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Beginners' Orientation

(This introduction to the deck was written by Christopher Allen, a member of our Stewards' Circle)

The most important thing to know is "why" these patterns were created. My answer is contained in these questions:

* Why is it that some meetings bring life to your soul?

* While others leave you wishing you'd never stepped in the room?

* What happens at the best ones, that makes them productive, fulfilling, sometimes even magic?

So begin your learning journey by remembering one of those great meetings. Don't worry about how or why, just recall that powerful feeling after a successful group meeting. It is that feeling which 50+ facilitators over 3 years  attempted to distill their best practices to understand and repeat. These are the patterns they came up with.

The next step to understanding I recommend is to look deeper at two cards. You don't need the whole deck, just shuffle out a random dozen or so. Look through that set and find one that calls to you as a skill you have some strength in. Then pick one in which you feel you are weak. Set the other cards aside and think deeper on these two cards.

In your box there is a cardboard insert. On that insert is a section called "Key to the Cards". This describes the different sections of the cards. Understand that every part of the card has meaning. It can also be useful to go to the website and click on the pattern name at http://groupworksdeck.org/patterns_by_name and see what has been written up about it. You can even contribute your own experience or links there.

This gives you two sources of knowledge about the patterns — how do you grow your knowledge from there? I suggest you start with the categories.

The other side of the cardboard insert is a description of the 9 patterns. They are in rough order of when you need to think about them in a group process, starting with purpose, leading through flow and creativity, and ending with Inquiry & Synthesis and they all are surrounded by Faith.

Read the description of each category, and pull out the boldface "keystone" pattern card for each category. These the creators of the deck believe are the most representative of that category.

Intention -> Purpose

Context -> History & Context

Relationship -> Tend Relationships

Flow -> Divergence & Convergence Rhythm

Creativity -> Generate Possibilties

Perspective -> Viewpoint Shift

Modelling -> Holding Space

Inquiry & Synthesis -> Inform the Group Mind

Faith -> Emergence

Start with just these 9 cards. I might even recommend that you put the rest of the deck away for a while and just look at these 9 category descriptions and the 9 keystone cards. Like before, maybe look them up on the website for more detail. Maybe take one a day or week and try to embody that pattern for that period of time.

Once you understand the keystone cards, it becomes far easier to understand the rest of the patterns. Here are some things you can do, maybe one a day, or once a week.

For each category:

  • Take a keystone card and pull out all other cards in the category. With the keystone in the center, try to understand how the other cards add to the keystone to fill out the category. 
  • Like you did with your opening exercise, pick one that is a strength and one that you you need some work. Identify why you are strong with one and weak with another. Can you share something you've learned that makes you strong in that pattern? Maybe post it on the website. Do you have a question about a pattern that you don't understand well or have a weakness in? See if it on the website, and if not, ask a question on this list about it.

For each keystone:

  • Pull the cards with the related patterns, placing the keystone in the center. Take a look in particular at those patterns that are not in the same category as the keystone. Ask youself the question of how those patterns are connected. What do they have in common, how are they different?

From here are are a wide variety of activities that you can do to better understand the patterns, at http://groupworksdeck.org/activities — I in particular recommend when you are starting these activities as they do not require a group:

Most of these activities are group activities, but if you don't have a local group to talk with them about, consider learning how to do a Google Hangout and inviting friends, colleagues and participants of this list to join you to work through one of these activities. Up to 10 people can be in the same Hangout and it is free.

I also like the iPhone version of the deck — I can be on the train and read about a pattern, or do a random draw at a meeting. If you have an iPad, there is a free version of the patterns as a download in my app Infinite Canvas.

There are occasional workshops on Group Pattern Language in a variety of locations, mainly on the northwest coast of N. America from Vancouver, BC to the San Francisco Bay Area. To hear when and where they are happening, sign up for one of our mailing lists in the upper right corner of this page.

If you can't make one of these workshops, consider finding a way to have your own workshop. I can give you the slides for my 4-hour workshop — it is easy to do and a great way to build a learning community. Many of the Group Pattern Language Project stewards and ambassadors travel regularly — ask us about hosting a workshop when we might be nearby. Some of us are full-time facilitators, you can even hire us to fly to teach if you can find some funding and a venue to host at.

I invite others that may have other advice on ways to learn and explore the patterns or use the cards.

May this help you begin your journey in your understanding of these powerful patterns!

   — Christopher Allen, September 2013