Saturday, December 15, 2007

Broken break-out habit

Trainers love a good break-out session but my heart sinks when it’s suggested at a conference or seminar. It’s a tired old fossil of a format.

Oh no - it's a break-out!
You ‘break-out’ into small groups, choose a chair (they usually choose themselves as it’s extroverts love this role), or worse a facilitator (who then dominates the discussion). This takes some time. You are all then asked introduce yourself to the rest of the group. Never ask participants to tell the others what they want to get out of the group, as there will always be one who drones on for hours. By now a good portion of the allocated time has been wasted. And what’s with Foxes Glacier Mints’ obsession?

The topic for discussion is usually some ill-defined, banal question, so the group spend a further ten minutes clarifying what’s expected. The time left is usually far too short to get anything meaningfully debated and agreed. Even then it’s often a random selection of thoughts, rants and personal beefs.

Feedback to group
Feedback to the group consists of a series of disjointed thoughts, often weighted towards the thoughts of the facilitator. These are scribbled up on acres of flipchart pages blue-tacked on the wall, thereby ruining the décor of the room. The problem here is that this is hardly ever distilled into any sensible points for action.

Don’t know about you but the chances of getting this distributed back (by email, posted on the website) is about
1:10 at best.

You’re generally left feeling short-changed. All of this supposed collaborative effort gets bogged down in procedural stuff and little is ever gained. What a waste of time.

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Blogger Jago said...


You definitely have a point there - at conferences and the like, the break-out brainstorm can be hideous. In my own day-to-day practice however, I do like the brainstorm format.
I'm working in a very young and fresh elearning production team and it really helps us find the extent of our knowledge and creative insights.

But brainstorming with strangers.. maybe if you are joining a be-more-assertive-and-learn-to-speak-up training.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

Great observations.

I once went to a conference where the "break out session" was lunch, and you got an assigned table number. There was no boring lunch speaker, and the idea was to meet new people and have great conversations. It worked for me!

The slight manipulation of forcing you to not sit with your friends was much better than the whole breakout/facillitator/giant paper/report thing.

It's condescending to suggest that people who are attending a conference are incapable of having an on-topic conversation without party tricks.

2:56 PM  

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