I just finished an engaging and energizing conversation with hundreds of employees online.  This would have been unheard of in the past as most online discussions felt disconnected without a highly orchestrated plan and facilitation team.  I had two assistants: one running the “tech” and another was an artificial intelligence platform (the AI tech).  With this team, I can talk to thousands this way.

Taking an Organization’s Pulse

In my work as an organizational coach, I’m often sensing the organization’s pulse.  Perhaps I’m brought in to support or lead a transformation.  Other times, I’m asked to diagnose a problem and provide recommendations.  These organizational pulse checks with staff might involve one-to-one interviews, anonymous surveys, or small discussion groups.  They provide valuable information on what staff is thinking and feeling.

Anonymity must be maintained to gather the employees’ true stories of “where things are now.”  If there is no trust in these conversations, you gather very few true stories of their struggles, and you may hear what they think you want to hear.  You end up with pyrite instead of gold nuggets.

Another challenge of reading the organization is sharing enough of the story with others to see what resonates with others to discover patterns.  Again, anonymity must be maintained while letting people know they have been heard.  You might think sharing stories will help you find a pattern (or vein of gold), but you only find fool’s gold if you break trust.

AI as a New Facilitation Tool

New AI tools support this difficult balancing act of anonymity and sharing stories.  The specific tool I used was Remesh.ai.  Without trying to describe the entire platform, let me point you to a two-minute high level overview video and a five minute video highlighting all the features of the platform (Thanks to Remesh.ai for providing these videos.)

At first glance, one could mistake this for a survey tool.  When designing an online conversation, you can set up a series of questions of different types (or load a template of questions for specific scenarios such as conversations to gauge employee engagement).  

Remesh facilitator interface showing results of a live poll question on right and upcoming questions to launch on the left.
Remesh facilitator interface showing results of a live poll question (Courtesy of Remesh.ai)

A Guided Sharing Conversation

However, you then notice the open-ended questions that you can add to the conversation.  This leverages the capabilities of the AI to look for trends in the responses of up to 1000 simultaneous users and then present some actual representative answers of other users. This triggers an “aha moment” with participants as they realize they can share their stories anonymously. Also, the chat-like interface helps participants feel they are in a casual conversation with each other.  

When we share these conversations in a live meeting, we gently introduce these open questions, and they start seeing other participants’ responses that resonate with them, I often hear: “Oh COOL!”

Both safety and trust guide the conversation.

As a practiced facilitator, you always aim to create these safe conversation spaces.  With this real-time AI capability, you just found an entirely new universe of possible conversation spaces.

View of 3 Remesh participant screens showing them upvoting each others comments to an open question.
Three Remesh particpants upvoting each others responses (Courtesy of Remesh.ai)

Pivot the Conversation in the Moment

I’m not a fan of scripted conversations.  Overly designed scripts and strong agendas make it near impossible to respond to discoveries in the moment.  People feel less heard when asked to “stick to the agenda” and you lose opportunities to truly discover a breakthrough.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve backed the online collaboration manifesto.  

However, this interaction between participants in a Remesh conversation can produce surprising results in the moment.  Sometimes, you cannot anticipate those responses, or your next question may not be the best way to follow up.  A tool that allows you to add questions on the fly can help you explore an emergent theme.  Below, you’ll find an example of this in Remesh.

Screenshot of Remesh facilitator interface with facilitator adding a question on the fly in response to trends in responses.
Facilitator adding question on the fly to follow up on response trends (Courtesy of Remesh.ai)

Talk to Even More People Dispersed

What if you can’t get everyone in the virtual room at the same time?  These AI conversation tools now support a larger audience that can answer questions over a period of time.  This eliminates the need for short, quick responses by participants.  Introverts (like me) prefer to think deeply about our responses and this asynchronous format gives us that time.  This means facilitators also get richer and a greater number of responses.  You can see the demo of this latest capability in a recent Remesh webinar. For the curious, this new Remesh Flex asynchronous capability supports up to 5000 participants.

What’s the future of AI and Facilitation?

If you wonder if we’ll see AI facilitators soon, I doubt it.  These tools must be tuned for certain conversations and applications.  However, does AI give facilitators a powerful new capability?  Oh yes!    So as a remote facilitator that appreciates technology that helps conversations flow, I’ll be learning to dance with my new AI partners. 

Photo of dancing robot
Photo by Eirc Shi on Unsplash