Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Facilitate ... 7 days, 4 clients, countless lessons!

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.


Embrace emotions.

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?)


Pace myself!

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?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Facilitate … using a freehand Wordle

You have likely created Wordles online!  Now, use a freehand version as a fun and meaningful facilitation technique. Recently, I facilitated a one-hour session with a healthy community coalition to gain input about social, cultural, economic, and leisure aspects of a community. I asked them to identify the successes and challenges in their community related to these aspects. They did so; by moving to two flipchart stations and writing and talking and listening about the various ideas. I then facilitated a discussion with the entire group, asking them to say what comments and ideas stood out for them, what they were pleased to hear and read, and what concerned them.

Next, I asked participants to think about an upcoming workshop about community resiliency which they were all attending. I asked them to identify the one or two key aspects from the first activity that they would “take with them” into the workshop. What would they concentrate upon? What would they think about during the workshop? Then, I asked them to create their answers as a freehand Wordle.

Wordle is “a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.http://www.wordle.net/ A Wordle is a visual representation for text data, typically used to depict the most prominent terms and ideas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_cloud

I asked participants to draw a Wordle, making their main idea as the biggest word and then writing other ideas in other sizes and directions. They had fun and also focussed on their main ideas.

The freehand Wordle allowed a different way of thinking, incorporated visual and kinesthetic learning modes, and added fun to the discussion. It’s a  quick and good way to adapt technology as a facilitation tool.

Here are two pictures: one of a Wordle related to community development and one of my freehand community topics from the session.
Computer-generated Wordle

Freehand Wordle

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Facilitation ... makes proposal writing easier!

I recently completed a proposal for a consulting and facilitation contract regarding community sustainability.  Fortunately, I gain most of my work through word of mouth and repeat requests from clients.  However, I also write proposals in response to requests for proposals (RFP).  I always find that these take a tremendous amount of thought, energy, and time.  I do not use, and cannot use, a “cookie cutter” approach to writing proposals.  I find that each one needs to be individualized to best suit the request of the potential client.

Yes, each proposal has common sections; that is, experience and relevant work, education, references, process approach and methodology, timeline and budget. However, as I finished the recent proposal, I confirmed that I applied my facilitation principles and methods to writing it.

 How do I do this?  

·         I think what the people in the organization who put out the RFP, need and want (respect, understanding, start with client’s needs). 

·         I carefully consider what I can best give to the potential client based on my experience, expertise and skills (start with where the client is).

·         I think about which of my previous work contracts best fit with the RFP (competency, effectiveness).

·         I think about which people that I am honoured to use as references would be able to, and feel comfortable, answering questions regarding the RFP (honesty, openness, transparency). 

·         I state my understanding of the specific project in the RFP and what I can best bring to the process and the client (professionalism, individualized approach).

·         I think about how I can best help them clarify their outcomes. 

·         I think carefully about the core questions that they want answered through the project.

·         I think about the ways we can work collaboratively throughout the process. 

·         I think about the design of each section of the project and suggest beneficial ways to achieve the outcomes; not taking a standard design and fitting the project outcomes into it.

 It may take longer to prepare a proposal using an individualized and principled approach; yet I know that I am happier, more confident, and satisfied that I have written the best proposal I can to help the client achieve the desired outcomes.
My facilitation blog question is:  how do you use facilitation principles and methods when writing proposals for work?