In my search for a new facilitation method, I discovered The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter. I have been asked to lead a group of sixty leaders through a discussion of the book, Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy. I wanted to do something different and apart from what I felt comfortable doing and something that could leverage the conversations inherent in social learning. I think the facilitation method in The World Cafe is exactly what I need and precisely aligned with my objectives.
The World Cafe was published in 2005, so it seems I am a bit late to the party on this method of facilitating discussions. However, as I read the book, the method seems timeless and one that would be just as effective in 1983 as in 2013. The goal of the session is to get leaders talking about strategy and how the organization can compete better in a tough market. The best ideas are going to come from this group of managers, who know their business better than anyone. I just need to shape the conversation in such a way that these managers will open up and be candid with each other.
Want Better Conversations? Ask Better Questions
The chapter on questions is worth the price of the book all by itself. Not only does it give great ideas and examples about how to frame questions to elicit bigger, better discussions, but it provides sources that the read can look up for read more about coming up with really good questions.
For example, a typical question that I would ask a group of managers is, "How can we improve communication between departments?" This question is fine (I guess), but it does not necessarily free people from discussing ways of communicating much beyond what they are already doing. This question implies that we can only improve what we already do and roots the group in existing communication methods. What if the question was asked this way, "If we were great at communicating in this company, what would that look like?" This question frees the group from existing ways and allows people to explore the ideal.
I learned this from reading The World Cafe. The book is full of examples like this, which I found refreshing.
Not So "Touchy Feely"
For some, hosting good conversations seems like a touchy feely topic, but it is not. And when you read stories of high-level executives in large organizations in oil, pharma, financial and other so-no-touchy-feely-industries, you will find the method practical and useful.
That's Social Learning
If you are looking for a new method for facilitating group discussions on important, high-level organizational topics or if you are look for a new approach that will get people talking, you need to purchase this book and devour it. It is an easy read, and it is supplemented by resources on the web to help you get started in your first World Cafe....that is what I plan to do.
Have you participated in or hosted a World Cafe? What was your experience like? Was it a valuable experience? I would like to here your stories in the comments below.