Large Group Interventions…
are new approaches to strategy development and issue resolution through participative conferences, events or meetings


Why the need for new approaches?
During the past decade the operating environment has changed fundamentally. Some of the factors driving this change are:

• Pressure to do more with less
• Increasing sophistication of other managers
• Instant global communications
• The impact of IT and technology in general
• New legislation
• The relentless explosion of information
• Consumer power
• Globalisation of markets and economics
• Retailer dominance
• Westernisation of developing countries
• Demographic changes
• Increased competition
• The European Union and the Single Currency
• Fragmentation of markets
• Changing values and aspirations
• Media pressure
• Environmentalism
• The changing role of women
• New science (quantum mechanics, chaos theory, systems theory, etc.)

The pace of change is so fast that many managers feel that they cannot cope. It’s like living on the edge of a precipice.

Conventional planning systems can’t cope with so much uncertainty and with so many unexpected leaps and chains of reaction. Planning doesn’t work any more because the thinking process is out of date. The paradigm that underpins most people’s thinking is based on the science of reductionism — we try to understand the world or the problem by breaking it down into its component parts, and attempt to predict the consequences of actions through a mechanistic cause and effect model.

But the world today is not a simple cause/effect model; it is a complex web of interconnected causes and effects, some instantaneous, some with a long time lag. To make sense of this shift and to ensure our organisations survive and prosper, we must begin to take a more holistic view of what is happening — to adopt a systems thinking approach as outlined in Peter Senge’s
The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. We need to ensure that:

• The rate of learning is faster than the rate of change
• Internal flexibility is greater than external turbulence
• Internal collaboration is greater than internal conflict
• Clarity of vision rises above the information explosion
• Corporate mission is stronger than disintegrative forces
• Innovative proactivity predominates over conservative tendencies
• Quality supersedes quantity as the basis of achievement
• A wide sense of the complex takes precedence over narrow perception
• We think global, act local; think local, act global

Under the old paradigm, the way is to plan the strategy then implement it. This approach has never worked particularly well:

• The strategy is usually devised by an unrepresentative group cut off from the rest of the organisation
• The planning process is linear
• The world will not stand still while the planners do their planning

Once devised, the strategy is then communicated to the rest of the organisation through a ‘cascade’ method, which is also flawed:

• It is too slow
• The message gets diluted and distorted as it moves down the pyramid
• It is a passive tell or sell process resulting in low levels of commitment
• There is no feedback loop to provide for organisational learning

New methods
New methods of devising strategy, holding meetings and communicating need to be used to overcome these barriers. The new technologies: Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, Real Time Strategic Change and Open Space allow everyone associated with the problem or organisation to be involved. They replace the passive ‘tell and sell’ model with high levels of participation and co-creating. The slow, cascade communication is replaced by simultaneous involvement of hundreds, if not thousands of people — there is no need to get ‘buy in’, the participants are the joint architects of the initiative, which means they are highly committed and motivated. And by focusing on positive outcomes and best practice, participants in these events experience enjoyable ways of working that release creativity and breakthrough results.



5 MODES FOR CREATING A SHARED VISION

TELL

SELL
TEST
CONSULT
CO-CREATE


Demand compliance

Seek buy-in
Invite response
Request input
Collaborate

Does vision, strategy or plan already exist?

Yes (final form)

Yes (final form)
Yes (draft form)
No
No

Who decides on the final vision, strategy or plan?

Boss

Boss
Boss
Boss
Everyone

Communication flow

One way

One way
Two way
Two way
360°

Level of engagement

Low




High

Developed from The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Nicholas Brealey, 1994

Very often, there is a combination of these modes in an organisation’s strategy. For example, in mergers and acquisitions, the vision for the integrated business is in the hands of the board, the wider community might not be able to participate in this decision for legal and financial reasons. They will sell this plan to the workforce to get buy-in. But the development of the detailed strategy and implementation plans for that vision can use a combination of test, consult or co-creation methods. The greater the level of involvement, the greater the level of commitment to action, and therefore the greater the level of success. Similarly in large organisations, whilst the overall vision may be set, local visions and plans can be co-created that are in line with the general direction of the corporate strategy. Once again, there is a greater sense of ownership and commitment to local plans than to those cascaded from above.

The technologies of involvement represent far more than useful techniques for restructuring meetings and events. They represent a completely new way of working, a whole new way of doing business:
• Change the way people behave at work
• Shape corporate mission and strategy
• Find new strategic directions
• Rethink structure and redesign jobs
• Integrate merged or acquired companies
• Re-engineer business processes
• Generate ideas for new products, initiatives or services
• Resolve complex problems

For Roger Harrison, long time consultant and writer on business and organisation development, encountering these new technologies was a blinding flash of the obvious“It suddenly seemed so simple and clear, that if we wanted people to work together to change things, we need to get them working from a common appreciation of how things are... If we want them to cooperate in planning and action, we have to find common ground between them on how they would like things to be different in the future, and we have to give each of them a stake in a shared vision of that future.” Roger Harrison, Consultants Journey, McGraw-Hill, 1995

If you want your organisation to be
Delighted, Decisive and Dynamic about the Downsizing, Delayering and Decentralising, and not feel Disgruntled, Displaced and Dispossessed then these technologies are for you!

Large group intervention technologies
A large group intervention is a participative conference, event or meeting where a large number of participants comprising a diverse cross-section of an organisation’s stakeholders, come together to work on real organisational issues of strategic importance. They facilitate the organisation’s response to the ever-changing environment in which they operate.

Large group interventions enable hundreds, even thousands, of people to gather together for the purpose of planning strategic change and exploring its implications. Having the ‘whole system’ in the room creates a broader information base and improves cross-functional working.

In summary the Large Group Intervention methods have some major advantages over conventional meetings and conferences:

• Ability to accommodate very large numbers in a participative process, allowing everyone in the organisation and key external stakeholders (customers, suppliers, collaborators, partners, community) to be covered by one, or a small number of events
• Short lead times
• Very fast results
• Participation by stakeholder groups facilitating whole systems change
• Maximum involvement, high motivation
• Creative forces are unleashed
• Events designed by a team that is a microcosm of the whole, so change begins even before the event
• High degree of self management
• Identification of common ground and alignment with a shared vision
• Participants take ownership of their problems and find their own ways forward
• Commitment to implementation
• A database of strategic information is built
• Power issues are reduced to a minimum
• The event sends a strong message to the organisation that things are really changing