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.
Does it work?
"World Café conversations are the most reliable way I have yet encountered for all of us to tap into collective creating…I have been repeatedly struck by the ease of beginning a World Café-style dialogue–how readily people shift into heartfelt and engaging conversation. I have been struck also by the power and impact of many World Café conversations. I can think of very few processes for thinking together that work equally well in executive retreats, annual corporate budget and planning meetings, one thousand person conferences and community gatherings."Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management, Founding Chair, Society for Organizational Learning