Divergence and convergence

I wanted to log a couple of thoughts about our expectations of how groups will work together. It relates to what I’ve blogged before about closing the field: it’s easy to make an assumption about what is and isn’t the appropriate problem to solve and likewise who is and isn’t the set of people who should solve it.

When a group meets, there is often an expectation that this particular group of people should agree on things at the end and go forward together. If we take the model of divergence and convergence which Geoff refers to in this post are we going to expect it to apply to the whole group, or are we open to it working at many different times and levels, as individuals and smaller groups go through the day? I’m often asked in the course of a day’s work what I’m going to do “to pull it all together at the end?” but it might be very useful for different people and subsets to end the day in different places on their learning journeys.

People assume that the entire group should converge at 4pm because that’s when the day ends. But what justifies that assumption? Perhaps the most useful thing the day will bring about is to surface deep disagreements that can’t be easily resolved rather than (if we push for convergence) cover them up? Or what if the most useful thing that happens is that small tribes within this group converge on projects and don’t need/want/expect everyone else to agree with them?

I remember running a barcamp style workshop to generate social media initiatives for a client, which mixed together their customers, some developers and a variety of employees. It was a lively day and a huge number of ideas for projects were generated. At the end, someone in the room asserted that we should end with action planning… as if this group should somehow collectively process and filter all the ideas. That would have been bonkers in my view: this group was never going to meet again; some of the developers wanted to incubate their schemes rather than parade them before a large plenary session. We had a very short closing that allowed everyone to share the experience with absolutely zero need to pull anything together. The people who had ideas they wanted to advance were sure to do so anyway, without any silly affirmation ritual at the end.

Of course, that’s one anecote about one particular context. But if we define our field as “this large group of people for the next 8 hours” and have some expectation of converging to schedule we are making a big intervention. And we may not have noticed.

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