I recently joined a critique group. The group includes four people, including me. As promised, I am going to list our critique group protocol. These simple steps might help you in starting a critique group or might help you streamline your current group.
Critique Group Protocol:
1. Surround yourself with (literate) people you trust.
Preferrably people who write in the same genre as you. For instance, it would be senseless to join a group of romance writers if you write middle grade fiction. You may think "Duh!" but you would be surprised.
2. Set a date to meet in person.
My group meets once a month. Make the location fair to everyone. Either stick to the location and make it permanent. Or, if your group members like change, find a couple locations within the area and switch it up every now and then. Just make sure one person isn't driving out of the way. That person might be prone to skip meetings with lousy excuses. Remember gas prices, too!
3. Submit excerpts via email a week prior to meeting date.
Excerpts might include an opening chapter, two chapters, or an entire picture book. If you would like to submit more, like an entire novel, email your group ahead of time and ask for their preferred time table. It takes a while to read a novel manuscript and comment on it. Do not show up to your meeting with three copies of an entire manuscript and dump them on the table. "Here's my novel!" If your group knows what's coming, then they can set aside time to read and comment on your work. You wouldn't want them rushing through your novel. The entire point of a critique group is to analyze written work in detail.
4. Each member is responsible for reading and commenting on the submitted work.
Brief or detailed written comments will work. Or just bringing your thoughts on the work. It does help to write a few things down, whether you plan on handing it off to the author or just using it for discussion.
5. Meet at arranged time and place and discuss work.
When discussing written work, it is optimal for everyone to discuss one written piece and then move on to the next. A good rule I like is that the author cannot speak while receiving constructive feedback. The writing piece must stand on its own. The writer will not be in the agent's or editor's office to defend or explain his work. Therefore, he should not speak up to defend it during critique meetings.