Your company is undergoing significant change at the moment. Perhaps it is preparing to expand into an unfamiliar sector; maybe management recognises that the offices in Basel and London have grown apart, resulting in dissatisfaction and lost revenue; or maybe it’s high time to figure out how to adapt your offerings to changes in the market. The whole company has been invited to attend a World Café as a way to collectively come up with solutions through group dialogue.
You feel sceptical about going to this event. After all, you have more important things to do today than sit around holding hands with your colleagues and singing Kum ba yah. You have emails to answer, agendas to write and presentations to plan. Especially now, with all the changes coming up, you simply can’t afford to lose a day of work.
When you approach the venue where the event is being held, though, you’re surprised to see that the usual conference room has been transformed. Soft jazz music plays, and the room is dotted with round tables covered in checked tablecloths. Large A3 sheets of paper are laid out as place mats on the tables, along with an array of colourful markers and building blocks. At the centre of each table, a tea light burns brightly. Blank banners have been hung on the walls, and catering has ordered pastries from your favourite bakery and set up a cappuccino machine in one corner of the room. The space truly feels like a cosy café.
After refuelling with an espresso, you chat with some colleagues about your weekend and make your way to your seat, shared with a table host and other company employees – some who you know, some who you are unfamiliar with.
Now, the external consultant the company has hired to run the event stands up and introduces themselves as the café host. “Today, we’re going to talk about questions that matter,” they say. They go on to explain that you’re going to be collectively looking for answers to specific questions. “You already know the answers to these questions,” the café host claims. “All of you. You have this collective knowledge inside you, and we’re going to uncover it together.”
You raise an eyebrow at that statement and catch a colleague’s eye across the room. She smirks at you. Sure, you’re being served the good coffee today, but that still doesn’t mean you think this is going anywhere. It sounds like you’ll end the day hugging trees or doing some other hippie nonsense.
Then it’s time to begin. The table host sitting with you and three of your colleagues pulls out a smooth beach stone and refers to it as the “dialogue stone”. Only the person holding the stone can speak, and they can pause for as long as they like. No one will interrupt them until they put the stone down or pass it on. No one has to speak, of course, but everyone is encouraged to. Now, the table host presents you with a question to explore. There are no right or wrong answers, the table host insists. It’s an open-ended question – one that deserves more than a throwaway response. “What would success for our company look like?” “What would it take to evolve together as an organisation?” “What are you happiest with in your job?” “What do our clients need from us, and what do we need from them?”
What happens next at the World Café? Find out in Part 2. In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more about this popular workshop format, which we offer as part of our Culture, Change & Team Building programme.
By Mara T.