The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

Zoomlion World Cafè, Changsha (China), July 12th, 2013

I am aware that sometimes trying to summarize emotions, thoughts, feelings and even the discussions in words is a quite challenging and not productive endeavor. So, summarizing in a few words the Zoomlion World Cafè event of July 12th is definitely a challenge for me. Maybe it will be easier for those who participated in the event to catch in the following words something that they recognize. For those who were not there, I hope that, without a full understanding, their curiosity can be somehow stimulated.

I will try to point out the “why’s and the how’s” we have organized and lived this experience,  the basic reasons that pushed us to design it, prepare it and some notes about how the experience was actually lived.

I like to consider these as “seeds”: what is important is to plant them, take care of them and trust that some of them will develop and become plants, flowers and fruits. But we can’t force them to do so. Just notice, from time to time, if there is something sprouting out from your ground.


And I like to bring this as an example of “the reasons why I work”, which I hope can emerge from the following lines.


The new organization in Zoomlion International structure, approved in the beginning of 2013, has brought an important change. Such change has been thought as one of the tools to allow a more efficient international development of the Company, with a deeper involvement at all levels.

During the first months some issues emerged from the structure, with a general request of reaching a better understanding of roles, responsibilities and workflows across the various departments, including the critical relationships between Region, Business Units and Supporting Functions.

In order to allow people to better understand their roles and stimulate their contributions, the Management of the Company decided to start a training program including a formal lecture on the “Matrix Organization Systems” (aiming at explaining what is a “Matrix” organization, how it usually works and which are the general problems that can arise with its implementations) and a full day “Workshop Training”.  So we started to elaborate around some kind of session or experience that could “touch” the main issues at the heart.

The main issue, actually, was regarding COMMUNICATION among people and the good relationship needed to make the “Matrix” work and come true. The “Matrix” is not a target in itself, it’s a tool. Like a car can’t be driven without gasoline, the matrix cannot bring us where we want to go if we do not put “fuel” into it.

The “fuel” of the Matrix is made of a new attitude in Communication and Relationship: involvement, dialogue, attitude to proposal, listening, learning, trust, respect are some of the key words and principles of this game.

“Thinking together” can make a big difference. Exploring new creative possibilities can allow us to discover new opportunities. Each individual value, energy and contribution is respected and welcome. The sense of the team, the power of the group can grow.

We had to create the environment to offer a broad opportunity to all the relevant functions and to individuals to:

  • look at the current situation from different (and maybe unusual but more creative) perspectives,
  • look for “the other way” to see “problems”, from the perspective of the “solution”
  • share experiences, knowledge, feelings,
  • feel embedded in a powerful learning flow
  • experience the power of “collective intelligence”
  • feel the future solutions that want to emerge
  • step to a higher level of understanding and motivation

Three principles were underlined:

  • COMMUNICATION: suspend judgment and listen with open heart
  • CONTRIBUTION: Support participation and inclusiveness
  • RESPONSIBILITY: be accountable and proactive,  a rigid process cannot be an excuse to do nothing

So the basic idea of the “Zoomlion World Cafè” was to experience the ability to make a dialogue “in truth” and possibly mobilize something that we can call “collective intelligence”. 

A “conversational environment” has been reproduced to stimulate such collective thinking and we have pointed out a set of “guidelines” to allow this to happen:

  • Clarify the context and the purpose
  • Create a hospitable surrounding environment: you found tables accommodating up to five participants, with nice covers and colors, music, food, drinks, etc.
  • Ask “important” questions, something that truly matters: we have worked a lot on this in the background, some days before the event with some of the colleagues
  • Encourage the contribution from each one
  • Connect different points of view
  • Listen to catch intuitions and deep thoughts
  • Collect and share results
  • Have fun!


In the beginning we had a “landing” experience, something that allowed us to set the right mood of our heart for the rest of the day. The “landing” is a something to prepare ourselves from the “inside”. Prepare ourselves to see and hear people and things more deeply, including our own thoughts and emotions. In looking at the other members and welcoming them, people felt like looking into a mirror. That was a very important five minutes individual session.

After that, a reflection was assigned, so that each of the participant could focus on his or her own personal issues, what was truly important “for them”, in their heart. And the questions were the following:

  • Which changes in the past half year have affected you most and why?
  • Which changes do you think are mostly needed for the future in our company and why?
  • Which are the main sources of energy and motivation in YOUR  daily job and how can YOU use them better?

People were invited to write down their comments. Writing down is very important because it brings “out” something that is “in”, i.e. it becomes explicit and you can look at it. It is surprising, sometimes, reading something we have written in the past and see how and why it may have changed.

Tables formation was free, even though in the first round of 45 minutes people found their places with other people with whom they felt more comfortable: same department, old friends, nice character or whatever. But that was just the beginning. Five people can find the way to have a dialogue in which all of them can participate and each on is listened to, with a sense of belonging, of team.

At the second round of 45 minutes, we have changed: one “witness” stayed in the same table, with the role of representing to others the main points of the previous talks, while the “ambassadors” would bring to other tables such main points. Exchanging the tables is an enriching experience for various reasons: we could “break” the comfortable feeling of becoming a separate team, with a known environment and already negotiated rules, although maybe not explicitly. We are pushed towards a new situation, somewhat unknown, where different persons are sitting, different rules have been experienced, different topics have been touched and different opinions have emerged. We are pushed in a new environment, so we are somehow obliged to adapt ourselves to that, while we are also free to bring in our own experience. (actually, this resembles very much what we can experience in our daily job). This experience is something that we tend to avoid by instinct, because it requires a certain amount of intention, a “shift” in the behavior, a choice. Nevertheless, after the “shift” people usually feel much better, as if they have discovered something of value that was hidden not far from them. And most of all, you experience the freedom of making this choice. You feel that freedom and responsibility are very much linked together.

To help the participants to live this event deeply, some guidelines were given and most of them have tried and maybe also experienced the nice feeling of not defending their opinions against different opinions, like in a fight, but respecting other opinions and trying to truly listen and learn. Their opinion not necessarily has changed, but possibly has transformed, has been enriched by a new vision, an new perspective. That’s the difference between “discussion” (confronting opinions as in a ping pong game) and “dialogue” (let different opinions become a new and shared meaning for all of us).

What actually happens is that we feel more respect for the other guy. And we feel more respected by the other guy. Even we still have different opinions in the end. We feel like: “Ok, I can see your point, I can see why you think that. And I respect that. Maybe my perspective is still different. But I feel like we are on the same boat and finally we have a common interest”.

Having three rounds of questions, allowed us to penetrate more deeply into this process, without having the pressure to produce any kind of “result” or “performance”, but just focusing on the “process”, on feeling aware of what was happening inside and around us.

Here are the questions that the participants “lived” during the three rounds of 45 minutes each:

Looking at our organization today

  1. 1.    What do YOU consider really important today in OUR specific situation today and why is it so much at YOUR heart? 
  2. 2.    What do YOU think we should verify, clarify or put into discussion in reflecting on OUR specific situation? How do you suggest to act on this? How can you consider it as an opportunity?
  3. 3.    How can WE contribute (suggestions, choices, decisions, next steps, new behaviors, etc.) to improve OUR situation and make it better? What did WE not considered so far?


The participants worked deeply on those questions and meanwhile they felt more and more involved into the dialogue, maybe developing a sense of curiosity on where the dialogue was going. Meanwhile, they may have felt a growing sense of “collective happening”, started to connect ideas, see similarities, draw links on papers that had been written by other people before them. Once again, writing down was a way of making thoughts explicit, make them VISIBLE to others.

The table covers and all the papers attached on the wall in the end was the evidence of the dialogue throughout the day, the participants felt it as the real “product” of the day, i.e. not a “result”, not a “performance”, not a specific “outcome”, not something that can be “summarized”, but the sense of a “process”, the process of “how to communicate in a different way and let a new learning emerge”. That is a “collective” experience.

That process has been the real outcome: learning that it is possible to have a dialogue without necessarily fighting against different opinions and struggling to defend our own assumptions, and feeling that this way of proceeding can be very energetic and productive.

The final step was to work on the “Learning points”.  Learning points are not “opinions”, “ideas”, “suggestions”. Learning points are something new and meaningful, something that before was not part of my experience and now it is. Something that is interesting and that is worth notice, fix, apply.

Something you would like to bring with you as part of your personal and professional background, a new asset.

And then the “Big question”: usually, a day like this can open up new doors and new path for exploration. It is impossible that the process comes to a simple “full stop”, just ending, with all the answers to all the questions. That would mean that the questions were not so interesting and meaningful.

Usually, interesting questions bring more questions, more willingness to go deeper, understand more, explore more possibilities, see from more perspectives. And the feeling of having new “pending issues” is quite normal. And beneficial. Maybe not comfortable, but exciting. If you feel comfortable, maybe you have all the answers already. So maybe you can ask yourself if you are in the middle of an illusion. That’s why we have concluded with the “big question” session. The papers with Learning points and big questions have been collected and presented in public by a representative for each table. Then put in a common document as the summary of the “collective learning”.

That experience has to be considered as an “exercise”, but also as a “seed” to bring into real life.


I like to conclude with this quote:

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves

 (Si’ahl, American Indian Chief, 1887)



Views: 125


You need to be a member of The World Cafe Community to add comments!

Join The World Cafe Community

Comment by Amy Lenzo on August 8, 2013 at 12:22pm

Wonderful, Delfino - thank you for this additional part of the story. It sounds like you did a wonderful job with your Café, and really "listened in" to what was needed in your group throughout the whole process from the planning stage to the harvest.

Please upload any photos you took right into this community in the "media" section. You can even make an album and name it for your Cafe - then let us know in this thread (with a link to the album if you know how to do that - otherwise, don't worry, I'll take care of that) so people can follow through and see them. Great job!

Comment by delfino corti on August 8, 2013 at 5:58am

Hi Amy! thanks for your feedback. Actually, what I wrote is just a summary of my learning points as a "firstcomer" into World Cafè. I am aware that there were several newby clumsy things into this experience, while I am also aware that a totally genuine, although naive, attitude was its foundation.

I was in the privileged position of the guy who has nothing to lose (so anything is a win...) and so I dared, trying to prepare as much as possible, trust as much as possible on others and share with them. That was really exciting.

The bottom line: there will be a clear sign if we will have the chance to refresh it with another session in the next couple of months. I trust it will happen.

On the event of July 12th:

as a background, I have to tell you that I started the preparation in Europe, while the team and the event was in China, so I worked on the formulation of a draft that in my intention had to remain as flexible and open to adjustment as possible, with the aim to work hard on the sharing once I was in China. Mails, chat and phonecalls were the only way to start the sharing BEFORE. Taking into account that this "thing" was new for me (As a facilitator) and totally new for my colleagues, who never heard about anything similar and whose expectations were biased toward a more "traditional" training session. That phase was actually very important for all of us in the preparation team, because we had to build a team. That was my first purpose.


Yes there were some cultural issues coming up, like the choice of having/not having breaks, food related issues, dressing code, selection of musics and videos and some other "background" aspects. On these, I spend some days in the design with my (chinese) colleagues and adjusted my original proposal, in some cases we totally changed it.

But the most critical aspect was actually related to the "Questions": the original proposed options were based on my understanding and I was aware that that was far from enough. So we spent days and further interviews with people to clarify the picture of what was "at the heart" of the organization in this particular period. Any choice was shared with the team until we found something that made everybody feel ok. Actually, that was another point: expressing "feelings" is not a common habit in CHina, not the way we do in the western world. So for example, we had a question regarding "which were your successes in the past 6 months and how you would describe them?" but may of them objected that talking explicitly about success is not a good habit in CHina and people will tend to refrain from it. So we changed it.


The 45 minutes rounds: my impression was that people were quite concentrated, while the concentration tended to fade on round 2 and 3, so I tried to be not as fiscal on timing, especially on round 3. We invented a way to give silent signals of "job done" by stop talking and raise one arm: that started to be very contagious on round 3 and it was another opportunity to let people acknowledge how effective can be a contagious act. I tried to keep my attention focused on the energy of the process and actually in the afternoon it was somehow fluctuating, with some ups and downs. But generally speaking, people felt very involved until the end.


There as a lot of curiosity around the "outcome" of such a day and expectations were very much focused on having a "report". I tried to explain and let people realize that the experience was already an outcome in itself and that if somebody said "I was sitting at the table with a person that I don't like and I did not want to talk with him, but we did it and I discover that it is possible!", that was an outcome.

The many papers produced were hung on the walls and looked at by all the people with curiosity and some surprise.

The last phase with the learning points and big Q was also productive, although with lower energy than I expected.

Unfortunately, all the paper remained in China with my colleagues in the HR, who produced a summary in chinese and sent it to allt he participants. I have asked them to send me a scanned copy of the A4 summaries so that I can produce an english version.


I have plenty of pics and some videos. I will try to send some of them via


For sure they can tell more than all the words above here...


Meanwhile, take care!







Comment by Amy Lenzo on August 7, 2013 at 11:51am

Wow! Thank you so much, Delfino, for this wonderfully informative "report" about the World Cafe you hosted in China (which you didn't mention). Were there any specific cultural issues that came up in the process? I'm also curious about how the 45 minute rounds went...did you feel like that was a good time, rather than the more usual 20-minute rounds? How was the energy in the room?

I was also intrigued by your harvest and would love to see the common document you created for that purpose. Can you share it here?

Finally, I want to add some images that you sent me (via Juanita), sine they are beautiful, and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. :-)

© 2019   Created by Amy Lenzo.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service