The maximum group size for a proper conversation is four, or five at a push.
In this article I suggest how the formats of type 1 co-creation meetings (notably Real Time Strategic Change, Whole-Scale™ Change, Future Search, Search Conferences, and World Café) and type 2 co-creation meetings (using Open Space Technology) might be modified in order to honour the max4 principle.
What is a co-creation meeting?
Co-creation meetings are also known as large group interventions, large-scale events, and ‘whole system in the room’ events.
A co-creation meeting is a collaborative gathering that takes place over half a day, an entire day or several days, generally forming part of a broader organisational change or innovation programme.
This kind of meeting brings together diverse beneficiaries, often in large numbers (the upper limit is constrained only by the venue capacity) and with widely-differing agendas and perspectives, to discuss issues of heartfelt concern, share ideas, pool knowledge, explore possibilities and devise plans for sustained collaborative action.
The three main types of co-creation meeting
There are three main types of co-creation meeting that I refer to as type 1, type 2 and type 3. These labels are neutral by design. I have summarised the distinctive features in this graphic:
Read more about the three main types of co-creation meeting
Type 1 co-creation meetings
Real Time Strategic Change, Whole-Scale™ Change, Future Search, Search Conferences
The format I am about to describe achieves three important aims:
A discussion group never has more than four members, in accordance with the max4 principle.
The format enables those at the introvert end of the continuum to contribute fully.
The risk of groupthink is minimised.
“Groups where conformity suppresses the generation of ideas have a tendency to produce, at best, barely adequate solutions, and, at worst, poor and predictable solutions. The best method is for each member of the group to spend significant time alone working on ideas, and for the group to assemble to discuss ideas these individuals have developed.”
Source: Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Occasional Paper No.6—An Officer and a Problem Solver (via Ed Brimmer).
The 1–2–4–8 way of working
Participants are seated eight to a table, divided into two groups of four, as shown in the graphic.
First, people work on their own.
Next, they share and develop their ideas and perspectives in pairs — not in fours, as introverts will probably feel more comfortable sharing their initial thoughts with an individual rather than a group.
The conversation then continues in the group of four.
Finally, the two groups of four consolidate their ideas and perspectives in readiness for a whole room report-out.
Pooling and sharing at the whole-table, rather than half-table, level provides an additional layer of anonymity and halves the number of report-outs.
Type 2 co-creation meetings
If the session is a group discussion or a presentation followed by Q&A and it has more than four participants, then I suggest you follow this format. A 12:00 to 13:00 timeslot is used as an example.
12:00 Session host introduces the topic, gives a short talk and poses a thought-provoking question. If the host is unable to formulate such a question, he or she can fall back on the default question: “So — what did you make of it?”
12:20 People form groups of four and discuss the question.
12:40 Groups merge; people continue to discuss the question.
13:00 Session ends.
If deemed necessary by the meeting design team, any significant insights can be captured for later sharing, either during or after the co-creation meeting.
Type 3 co-creation meetings
A type 3 meeting is a composite of types 1 and 2. The strengths of each compensate for the shortcomings of the other. This graphic shows the default sequencing of the two formats:
When designing and mounting a type 3 meeting, it’s simply a matter of combining the two processes I described earlier.