The Management Journey: Round Tabling

Welcome to the second instalment of The Management Journey by guest blogger Gregg Patterson. This series of articles shares Gregg’s

Gregg Patterson
Guest Blogger Gregg Patterson

ideas, insights and experiences of a long career in management. This month Gregg discusses the benefits of Round Tabling and has put together a ten point guide as to how to successfully utilise this technique.

If you didn’t get a chance to read Gregg’s last post on the “Exec Ed” Contract then you can find it here.

Happy reading!



Round Tabling

by Gregg Patterson



Managers are hungry for ideas to solve problems and create New Stuff. They’re voracious and insatiable.

Successful managers know that creativity is Job One for 21st century professionals, the distinguisher in a competitive world filled to overflowing with technicians and data gatherers. And Successful Managers know ideas happen when they gather The Team, release The Team’s creative juices and capture the ideas that gush forth from The Group’s collective mind.

Releasing Group Think is the key to finding The New and The Innovative. Group Think requires Round Tabling: a facilitated, directed, goal oriented, interactive, small group networking experience that releases group creativity, builds relationships and makes idea generation FUN!!!

Successful managers have Round Tabling in their genes. They find excuses to Round Table during staff meetings, committee meetings, Board meetings and user forums. When ideas are needed successful managers start Round Tabling.

In this dog-eat-dog world, managers need answers to tough operational and strategic questions. Round Tabling is the answer.

 Here’s the template for making Round Tables happen:

Step One: Find The Master Facilitator

Round Tabling doesn’t just happen; someone needs to initiate, direct, enlarge and sustain the Round Tabling experience. This person, The Master Facilitator, identifies the issues, assembles the right contributors, stimulates the discussion, grows the ideas that surface, generates The Buzz and creates a checklist for making the ideas generated happen. Finding the right Master Facilitator is Job One.


 Step Two: Identify Issues and Opportunities

The Master Facilitator must identify a compelling reason to Round Table: a problem to be solved, a question to be answered. Before the Round Table-ers are gathered and the Collective Mind starts sparking, a narrowly defined, well-articulated question is needed to bring focus and energy to the discussion.


Step Three: Find The Oven

 Round Tabling needs a location. The Space should be removed from activity yet close enough to still feel connected to the operational hum. Space that’s a little too small is best because The Buzz gets amplified and heat gets generated. The Space needs the right aesthetics and the right tools: quiet, a nice table, comfortable chairs, notepads, pencils, the right temperature, bottled water, high octane caffeine and soft drinks.


Step Four-Gather The Contributors

Round Tabling needs the right focused minds to make The Collective Mind work. The Master Facilitator needs to identify which minds are right and how many minds are needed for the question being asked.

The Right Number is easy: no more than eight, ideally six at a given table. Why so few? Because everyone will be engaged, no-one can hide, eye contact can be maintained and everyone will speak. Want more ideas from more people? Simply add more Round Table-ers and more tables.


Step Five: Select The Table Facilitator

 Each table must have a Table Facilitator. If there’s only one table to be facilitated, The Master Facilitator will be The Table Facilitator. If there are multiple tables, then each table will need its own Table Facilitator. The Table Facilitator’s job is critical- he or she must clearly articulate The Question, ask pointed questions, make continuous eye contact, listen attentively, stimulate conversation, validate each contributor’s ideas, enlarge upon the ideas presented and add a buzz to the experience. Done right, The Table Facilitator will release the group’s creative juices.


Step Six: Assign The Table Recorder

If the Round Tablings done right, ideas will flow and each of these ideas needs to be written down and memorialized for future use. A Table Recorder is needed, someone who’ll write down every idea, no matter how loopy or conventional, without bias! No filtering is allowed, no that won’t work is permitted. The Table Recorder is responsible for capturing ALL the ideas tossed out regardless of who said what or what was said.


Step Seven: The Contributors

The Round Table-ers were selected because they’re thinkers and talkers and have a personal interest in, or knowledge of, the Round Tabling topic. Everyone who’s at the table is responsible for contributing to the conversation and making Creative Heat happen. The Collective Mind works brilliantly when every participant is coughing up ideas and fully engaged in the dialogue.

The Table Facilitator is responsible for stimulating the Contributors. He or she needs to ask EVERYONE questions, listen to answers, enlarge on what’s said, challenge the Contributor’s comments and then validate the Contributor’s contribution regardless of the quality of the comments made.


Step Seven: Timed Ponder Time

The Master Facilitator must establish an end time for discussion. Knowing how much is more art than science and is dependent on the subject being discussed, the tables familiarity with the topic, the Table Facilitator and the Contributors involved.

However, there are Ponder Time guidelines. Speed Round Tabling, which involves no more than ten minutes of ponder time, should be used when there are lots of tables, lots of topics, limited time or when high octane interactive toss this on the table now a Buzz is needed. Normal Round Tabling of fifteen to twenty minutes should be used if the group’s filled with first timers, the subject’s complex or detailed tactics need to be generated.


Step Eight: No Escape

 Some Round Table-ers will be tempted to escape the space and take their table elsewhere for uninterrupted ponder time. NO CAN DO!!! Doing so diminishes The Heat in the room, reduces The Buzz and tempers the free flow of ideas. Compression warms the Collective Mind and gets Contributors cooking. 


Step Nine: Going Public- Part A- Assign The Master Recorder

If there’s more than one Round Table, a Master Recorder is assigned. Their job will be document the ideas generated by each of the tables and to memorialize those ideas for the future. Again, The Master Recorder records ALL the ideas generated, without bias, and distributes them to The Contributors for further pondering.


Step Nine: Going Public-Part B- Stand, Deliver and Get Facilitated

 If there are multiple Round Tables and when the Ponder Time is over, someone (usually the Table Facilitator or Table Recorder) from each of the Round Tables stands, speaks and delivers the ideas generated by The Table. The Master Facilitator will enlarge and enrich the discussion by asking questions and providing commentary on the issues raised.

Note- most groups list principles rather than practices and the Master Facilitator’s job is to keep asking questions until TACTICS are identified which flesh out the principles.

If there’s a single Round Table, the Table Recorder will review the ideas generated, the Table Facilitator will stimulate further discussion and the Recorder document comments raised during the post generation discussion.


Step Ten: Do and Review

 When the talking’s done, the Master Facilitator asks The Round Table-ers to prioritize the ideas generated and to identify a timeline for their implementation. S.M.A.R.T. assignments are given- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time related.

The Round Tablers are then re-assembled periodically to address the actions taken to execute the ideas raised during the round tabling session.


Start Round Tabling

 Everyone has problems and opportunities. Ideas are needed to solve the problems and to take advantage of the opportunities. Ideas are generated using the Collective Mind and The Collective Mind is best realized through Round Tabling.

Round Tabling is an Idea Engine. Cheap. Fun. Effective.

 Round Tabling works.

Give it a try.

And enjoy the journey!