For better meetings, do we need tables? Should we march people to walls, leaving a huge void in the room? Room layout is an essential part of facilitation skills.
I guess the answer to layout is that it depends on what you are doing and wanting to achieve. Presentations and briefings are straightforward. However, let’s concentrate on meetings and trainings that are looking for total engagement by the group and ending with a fully owned and realistic outcome – such as an action plan.
My view is that for group engagement, tables are a barrier between the trainer/facilitator and the group. It rather creates a ‘them’ and ‘me’ situation. The action is at the front unless there is a specific activity for the group to carry out. The group is essentially passive.
Purpose designed pinboards really help create true engagement because they become the centre of the discussion and both facilitator/trainer and group have complete physical and visual access. Single tables or swing boards allow a working surface maintaining ‘access’ to the front. Tables may be O.K. for group work, but even then it’s better to have delegates on their feet using a large pinboard or two.
Taking people over to a wall leaves the room empty and all action is in one spot. To me it feels wrong. Again pinboards have the answer. You can use space all over the room whether working as a plenary or in sub groups.
You can present information with pre-prepared cards or pictures and importantly, you and the group can make more as you go along. The real benefit here is that it gets away from death by PowerPoint. Boards make for an animated presentation with a chance for the group to ‘card’ responses and thoughts. They create a real time recording of discussions, ideas generation and decisions made. Carding stops repetition, speeds the process and engages the group because they ‘do’ they don’t just talk.
The end result? A committed group, keen to get a result that they truly feel will work. In my experience getting that last requirement for committed action is never like drawing teeth, it’s just happens – it’s the end of the flow.