“Two heads are better than one,” is an axiom for a reason. In today’s specialized world, we are encouraged to have a laser focus on our individual areas of expertise. Although such specialization is a critical component of our education system; there is a high risk of falling into groupthink and overlooking creative solutions when every member of a team has homogenous experiences.

For complex problems, you need complex thinking—holistic thinking. It is the antidote to rigidity of thought, and to be a great leader, you need a great process to facilitate this innovative thinking. Mixed tables, an amalgamation of diverse perspectives, can do this. The problems we’re facing as a result of COVID-19 are hard and complicated. The world is shifting in ways we’ve never seen, affecting governance, the economy, and society as a whole. We know for sure that the world will look different on the other side of this crisis than it did when it began. Mixed tables drive conversations toward new ways of thinking, leading to actionable campaigns designed to achieve your goals, helping us navigate challenging waters today.

Here’s a pretty straightforward guide on how to build your own mixed table. Given our physical and social distancing, I’ve outlined how to do one utilizing Zoom/Microsoft Teams as for the time being, we’ll remain distributed. It takes three blocks of time, your subject matter experts, thought leaders, a couple of professional creatives, open minds, and strong work ethics.

Identify your question and hypothesize the outcome you want. What are you trying to figure out? What is your challenge, and what are the questions around it? Understanding and having clarity around your objectives on the front end is critical to your success on the rear end. For many of us right now, it’s gaining a better understanding of what the future landscape looks like. Regardless, these questions will help you determine whom to invite to the mixed table.

1. Choose the people to have at your mixed table.

Include three types of individuals: creative thinkers, subject matter experts, and thought leaders. Ideally, the creative thinkers will be professionals because they’re paid imaginers accustomed to tight time budgets and seeing past mental blocks subject matter experts might have in place. The subject matter experts typically come out of your organization and have in-depth knowledge of
the issues. Thought leaders should include diverse people from a variety of backgrounds who are insightful and have already accomplished amazing feats. They often provide unexpected insight.

You want people who you can trust to be honest yet constructive. Additionally, have someone on the call who can handle tech issues. There’s always someone who has a technological challenge, and you’ll want to help solve it. When using Zoom, aim to limit the meeting to twelve members, as that’s how many people the Zoom screen holds so that you can see everyone simultaneously. As with in-person meetings, a facilitator keeps the conversation structured and efficient and can suggest time limits for introductions and presentations.

2. Hold your mixed table for three consecutive video calls.

Reserve three hours a day for three days. Each day, you’ll have two video sessions, the first with the team at large, and the second with a subgroup. The meetings might only run for ninety minutes, but ensure you have plenty of time to dig deep into challenging conversations. Begin each session with a brief meditation to put everyone in the right headspace. Our daily lives are hectic and busy, and being focused is essential to a successful mixed table. During the first video meeting, guests can introduce themselves. A mini-TED talk-style presentation describes the problem at hand. Then, end the group video call so participants can break into two groups of six; both groups answer a sub-question and then share their outcomes with all twelve participants. Everyone should agree to discretion, and everyone present must contribute.

The second meeting provides a deeper dive. Revise questions from the previous night and have your subgroups delve into specific challenges based upon the first meeting’s conclusions. Distribute examples before the meeting and close with sharing and debating. During the third meeting, the groups should reach an outcome and define a path forward that can be translated into action through a campaign. Assess what you learned. What were some of the key insights? You can even create a private website upon the conclusion of the mixed table so participants can stay in touch and continue the conversation, fostering an exchange of ideas.

Sometimes there are immediate solutions. Other times, sparks fly and wind up in separate corners, but more often than not, leveraging the power of divergent thinking will create transformational solutions. When executed well, mixed tables have the power to help any organization. In the days of COVID, they can mitigate future difficulties due to such unprecedented societal change. But broader than that, mixed tables can shape society. Bringing diverse perspectives together is not a new concept, and after the medieval plague, mixed tables created a Renaissance. They fundamentally altered Western society for the better. Perhaps they can do so again.

(As seen on Real Leaders)