Journal article: Trust Your Team to Laugh: How “Burning Man education” works at Retreats and Symposiums

Thoughts on the piece? I would like to discuss this, especially on the followup:

Over time we have developed clear best practices for our internal conferences, which are not standard best practices for every organization. Our basic road map is:

  • Recognize that having a high-caliber staff, and trusting them, means that your content has an additional burden to live up to high standards.
  • Focus on issues, topics, and conversations that are our most challenging and important. Clearly separate the routine issues and minimum competency trainings out. They should be handled separately.
  • Recognize the intrinsic motivation participants have to make a difference, and give them the tools they need to really engage the problems we have. Don’t be afraid of giving them homework or asking them to listen to a lecture: as long as it’s relevant, they would much rather be given the chance to do the work than risk being left out of the discussion where it counts.
  • Once everyone has the key information and trainings, put people into cross-departmental small groups, give them a clear sense of the issues, and a lite superstructure, and let them discuss.
    • Let them have fun. When dealing with motivated people who want to engage the topic, laughter and frivolity are actually a sign of creative engagement, not time spent or a lack of seriousness.
    • Let them go off script. Trust them to make it relevant. If a moderator says “let’s bring you back on topic” and they respond “no, we’re really on to something here,” trust them.
    • Shift teams periodically to cross-pollinate discussion.
  • Avoid off-the-shelf approaches to problem solving, designed for organizations that have to motivate their teams, at all cost. If our people are not motivated to address these challenges, we’re already doing something wrong.
  • Map out follow-through expectations, be explicit about them, and understand that they are an important use of staff time