Editor’s Note: Blacknight is a proud sponsor of the annual CongRegation ‘unconference’ every year, and this year was no exception despite it being a hybrid virtual and in-person event. Founder Eoin Kennedy has written up a report about the event and graciously allowed us to publish it. Check it out below.

In the era of remote working and nonstop teams and zoom calls, organising an unconference on a Saturday looked doomed to failure due to ‘zoom fatigue’ and clashes with weekend commitments.  

This was the dilemma that CongRegation faced in September when the decision was made to move from a face to face event in Cong to a virtual format, as it was felt that opening up of the economy in October would result in higher covid cases in November.  As CongRegation operates uses intimate ‘huddles’, increased covid cases could have made the event unsafe for attendees and those living in Cong.  However, many people had booked their weekend in Cong, and so #cong21 became a blended event with everyone logging in via Zoom but some people experiencing it from multiple venues in Cong village. 

The good news was that this was the second year of using the virtual format, with over 80 people participating, with the event lasting over 12 hours in 2020.  This demonstrated that although a poor relative if the event structure was engaging enough, it could overcome the limitations of the virtual format.    

Against this background #cong21 kicked off at 10.00am on Saturday, November 27th 2021, with over 70 people participating with an accumulated 20,301 minutes of discussions and sharing of insights on the theme of ‘Leadership’.   Over the course of the day, 4 one hour huddles took place.   Each of these randomised huddles were led by a chairperson who invited 3 people to present their submission or thoughts before opening up to broader group discussions and sharing of insights and experiences on leadership.  The event was structured with the expectation that some would attend all day while others would log in around other Saturday commitments.  During the breaks, virtual breakout rooms were also set up so that people could meet up and either progress conversations or just catch up with old friends.  Approximately 70% were returning attendees, and CongRegation is frequently the last time they would have met.  

The 52 published submissions reflect the variety of thinking on Leadership that took place on the day, with the diversity of attendee backgrounds helping to reduce ‘group think’ and adding to challenging and contradictory thinking.   From university professors, Leadership book authors, neuroscientists, CEOs, researchers, community activists, consultants through to retired civil servants, they agreed and clashed on perspectives.  My own submission on rotating leadership was mirrored in Alec Taylor’s post, while Paul Freeney’s perspective on leadership being forged in fire differed from Carlene Lyttle who focused on reluctant and accidental leadership. 

Although CongRegation clashed with Thanksgiving in the US, some attendees logged in from 3am from Boston, Oregon and Canada. 

The real magic happened during the discussions.  There were moderated by the chair and are akin to mining for golden nuggets by sifting through the rubble to explore the core concept, with others turning the raw gold into valuable jewellery by adding their insights. 

It’s hard to take any single insight as the day, and the publishing of the submissions is like watching a giant jigsaw puzzle assemble itself.  Some of the key themes I have picked up on are that Leadership touches everything we do,  frequently we don’t even realise we are leaders, leading and managing are very different, inspiring followers is crucial, and sometimes they dictate leadership style, academic learning, structures and process really help, but the insights are underutilised and personalising your leadership style is a lifetime exercise.  Leadership is hard; sometimes it’s in our nature, sometimes it’s learnt, sometimes we are chameleons and adapt and change.  Money and ego can distort it, but it needs drive and termination and can be the loneliness place on earth.  For certain people, it is needed.  

Although most people think of CongRegation as a moment in time.  For  certain, the discussions and serendipity are anchored in time, but the digital footprint from social media discussions to the website means that the thoughts and reach grow over time.  Dermot Casey’s submission on ‘Leading in the Liminal Age’ was read over 500 times but previous submissions have gone from hundreds to thousands of reads over time, as they are ‘ever green’ content with the learning being equally applicable now as far as the original CongRegation in 2013.    

As the dust settles on #cong21, planning for #cong22 has already started with the theme of ‘Purpose’ selected and taking place as a face to face event from November 25-27th in Cong Village, with some virtual logging also facilitated.  

CongRegation is a free to attend event with attendees earning their ticket with their submission.  This could not take place without the support of sponsors.  Blacknight has been unwavering in its support alongside Mayo.ie, MKC Communications, ICBE Advanced Productivity Network, Informed Decisions, Grow Remote and Common Purpose. 

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