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With You provide free and confidential support with alcohol, drugs or mental health.

This Guide shows how to run mutual support or problem solving groups using Google Meets. Its steps are relevant to using other video calling tools. It includes tips on session planning and how to train facilitators.

Steps to running online group support sessions using Google Meets


  • What you want your group sessions to achieve

  • Who they are for and what you know about those people

This will help you decide how the sessions should run. Some of the detailed things you should think about are:

  • Are you running sessions that happen during online meetings (synchronous), through a chat or forum (asynchronous) or both?

  • How will you moderate the group? Will it need a staff member, a volunteer or will it be peer-to-peer?

  • Is the group for people new to your organisation or existing beneficiaries?

  • What technology do they have that will allow them to join your group?

With You run moderated online groups for adults where they meet up and work through problems together. 

The aim of each group is for people to come together and get practical support on day-to-day issues. Facilitators suggest simple tools and techniques to help everyone in the group. The facilitators are experienced With You staff, volunteers and peer mentors.

There are lots of different video calling platforms to choose from.

You should think about:

  • Safety, safeguarding and privacy. What data is shared between participants? What data is shared with the software provider?

  • Accessibility. How many different ways can people take part? What barriers does the technology you choose create?

  • Familiarity. Can you choose a platform that your group members already know and like? Does it meet the other criteria?

With You choose to use Google Meets. It is free to use for anyone with a personal account.

It is also part of Google Workspace. With You already used Google Workspace for other email, calendar and documents. This meant it was easy for staff and volunteers to get used to.

The biggest advantage for group participants is that you can join online OR using by calling in from a phone. (not just camera off on the video call, but calling a phone number.) This was important for many With You group participants.

Providing support services is different online to face-to-face. There are several areas that people running sessions need help with. Think about:

Technical confidence. Do the staff understand how to invite people to meetings, and how to keep personal data safe? Do they know how call privacy can be put at risk? This is more than just how the call software works.

Session dynamics. Many facilitators are used to relying on body language and appearance to help them gauge people’s wellbeing. When those elements are not available, what can they rely on to help them manage session dynamics? Do they know how to introduce activities that help people speak up?

Dealing with difficult participants. Facilitators need to know the tools available to control how sessions flow. They also need to know how incidents should be reported and what safeguarding follow ups are required.

With You have 2 training modules. Staff or volunteers complete these before facilitating the groups. One is training in safeguarding online and the other is training in running groups.

They also provide a '10 key steps' guide to running the sessions. It includes details on session planning:

  • Choose a date and time for your group. Think about how suitable times for an online group may differ from in person attendance.

  • Remember if you add service users onto the calendar invite they will all see each other’s email addresses.

  • You can leave the meeting in your own calendar and copy the details into an email or text for service users. Remember to BCC service users. Include the google meet code and the phone number plus the 9 digit PIN for people not able to join via the internet.

With You found that some staff were particularly nervous about working with new service users in online groups. So they built extra support into the training and into how people are invited to sessions.

Decide if you are promoting your service to people your organisation already supports, or new people, or both. If you are promoting to your existing people, use their preferred method of communication.

Social media can be an effective way of promoting a new service - but remember not to share the link to the calls itself. That could mean that people join without knowing what to expect. People could also join specifically to disrupt your service.

You should create guidance that covers:

  • What the groups are for and how they work

  • Acceptable and unacceptable behaviour

  • How you handle safeguarding and confidentiality

  • Simple guides to using the technology

You might also run 1-to-1 introductions to the technology or discussions about whether people will find the group helpful.

With You promoted their groups to both new and existing people. They created templates so that their locally based services were all providing information in the same way.

They make sure everyone joining a group understands acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They also talk people through their confidentiality and safeguarding practices.

They’re working on a way to include people in online groups using a shorter referral and assessment process, so they can help more people, faster.

Start with a plan of:

  • how many sessions you are going to run
  • how long they will be
  • when they will take place. 

Be ready to adapt these to help members get the most out of each session.

With You discovered a range of things that helped their sessions work better:

  • They limit groups to 4-10 people so everyone has a chance to engage
  • For sessions in a series, they use the same Google Meet link every week so people don’t get confused. They do this using Google Calendar's 'repeat event' function. They remind participants not to share it the link with anyone else.
  • They send everyone text or email reminders 24 hours before a session.
  • They keep the first meeting of any group focused on getting used to how the calls work and doing a general check in.
  • They run slightly longer sessions (2 hours), so that the first part of the session can be used to sort out technical difficulties
  • They adapt how each session works according to people's call situation. For example people who are not in a private space sometimes prefer to use chat rather than voice. They also have a written guide that helps facilitators choose different activities to use over chat, while doing screenshare or using closed captions.

Further information

Running online activities and calls?  see some of our other guides

Changing video calling software? try NCVO's comparison guide.

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