Formats of large group conferences

Acceptance through participation

Large group conferences in various formats. They differ substantially in the context they set and the goal to be achieved. For this reason, it is advisable to carry out a detailed diagnosis of the action fields first.

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Real Time Strategy Conference(RTSC after Sylvia James and Paul D. Tochinsky)

An RTSC conference picks up on an already formulated vision for the future by the management or is used when a reorientation of the group has become inevitable. The executives are ready to engage in an intensive organizational development process that involves all relevant people. The vision or the reorientation is shared with all employees in an open and comprehensive manner and everyone is invited to actively participate. The strategy conference offers the opportunity to work together with more than 1,000 people to develop measures that lead to the achievement of the new corporate goal.

The RTSC conference is more top-down oriented than other large group methods. It allows the management a lot more control options. However, this also means that executives are more challenged.

Participants interact with the leadership team or the group that made the proposal for future strategic direction or change in an effective, goal-oriented exchange of views. Together, the proposals and topics are analyzed and the new strategies are revised and formulated if necessary.

Based on the mutual feedback, deeper analysis, and discussion, the strategic approach may be reviewed and revised, if necessary. Finally, the next steps are agreed on with the participants and the results are summarized.

After this event, each participant has the legitimate feeling that they have been involved in the company’s common future, is motivated and willing to actively participate in and fully support them.

  • Possibility to implement and discuss an already formulated vision of the future or a strategic plan on a broad basis within the company.
  • You create acceptance in the organization for your vision of the future and plans and have the chance to include all levels.
  • You strengthen confidence in your leadership
  • You improve the communication and cooperation within your company/system and increase it.

When does a strategy conference make sense?

  • There are clear ideas about the future and strategic orientation of the company.
  • The leadership is ready to correct or optimize their opinion on the basis of feedback from the participants.
  • An important strategic decision is to be made for the company/organization.
  • All hierarchy levels are to be included.
  • Those responsible want to strengthen confidence in management
  • Communication and trust within the organization should be improved.
  • The management is ready to communicate openly with the employees/members.

When should a strategy conference be avoided?

  • The leadership is not open to give and accept honest feedback.
  • The leadership is not open to optimize plans – even to have them corrected.
  • The agreements made during the conference are not observed and suggestions made by employees are simply ignored.
  • THIEL, Heinz-Ulrich; SCHIERSMANN, Christiane (2011): Organizational Development: Principles and Strategies of Change Processes, 3rd edition, VS Verlag, pp.95-166
  • ZUR BONSEN, Matthias (2008): Real Time Strategic Change: Fast change with large groups, Schäffer-Poeschel, p.317
  • ROHM, Armin (2012): Change tools: Experienced process consultants present effective workshop interventions, 5th edition, managerSeminare Verlag, p.312

Future Search(Future Search after Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff)

The particular strength of the future conferences lies in the creation of a sense of community, a spirit of optimism and a high degree of motivation, even among strongly heterogeneous groups. It is ideally suited for the development of future projects within difficult communities, working against each other (even after mergers), or as a kick-off conference on new plans for the future.

Future conferences are clearly structured and suitable for groups of up to eighty participants. However, there is also the possibility to hold several future conferences simultaneously about the same topic, so that a much higher number of participants can be achieved.

After a clear, well-defined conference schedule, the future conference contributes to the fact that up to 80 different people in a system “discover” their common future within two and a half days and plan it in practice. In this comparably short time, they gain a deep understanding of their shared past, fully realize their present situation, and develop a shared vision. Likewise, action plans for the unanimously agreed common future will be drawn up within these two days.

What makes future conferences particularly valuable is the fact that anyone involved with the system, i.e. with the company, the organization or the community internally or externally is present at the conference.

The conference will be accompanied by several moderators who will give attendees guidelines and instructions for 2+ days to help document the results.

The implementation of the future conference is structured according to six main principles:

  • The whole, open system in one room, which means that a company invites customers, suppliers, cooperation partners and perhaps even competitors to consider every relevant point of view when planning for the future.
  • Past and present problems are highlighted and acknowledged, but not evaluated or even dealt with.
  • From the outset, one looks for commonalities and creates a basis on which all conference participants can agree in order to plan a future that all can then support and advocate without exception.
  • Every point of view and all aspects are taken into account, i.e. the organization itself and the environment. It is, therefore, a holistic view of the forces acting on the “system”.
  • Usually, there are smaller group tables, which are accompanied by a moderator, who helps to structure discussions and to record results.
  • Planning measures only when consensus on the desired future has been reached. Hence, planning measures only takes place on the second day. Common consensus over the future creates a strong community feeling. The knowledge of that everyone has been involved in the process of planning the future and the want to advance it, sets free additional energy so that the action planning goes much faster than anyone would have thought possible. Sometimes it takes less than two hours to create actions and action plans that previously convened project teams have not been able to achieve in years.
  • You create community and shape a future together with all participants of the organization (especially suitable after mergers).
  • Creates a sense of optimism, motivation and high identification with future goals.
  • Clearly structured and goal-oriented; this enables the future conference to produce results in the shortest possible time and to draw up action plans.
  • You develop a new vision in a very short time that is supported by everyone (even faster than with the top-down principle).
  • You improve the communication and cooperation within your company/system and create more understanding for a common togetherness within your organization.

When does a future conference make sense?

  • As a kick-off event and mobilization instrument for far-reaching future developments
  • A future issue requiring the cooperation of many different people with different points of view and thus creating a strong sense of community
  • Traditional planning methods do not work or the top-down principle takes too long to implement the results, communication and cooperation within the system should be improved and more mutual understanding between people within the organization should be achieved (e.g. in mergers)
  • A clear vision of the future of the company/organization should be established for all, and the bundling of all forces in one direction should go hand in hand.
  • Innovative breakthroughs and undreamt-of future goals are to be adopted with 100% consensus, which can only be achieved through the cooperation of a wide variety of people and thus far-reaching potential.

When should a future conference be avoided?

  • The leadership already has a clear vision of the future before the conference.
  • If, after the conference, the participants cannot be given the necessary support to continue the process (time, space, possibly financial resources).
  • If the system is in a state of “saturated satisfaction” and does not seek improvement.
  • The leadership is not willing to invite people whose opinions you may not like.
  • BRUCK, Walter; MÜLLER, Rudolf (2011): Effective Conferences and Large Groups, Books on Demand, p.436
  • FELD, C. Cornelius (2012): The Future Conference: as a Method of Systemic Organizational Development, AV Akademikerverlag, p.116
  • DEVANE, Tom; HOLMAN, Peggy (2006): Change Handbook: Future-oriented large group methods, 2nd edition, Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag, p.288

Open Space(Impulse conference after Harrison Owen)

Open space events are highly participatory, large-group conferences that allow you to search for new ideas or methods in a specific area that goes beyond the scope of the past (“thinking out of the box”). You want your company, for example, give a new mission statement and are ready to engage in an unconventional process that leaves much open and therefore makes much possible.

The open space conference is suitable for business enterprises, administrations, non-profit organizations as well as for “open systems” such as in education and health care. Up to 1000+ humans may e.g. develop creative approaches and solutions to urgent issues within 1-3 days.

Open space conferences use the model of a “village marketplace” to structure the event. Those responsible for the event formulate the topic and invite the possible participants on a voluntary basis.

In order to gather a variety of ideas and to create the widest possible horizon, people from all areas, across all hierarchical levels, are invited to the conference. Every person is equal; there are neither technical papers nor given results or already established goals. The structure of the conference is only specified in individual points. Within 45 minutes, the agenda is set and then the participants form voluntary working groups that work on the agenda topics for 60 – 90 minutes each.

The entire event, including the documentation of the results, is managed by the participants themselves. This results in a high degree of motivation and committed participation.

  • They develop new innovative approaches, creative ideas and promote “thinking out of the box”.
  • Guarantees a variety of opinions and gives free rein to thoughts through a few guidelines and a broad and set framework.
  • High self-responsibility and self-management is leading to high identification with the results and improved motivation.
  • Enables the integration of all hierarchical levels as well as the confrontation with complex topics and their solution

When does an open space conference make sense?

  • A group of 30-1000 people should work in a short time (1 – 3 days) on solutions to a specific topic or complex of topics (e.g. innovations in the product line, the future of our company, optimization of the field service, development of a new corporate strategy, etc.).
  • There is an important business problem, a crisis or a task that should have been solved “yesterday”.
  • When tasks are to be solved with participants from the entire organization, i.e. a cross-section of all employees.

When should an open space conference be avoided?

  • The leadership for the topic, task or problem has already found a solution.
  • The leadership is not prepared to give the participants of the conference a free space to help shape the conference.
  • There is not enough time to follow up on the projects after the conference.
  • MALEH, Carole (2001): Open Space: Working effectively with large groups, 2nd edition, Beltz, p.156
  • OWEN, Harrison(2011): Open Space Technology: A Practical Guide, 2nd edition, Schäffer-Poeschel, p.2

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