To convene now or not?

Dispelling the myths of convening large groups

A few of us were in a conversation last week where the topic of large groups came up – conferences, large events, big meetings. We are noticing that, apart from the meetings that revolve around top-down communication and updates, many large meetings are being postponed to 2021 at the moment. What followed was a conversation about why that is, the mental models behind this, and some alternative views we have, here are our thoughts ….

Myth 1: “Conferences are not business-critical … so it doesn’t matter if we postpone.”

Statements like this raise the question of why we bring large groups of people together. In most of the organisations we come across, large meetings are about informing, inspiring and motivating people. This is a good reason to get people together, and the underlying paradigm is that leaders or expert speakers have the answers, and that inspiration / motivation is something we can do to others. In our current world, where the pace of change is so fast, it is unreasonable to consider that one person, or even a small group of people have enough perspective to be able to define the way forward for an organisation, community or society. And inspiration and motivation comes from within. All we can do, as leaders, is create spaces and conditions for people to inspire and motivate themselves.

We would argue that in our current world, where the pace of change is so fast and unpredictable, the ability of an organisation to quickly convene large groups of people to do real work on issues of strategic or operational importance is critical.

Not only does this enable robust decisions, based on wider perspective, but also makes for much quicker implementation, as key people are involved in the decision-making and empowered to act beyond the meeting.

The challenge with this idea currently is that many leaders still hold an old -world view that their role is to be all-knowing. To convene and work with groups in the way we are proposing, we need to let go of knowing, and trust that the group will know. In our experience, this requires humility and a desire to serve.

The upside right now is that convening people online can be much quicker in the virtual world, as there is no need to search for venues, organise travel and accommodation or deal with all the logistical minutiae that are part of large face-to-face events.

Myth 2: “We will postpone until 2021, when we can meet face to face”

No one knows the long-term ramifications of CV19 on travel and when travel to make f2f meetings possible will be allowed.

However, we would argue, that even when we are able to convene large groups of people for business meetings, the question is, ‘should we?’.

Whilst we love to meet people face to face, the ecological impact of our global business travel is huge, and we hope that a positive effect of CV19 will be a dramatic reduction in this.

Myth 3: “We cannot do our conference virtually”

Actually, we can do pretty much everything we do in large meetings online nowadays. The key to making these sessions work well is not just about technology – we think of this like the venue for a f2f meeting – it becomes important when it doesn’t work, but actually it doesn’t MAKE the meeting great on its own.

The key is being really intentional about the human dynamics and making time to work with this, even the informal stuff that people get from being in large f2f meetings.

Myth 4: “We will go ahead but get support only from a traditional event agency or PR company”

So, if you want to work effectively with a large group online, where do you go for support?

Unfortunately, at the moment, the skills to do profound work with large groups lies in the field of Applied Behavioural Science. There has been some amazing work done in this field over the last 5 decades, but the expertise sits largely within a small group of people, mainly consultants. If you then layer on the need to do this work virtually, it is an even smaller group of people.

It is our view that these skills need to become mainstream within organisations and society, but this will not happen until:
a) people see the potential
b) become interested in experimenting with these ways of working
c) become interested in developing the mindset, skillset and toolset to work this way.

For those who do this well, we believe it will be a gamechanger for their organisations.