Friday, December 23, 2011

Facilitate … with inspiration from a Christmas Poem!

Twas the Night before the Workshop
(with thanks and apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

“Twas the night before the workshop and all through the house
The facilitator was running; way too loud for a mouse!
The flipcharts were stacked by the door with great care.
She couldn’t forget them if she tripped over them there.

The laptop was snuggled all secure in its case,
And the camera was charging, settled into its base.
The felt markers were packed in the workshop supply kit.
The facilitator took a deep breath; no need for a fit.

When out in the office there arose such a clatter,
She dashed to her desk to see what was the matter.
The phone was ringing and the text was blinking.
She took a quick look and her heart was sinking.

An emergency note from the client arrived.
Could she plan an extra day to help them thrive?
So much to discuss; so much to decide,
They needed three days with her as a guide.

She looked at her daytimer and took a deep breath.
With a bit of rescheduling, she could do her best.
She phoned her client and agreed to the plan.
She said to herself, “I know that I can.”
Serving the client was her strongest desire.
Hosting great conversations was how she was “wired”.
So, she stayed up a few hours and reworked the design.
She knew in her heart that all would be fine.

The facilitator went to bed excited yet steady,
To help the group the next day, she surely was ready!

To all facilitators, may you have calm nights before the workshop!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Facilitate ... within someone else’s design

It’s good to get “shook up” every now and then! I normally facilitate and design discussions, meetings, and workshops myself or with one or two co-facilitators; based, of course, on conversations with the clients as to purpose and outcomes. Recently, I was energized and challenged by facilitating within another facilitator’s design for a large conference. 14 facilitators arrived on-site with a design that had been emailed to them; participated in an orientation to fully understand the intent and design; and then worked with small groups of 12 to 14 participants to host four conversations over two days.

Wow! I learned a lot!

Firstly, I enjoyed strong evidence of my foundational belief in the wisdom of people. The participants in the group that I was privileged to facilitate were passionate, articulate, respectful, thoughtful, intense, inspiring, and fun! I appreciated their willingness to engage fully in the conversation, to try new things with a sense of play (toe tag, anyone?), to listen deeply to each other, and to challenge and contribute ideas with great respect and curiosity.

Secondly, a big “shout out” to the lead facilitator and designer who showed grace under fire –listening and responding to advice (solicited and unsolicited!) from the facilitators; balancing this advice with the purpose of the conference and the directions from the conference convenors; honouring the desires and feedback from the participants; and when necessary, standing firm on outcomes and principles of facilitation. He set an example that I will follow in similar circumstances.

Thirdly, while the processes and methodology for the overall conference and small group discussions may not have be my first choice, I re-learned that someone else’s design and methods are effective when based on sound values. I facilitated within the process; only adjusting the specific discussion techniques I used. Someone else’s process worked!

And lastly, I loved learning how 13 other facilitators approached the same process and methodology. This was a fabulous way to gain new insights, ideas, and activities. We all had the same questions to use in the sessions, and the activities ranged from “walk and talk” meetings in the outdoors to around table discussions of the questions in a linear fashion to drawings to small group work to free-flow conversations. And each worked! Of most importance, most of the facilitators co-decided with the small group participants about the preferred technique to use.

I heartily enjoyed myself, gained much, contributed much and reflected on my design and facilitation approach. Shake it up now and then! Enjoy and do what works well for you AND stretch yourself by working within someone else’s design.

My facilitation blog question is: What have you learned from facilitating within someone else’s design and process?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Facilitate … by watching, listening, participating.

I watched ... I listened ... I supported ... I participated! Is this facilitation? Yes! Last week, I was part of a gathering of community leaders celebrating accomplishments in their communities. I was a support person for the facilitation team and since they were so fantastic, I was able to enjoy being a participant.

I had so much fun immersing myself in the conversations without the responsibility of focussing objectively on the process, group dynamics, timing, and ebb and flow of the discussion.

I learned so much from watching and listening to the facilitators and other participants. It is so great to see different ways of doing things. I observed unique ways of opening the discussions, making eye contact with others, and explaining discussion methods. I laughed my head off at how a squealing monkey stuffed toy was thrown around the group.

As an added bonus, some of the participants volunteered to facilitate several discussion activities. They invited us to explore our leadership styles through four discussion techniques. Another revelation! I had successfully used the four techniques many times before; however, seeing them combined in one discussion activity was a new and effective approach.

Thanks to the fabulous group of talented individuals at the ACE Communities Celebration Retreat. I learned so much by watching, listening, participating.

My facilitation blog question is: What have you learned about facilitation by NOT facilitating?

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Facilitation … Don’ts!

I do windows … but I don’t do icebreakers, parking lots, and “touchy-feely”!

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy! Therefore, this blog is mostly a light-hearted look at a few aspects of facilitation that I don’t do. I fully support other facilitators’ right and choice to use them. Facilitation is very much an individual approach and style. What works for me may not work for others and vice versa. Although written in a light-hearted vein and for fun, I hold strong values about these “don’ts”.

What’s on my “don’t” list? Icebreakers to start! These are activities generally conducted at the beginning of a facilitated session to help participants to get to know one another, to energize them, to prepare for the topics of the session, and to create a positive group atmosphere. Yes … at the beginning of a session, I invite participants to introduce themselves and to take part in a conversation or an activity that helps them “become fully present” and engaged in the session topic, to start to set a climate of support, inclusion and commitment, and to have fun. I just don’t call them icebreakers! I don’t like the image of participants needing to break ice between them. I use terms such as introductory activities, opening conversation, and checking-in activities.

I don’t use a “parking lot”. This is a term I hear used by many individuals when we are planning a facilitated session. The idea of a parking lot is that any topic not on the agenda is placed in the parking lot; typically, a flipchart page taped to a wall. The topic is “parked”, hopefully, for future consideration. Unfortunately, my experience is that the parking lot is never re-visited, and the flipchart page is recycled or thrown away at the end of the session. Therefore, I encourage participants to “drive” the newly introduced topic rather than “park” it. By drive, I mean that the group intentionally and immediately decides what will be done with the topic; i.e. decide whether it is important enough to include on the agenda or to discuss immediately or that it is not relevant and will not be discussed or deliberately assign the topic as a responsibility to one or two individuals for follow-up. I believe that the topics typically placed on a parking lot need a decision and possibly, an action.

I don’t do “touchy-feely” activities, or as clients have said to me, “those games where we all play and touch each other and get emotional”. When I ask clients what they mean by touchy-feely games, I find that they worry about physical touching such as holding hands and baring their souls through deeply personal conversations. I share with clients my values about everyone having a voice, being heard and listening; encouraging honesty, openness and authenticity; using various discussion methods to meet the needs of different learning styles; and the importance and joy of having fun. I use discussion and decision-making activities that meet these values without invading personal spaces (physical and emotional) of participants. I often use physical activities and quick games because I believe that people like being playful and having fun at appropriate times in a session. For example, a game of Rock Paper Scissors or a variation will quickly get people laughing and relaxing without having them in too much physical contact. A high five is often preferable to holding hands. And I’m used a conga line and a bum pat – believe me, these were appropriate! I use conversation methods that allow participants to share what they feel is important to share, to the extent that they are comfortable. Participants sitting in pairs and talking about each other’s role in a community shares personal information and creates a relationship without being too emotionally invasive.

When I plan and facilitate activities, I say out loud the intent and purpose of each activity. If it makes sense to the participants and me, it is normally a good match to help the group reach the desired outcome.

My facilitation blog question is: What are your facilitation do’s and don’ts?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Facilitate … with Curiosity!

Wow! The old saying about “Curiosity kills the cat” didn’t apply to me. I learned so much and am a better facilitator for it. Recently, I was asked by a client organization to create designs for two workshops to be used by their staff members in the community. I designed two 3-hour workshops using two discussion approaches: conversations based on the Technology of Participation Focussed Conversation (Source below) and the World Café (Source below). I then trained the staff members in a one-day workshop to facilitate these approaches.

My approach to the training session was to “role-play” the community workshops; acting as the staff person and the staff members as community participants. After the role-play of a community workshop, I invited the staff members to comment on the process and activities and talk about what they would use, how, and ways to adapt.

The staff members had awesome ideas! They thoughtfully took my ideas and approaches and personalized them with their facilitation styles. They creatively built upon my core workshop designs. I am pleased to say that I genuinely wanted the staff to do this! I was curious about what they would say and how they would use my designs.

As a facilitator, be curious! Be receptive to participants’ ideas and adaptations. Ask:

• How do you feel about this information and ideas?
• What do you think?
• How can you use this information and ideas?
• What would you change? How?

My facilitation blog question is: How are you curious when facilitating?

Focussed Conversation (Source: Stanfield, R. Brian. The Art of Focused Conversation. The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, 1997)
World Café (Source: Brown, Juanita, and the World Café Community. The World Café: A Resource Guide for Hosting Conversations that Matter. Mill Valley California: Whole Systems Associates, 2002;

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Facilitate … virtually!

Chat tools, pods, VoIP, asynchronous conversations … it’s enough to make my head spin! I am venturing into the wonderful world of on-line facilitation and training. What an exhilarating learning experience! To date, I have facilitated about ten on-line meetings and delivered about six training webinars. I am using Adobe Connect virtual meeting software through the courtesy of ACE Communities, an initiative of Alberta Recreation and Parks Association and TrendSpire Canada Inc.

What have I learned? Wow! Here is a start.

Just do it! I was anxious, nervous and a little bit scared during my first online facilitation session. Those feelings quickly dissipated as I interacted with the participants. While I couldn’t see the participants, I felt their energy as we talked, typed, used images, and took part in polls. I can’t wait until I facilitate with all participants having web cameras!

Research the many wonderful resources about virtual meetings and webinars. Google “virtual meeting software” and you will find a treasure-trove of resources. Join virtual facilitation groups through online communities.

Practice, practice, practice! I started my adventure by participating in as many free webinars and online meetings as I could find. You will see the tremendous variation in online training and facilitation sessions, and you learn what you like and dislike.

Prepare as you would for face to face facilitation and training sessions. Think of purpose, participants, process, pleasure … and design to help the participants achieve their desired results and have fun.

Involve the participants. In a training session, I think that every five minutes, the participants should interact. In a facilitated meeting, I design so that participants are holding conversations like they would in a face-to-face meeting. Use on-line polls, games, and drawings - the software allows these activities. Use interesting questions. Go “around the phones or computers”, as if participants are in a circle, and ask for input.

Move, move, move! Every 20 minutes during the online session, I lead the participants in a physical energizer. Stand up at your desk, stretch, do the Wave, juggle imaginary balls.

Have a technology host. I find that facilitating the session and dealing with technological aspects of the online session is too hard for me! I need a techno-wizard.

These ideas only skim the world of facilitating online! I am eager to continue my journey into virtual training and facilitation.

My facilitation blog question is: What experiences have you had as a participant or host or facilitator of an online session?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Facilitate ... as “a way of being”

A bag of tools and tricks?! I know facilitation is much more! From conversations I have held, I think that some individuals view facilitation as tools, techniques, and methods. Knowing and being able to lead “get acquainted” activities, guiding group members through a particular discussion technique, and offering fun energizers are examples of what many people see as facilitation.

I believe facilitation is much more! It is a way of behaving based on sound beliefs and philosophies which in turn support approaches and methods. I am currently reading a book that speaks profoundly to me about this fundamental underpinning of facilitation. Larry Dressler in his book “Standing in the Fire: leading high-heat meetings with clarity, calm and courage” speaks of the WHAT, the HOW, and the WAY OF BEING of facilitation. Quoting from Dressler,

“The What is the content of the gatherings we facilitate, which includes the purpose, questions, challenges, and possibilities that matter most to the people in the groups we serve

The How is the structures, methods, skills, and techniques we use to help a group mobilize its collective energy, insights, and commitment to action.

The Way of Being is who we are being while we are working with a group. It is an attitudinal, emotional, physical, and even spiritual presence.”

The What or content is normally “owned” by the group members with the facilitator adding content expertise and advice only as agreed upon with the group members. When appropriate, I ask a group if I can “take off my facilitator hat” and provide content information in more of a consulting role.

The How is what I as a facilitator primarily does. I bring my ability to help groups to discuss complex and important content in meaningful, respectful, and beneficial ways. My ability to effectively perform the How depends on my ability to “be with the group”.

How do I bring my presence or way of being to a group? Many ways of thinking and behaving create my way of being. Here are some – the tip of the iceberg:

• Thinking of the group members, as individuals and as the group, before I reach the gathering. Where are they coming from? What are they leaving to attend? What might they want to achieve? What can I do to work with them to create a challenging and safe environment?
• Using opening and closing conversations to help the group members share who they are, why they are participating, what they contribute, and what they take away with them
• Constantly reflecting throughout the conversations with the group about what is happening; staying calm; openly acknowledging what I observe and feel; and inviting group members to do the same. I hold a quick internal dialogue with myself such as: What do I see or hear? What might it mean for the group? How would talking about it help the group?
• Facilitate what is happening, rather than what I think should or could happen. Respecting the group and its members to know what they need to talk about. Be in the “here and now”; not the past or future.
• Being silent when I do not need to speak. Helping the group hold necessary silence.
• Thinking about when to do nothing. Resisting the urge to act, to do something.
• Knowing when to do something! To me, this is usually providing a group with the implications of its discussion and actions, e.g. Talking about this new topic will take at least an hour. What aspects of our current conversation topics do we wish to adjust to allow this new topic?
• Having fun! Creating moments of fun! Yes, energizers are great!

My facilitation blog question is: What do you do as a facilitator to be present with a group; to nurture your “way of being?”