The potential of group process

A few times a year I fly to Phoenix to staff large group seminars that last three or four days and involve intensive group interaction, sharing personal experiences, and individual and group feedback. Quoting from an invitation:

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“The seminar involves risk-taking, emotional investment and expanding your comfort zone. It is all part of a process that has been developed and fine-tuned over a number of years. We know it works; we also know the more you contribute, the more you will gain from it. We hope that you recognize mixed emotions and feelings are a part of the process which, when acknowledged and examined, yield tremendous rewards including greater focus and clarity about your goals, new choices for your personal and professional life, and closer more intimate relationships.”

I’ve staffed almost twenty of these events over the last seven years. Typically there are around sixty participants, and I lead a group of six or seven people. I won’t have met the people in my staff group before and, most likely, will never meet them again.

By the end of our time together, the people in my group know more about the other members than most people know about their closest friends. And, more important, everyone has received valuable information about themselves from their group members and from their responses to what happens during the event. This all happens in a safe and supportive environment. Most people find their experience profoundly moving, sometimes life-changing.

You might be interested in, skeptical, or dismissive of what I’ve just described. That’s not the point. What’s important is my repeated observation that most of us have the potential to quickly develop intimate, powerful connections with others at group events. What must we do for this to occur? At a minimum we must offer 1) a safe environment, and 2) permission and support to step a little outside what we’ve been taught (albeit for good reasons) about what can happen when we meet people.

No, Conferences That Work aren’t large group seminars that launch participants on a voyage of self-discovery. They are gentle, joyful events where people learn, share, and connect safely around a topic of common interest. But my knowledge, gained from those Phoenix seminars, of what’s possible when people get together drives everything I do.

Image attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualvillage/ / CC BY 2.0