Designing Social Change with the Intentionality of the Royal Wedding

A while back, a colleague and I arrived at a conference center to facilitate a session for a department’s staff retreat.  The retreat was a week long, and we were slotted for the morning of the last day.  When we walked into the room, there was a speaker at the podium, and the 70 people in the audience were completely checked out.  It was clear that there was no opportunity for them engage with the speaker or each other.  

As someone who designs processes to advance positive social outcomes and experiences for teams to build their culture and capacity, it is always painful to observe a room like this. It’s difficult to watch a speaker putting his/her/their head down and just trying to plow through content, a room of people disengaged, content being treated as transactional, the missed opportunities to build trust, learn new skills, provide much needed feedback and input to the work, and move the work forward. 

And a room like this also reveals a lot about an organization’s values, whether intentionally or not.  In this case, it told me that this organization privileged results over process and relationships and was focused on the transactional delivery of information over meaningful learning, deep engagement with content, and opportunities to seek advice and provide feedback to strengthen one another’s work. I suspect that these were not the values that the retreat organizers had intended to communicate, but I also suspect that they hadn’t given much thought to which values they were trying to communicate.

I was thinking about that experience this morning as I watched a video stream of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials.  Why?  Because, the Royal Wedding was a brilliant example of the exact opposite way that a process or experience can be designed.  Everything was chosen very intentionally to reflect the bride and groom’s values, values that I’ll sum up as: honoring their personal histories and multi-cultural backgrounds, love of family, commitment to social good, modern sense of partnership, and joy.

These values were incorporated into every detail of the ceremony, and if you want to dig deeper into them, I’ve linked to where you can find out more – because while I’m a sucker for a wedding (love is awesome after all) it was all designed and executed with wildly intentionally and effectively! 

To point out a bunch of examples to get you started, you can see the couple’s values reflected in everything from the design and designer of Meghan Markle’s gown and veil to Prince Harry’s decision to wear his military dress uniform.  You could hear it in the musical performers and song selection (a mix of traditional hymns, classical music and songs from Ben E. King and Etta James) and the choice of officiants reflecting the Anglican and Episcopalian (its American counterpart) and they styles they brought to the pulpit. You could observe it in what I suspect was one of the most racially and ethnically diverse set of attendees (family, friends, colleagues, and celebrities connected to the bride and groom through their social causes) at a royal wedding or St. George’s Chapel, and in Prince Harry’s decision to wear a wedding band, something male royals traditionally do not do.  You can feel it in the nods to the Prince’s departed mother, Diana, the graceful presence of Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, and the decision for the bridal party to be made up entirely of children of friends and family and the bride and groom’s godchildren (and including non-royals).  What is also notable is what was not there – during their vows, Meghan did not pledge to obey (a lovely feminist nod as well as one that has a long, fascinating tradition), but she and Prince Harry did hold hands throughout.

Which brings us back to the work of social change.  As someone who has spent a career working in nonprofits and philanthropy, government and now as an entrepreneur, I’ve never had the budget or the star-power of the Royal Wedding at my disposal.  But, I always have the ability to identify the goals of an experience or process I’m designing and facilitating, and the values that I want to incorporate into its design.  In the case of that team retreat where everyone was checked out when we arrived, we had been thoughtful to design based on Optimistic Anthropology’s values of collaboration, learning, rigor, and joy.  

It is this intention and clarity of values that allowed my co-facilitator and I to activate that room of checked out people very quickly – getting them moving, talking, laughing, sharing, learning, and applying ideas that we introduced to them rapidly, enabled them to “try on,” and then debriefed and explored strategies for incorporation into their own work.  After the session, I heard from one participant that he already had a new understanding of some of his own struggles collaborating with colleagues, another expressed her appreciation to learn more about her colleagues mentioning that one, ten-minute exercise we facilitated enabled more learning about one another than they had had during the rest of the week. Some nice anecdotal evidence that are values were being expressed, and our goals were being achieved.

So, if you are planning a meeting or retreat, or designing a change process – I urge you (and your collaborators) to consider the following:

  1. What are our goals? And how are we designing this experience/process to help us achieve them?
  2. What are our values? How are we weaving our values into the design of our work? (If your organization or team has a shared set of values – that’s a great place to start.)
  3. How are you going to assess your effectiveness and continue to improve on this work?

When it comes to question three, one of my favorite tools to utilize with groups for quick feedback is the Plus/Delta.  Now, if only the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would give me a call, we could do a plus/delta for the wedding ceremony!

You can watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle online here.  I, like many others, highly recommend the sermon by Rev. Michael Curry which starts at ~1:18