Our series to date has focused on the power of transformative immersive experiences to “direct” and “expand”.  In the conversation below, Collective Nexters, Hamilton Ray, John Colaruotolo, and Gordon Eby join me for a virtual conversation around a third ingredient of immersion: “connection.”

Marsha Dunn:
Thanks for making time to chat today. Has anyone heard from John?
Hamilton Ray:
I’m sure he’s making himself a dopio cappuccino
John Colaruotolo:
I’m here! Just regular coffee. Double dry is for after lunch.
Gordon Eby:
Okay, here we go. Today we’re talking about how, as facilitators, we help forge connections. Imagine you are facilitating a workshop. You’ve got 40 participants gathered in a ballroom for ten hours. How do you ensure they connect with one another in a meaningful way?
Take away all devices.
Do an exercise where the participants talk with one another. Mix them up into lots of different teams. Be sure they talk to people they don’t usually get to interact with.
Make sure the room is set up to accommodate interaction and connection.
Lots of surfaces to write on.
Think about whether the activities you have planned are best done seated in a circle, gathered around a table, standing, etc.
The space needs to feel different than the day-to-day office environment.
Entering a space that feels “weird” or “new” makes people a little more vulnerable and levels the playing field.
Have a clearly defined purpose and objective for the gathering.
What about lights, special effects, music? This is supposed to be immersive, right?
Just add a strobe light app to your phone.
Immersive experiences don’t have to focus on the sensory; they are about how your attention is harnessed. Is it focused on a specific challenge or experience? Is your perspective expanding? Sensory manipulation may assist in achieving these goals, but it doesn’t have to be primary.
Participants are immersing themselves in the experience of connecting with their colleagues.
And immersing their hearts and heads in the problem we are there to solve. Having a well defined purpose to the work is essential.
Focus on doing real work.
Does such a focus deepen the sense of connection?
The best team building happens when teams do real work together.
Hikes, ball games, wine tastings—which are popular forms of team building—often focus on superficial layers of connection or on building teaming skills out of context.
That’s right. Clients often believe that to facilitate true connections you have to step outside of the work they do day-to-day.
They are often amazed by the true connection that can emerge at the end of one of our sessions, where work actually gets done.
Can you still have fun?
Absolutely. And play is huge. Participants need to play with the pieces of the problem in order to understand it and make good decisions.
It’s important to be unrealistic and wacky at times.
A dynamic of play lowers the stakes, in a good way: you can explore, take risks, say silly things.
Does play also lead to connections among participants?
When you play and have fun, you create more space for authenticity. And when that happens, authentic connections follow.
Do new connections emerge between leaders and their teams or purely within teams?
Early on in a session, you see senior leaders start to relax as they witness the intelligence of their teams and the emerging sense of collective ownership.
True. Being a leader tasked with all of the decision-making and responsibility can be both isolating and burdensome.
So if a leader lets their team loose on solving an organizational challenge and sees them getting excited and taking ownership, that is huge.
When you set aside titles and levels and immerse yourself in solving a problem as a team, that is true teambuilding—true connection.
Yep, sharing the responsibility of success or failure creates a connection you can’t get otherwise.
The team feels more connected to the leader on a human level and vice versa.
How does the time spent expanding participants’ perspectives relate to creating connection?
I think the best way to understand another point of view is to immerse yourself in it, whether through reading, conversations, interviews, or new experiences…
Yeah, so we often introduce outside readings on topics that offer up metaphors for discussing organizational challenges or new ways of working.
And this helps forge a human connection among the participants?
Sure, think of it as another form of play.
It’s like a more profound form of what can happen in a good book club. When I hear how you interpret something, I deepen my connection to the content and I deepen my connection to you.
I get to know you better by seeing how certain ideas impact you, how you react to them, what they teach you.
When facilitating work sessions or workshops, Collective Next typically puts people in cross-functional or cross-organizational teams. Is this also part of expanding perspectives and fostering connection?
It adds diversity of thought. One person may see something as a challenge and someone else may see it as an opportunity.
Agreed. 150%
Does a sense of connectedness to each other and to the challenge at hand feed on itself and generate more momentum to continue with the work?
A huge component of connectedness is trust and that in turn is critical for successful collaboration.
If you can build up a level of connectedness with someone, such that you come to trust the intelligence and intent guiding their actions, it greatly increases your chance of successful collaboration in situations where the stakes for the organization are higher.
Thanks, everyone!