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How could I resist an offer to check out Peter Jackson’s new documentary to mark the centenary of the first world war’s end? He has created a visually staggering thought experiment; an immersive deep-dive into what it was like for ordinary British soldiers on the western front. He has restored flickery old black-and-white archive footage of the servicemen’s life in training and in the trenches. He’s colourised it, he has dubbed in what the men were actually saying, and has used diaries and letters for narrative voiceover. The effect is electrifying.
Watching this, I was immersed in the horrors of war. I also got to witness first-hand (or so it felt), the power of a gathering, the power of bringing groups together consciously, for a reason. We spend our lives gathering—first in our families, then in neighbourhoods, then in schools, workplaces, meetings, dinner parties, product launches, and weddings. Here before me, was an example of the military consciously organising groups. No doubt the focus was on the mechanics of these gatherings. You could see however that once they had put the right people into their groups, and into the trenches, the magic started to unfold. They began to collectively think, dream, argue, heal, envision, trust, and connect for a bigger purpose.
In my work, I strive to help people experience a sense of belonging. Watching the documentary footage and listening to the narrative, I got a true sense that this had happened on the western front. So many of our regular gatherings in life un-inspire us, underwhelm us, and fail to capture us, change us in any way, or connect us to one another. ‘Wasteful meetings’ are employees’ top obstacle for getting work done, and usually their top complaint.
Whether by accident, or whether by conscious orchestration by the military, this documentary shows that the right ingredients are included causing those groups to connect and make those gatherings matter.
Having worked in workplace facilitation for the past 25 years, I am endlessly intrigued by the small and important interventions we can all make to help groups gel. I have come to believe it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it, and how successful it is. Gatherings flourish when real thought goes into them, above and beyond, getting the floral decoration right, or the PowerPoint presentation polished and without typos.
This is why mastermind groups work, with it not being out of the norm for an entrepreneur to pay upwards of $10,000 for the privilege of joining a group. A mastermind is a peer-mentoring group of individuals who meet on a regular basis to push each other to work at their highest potential. The same thread that was in the trenches weaves through this gathering—trust, dialogue, safety, belonging, transformation, the power of the collective, and a small amount of play thrown in to relieve the tension.
In conclusion, next time you plan a gathering, go beyond logistics, and go beyond the use of the old stale formula leading to gathering in the same tired ways. Don’t leave the creation of chemistry and connection to good luck. Make good pre-planning design choices. Get in touch if you want some tips.