Alone Together

I was preparing for a couple of sessions this past week, designed to share my story in a program called Thought Leaders Business School (TLBS). I was therefore thinking about why it’s worked so well for me.

One of the reasons is the effective combination of group and individual work. People in the program are working on their own practice, individually, but are doing so in the context of a group of other people who are using the same methodologies. When I have attended TLBS events in Melbourne, they combine collective and collaborative experiences with time for individual work. It reminds me of the toddler developmental phase called “parallel play,” and it works great. As a group process facilitator, I am frequently seeking to build consensus in a room, and it’s refreshing not to have to worry about doing so.

This experience inspired me to use something similar in a facilitated session this week. I thought many of you might find it useful in meetings you lead. It’s an inversion of an activity you may have experienced called “Think Pair Share,” where participants work alone, then with a partner, then in a small group to refine an idea. I did the opposite, inviting participants to talk at their tables about a list of issues, but then to let that conversation inform their own individual written answers to each question. This approach removed the need for people to persuade others at their table to agree with them, or to be concerned about whether they could safely voice a dissenting opinion without derailing the conversation. Vigorous, open debate was the result.

This approach does add another layer to the data analysis task, as the consensus building and/or decision-making needs to occur later rather than in the room. You’re well-advised to be clear about how that will happen and by whom. But if you want participants to benefit from multiple perspectives without needing to grandstand or self-censor, this tool might worth adding to your facilitation toolbox.

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