Large Group Conversations

Building opportunities for large-scale dialogue into the communication process

Large group meetings all too often default to a series of one-way presentations followed by a Q&A and a few token breakout sessions. This is a missed opportunity to tap into the wisdom of the crowd because these meetings can be extremely powerful opportunities to engage large numbers of employees in genuine conversation about the business. The following are two techniques we use for doing just that.

World Café

World Café is a conversational process that allows large groups of people to develop new and shared insights. The process is simple: small groups of people sit at café-style tables to explore a question that matters to the business. Other participants seated at nearby tables explore similar questions at the same time. As they talk participants are encouraged to write down key ideas on large cards or sketch them on paper tablecloths that are there for that purpose. After a 20-30 minute ‘round of conversation’ in the initial groupings, participants are invited to change tables – carrying ideas and insights from their previous group into a newly-formed small group. One ‘host’ stays at each table to share with new arrivals the key images, insights and questions that emerged from the prior dialogue. The process is repeated for several rounds and is followed by a ‘harvesting’ of the dialogue to which all participants contribute in plenary.

Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology is a technique for involving large numbers of people in a conversation. It originated from the simple insight that the most interesting and animated discussions at conferences occur during coffee breaks; when people get together and talk spontaneously about topics that are of interest to them. Building on this, the defining feature of the Open Space process is that participants select the issues they want to discuss, creating real enthusiasm, energy and empowerment. The result is a highly energised and slightly hectic looking, but actually well organised event – with participants taking responsibility for content and facilitators holding the whole process together.