Building Belonging

“In 4 days’ work we got a year’s worth of culture.”

- Stephen Catlin, Chairman and CEO of Convex Insurance

The challenge

Building belonging and connection for 500 people in a financial services firm through a series of learning workshops over 1.5 days. We were asked to design an unforgettable event that would bolster a sense of belonging buffeted by the pandemic, remote working and rapid growth.

The gathering to be informed by science and shaped by creativity.  To involve everyone from the chairman through to the newest recruit. To be joyful, surprising, provocative, relational and celebratory.

The outcome

Drawing on the Thompson Harrison Collective of artists, actors, ceramicists, professors, designers, musicians, choreographers, magicians, historians, writers and philosophers, we designed an unforgettable immersive shared experience.  

Using the research behind our Thrive Model to build bonds of belonging - we laughed, sang, learned, feasted, danced, told stories and made things together.  The result? Stronger foundations of trust, discretionary effort and psychological safety: the conditions for performance, innovation and impact.

Project Lead

Tracey Camilleri


Thriving Teams

Corporate Culture


Organisation Development

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Our approach

We worked closely with our client to design a gathering point that would bring the whole company together in a (safe) immersive, human, generative way.

Informed by science

We began by making it personal: we used an upfront questionnaire based on Robin Dunbar’s theories on friendship to discover people’s interests, skills and capabilities and allocated them to the learning sessions most suited to them.  They were placed with people with whom they shared common ground: a safe landing space, especially for those new to the company.  For example, music lovers found themselves in the barn with international conductors; sport lovers were in a tent with psychologist and sportsman Gavin Weeks.

We also designed in an ‘unsafely safe’ wildcard element – inviting people to step outside their usual preferences in order to learn about colleagues, themselves – and possibly even to discover a new interest.

Building common ground

Then we placed people in small groups with their most ‘distant cousins’ – those with whom they had least in common, using a pack of cards specially designed around the client values combined with the challenge to find a way to build common ground together.  The best decisions are made by people with shared values and different perspectives.

Fractal learning pods

Rather than having gurus on stage with large audiences, we designed the learning in small, intimate interactive groups – round the kitchen table, in the drawing room or in a tent on the lawn where everyone could have a voice.

The best decisions are made by people with shared values and different perspectives.”

The best decisions are made by people with shared values and different perspectives.”

Learning: The hidden fuel for connection

This was not to be training: after all some were old hands, some new to the industry.  No one was to feel left out or inadequately prepared. The learning should be interesting to all – whether chairman or receptionist. We were to work with world class thinkers and doers … so, how to do it?

Some of the sessions were purposefully creative – for example with the Japanese kintsugi experts, the art of mending broken things with lines of gold - but most of the creativity came through building bridges and connections, the act of being open to the new and through the non-hierarchical energy of learning together.


We structured the learning sessions into 7 ‘streams’ – each one foundational to human culture and connection: language, image, movement, memory, space, sound and magic.  We asked our 37 faculty (including 10 Thompson Harrison facilitators) to design their sessions to be orthogonal to the client’s business – always to have an angle of relevance but not to be ‘head on’.

Human-shaped design

Food, ritual, hormones, even the breaks were all thoughtfully considered and planned.  Eating together, moving in synchrony, singing, sharing experiences all produce endorphins, nature’s bonding mechanism. In the world of remote working, engaging the five senses was important. We wanted to give this time together a human heft and feel. Colours, sound, scents, taste all played a role. It was playful. It was values-driven.

Our insights

Involving a cast of around 40 faculty, the day was powered by science and art. The tone was friendly throughout.   We trusted that nearly 450 people would come and be prepared to learn together, to take shared responsibility for building belonging, to step forward into a future not yet built but with the confidence that everyone there would have a part in it. And as it turned out, we were right. Participants were left feeling proud that their organisation had sponsored such a stimulating and joyful event.  Their clients got to hear of it.  Images of the day continue to be shared and stories continue to be told.

“We knew things were going ok when we heard laughter coming through the ceiling of the stone hall.”

Tracey Camilleri

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