Buddy System | Training For Change

Buddy System


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Training for Social Action Trainers


Training Tool
  • Support for learning seems to increase the speed and depth of the learning, whether it comes from support groups or from “buddies” (a partner for learning)
  • Most people aren’t accustomed to intentional support, so they don’t know how to use it or are embarrassed about using it
  • Many people need information and a framework to get started.
How to Lead
Randomize Buddy Selection:

Unless you have specific reasons to put certain individuals together with other individuals, randomizing has advantages, including the opportunity to go to an awareness layer deeper than usual by asking the question, “How is this buddy the perfect buddy for you?”

One system for doing this is two concentric circles of equal size. Put participants who are already friends/political colleagues/partners in the same circle so they won’t match up with each other. Start the circles walking around, in opposite directions. Stop the walking at a random point; the persons closest to each other in the other circle are the buddy pair.

Questions to Ask to Get the Buddies Started:

Formulate the questions that makes sense for the goals of your workshop, the design, and the level of sophistication of the participants. Sentence completions allow tremendous freedom, yet are structured enough to stimulate valuable information in a sequenced way. Here are examples:

For less sophisticated participants:

  • “Some wishes I have for this workshop are. . .”
  • “Some fears or reservations I have about this workshop are. . .”
  • “Some ways I might ‘tune out’ or reduce my participation in this workshop are. . .”
  • “Some support I could use might be . . .”

For more sophisticated participants:

  • “You’ll be glad I’m your buddy because. . .”
  • “A way I might need support this workshop is. . .”
  • “How I might resist that support is. . .”
  • “How you could support me anyway is. . .”

The process of buddy pairs normally doesn’t need debriefing. Sometimes a facilitator may elicit some responses to the values of a buddy pair, including adding theory that people learn faster when they have support — i.e. a buddy — than without. This can open a teachable moment about how buddy pairs can be a contradiction to activist isolation.

How To Use Online

Using the buddy system online can be very supportive, as connecting online can be extra challenging or isolating.

Choose a virtual meeting platform that allows for breakout rooms (see How to Run Powerful Breakouts Online for more). Most online platforms allow you to randomize groups of a certain size, which you can use to assign buddies, initially. Write down who was paired with whom and manually set up the same groups for any buddy check-ins after that.

For quick buddy check-ins during an online meeting, you can also use private chat while you all stay in the main group. For a longer check-in, invite buddies to exchange phone numbers in private chat and call each other, for an opportunity to get away from screens for a while. While checking in, buddies could take a walk, get some food, sit in a cozy chair, etc. Make sure they know what time they should reconnect to the full group meeting.