This content appeared in the May 1, 2019 edition of Success by Association Live
May 1, 2019
Unlocking Group Genius in your Association

By: Steve Bouchard, President of Insight Solutions

How do you bring together a group of like-minded people, to learn from each other and then effectively accelerate that learning across an organization? How can you help ensure the most value and impact is delivered when convening your members?

That’s a question many Association Executives, Board of Directors and Meeting Planners may be asking on a regular basis, but it’s not a challenge exclusive to this group alone. In fact, the same question could be appropriately asked by almost any team, organization, company or community.

Perhaps more specifically, you may be asking how to best serve your clients when designing the next meeting, strategic planning session, conference or convening. As a leader responsible for delivering value, it’s critical to get this right.

Keith Sawyer, one of the country’s leading scientific experts on creativity, writes about the concept of “group genius” in his book of the same name. One of the most significant conclusions drawn from his research on hundreds of case studies of team collaboration, is that simply bringing together a group or team of high performers (or any group for that matter), does not guarantee they will successfully tap into their collective intelligence or unlock the group genius that exists among them.

In fact, the primary indicator, the one factor that consistently predicts which groups are able to effectively tap into their collective intelligence, is the pattern of interactions among the group members.

The inability to effectively leverage this collective intelligence often results in a lost opportunity, especially when the investment to bring people together, is significant, given time and travel expense.

Dr. David Cooperrider, the co-creator and thought leader of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), is best known for applying AI to fuel a positive revolution in a modern approach to leadership. Dr. Cooperrider asks:

“Why would we bring hundreds or thousands of participants together and not engage their strategic and creative minds and imagination for some significant advancement of opportunities for their organization? Why wouldn’t we tap into all that talent? Yet, we can’t tap into that talent without a process and method to guide groups.”

When designing a process or method to guide groups through a meeting agenda, there are three forms of intellectual capital that must be harnessed in order to extract the most value and effectively tap into the collective intelligence (or “group genius”) that exists among them. We’ll explore each to explain what it is, why it matters and practical strategies that can be used to uncover and amplify each type of intellectual capital.

Individual Capital is the intelligence any one person brings to the group through his or her own expertise, education and life experiences. A core value of professional associations is that they offer diversity in their membership in the form of many different organizations or companies, but all are united around a specific industry, function, area of interest or other common denominator. This means that people facing similar challenges, in different environments, have the opportunity to learn from one another.

Reflect on your associations’ last gathering and think of all the people in the room, the combined years of experience and diversity of perspectives – that’s value! However, without a process in place to guide people through engaging in meaningful conversations, that value (or “group genius”) may never rise to the surface.

The challenge then becomes, how to ensure that the best, most powerful and influential ideas are being uncovered and amplified to create value. After a keynote speaker, breakout session or a long day of conference activities, consider this simple activity, which can be facilitated in as little as 15-minutes and will deliver massive value by efficiently crowdsourcing some of the most powerful learning outcomes of the session.


  • Reflect: Have participants take 2-3 minutes to reflect on the session (or day’s activities, etc.), recalling 2 or 3 things which they heard, saw or experienced that resonated the most with them, had the deepest impact or prompted them to think differently. It could be a word, phrase, quote, image, concept, strategy or idea. Have them write down their thoughts.
  • Connect: Participants stand up, form pairs and take 2-3 minutes to share what they wrote.
  • Share: The facilitator then invites two to four high-power ideas to be shared with the whole room to summarize the group’s key learning outcomes.

Social or Relational Capital is working to ensure groups of people are brought together at the highest levels possible, in service to both the individual and the group itself. This will create the environment for what might be possible through meaningful dialogue and shared experiences.

One of the many reasons to join a professional organization is for ongoing learning and professional development, which helps members remain relevant and competitive in their industry. Professional development takes on many different formats, most of which tend to focus on delivering knowledge or what may be characterized as “answers”.

However, when bringing groups together, there is great power in using questions to drive dialogue, rather than passively delivering ideas. In the past (i.e. the industrial age) it was common for a few people to have all the answers and “push” this information out to an organization, team or company. In the modern, we are often better served to “pull” from the collective wisdom of the whole system for the best ideas and to create shared visions or strategies through active participation.

Dr. John Kelly, currently serving as Executive VP of IBM, says “…in the 21st century the ability to ask all the right questions will be the mark of true genius…”

STRATEGY: When designing your next meeting, workshop or conference agenda, consider a shift in the content to include less passive sharing of ideas (i.e. speaking from stage) and more question-based discussions, which research shows significantly increases the learning impact. Research also shows that individuals more readily “buy into” change initiatives and have higher levels of commitment when they are actively engaged in the process.

The image below helps visualize this approach.


Communal Capital is the macro level potential that exists when a group of like-minded people begin to deeply connect around a shared sense of purpose and values, ultimately choosing to co-create the future of their organization. They become stewards of their own destiny, creating future visions of what opportunity areas they will support and how they will organize resources to drive growth and impact.

What better way to attract, retain and engage members, than inviting them to play a meaningful role in the direction of the organization they are part of – after all, people care about what create!

STRATEGY: Much of the content delivered in conferences, workshops or other convenings is designed to be in service to the individual and rightfully so, as that’s why members show up, to receive the value these programs deliver. As you work to design your next agenda, I would invite you to consider allocating 10-25% of the time to an activity which is in service to the association itself. By taking advantage of having the entire system together, you can address a significant opportunity, invite community members to help shape their future, create a set of shared values or any number of other meaningful tasks. This approach will also greatly increase the individual and group motivation to support the initiatives, which may just help to enlist some volunteer support!

The different strategies presented in this article are based on the XCHANGE approach to facilitation, which is built on decades of research in Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and positive psychology.

Steve Bouchard is an XCHANGE Master Faculty Member and the President of Insight Solutions where he uses a strength-based, experiential approach to design and facilitate meetings, retreats and conferences that lead to powerful outcomes. Steve’s approach uses powerful questions to bring people together, engage in new ways and have meaningful dialogue. Learn more at and visit our booth at the AENC 2019 Spring Conference in Durham.

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