IO Groups : Making Collaboration Happen

Going from email to slack and beyond…

So, you have gathered a group of amazing entrepreneurial people with shared interests, passions and values. Now you want to unleash a wave of collaboration, where all these brilliant people connect, share resources and tools, and eventually go on to form meaningful partnerships and collaborations. You are a believer in self-organising principles. You trust the logic that if you keep things really simple then the community will take it’s natural course. With this in mind you take the only logical tech savvy next action… you start a slack group, create lots of channels and invite your tribe of amazing people… asking everyone to introduce themselves in the #introductions channel.

At first there is great excitement and activity as new members feel flattered to be invited to such a creative and entrepreneurial community. However, then comes the inevitable question of what happens next? How do we organise? What should we share? What is the etiquette of communication within this community? What is ok to ask for and what is not ok?

Most of the members of this community are running their own businesses and are pretty busy. To emphasise this point lets’ take a group of twenty people. For each of us to have a one hour Skype with everyone else, it would take a grand total of 380 hours, which is the equivalent of almost 50 working days and just over 2 months (if you count 8 hours each day). That’s two months just for everyone to have a simple 1 hour introductory Skype. This collaboration stuff can become very time consuming, fast. There must be a way to accelerate this trust building / getting to know each other process?

One option is to share everyone’s stories, bios and contact details on a searchable google doc.

The secret is to avoid members just pasting their ‘Linkedin sales pitch’ bios by asking probing holistic questions. Here’s the typeform I am using for the IO Collective.

What’s your name?*

What’s your email?*

Introduce yourself in a few sentences… What would your friends say about you?*

Location : Where are you living right now?*

Values Question : What’s important to you in life?*

Purpose Question : What’s your vision for the future?*

Passion Question : What are you working on right now that excites you?*

Skills Question : What can you contribute to the group? What are you great at? How do you feel that you can best contribute to the collective?*

Mastery Question : What would you most like to learn & what can you best teach? Skill-sharing and accelerated peer learning will be at the heart of our culture.

Feedback Question : Why are you completing this form right now? What excites you most about joining this group?*

Upload a high resolution photo of yourself*

Add Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Website links…

Do you have any questions you would like to ask us?


Wait till all your founding members have completed the Typeform (tip: name and shame the ones who are slow to complete in the slack channel) before sharing the results. The group organiser(s) should take the lead on trying to visualise and share all this information in a creative, fun but also efficient way. A nice info-graphic and webpage showing lots of attractive faces and organisational brand logos taps into our ego-emotional drivers… we all like to associate ourselves with networks of successful and likeminded people. However, it is also useful to have a searchable invite only (for privacy reasons) Google Doc / Excel Doc so that everyone can read through everyone’s answers and get a better sense of how best to start collaborating.

Another useful collaboration ritual or practice to experiment with is something I call Brainstorm X (via hangouts). Each brainstorm is an hour long and includes an organiser and 4 participants. The organiser is responsible for preparation, facilitation and follow up. Their job is to;

  1. Write a clear and concise brief.
  2. Create a doodle with five or more potential meeting times.
  3. Share that brief via email and/or a slack channel. Tip: Direct one-to-one personal messages and invitations are much more effective that group cc’s.

Also, when a participant confirms send them a calendar invite and double check that they have accepted.

When it comes to virtual group meetings, Skype is often very slow. Lytespark is one option to try just for pure speed, usability and performance. If you want your meeting to be recorded then go with a live Google Hangout (these calls are recorded and instantly published on YouTube).

It is important for the organiser to clear their mind before the brainstorm (a 5–10 minute mediation always helps) and be prepared to give a concise 5 min presentation to define the purpose and agenda.

After the organiser makes his introduction it is worth going round and hearing introductions and initial feedback from the participants. It is advisable for the participants to spend at least 15–20 minutes asking questions and seeking to understand as much of the problem / possibility space as possible, before jumping into solution mode. It is also worth giving everyone 5 minutes of quiet time to collect their thoughts and ideate solutions on their own before presenting their ideas. Having several cycles of quiet reflection and dialogue often leads to the best insights.

Finally, it is important to leave at least 10 minutes at the end to reflect on the impact and effectiveness of the brainstorm session and commit to next actions. Throughout the session it is important that the organiser writes everything down so that they can effectively follow up.


Virtual brainstorming is a great way to move a passive group into active collaboration as quickly as possible. However, there are limitations. To generate a genuine culture of trust, friendship and partnership it is important for members of the group to meet in person and have one-to-one open conversation time. This is where organising a retreat in a beautiful part of the world like Candili in Greece can work wonders.

Below is the event format that we will be using for the IO Retreat;

Our intention is to keep the agenda very simple. We have designed in plenty of space and time for participants to connect, share stories, explore future collaborations and self-organise around three curated design briefs (the IO Collective, the Candili IO and the StartupAid Campus).

Sunday 5th — Catalysts arrive. Dinner at 8pm. Fire & Music.
Mon 6th — Meditation. Run. Swim. Breakfast. Welcome presentation by Anton. Tour around site. Buddy up walk and talk. Lunch. Talks session. Open time. Dinner at 8pm. Fire & Music.
Tue 7th — Meditation. Run. Swim. Breakfast. Talks session. Project 1 brainstorm : IO Collective facilitated by Anton, Nasos & Florian (& Marcus). Free time & dinner.
Wed 8th — Meditation. Run. Swim. Breakfast. Presentation session. Project 2 brainstorm : Candili IO facilitated by Marcus & Anton. Free time & dinner. Dinner, music & fire.
Thu 9th — Meditation. Run. Swim. Breakfast. Presentation session. Project 3 brainstorm : StartupAID Campus facilitated by Paula & Ioanna. Free time & dinner. Dinner, music & fire.
Fri 10th — Organic day to test self-organisation. Opening circle where people introduce the sessions they want to run. Open agenda wall. Final closing circle before dinner, with a screening of a video showcasing the highlights of the retreat. Celebration.
Sat 11th — Breakfast and heading home.

For meals : We all cook together in the evening (with the supervision of our head chef — Burning Man camp style). There will be a rota for breakfast, lunch & dinner. 
For talks : Everyone is asked to prepare a short 5–10 min TED style talk (projector will be provided) about who they are, their vision for the future and how they wish to participate and contribute to the collective. This will be filmed, uploaded to Youtube and added to the IO Collective website. Our unique angle will be to focus each talk on the unique personal vision that each IO member has for their lives. It’s about the future not the past. Outcomes / follow up : We will bring together all the insights gained from the retreat and edit / upload to YouTube all of the videos and talks. We will then launch the IO website and a campaign promoting our collective projects and inviting new members to join. We will also continue to run annual IO Retreats each year building on the success and momentum of the last.

Having some brainstorm themes and a nice flow to the day which starts with immersion and intensity in the morning and afternoon and then flows into a more relaxed vibe in the evening is a good approach to take.


The final point I would like to make is about commitment and leadership. There is a level of curation, event organising and community management that is required to make genuine collaboration happen within a group. You need to have a leadership and catalyst team who take responsibility for the group culture. A great way to start is for the group organiser / founder to host monthly (bi-weekly during the first few months) ‘Culture Check-ins’. Basically it’s a brainstorm hangout that is focussed exclusively on the question of how we can make the group and community culture even better. Out of these check-ins a crowdsourced guidebook can be created to welcome new members. If you want to dive even deeper into these group processes and facilitation frameworks then download the IO Guide. I’d love to hear your feedback, this is an open source project after all.


Right, so to summarise… use slack, typeforms, google docs, brainstorm hangouts, in person retreats and culture check ins, with the occasional Medium post (like this one) to share learning and attract new members / collaborators.

If the group gets really big, consider having a facebook group for the wider group and restricting the slack group to the community catalysts and leadership team.

That’s my best strategy (right now) when it comes to unleashing the collaborative potential within a group or network.

Please feel free to sign up to the IO Collective to see how this method is being applied in real life. For general feedback email anton@exponentials.co.uk.

Thanks for reading,

A