The InterAction Collection

"SF language in organisations"

The ‘Kitchen Table’ format

Jan 2, 2022

Alan Kay, Cristina Mühl

Introduced by John Brooker

This Global Chapter meetup, led ably by Cristine Mühl, provides several benefits for change facilitators:

  1. Cristine introduced participants to Miro, an online whiteboard programme.
  2. The attendees had a stimulating, ad hoc discussion on the difference between complex and complicated problems.
  3. Alan Kay shared his long experience of developing and using the ‘kitchen table’ approach to increasing knowledge in a group.

Alan’s view is that practitioners can, with a little practice, adopt Solution Focus (SF) Coaching to whatever system or application a customer uses, albeit they might occasionally need to refer the customer to someone with more specialised knowledge. The solution-focused kitchen table is one way he applies SF.

After listening to a ‘kitchen table discussion’ between Cristina, Alan and John, attendees chatted about facilitating change. This chat led to the valid point that before practitioners simply apply Solution Focus, they should understand whether the problem is Complex or Complicated, e.g. Boeing’s concern with the software on one of their aircraft is a complicated linear problem with a root cause. However, building trust with many stakeholders is a complex problem, which is where SF comes into its own. To round this off, Alan makes a good point that often the best way Solution Focus practitioners can help a group is to facilitate people to listen to each other; SF can help achieve that, whether the problem is complex or not.

Finally, Alan explains how you can practically run a kitchen table conversation so that every person in the room gets to hear something useful for them and goes out of the room with a small action they can take. Indeed Cristina neatly rounds off the session by having attendees discuss what they are inspired to do as a result of what they have heard.

After viewing this session, you might feel that you have sat around the kitchen table with a group of friends and had a good conversation about facilitating change. I did and trust it will inspire you.

The Roundtable Workshop Format

The roundtable is a powerful and uniquely flexible method for organizing a discussion. The purpose of the discussion can range from business research to timely, relevant and helpful information, as at a conference. The atmosphere is convivial, the conversation fast-paced. Regular users remark that insightful, detailed and focused information always emerges from the roundtable discussion. A structure that is at once both tightly focused and freewheeling makes this possible. Looking at the workshop setting, here are some of the specific characteristics of the roundtable:

  • The discussion takes place around a table – not spread out along a panel. The table is in the center of the room. The audience sits in circles around it. The audience feel a strong personal feeling of participation in the discussion.
  • No preparation is necessary among the panellists. Think of it as a dinner conversation.
  • The organisation of the discussion is through a single topic of discussion.
  • The managers who will use the research results are brought together at the same table with the consumers or subject experts who are providing their perspective on the topic.
  • After the panellists have probed the topic in depth, the floor is turned over to the attendees and a casual debate among both attendees and panellists is encouraged.
  • After the panel leaves small groups are formed around the hall. Each is given a question to discuss. They are given time to delve into the question. Then each group is asked to report back to the full assembly.
  • The fruits of the discussion: substantial information comes out, often including ideas for immediate action; professionals and businesspeople with common interests make connections with each other thanks to the openness of the conversation around the room.
  • Detailed notes are taken of the roundtable and discussion. Transcripts of these notes are used as the basis for analysis and interpretation of the results.

How to explain a round (kitchen) table discussion

What are its distinctive characteristics?

  • Moderated group discussion.
  • The approach models the dynamics of a conversation among family and friends.
  • It is where we share ideas, trade news, share laughs, get to know each other
  • We talk about what’s important, talk about the future, make plans and commitments, speak from the heart.
  • The discussion is focused around a central topic or question.
  • Conversation is kept on track by all participants with assistance from the moderator

What are the benefits of this approach?

  • A comprehensive set of issues can be evoked.
  • There is in-depth deliberation of key themes.
  • Subtle insights are amplified to the point of clarity.
  • Questions from participants to each other add insight.
  • Different kinds of conversations take place during and after the sessions. These lead to different kinds of action.
  • Networking and relationship building occurs.

What process do we need to follow?

  • Having only one key question or clear theme to discuss is important. Broad or multiple issues tend to be less productive.
  • The moderator’s role is to keep the focus squarely on the question or objectives that have been set.
  • At the beginning the moderator asks participants one by one to introduce themselves and state a simple one-sentence thought on the main question/topic
  • The moderator then asks the group to open up the discussion. ‘It’s open season’ seems often to get the conversation going
  • The moderator helps identify the themes that emerge within the conversation and helps the participants focus on that theme for a while
  • The moderator should encourage everyone to contribute. If one or two people dominate remind them the group needs to hear from others and ask the rest for their thoughts
  • Complaints or scepticism within the discussion are normal and need to be acknowledged. Those participants should be encouraged to move on buy asking them what they want to happen (instead of the problem).
  • Towards the end of the conversation, the moderator should ask the group about their ‘ideas for action’ arising from the discussion.
  • Notes should be taken by another participant for the reporting of reporting back.

The Glasgow Group PostStone Management Consultants

“Facilitating Change Presentation”

Alan Kay
Alan Kay
SFiO Reviewed Practitioner
InterAction Contributor
SFiO Contributor

Alan Kay learned solution focus from SFBT family therapy trainers. He saw immediate success with business clients by simply translating SF into the client’s language. He offers his clients solutions in strategic and operational planning, customer experience implementation and, more recently SF training and management development. His many clients range from large banks, to educators, to film festival organizers. His work is based on the entire continuum of the engagement; that the change the client wants starts happening right away; be most pronounced in the main activity and sustain afterwards via follow-through.

Cristina Mühl
Cristina Mühl
Board Member
SFiO Contributor

I strongly believe in being connected and involved in the communities that I’m part of. From my perspective, it is the way to grow and ensure knowledge transfer.

John Brooker
John Brooker
SFiO Reviewed Practitioner
Editor of Interaction
Chapter Head
SFiO Contributor

John has over thirty years experience of leading people to collaborate effectively. He gained his leadership experience as a Senior Vice President in Visa International, working on international projects. Since 2004 he has used his leadership and Solution Focus expertise to enable people in multinational and national organisations to collaborate effectively. He is Co-President of Solution Focus in Organisations, an SFiO Reviewed Practitioner and has an MBA from The Open University in the UK.