A personal introspective is a peer conference session where, to start, attendees privately answer five questions in writing. These questions offer attendees an invitation to think about what they have experienced at the conference, how their experiences may impact their life in the future, and what changes they may want to make as a result. After five to ten minutes of reflection, attendees have the option to share their answers in small groups.
The fundamental purpose of a personal introspective is to give attendees a chance to explore changes they may want to make in their life and work as a result of their experiences during the conference. Each attendee is free to respond at whatever level he finds appropriate and comfortable at the time. Some people come up with ideas for small changes in their lives, while others come to profound realizations that have significant consequences. At first glance, the space and time provided for answering these questions is another peer conference tool that attendees can use as they see fit. Practically, at the personal level, the personal introspective is a significant process and opportunity that a peer conference offers to each attendee.
The subsequent sharing by attendees adds more to the personal introspective, which becomes a vehicle for creating a heightened sense of connection and intimacy amongst group members. It can feel risky to share with others what are often intimate aspects of the changes one wishes to make in ones life, and it can feel risky to share the decisions one has made to start work on such changes. Taking such risks is an integral step on the path of building intimacy—not only the increased intimacy that the sharer feels, but also the group’s connectedness as more and more people share. In a safe environment, the outcome is increased trust, which further builds safety.
By sharing with his group, an attendee deepens his commitment to carrying out the goals and actions that he shares.
I continue to be surprised by the power of the simple process of a personal retrospective. Not for everyone who participates, for sure, but at every session I have run, a number of people have, emotionally, publicly announced how important the exercise was for them. In peer conference evaluations, typically about 60% of attendees rate personal retrospectives “high”, 35% “moderate”, and 5% “low.” Giving people the opportunity to come together, process, and then share their experiences and realizations generates a sense of connection and intimacy amongst attendees that needs to be experienced to be believed.
The personal and the group spective are times for attendees to take stock, to reflect on where they started, the path traveled, and the journey yet to come. The personal introspective gives each attendee an opportunity to make this assessment personally, while the group spective, the last session of a peer conference, provides a time and place to make this assessment collectively.
The group spective is an exciting session because it holds great potential—it offers the possibility to determine and manifest an explicit future for the group, allowing the gathering to create something lasting, something more than an intense, one-time experience for attendees.
During the session attendees begin to explore their future together. They may decide to hold another peer conference, and/or they may decide to plan meetings or activities that are targeted to specific needs and interests. Every group spective I’ve facilitated has led to future collective activity by conference attendees.
The group spective is designed as a consensus-building session. I define “consensus” in this context as an understanding or agreement that allows the group to move forward; a consensus does not mean that everyone agrees one hundred percent, or will be involved in a specific initiative. Consensus is not determined by win-lose voting, or by selling a course of action to reluctant attendees. Rather, reaching consensus requires a collective process involving the development of group understanding, and the discovery of the necessary energy and commitment for future action.
There is a temptation for personal agendas to emerge early in a group spective. Some attendees may see the gathering as a way to further their own ideas of what participants should be doing. Careful facilitation can help avoid the proceedings being biased by the strong opinions of a few.
Every group responds to the challenge of a group spective differently, and, as a result, I find it to be the most difficult session to facilitate. And yet, as a session defining the future of the group, a spective promises great rewards that are well worth the work and concentration invested in facilitating the process.
The goal of a spective is to provide a place and time for people to productively reflect, share, discuss, and perhaps decide on future projects and activities. The peer conference up to this point has already developed an environment where attendees are open for such work. What makes facilitating a spective difficult is that it’s hard to predict how people want to use their time together. Clues appear—sometimes rapidly, sometimes subtly—during the session. This means that a facilitator has to pay especially close attention to what is going on and continually provide structure and guidance that’s appropriate to the changing needs of the group.
Facilitating a group is challenging work that grows increasingly difficult as the group gets larger, and I don’t know of any substitute for experience. Often, the group itself will have plenty of ideas about what should happen, and the facilitator’s job involves hanging on for the ride and providing what direction and support she can. Luckily, there are a number of established methods for facilitating healthy group process, and the ones I use—plus/delta, informal discussion, go-around, affinity grouping, and fishbowl—are described in Conferences That Work.
Ultimately, the group spective exposes attendees’ responses to the currents and themes evoked by the conference. Their reactions, in turn, generate energy and ideas about the group’s future. The spective provides an arena for group reflection and action, once attendees have connected over the course of the conference. A good group spective’s energy and ideas honestly represent the outcomes of the group’s time together. While a peer conference concentrates on and supports each attendee’s individual journey, that journey would go nowhere without the contributions from the other people present. This is the paradox and beauty of the peer conference process, the blending of individual and group work into a single, complex, and fascinating event.