How to Harness Brainpower at your Next Gathering: World Café

By Kimberley King

According to Ravi Tangri, “If your people don’t build action plans to apply what they’ve learned at their meetings, the wave of busyness that greets them when they get back to work overwhelms them, and their notes sit on a shelf or in a file. There are proven processes and approaches to drive up engagement at meetings and help participants leave with a clear and solid action plan.  Consider investigating the use of a World Cafe to boost the results of your next gathering.  World Cafes are guided by the following:

  • Powerful questions drive meaningful conversations
  • Clear objectives set for the meeting are accomplished
  • You tap the expertise in the room for results

World Café can be modified to meet a wide variety of needs. Specifics of context, numbers, purpose, location, and other circumstances are factored into each event’s unique invitation, design, and question choice, but the following five components comprise the basic model:

  1. Setting:Create an environment modelled after a café, i.e. small round tables covered with a checkered tablecloth, flip chart paper, colored markers.  There should be four chairs at each table. Resist the urge to use regular meeting rounds of 6 or 8… this inhibits participation by all participants as people can hide behind their smartphones.
  2. Introduction:The host begins with a warm welcome and an introduction to the World Café process, setting the context, sharing the Cafe Etiquette, and putting participants at ease.
  3. Small Group Rounds:The process begins with the first of three or more twenty minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table. At the end of the twenty minutes, each member of the group moves to a different new table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.
  4. Questions:Each round starts with a question designed for the specific context and desired purpose of the session. The same questions can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction. These questions can align with your strategic initiatives and direction.
  5. Harvest:After the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as desired) individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group. These results can be captured visually in a variety of ways, most often using Graphic Facilitation at the front of the room. This process can quickly bring a large room to consensus as well as providing individual results for each person to walk away with.