Blog Post

In a good conversation you can reach out and touch each other

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 27 April 2011



In a good conversation you can reach out and touch each other
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 130
Posted DateMonday 22 November 2010 07:06 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://vivmcwaters.com.au/2010/11/15/creating-productive-spa ... 
CategoriesConversation; Knowledge Cafe

I recently came across a post by Viv McWaters in which she advocates getting rid of tables in meetings or when facilitating group sessions. By and large I agree with all she says.

But I ran a lot of Knowledge Cafes at the end of last year when travelling, and on one or two occasions, I had no tables, not out of choice, but simply because there were no tables in the room or there was not enough room for tables. Although I like the idea of "no tables" in a Knowledge Cafe, I have found in practice that I would rather have them

The more I run Cafes the more I realise the importance of close physically proximity when having a conversation. My new rule is that if you can't reach out and touch the other people at the table then the table is too large or there are too many people. A 3 ft round table with four people is perfect.

What I find in a Cafe with no tables is that groups tend to merge. So two groups of four tend to merge into one group of eight. People also move the chairs around. A small round table provides focus.

I ran one Cafe in Singapore for SAFTI (the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute) last year. Here we had no tables and all the chairs had wheels. What I loved about this was that when we came to change groups, the participants did not even stand up ... they just scooted the chairs around while remaining seated ... I wish I had captured it on video. Like many good things in Cafes, it just emerged.

In a banked lecture theatre recently, (the worst place to hold a Cafe) people tended to naturally form groups of six to eight - often so broadly spread that people on the fringes were never quite part of the conversation. I vowed never, ever to run a Cafe in such a setting again!

If I have a choice now between large tables and no tables at all then I tend to go for no tables.

Think about it, in all good conversations, you are within touching distance of the other people and although I am not advocating that you do touch ... often you do ... it makes the whole conversation that much more natural and human.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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