Friday, April 16, 2010

The power of peer workshops!

Recently I was privileged to attend a peer workshop, BWST-2. This was my first and I was very excited about it. But I decided to go with a clean slate so that my assumptions and expectations do not overshadow the actual.

The Theme

The theme of this peer workshop was Bold and Beautiful, it read "Cutting the (c)trap and getting good things done".
Wow!! I thought. I was already impressed by the good intent of the organizers and knew that this would be one memorable event!
According to me it takes ample measures of courage and self-confidence to make a stand against what one considers wrong. To bring that forth in front of your peers is even more commendable because there is high possibility that your views may be completely dismissed or questioned or challenged or jeered upon. You have to be a brave-heart to face this.
That is one aspect I was looking forward to. What would the speakers talk about and what would the discussions be?

The concept of the workshop

In preparation for attending the workshop I read the report on the previous year's BWST-1 and also LAWST.
The concept of a peer
workshop is very empowering.
Quoting from James Bach's
blogpost, "A peer conference is a get together among practitioners of a particular discipline for the purpose of learning to practice better." and "At a peer conference, everyone is a speaker, and it is expected that we will criticize each others’ ideas. We’re after deep learning, and it’s hard to get that without getting behind the Powerpoint glitz."

The participants

Another highlight of such an event is that the participants are pre-selected by the organizer. The great advantage of this aspect is that a unique blend of participants can be achieved as they are hand-picked by the organizer who keeps the theme as the basis for selection. The speakers are selected because they have had the experience of cutting the traps and implementing good things. Whereas, the other participants are selected such that they may learn and implement from the experiences of the speakers.

The Facilitation

Each presentation is a high value entity. Unlike presentations at other events which are termed as ‘exhibition conferences’ by James Bach, peer conferences give an opportunity to all participants to actively participate in the topic being presented. This is invaluable.

K-cards were used to maintain discipline and smooth flow of each presentation. There were 3 cards, green, blue and red in color that each participant could raise during a presentation. A green K-card indicated that the participant wanted to ‘add his thoughts to the topic being presented’. A blue K-card indicated ‘adding a thought about another topic which could or could not be related to current topic’. A red K-card when flashed indicated that the participant wanted to ‘say something right then’. It could either mean adding to the point or debating it or challenging it.

The Bonds

How many times do you get a chance to share the lunch table with a CEO or have coffee with a math wizard heading the testing of health care products? Can you imagine the wealth of information you can get in those 10 minutes? Can you also imagine the lessons you learn about greatness, humbleness and being a giver?

Social animals that we are, we love being part of a community. Being part of workshops/seminars expands your network and makes you part of the community that matters most in your working life; the professional community!
We work in organizations with huge workforce but our daily work routine does not permit us to create bonds outside of our team or project. Hence, meeting your peers outside of office is very essential.

The take-away

To each his own, so goes a saying, the take-away from peer exchanges can be different for different people. To some it may create new ideas and learning, to some it could be introspection while for others it may be a fertile ground for creating professional relations.

What you and I could do
Of course its not feasible to organize or attend such large scale workshops very often. But exchange of knowledge cannot be a quarterly event.
So what we can do is organize informal meetings where people spare a few hours and assemble for a face-to-face discussion. If time is limited then only one topic can be discussed.
Such events can motivate us to hold extended workshops. At least we can get the ball rolling!


  1. wow! Well summarized,I never imagined I would one day share a lunch table with two PhD holder and two CEO. A lot of learning.It is one of kind experience.
    --Dhanasekar S

  2. Great Post!

    I loved it.

    Parimala Shankaraiah

  3. :) Thanks Pari and Dhana!
    Yes, it was a great experience indeed and looking forward to many such soon.