Try this at your next retreat. “Café conversations structure small groups of five or six around the host who stays with the table after the rest rotate to new tables to pick up on other conversations, deepen the chosen topics, and meet more people.” This idea comes from David Sibbet, Best Practices for Facilitation (Grove 2007) at 51. The host keeps notes of the discussion, which should last about 30 minutes. The host remains and summarizes the prior conversation for the next group, which pushes the topic further. You can rotate once more after the second session if there is sufficient time and enough participants.
According to Sibbet’s book, the key to successful café conversations is to choose questions that truly matter to the participants, allow time for genuine discussion, and adeptly report back the hosts’ conclusions. Examples might include a series of questions about outside counsel direction, knowledge management, productivity, or development of people. The technique sounds useful for rereats (See my post of Feb. 12, 2008: retreats and conferences with 8 references.). Click here for my article, “Sweet Legal Retreats”.