I sent the screenshot above to my colleagues at the Spontaneity Shop yesterday afternoon, and was genuinely excited about it. The little network symbol in an orange square is the long-awaited MS Teams Breakout Rooms button, and it is a strangely big deal for those of us who want to communicate more effectively.

At the Spontaneity Shop we come from show business, and something all actors know is that the best scenes are between two people. I’d go further and say that to a degree all scenes are between two people, even monologues – when Hamlet says ‘To be or not to be’ the other person in the scene is the audience. It’s true of a crowd scene: when Evita sings ‘Don’t cry for me’, the other person in the scene is Argentina.

This creates a real tension in many work meetings, because of the number of stakeholders that need to attend. Can six people have a conversation? I wonder. In the before times, clients (often quite senior people) would tell me how much they hated ‘standing in a circle of six strangers with a glass of white wine’. The reason is twofold: firstly, it is not dialogue, more a group of people taking stressful turns to make a speech; secondly, the more people present, the less time you can justly take to be – and importantly feel – heard.

So we’ve used Zoom’s breakout facility for every remote training session (unless clients insisted on the old Teams platform) because during the best meetings there is time to be heard. Breakouts are best in quite small groups, and we usually send people away in groups of only two. At a session last week, a client said that ‘the breakout conversations I’ve had in your workshops have been my most satisfying work interactions in 9 months’. Even with the vaccine rollout, remote participation is going to have a long legacy, and now – finally! – the most broadly used platform can make real dialogue possible as part of bigger meetings. It is the best thing to have happened to the technology since the first lockdown began.

Now go away and discuss this in pairs, then let’s feed back here in 10 minutes.