For seven of the past nine days, I had the immense pleasure and challenge of facilitating with four different clients; varied in numbers, organization role, mission, structure, etc. Here are a few of the things I re-learned from this intensive experience.
People truly have the best intentions about contributing to the group and doing good work.
From politicians to volunteers to entrepreneurs to staff, each person in the workshops and retreats worked really hard, listened with intensity, offered perspectives freely and openly, and with great enthusiasm. I asked participants to use the approach of listening to each other, and then building on ideas by saying “Yes … and”. This approach challenged and changed participants’ thought process.
Prepare, prepare, prepare … and then let go to meet the needs of the group.
The facilitation sessions ranged from a four-day retreat with politicians and senior leadership staff to a strategic thinking session with four people to a one-day planning day with a volunteer organization and finally, a half day team building session with staff, volunteers, and board members. Obviously, all required different designs and activities to hold conversations and make decisions. I worked long and hard to prepare; meeting and talking with the clients and going through my extensive on-line and print facilitation methods, and creating an overall design and specific activities that I thought best matched the desired results. Then I invited participants to co-design with me; discussing the intent of the overall session and the reason for each activity I suggested. During the four-day retreat, we continuously adjusted the topics and the timing to build on energy of participants, to follow important ideas, and to best meet changing priorities. A half-day session requires less flexing of the topic and I adjusted activities based more on my intuitive reading of the group. For the strategizing session with four individuals, I prepared several creativity exercises to encourage out of the box thinking. I determined with the group that they really wanted to talk at length with each other; bringing their natural creativity. I only used one of the creativity exercises and that was fine.
People have very different knowledge and experience of facilitation!
The participants in one of the groups had never worked in small discussion groups before. They willingly participated in various small group activities: pair-talk-share; model merging; standing trio talks; walk and talk; etc. At the end of the session, they said that they were impressed by how people talked more freely in the small groups, how they delved more deeply into the topics; and how similar ideas and themes were quickly identified when the small groups reported back.
Work and Play!
People like to laugh, to move, and often to try something a bit out of their comfort zone. Recreation breaks were so important; whether it was three hours during one day of the four-day retreat or two minutes of a fun moving activity during the half-day session. Sitting is the new smoking! Get up and move! People might find a new idea when they do. I use images to get people thinking about ideas in a unique and fun way.
During the four sessions, emotions ran rampant in the best way! Participants cried when talking about their personal experiences; spoke passionately, challenged each other by saying “I don’t agree”; hugged each other; said “This is such fun!”; said “I don’t understand and I am frustrated”. One group agreed as a behaviour principle that they would never walk out of the room and instead, could stand and announce the need for a time-out. All participants at the end of each session applauded and high-fived each other and me. I re-learned again and again the importance of acknowledging and accepting the emotions (Thank you for sharing how you feel. Take a minute and then continue talking if you wish.) and inviting people to explain their emotional reaction (How can this emotion help us today as we discuss the topic?).
Make no assumptions; or if you do, understand you are making assumptions, and then test them.
I know that I make many assumptions about participants; it’s only natural. I try to identify my assumptions before facilitating and then test them for truth during the sessions. Some of my assumptions as I went into the seven days were that high powered decision-makers know facilitation methods; most volunteer Board members of volunteer societies understand how non-profit organizations operate; one group would embrace creativity activities; and people will want long recreation breaks. Each of these assumptions was slightly off and I had to adjust my approach to best serve the participants. I also asked participants to state their assumptions about a topic and then ask each other what they thought. (Here is what I think is going on; what do you think?)
While I had high energy and productivity throughout the seven out of nine days, I know that I am better mentally, physically and emotionally with more breaks between facilitation sessions. I loved all of this work and having experienced it, will pay attention to how much I schedule facilitation sessions in a short time frame.
My facilitation blog question: What have you learned or re-learned from extensive and intensive facilitation work held in a short time frame?