to Not Go It Alone

A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I was on my own unexpectedly. When it rains, it pours, and at this particular moment in my life, all of the various teams I belonged to were lost to me simultaneously. As a result, I decided to try something new. I joined a cohort. In this case, a cohort designed to support desires for growth and connection in an 8-week journey through 8 personal growth modalities. It was a virtual experience, imperfect and sometimes messy but deeply helpful. Since then, I’ve participated in multiple short and long-term cohorts as both participant and facilitator. 

I want to share a few aspects of my cohort experiences that have been most transformative.

1. Other Brains

By simply sharing space with a whole set of other brains, you have access to new ways of thinking that you may never have arrived at alone. A group of 12 is 12 wholly unique points of view. The littlest things, like a particular way of phrasing an expression, can trigger emotions and insights within you. Metaphors will be used that haven’t occurred to you. 

These differences will be immensely valuable. And when there is similarity or synchronicity, a sort of affirmation and confirmation occurs.

2. Buy-in and Belonging

Community is often formed around shared desires. When you share yourself—whether by sharing your work, goals, joys, sorrows, or your longings—with others in a trusting environment, you may be surprised at how often those same desires are reflected back to you. You’ll notice that others are willing to buy in, not only to your goals but to your well-being. As the group grows in supportive sharing of desire, belonging also grows. And in an increasingly chaotic world, I don’t need to tell you how beautiful belonging feels.

Behind-the-scene photos from the shoot of the unRival short film “Artisans of Peace.” Photo credit: Chase Guidroz.

3. Learning from Learning

At any given moment in a cohort, the vast majority of members are learning something new. More importantly, they are learning in the open. Which is to say, we are learning, and we are witnessing one another learn. This dynamic creates a learning loop that is surprisingly effective. Even in a facilitator role, one can hardly avoid insights and breakthroughs.

4. Relationship Networks and Pathways

I’m a Ted Lasso fan. I love when Ted introduces two people at dinner, then says, “Congratulations, you both just met a cool person.” When people come together over shared values, build a little trust, and begin to buy into one another’s journey, it’s only natural that we want to make introductions for one another. Suddenly, whole new webs of potentially productive, supportive, and even transformative relationships become available.

5. Laughter and Levity

I don’t laugh so easily on my own. Do you? When I’m left to myself to deal with a particularly sticky problem, I can get a little heavy—bored at best, hopeless at worst. But in a group setting, that “yes and” impulse starts to come out, and problems are relativized a bit. Even if it’s through gallows humor, we find a way to smile together, crack jokes, and laugh. Sometimes all I need to laugh is to hear others laughing. Joy is contagious.

Pictured left to right: Billy Price, Lina Lyte, and Andy Peterson at the 2024 Film Lab Filmmaker Cafe at Justice Film Festival in New York City, NY. Photo credit: Lucy Martin.

6. Lightening the Load

On the other hand, when it comes to grief and trauma, one of the most powerful transforming experiences is simply to be witnessed. Carried alone, grief and trauma can be unbearable. Sometimes this causes us to collapse, but often it does not;  we carry on with the pain unexpressed and hidden. In such cases, we may fear that if we let those feelings out, they will never end. But in a group setting, among trusted peers and leaders, giving grief air and light allows them to be witnessed and assuaged.

7. The Unknown Unknown

This is perhaps my favorite reality of cohorts. We are all, in a way, mysteries to one another. The future too can never be reduced to the predictable. Like a sleight of hand trick that makes jaws drop and people shout, things unforeseen just… happen. Reality holds much more than we can know or anticipate. By opening ourselves to a group, we open ourselves to magic.

Entering into a committed group environment offers a powerful antidote to the challenges faced by those of us striving for positive change. It counteracts isolation, provides diverse perspectives, fosters a sense of belonging, and creates an environment where learning and growth are magnified. By sharing our journeys with others, we not only lighten our own burdens but also contribute to a collective strength that can drive meaningful transformation.

As you navigate your path, remember the value of community. Join a cohort, engage in collaborative projects, and seek out those who share your vision and values. Together, we can inspire each other, overcome obstacles, and ultimately create a more just and peaceful future. Don’t go it alone—move together.

The first Artisans of Peace program cohort at our 2023 in-person gathering in Montreat, North Carolina.

Resources

UnRival Network offers two programs that are centered around creating nonrivalrous space in a cohort experience: Artisans of Peace and The Film Lab.

Artisans of Peace (AoP) is a leadership development program for grassroots peacebuilders. The program offers a nonrvialrous space to breathe, grow, process, learn, and grow together.

 

The Film Lab fosters the upcoming generation of justice filmmakers and their creative journey of crafting unique and profound transformative stories, providing a space to grow, create, and share in nonrivalrous community.

 

Our Partners

Many of our partners offer programs and learning that employ the power of cohorts. We invite you learn more about their incredible and important work:

If you enjoyed this reflection, please consider these other blog posts:

Want to learn more about how unRival Network our programs are disrupting rivalry and advancing the cause of justice and peace? Click here to access our free resource, Peace is Possible.

Hold onto hope with us.


When we resist rivalry together, there is hope for peace.

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