The Hundred Million Tea Break

I’ve been running a large event kicking off the collective working capability for several parts of a multinational company.

There were people representing 4 organisations each of which had annual turnovers of several hundred million pounds.

I thought I’d share what happened.  We had to think on our feet a lot….


  • Developed the workshop bringing 20 or so people together to develop collective working capability over two days.
  • Spent weeks planning the event
  • Planned down to the minute (we had expected highly structured, task oriented types present)
  • On the day the plan got busted within the first 5 minutes when the client asked for something different than I’d been told – okay we fitted that in.
  • Then these ‘tasky’, structured types started to get more creative and overran our timings, so we ran with the energy in the room and made space for this.
  • Did more prep in the break re-planning on the fly (this was possible because we’d put all that work in beforehand)
  • The end of the event we got real success achieved everything we set out to.

So Why Am I Telling You All This?

In the feedback session we asked what had gone really well about the event, where the real value was

The answer – It was the tea breaks where we got the most value

My inner reaction for a microsecond – OH NO!

[for those of you that facilitate you’ll know the mind works in the fast lane where you are stood up there]

Then it suddenly occurred:

  • Yes they were right, the real value was in the unstructured dialogue when people were relaxed
  • But if I’d just brought them together for a tea break :
    • They wouldn’t have come
    • Nothing would have happened
    • So the structure is needed to get things started
    • Then allow space for people to start to feel safe
    • Then allow time for all that relationship building stuff to kick in
    • Stand back and try not to interfere.

So What?

Learning for me..

  • Build in longer breaks, let people talk
  • Allow space when people in the room get energised
  • Your plans can change
  • It’s the result for the people in the room that matters

The event was such a success we’ve been commissioned to take it to other parts of the organisation.

I’m now busy planning more overseas trips

Funny old world isn’t it.

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