29. May 2020

Touching Togetherness!

“Whether we meet physically or virtually makes no difference for me”, somebody said to me recently. I was shocked. I realised that this person seemingly never had the chance to experience this vibrant unique human spirit that can occur when people gather physically in one room. I am not talking about those occasions when we are worn out by everyone trying to impress each other with endless “yes, but” ping-pong debates. I am talking about those meetings that allow authentic, honest and open conversations that meaningfully shape our thinking and feelings, enabling this thrilling transformational experience when moving beyond a status quo. Only wishful thinking? Here is a book that provides help and hope to make it a reality: “The Art of Gathering and Why it Matters” by Priya Parker.

Put people, not logistics, in the centre. Over eight chapters, we gain a comprehensive understanding of what makes a truly people-centred gathering that has the power to unleash a transformational experience for both the individual and the collective. Above all, it is about careful and sensitive preparation. Not in terms of logistics, but rather in terms of deciding consequently about logistics in order to serve the purpose of the assembly (and not harm it). The chapters represent a line-up of eight principles that help to unleash such valuable, fully embodied human experiences among people gathering. It starts with giving the gathering a conscious purpose – and not just a title. Whether the purpose of a wedding is to continue a family tradition or an opportunity to see friends again, will influence who to invite (Chapter 2) and which venue to choose (Chapter 4). Although this sounds trivial, particularly in business most meetings fall short a conscious purpose and who to invite rather follows the hierarchical structure than the purpose. If we want to gather in different ways, it starts exactly there. On top, we get some enlightening ideas how to make purposeful use of the unique “open-door moments” at the beginning (Chapter 5) and the end of a meeting (Chapter 8). Although it is an overall conventional practice, starting with the logistics and sponsors and ending with thank you notes might not be the best choice to support the purpose of your meeting - unless the purpose is clapping hands for a brand. A part from thoughtful preparation, we learn how to support and ensure that people can bring their full selves into the room, relate and bond based on an open, honest and authentic conversation (Chapter 6) and have constructive controversial conversations (Chapter 7).

An abundance of confirming and surprising wisdom for leaders and facilitators. This book is not a dry collection of techniques or checklists but rather a collection of carefully observed real-life wisdom thoughtfully put together. While most might sound familiar to experienced workshop facilitators and leaders, I promise that everybody will find some surprising wisdom to spice your own gathering practice in this rich and varied mix of inspiring examples, narratives, stories and facts (at least you will have fun reading what we can learn from the exceptional butcher Dario Ceccini Panzano, Italy - indeed a unique experience I can recommend, too!).

In light of the current hype around agile self-organized groups I found it particularly thought provoking to learn how groups can derail if the host simply hands over – even with the best of intentions – the lead to a group (Chapter 3). Counterintuitively, setting clear rules is not a limitation on individual freedom. On the contrary, it sets people free from interacting based on uncertainty and confusion. It protects a common shared experience, which allows people to express their diversity. It is he host’s responsibility to protect the purpose of the meeting and to use his or her authority to grant and protect equality of power within the group. We might forget that if the host steps out of his or her authority, someone else will tap into the vacuum, most probably enforcing their own purpose and interests.

Priya Parker reminds us what we meanwhile have all realized moving to an increasing digitized and touchless workplace: A fully embodied physical face-to-face meeting has become a scarce resource. The book helps to understand that moving successfully to a remote workplace will – paradoxically – imply using our scarce face-to-face time much more consciously. Let’s stop wasting these rare moments with transactional stuff. Instead, let’s honor this time by more thoughtfully designing it as a fully embodied experience that has the power to truly move us and transform our future. I guess that then, more people would recognize a difference to virtual gatherings.

Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Dr. Eva Bilhuber
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