Planning your next meeting – get the room set up right

Here are some key insights from a breakthrough session that I recently attended at the Australasian Facilitators Network Conference, held in Sydney.

The session was run by Kingsley Nowell and titled, ‘Behind the ‘Seens’ – Creating space in a sQuircle where division through fixed positions can be processed.’

I knew it was going to be something different. Firstly – what is a ‘squircle?’ And then there was Kingsley’s world of experience.

He’s had a lifetime of involvement in the Salvation Army and has worked as an internal facilitator there for the last 12 years.

He moved into this role through a personal desire to ‘become the person that he came to realise he needed but couldn’t find’. Such great words!

In his bio, Kingsely describes himself as someone who lives in the ‘squircle’ – that ambiguous space between a square and a circle. This is his metaphor for the challenge of introducing change to a highly structured, familiar, valued entity.

What does the ‘Squircle’ mean to us?

So on to the workshop. Remember, this was a conference packed full of facilitators, so there’s a bit of pressure on you when you’re running a session!

The group chose a theme to work with – boat people – intentionally a topic that would connect with people’s emotions. The topic was used to help us to understand the importance of physical design of space and conversation styles for stimulating and sustaining contributions of participants with diverse and strongly held views.Facilitation

We then split into small groups, with each group being given the task of setting up the room for a workshop or meeting. Whilst the others were waiting outside, each group in turn was asked to do this in a different way that would create a desired effect on the meeting or workshop. One group had rows of chairs; the next group had no chairs, one even had chairs facing the walls!

The moment of brilliance for me was the questions that Kingsley asked about each room set up during the debrief of each group’s set up:

  • What are the unspoken signals?
  • What invisible rules are at play?
  • What are the expectations?
  • What are the effects on behaviour?
  • What is the contribution of the topic?

How to apply this…

This is the ideal check-list for setting up a room for a workshop or meeting. Think of what’s positioned where and who may be positioned where (especially in a team meeting.)

Then go through Kingsley’s checklist to identify the impact of your room set up on participants. How could this effect the purpose, outcomes and process you plan to use?

As a practice, start by sitting in a room with set up with rows of chairs for a meeting. Then go through the checklist. Re-arrange the room and review the checklist – what are the differences in your answers?”

Some final thoughts…

You’re not always going to be able to attend all the conference and learning events that you’d like to. If you need an ongoing flow of practical ideas to improve the way you work with teams and groups, either sign up to my quarterly newsletter or grab your weekly facilitation tip from my new business, The Facilitators Inner Circle

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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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