Friday, May 14, 2010

Facilitate … with trust and belief in the abilities of others!

I watched in awe, appreciation, delight, and humility as participants facilitated sessions at the three-day ACE Communities Leaders’ Retreat this week. 30 leaders from across Alberta gathered on the sunny shores of Sylvan Lake to explore community development and engagement, community leadership, community networking, and personal growth. Our purpose … learn together to make our communities more Active, Creative, and Engaged.

My co-facilitator extraordinaire, Karen Driedger ( and I envisioned the Retreat as an emergent design event with participants designing and facilitating and contributing. We started the Retreat with a facilitated session using an Affinity Clustering method to answer the focus question of: Based on the outcomes of the Retreat and what you want to learn and share, what topics do you want to discuss? Once the participants had named and clustered their ideas into thematic topics, Karen and I suggested times for each topic and obtained the participants’ approval for them. Then, we asked participants if they wished to facilitate the topics. WOW!!! Did they ever step forward!!!

Seven sessions were co-designed and co-facilitated by 14 volunteer participants. With minimal suggestions and coaching from Karen and I and our highly talented colleagues, Brenda Herchmer, Carolyn Mead, and Rose Carmichael with the ACE Communities initiative (, the participants demonstrated outstanding facilitation skills. Here is the range and depth of their sessions with only one evening to prepare.

We discussed Community Engagement in a World Café; we investigated Funding with a Problem Tree technique using real tree branches. We role-played as an elected politician, a government administrator, and a community citizen to use multiple perspectives to examine Operating within a Political System.

We imagined we were communities isolated on ice floes and worked together to move across the freezing water (room) to explore Sustainability in Our Communities. We delved into questions about Community Leadership with a Cracker Barrel activity. We acted like teenagers at a community meeting and played cooperative games to better understand ways to Engage Youth. We accepted invitations to a Planning Session to work through a case study approach and apply it to the planning framework using community development.

I learned SO MUCH from observing and participating in sessions facilitated by these community leaders. Believing and trusting in the skills, knowledge, and passions of participants when we facilitate enables us to gain a richer and fuller understanding of facilitation and new ways to do what we have been doing. I have definitely increased my Toolkit of facilitation techniques and discussion activities. I can’t wait to help a group understand partnerships by pretending to be isolated on ice floes! I will incorporate more role-play into my facilitated activities. And I will definitely continue to trust and believe in the wisdom and talents of participants in groups I facilitate.

To everyone at the Retreat, thank you. I appreciate those who took a chance and volunteered to expand their skills as facilitators. Equally important to recognize are those who had the skills and experience as a facilitator and graciously refrained from volunteering to let others try. And again of equal importance, I have great appreciation to those who decided that their best learning and contribution was by being participants in the discussions. And lastly, my profound appreciation to my ACE Team colleagues at the Retreat who exemplified sharing and caring as they helped the participants.

My conversation blog question is: As a facilitator and participant, how do you show trust and belief in the abilities of other people in discussion groups and conversations?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Facilitate … with attention to time and truth!

Time is important yet truth is more important than time! I’m not sure of the source of this statement or if it is one that I created many years ago. Regardless of the source, I have adhered to it over the years, particularly when participants of a group discussion appear to place more emphasis on rushing to a decision than on taking the time to make the right decision for their group. I was reminded of the importance of “time and truth” while facilitating a group last week.

Members of this group contracted me to help them develop three year goals and actions. During discussions with the group’s representatives about the purpose and outcomes of the one-day session, they acknowledged that some members may still have questions about their mandate statements even though the group had talked about the mandate many times before. Therefore, we planned and designed a session for three-year goals and also prepared for the possible need to discuss the group’s purpose and role.

During the session, it quickly became obvious that members wanted to talk about and understand the mandate statements. I stated what I was seeing and hearing; that is, members were saying “I like the first statement but don’t like the second one”, “I think we need to revise the statement”, and “What does this mean?”, etc. In my facilitator role, I stated what I heard, advised that I interpreted these statements as an indication of the need to devote significant time to talk about the mandate, and told them what I saw as the impact on the session design. I advised that we would likely not have time to develop three-year goals. The group members quickly and strongly stated that they needed to take as much time as necessary to achieve their “truths”, that to understand, revise, and accept the mandate statements. We then proceeded with a lively and meaningful discussion about the statements for the remainder of the day.

The group members understood that “truth is more important that time”. They knew that they had to fully know their mandate before they could plan goals and actions. While they had devoted a weekend day to participate in the session, they stated that they feel very satisfied and the time was worthwhile. In fact, they booked a second session to now develop the three-year goals.

My conversation blog question is: How do you pay attention to, and effectively balance time and truth as a participant and a facilitator of a group discussion?