Interactive meetings and trainings: Don’t be affraid to rearrange furniture

Today I found a great presentation by master trainer Beth Kanter. She provides tips for designing effective trainings for non-profit. I recognize the same principles that I think are basic for success of any meeting where you want to share knowledge, or want people to contribute to change or innovation. In non-profit as well as in profit organisations. I would like to share some of my insights of how the room set up can support the basic principles for effective interaction and learning, derived from my field study on participative change approaches. The four principles produce a consistent set of success factors:

  • Systems Thinking: Exploring the context of what has to be learned or achieved; exploring past, present and future by sharing large overviews on the wall; enough space to keep all productions visible for everyone until the end of the training or meeting 
  • Active Participation: People feel invited to contribute; the setup and logistics facilitate making that contribution by reducing hierarchy (round tables, small circles of chairs, no front stage, no long monologues without interaction or digesting time)
  • Action Learning: Not seperating thinking and doing, self management of learning is possible; rearrangement of furniture to fit the intention of the program part; people can ‘work’
  • Sensemaking: People feel taken seriously as human being, with all their capacities; this means a comfortable atmosphere, good logistics, good food, well-lighted room with windows, meeting cultural needs, and also workforms that invite head, heart and hands.

Some slides (nr. 42 and 43)  illustrate perfectly how the room setup impacts interaction. We are bodily creatures, how we feel influences what we learn and do. If you are providing a training or facilitating a meeting: don’t be affraid to rearrange furniture until the room setup reflects the message you want to convey.


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