After designing and facilitating a 200 person meeting in Europe last week, intended to be the kick off of a larger change process, I am much clearer about the potential of Groupaya. I’ve been saying that we are OD (organizational development) on steroids. I now see we are simply “Activation on steroids.”
I’ve always loved designing large group meetings, because of their potential to bring a system alive, to tap into the collective intelligence of everyone and to create a highly aligned and committed group of people, ready for whatever change is in store for them.
Many conferences and internal large group meetings rely on keynote speakers and panels, thus limiting the interaction between participants to breaks. Why does this matter? Isn’t there value in learning from an expert or a trail blazer? Absolutely! We always can get ideas and be inspired by those on stage. However, in conversation with a peer or small group of peers, it is much more likely that we will further our own thinking. Instead of being left with thinking how great the speaker is, we will be left thinking how great our life is – excited about our own insights and the next thing we now see we want to do.
Simply put, it tends to be much more empowering, not to mention more effective, to develop insight in conversation, and less so in one-way forums in which we are a silent listener, having a conversation in our own head about what is being said.
In our meetings, while we may bring in an outside speaker or two to act as a provocateur to stretch the thinking of the group and while we certainly encourage the presence and active participation of the formal leaders, more than anything, we focus on creating a design that gets people talking: thinking in new ways about old topics, imagining the future they want to create, together. Everyone becomes a leader.
As soon as you walk into the room of one of our meetings, you realize this meeting is going to be different. Instead of rows of immovable chairs side by side, facing the stage, the room is set up in small circles of chairs, inviting 6-8 people to sit, facing each other. When we face each other, it is uncomfortable not to talk. The room is set up to invite conversation.
Once the small groups get started, the room gets louder as the conversations warm up. Within a few minutes they are into the work, the world drops away, and they are writing and drawing on their flipcharts. Some groups even leave their chairs and have the whole conversation standing up, focused on one another and the flipcharts. The energy in the room is palpable.
Inevitably, after the first session, many people are jazzed. They are delighted with themselves and the people they are interacting with. They are excited about the quality of conversation and insight. They realize this is may be the most productive and interesting meeting they’ve ever been a part of. They see that individually and collectively, they really have the potential to make a difference.
In spite of the fact that it is relatively uncommon, it is not a new idea to design a highly interactive meeting. I have been designing meetings like this for 20 years. Others have been doing it for 30+ years. What was new for me in the meeting we did last week was bringing in technology and social media to activate not only those in the meeting, but also those who were not able to attend. We set up an internal microblog (Salesforce Chatter), similar to Twitter, but not limited to 140 characters, which enabled the people in the room to write about how they were feeling about the meeting, to post new insights and questions as well as to highlight quotable moments.
Not only did it give the group a greater sense of itself, it also enabled their colleagues, who were not at the meeting, to feel connected and to contribute. Those who had not been invited were so appreciative of having a window into the meeting and said they felt like they were there. While we didn’t realize the full potential of this extra channel, I saw it! What if we designed a meeting with an eye toward encouraging conversation between those in the room and those not in the room? What if explicitly framed the channel as a way for people to practice collective sensing? What if we framed the channel as a way to practice organizational learning?
Though I have not been an active participant on Twitter to date, I now see the potential of a Twitter-like channel to help groups more skillfully and more joyfully create their future.