The Effectiveness of the Table

In Leading around the Table I suggested that leaders often underestimate the power of the table and overestimate the power of the platform as places of influence and transformation. One ready criticism of the table is that compared to the platform it’s highly inefficient or so it seems.

I disagree but even if it was true I’d suggest the platform is as ineffective as the table is inefficient. Those who question the efficiency of the table do so on the basis of capacity and time. The table reaches too few and takes too long. Let’s do the maths…

For the sake of argument let’s say the table seats 12,the auditorium seats 1,200. It would take 100 tables to accommodate the same number of people at the same time or 100 sittings if you only had one table! No brainer. Platform wins! But if we start with a table of 12 and every three months half the people around the table after three months start hosting their own table of 12 and so on. Within one year I reckon (maths friends feel free to correct my poolside maths!) there are 2,323 people sitting around tables while the 1,200 seater auditorium is still hosting 1,200 people because there’s no room to fit any more in. Table wins!

It turns out the table is far more scalable than the platform and I’d suggest scalability is more important that efficiency. Putting it another way scalability is efficiency in the future tense.

Efficiency addresses the question: How well are we utilising our resources - energy, time and money - in pursuit of achieving our goals? Effectiveness asks the question: How well are we doing in achieving goals? Wisdom asks the question: Are our goals the right goals?!  I’d suggest the table is only inefficient if the goal is to divide the room rather than to extend the vision, culture or message.

What if the table is not about dividing the number of people currently in the auditorium being informed? What if it’s about multiplying the number of people inside and outside of the auditorium being transformed?

The key metric being not the number of people on the receiving end of an explanation but the number of people on the participatory end of an experience. In determining the efficiency and effectiveness of the table, and the platform for that matter, we need to be clear on the purpose and goals of each.

Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant