How to Run a User Group

That Works Well & FEELs Good

I remember the first time I realized my passion for facilitating. Let me set the scene… I was a Manufacturing Engineering student at Kettering University. It was 10:00 pm. The windows were glossy black reflecting the cream-cinder-block walls of the empty class room. A ghosting of chalk was still on the blackboards from a previous lecture. The room smelled like academic buildings always did— musty with a hint of cleaning chemicals from the bathrooms down the hall.

It was finals time again which included copious late-night trips to the 7-Eleven and intense cramming sessions. We often used notes from previous-final takers thanks to fraternity and sorority members. I was a sophomore, and I typically studied on my own. I was taking Physics 2: Electromagnetism, and I finally felt like I figured out how to study. Studying in high school was easy but college was not, especially at Kettering.

For the first time, I felt confident in my understanding of the material. But I had friends who did not. They had the usual stream of excuses: no time for homework, no time to meet with the prof to ask questions after class, the professor was hard to understand, etc. Regardless of how they got into their current predicament, they needed help learning and fast. To my surprise, a couple of them asked me to lead a cramming session since I was apparently “good at this stuff”. I thought about it and decided to call a meeting a few days before the final.

User Group Learning
Nine classmates showed up that night. I asked what they wanted to review. In an almost unison chorus they replied, “EVERYTHING!” We spent three hours reviewing problems from sample exams. I stood in the front of the room and started drawing graphs and formulas. I explained the key processes used to answer these problems. Others started to provide input when they had an insight or I made a mistake. They began to engage more by drawing and presenting. Each person in the room had knowledge to contribute and our time together provided a great opportunity to share it. We began to grow in our knowledge collectively, and we decided to hold a session every evening until the exam.

As an engineer at DISHER today, I facilitate training with other companies quite often. I look back at these college study sessions as my first experience with a User-Group Learning Model. My model has evolved along the way with meaningful learning occuring. If you are a leader or facilitator of User Groups— there are ways to optimize the learning potential of the group. I define an effective User-Group Learning Model with the acronym FEEL.


FOCUSED – a large-scope topic broken into smaller learning elements

EVERYONE is welcome – a group of diversely-skilled and experienced people

ENGAGED in a facilitated rhythm of learning

LEVERAGING personal-experience sharing

User Group Learning Model


User Group Learning FocusedFirst, the User Group must have agreement on the large-scope topic to be invested in. This seems like common sense, but you would be surprised at how the members of a User Group can have very different wants and needs. As a facilitator, it is important to get that “need input” understood by all members. For example, breaking down a large topic like “Supervisor Leadership Training” into smaller learning elements can allow each members’ needs to be addressed. This provides flexibility in learning, as opposed to attending a conference workshop or a single-focused course. This is one of the great strengths of a User-Group Model– a level of customized-focused learning.


User Group Learning EveryoneNext, it is critical to have a diverse set of participants. I always encourage people with multiple levels of skill, talent, and experience to attend a User Group. If you don’t have cross-pollination in the room, you can easily fall into group-think traps stifling creative approaches to problem solving. However, care needs to be taken to minimize the gaps in experience to avoid alienating people in the group. Highly-skilled members could feel like they are being mooched for knowledge and not learning as much from others. Likewise, lower-skilled participants could feel like higher-skilled members are aloof, condescending, or simply speaking a different language altogether. The goal is to facilitate an optimal learning experience for everyone— not build roadblocks.


User Group Learning EngagedEngaging in learning rhythms is necessary with the User Group. As a facilitator, you will need to herd-the-cats and take-the-lead in getting a rhythm together. Keep the gatherings on a regular schedule with adequate learning times and engaging material for learning activities. Rhythms reinforce learning by creating time-sensitive application and feedback on topic materials which is perfect for PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycles. Faster feedback cycles make solving current problems more efficient and effective. It also becomes more natural to engage in personal-goal setting and focus on individual development.


User Group Learning LeveragingFinally, the most valuable element of the User Group Learning Model to me is sharing and leveraging personal experiences. By having group members with differing-experience levels, you gain perspectives on topics that would otherwise be unknown or unutilized. Each member can confide in and build relationships with peers from many different professional positions and companies. They can freely share lessons learned and best practices in an environment of mutual respect. I find it is also common for team members to engage in empathetic listening skills and work on interpersonal communication techniques. Knowledge and experiences can flow freely and learning can occur in a safe space.

Successful User Group Learning
This User Group Learning Model FEELS good to me because it works! Consider applying it within your company wherever possible. DISHER partners with a variety of organizations to facilitate User Groups all the time. DISHER and The Right Place / MMTC facilitate Supervisor Leadership User Groups (SLUG). The focus is on building leadership skills with front-line leaders in manufacturing. DISHER and the Human Resource User Groups join up to facilitate learning on how to build HR processes and best practices in talent attraction and talent branding.

If joining an external User Group is not a good fit for you or your company, practice internal training with this User Group Learning Model. You will be surprised how effective it is to bring team members from different departments, plants, and regions together to optimize learning. If you need help getting started, feel free to reach out to DISHER. Together, we can develop a better way to learn and Make a Positive Difference.

Oh, and by the way, we aced the exam!

Written By: Shawn O’Farrell | Team Lead – Manufacturing Tech Services
Shawn has a BS in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Kettering University. He enjoys coaching hands-on Continuous Improvement/Lean activities. He has a background in machine automation (robotics, CNC, sensors, pneumatics, PLC programming (AB, Omron), Vision Systems, HMI screen programming, PLC to Network Database Integration), micro-electronics integration and mechatronics, computer programming, and has a strong drive to always learning new things. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his two adorable little girls and his wonderful wife.