The Case for Small Gatherings

The Case for Small Gatherings post was originally published on Coliving Diaries which you can find here

For Coliving operators, a big part of their value proposition is facilitating community gatherings that will lead to meaningful connections amongst their residents. In my discussions with Coliving professionals across the world, I have discovered countless elements to consider while planning a gathering.

Where should the gathering be held? When? Should residents be allowed to bring outside guests? Should food be provided? What about alcohol? Should there be a formal event agenda or should we keep it casual?

The list goes on, but the question we’ll be focusing on today is what is the ideal gathering size? Once we review some of the academic research on the topic, we’ll dive into a few examples of how Coliving operators facilitate gatherings that lead to genuine human connections.

And what about “gathering” during a global pandemic? I believe many of the principles to decide gathering size hold true whether the gathering is in-person or online. Due to the current circumstances, we’ll also give a few tips/ideas for digital gatherings during times of physical distancing.

The Power of Small Business Meetings

Large companies have an extremely high willingness to pay for any information that will allow them to run more efficient business gatherings that can lead to better business decisions and higher profits. With this in mind, much of the academic research surrounding ideal gathering size has studied business gatherings so we’ll start there to see what insights have been realized.

Nearly all the results from academic studies up to today, as well as the advice of some of the most successful modern business leaders, have yielded the same conclusion: small meetings are far superior to big meetings.

For example, the famous Harvard professor J. Richard Hackman dedicated his entire career to researching how teams work (or don’t work) and his rule of thumb is “no double digits.” Research by Robert Sutton of Stanford University shows similar results as he found the most productive meetings contain between five and eight people.

You are probably familiar with prominent business leaders who preach the same small meeting gospel. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has banned large meetings at his companies and said that a typical meeting should not exceed four to six people. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ has his famous “two pizza rule” that states meetings should never have more people than can comfortably share two pizzas.

Jeff Bezos Two Pizzas Quote

So what can we draw from this research that is also applicable for social gatherings?

When we look at the foundational reasons that smaller business meetings are better, we can see that many of the reasons also hold true for social gatherings. Drawing from the research above, look at two of the biggest drawbacks identified in large business meetings:

  1. Participation: Not enough time for everyone to participate in the conversation.
  2. Authenticity: People become more guarded and less candid, rich back and forth debate is replaced by shallow comments.

The first drawback of participation is quite obvious, but extremely important. The second drawback of authenticity comes from the fact that people tend to be more comfortable sharing their real opinions and thoughts when they’re not speaking to a large group. So now let’s jump back into the ideal gathering size for Coliving companies looking to build a robust community.

Small Gatherings Facilitate Meaningful Connections

According to group dialogue expert Priya Parker, even for social gatherings, smaller is better. In her book The Art of Gathering, Parker cites that smaller gatherings allow for higher participation rates and also give people the chance to be authentic by “leaving their best self at home.”

Participation

It doesn’t take an expert to understand that if you have less people in a gathering, the more each individual can (and must) contribute. At a dinner party of twenty people, inevitably there will be people that hardly contribute to the discussion, but at a table of four or six, you have no choice but to participate.

I believe Coliving operators can improve the quality of their events by heeding Parker’s advice on gathering size: “if you want a lively but inclusive conversation as a core part of your gathering, eight to twelve people is the number you should consider.”

In my experience, I have found that small Coliving gatherings have generated higher participation rates and have led to more meaningful connections. My favorite small gathering thus far was called “Creative Speaking” (hosted by Hustler’s Villa in Bali) in which each participant gives an impromptu two-minute speech on a random topic.

Small Gatherings at Bali Bustle

Each time I attended the weekly gathering there were between eight and fifteen people there. We all had plenty of time to contribute, there were few enough folks to spend time chatting with each, and I walked away from the event feeling I had connected with the participants at a deeper level.

Authenticity

Another ingredient that Priya Parker believes is essential for a successful gathering is authenticity, or what she calls the ability to “leave your best self at home.” The main idea here is that in order for meaningful connections to occur, people need to feel comfortable to be themselves and to speak freely, to be vulnerable.

If gathering participants simply portray their “best self” (like people often do at conferences, happy hours, and networking events), authentic encounters that lead to stronger relationships will never occur. For a much deeper dive on the topic, I highly recommend reading The Art of Gathering.

While the gathering type and setting certainly play a role in making participants comfortable, size is extremely important as well since it’s easier to be vulnerable talking to four people rather than fifty. In order to encourage Coliving residents to not bring their “best self” or “networking self” to your gatherings, making them smaller will help.

Coliving Examples

Other than Creative Speaking at Hustler’s Villa, I wanted to provide a few examples of small Coliving gatherings that I believe do a great job of facilitating meaningful connections.

Oka Coliving

I recently had the chance to catch up with Ricardo Neves, the founder of Oka Coliving in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Oka currently has five different properties with its largest one hosting 21 residents and has been operating at close to 100% occupancy since its start.

Perhaps due to its decentralized model (similar to Bungalow in the US) of having many smaller locations in its network rather than centralized apartment buildings, Oka’s gatherings seem much more intimate and authentic. While speaking with Ricardo he mentioned the monthly community gatherings to be extremely important for developing Oka’s community.

Coliving Small Gatherings

Every month each of Oka’s locations have a community gathering that consist of the community manager and all the residents gathering to share about their experience – what’s working, what could be improved, and generally how everybody is doing. Oh, and the community manager brings pizza every time – hopefully just two pizzas to follow Jeff Bezos’ rule.

More recently due to the Coronavirus situation, Oka has been encouraging each location’s residents to cook food for the homeless once per week. For me, cooking a meal together for a noble cause seems like another small gathering that can help build bonds amongst the residents.

Alcove

You may have not heard of Alcove quite yet, but after speaking with one of their co-founders Colin Tai, I’m convinced you’ll be hearing more about them soon. Similar to Oka, Alcove uses a decentralized Coliving model to offer their residents rooms in the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

When Alcove first started hosting events, they followed the familiar Coliving blueprint of hosting big happy hours where they invited all of their residents. After a few months of relatively low participation rates, they shifted to try their luck with smaller gatherings.

What they discovered was that smaller gatherings, such as hosting backyard barbecues at one house and inviting one or two other Alcove houses close by, were much more successful. Colin mentioned that participation rates were higher and the intimate environment allowed for people to feel comfortable in the small groups.

Perhaps the idea that smaller gatherings are better for making friends doesn’t seem like rocket science, but I have yet to see this idea implemented by many operators around the world. In my opinion, there are too many Coliving happy hours and movie nights with 50+ people invited and not enough eight person dinners.

Gatherings during a Pandemic

If you’re like me, you have probably participated in dozens of video calls over the past month on Zoom, FaceTime, House Party, or Skype. Some of the virtual gatherings seemed just as good as they would have been in person and some have been nothing short of painful. Below are a few ideas for virtual Coliving Gatherings during a pandemic:

Virtual Community

Discussion Groups

Want to host a virtual gathering but have too many people? Use Zoom Breakout Rooms to harness the connective power of small gatherings through random discussion groups. Perhaps start the call with all 20-50 people, give a discussion prompt such as “most productive thing I’ve done during quarantine,” and then randomly split the group into breakout rooms with four to eight people in each room to discuss. Ten minutes later bring them all back, ask a new question, and start again.

Inter-house/apartment Dinners

Remember the two to three houses that gather for a successful Alcove community event? Inter-house/apartment Dinners is the same idea but virtually. One night per week randomly match up two Coliving houses/apartments to have a video call during their dinner. Maybe they have to make the same dish and decide who made it best or they can go through one of the “conversation menus” put together by the School of Life.

Virtual Game Nights

If a portion of your residents don’t like discussion groups and aren’t a fan of virtual dinners, maybe setting up a virtual game night will get them engaged. Tech Radar put together a few different ways to play games virtually including mobile apps, simply playing physical games over video chat, or even a Tabletop Simulator. Maybe host a different game each week or even host a tournament of your Coliving community’s favorite game.

Whatever you decide to do, the entire idea here is to make the best of the situation and use it to bring your Coliving community closer. Virtual gatherings might introduce two residents that hadn’t met yet or let two friends discover they are reading the same book or using the same meditation app to pass the time. Encouraging these interactions is what Coliving operators promise in the first place, so don’t let the current circumstances stop you from delivering on this promise!

Hopefully we’ve been able to lay out the advantages of small gatherings to help build meaningful connections. It’s my sincere hope that Coliving companies reach their full potential to positively transform the way we live, and I believe a focus on small gatherings can be a powerful tool to help them achieve this goal.

Liked the the Case for Small Gatherings?

Read more articles from Coliving Corner here:

  1. The Case for Coliving
  2. Community vs. Scalability: Cracking Coliving’s Dilemma
  3. Spatial Design for Coliving

One Comment on “The Case for Small Gatherings

  1. Enjoyed hearing about the examples at Oka and Alcove experiences. Also, the inter-house: “Dinners n Dining” are great ideas for small groups and could be as simple as having 2-3 folks whipping up a quick sandwich and chips together in a common area or brown bag it together for lunch or appetizer or breakfast night for dinner? This options are limitless.

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