Monday, December 17, 2012

Facilitate … with balance ... especially at Christmas!

As I work at my computer eight days before Christmas, writing a report for a December 31 deadline, my thoughts wander to work/family/play balance.  How am I doing with this balance?  I know my family is my #1 biggest and best priority and I will drop work to play with and to help them.  Usually, my work is play (except for bookkeeping!) and I keep a good balance between work and play.  Although, this does slip.  Three Christmases ago, I took 1½ days off to celebrate and then was back to the office.  NOT doing that again!

 As I ponder about balances in life, I realize that I have another teeter-totter that I frequently ride.  It is the balance between “live” facilitation and “behind the scenes” preparation and report writing.  I often go through stretches of work where I am facilitating on-site or virtually with a group.  Then, I will go through stretches where I am designing sessions, researching information, and writing reports.  I find that after weeks of live facilitation, I long for the quiet, and reflection and introspection time that work in my office gives me.  Then, after several weeks of report writing, I am eager to be back with a group, working together, talking, laughing and achieving success.

 I know that I am very fortunate to ride this facilitation teeter-totter!  As long as the stretches on each end aren’t too long! 

My facilitation blog questions are:  What are you balancing in your life and work?  How do you deal with actual facilitation and behind the scenes preparation and writing work?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Facilitate ... with graphic recording

I can draw!  Stick people, star people, banners, scrolls, arrows, mountain tops!   Last week, I participated in a 1½ day Graphic Recording workshop  hosted by Conscious Brands ( and instructed by Kara Stonehouse with AHA! Graphic Facilitation (  While I learned that I am not able to draw a picture of a verbal comment quickly enough to record all conversations in “real-time”, I did learn that I can enhance my recording style tremendously by using graphic recording. 

 I have always used images, graphics, and pictures in my facilitation sessions.  I involve participants in drawing pictures and selecting images to convey ideas; I draw rough images to depict a concept such as mountain tops for reaching goals.  However, from the “I Can Draw – Live! Workshop”, I gained new skills and increased my confidence to incorporate more graphic recording.

Graphic recording “involves capturing people's ideas and expressions—in words, images and color—as they are being spoken in the moment.”  (Source:  The World Café  A graphic recorder draws images and symbols, employs different fonts and colours, and uses a variety of drawing tools to visually record notes during a discussion, a presentation, or conversation.

In the workshop, Instructor Kara professionally and playfully led us through visually recording activities.  We started by drawing star people and progressed to the final challenge: graphically recording an eight minute speech.  Kara’s message was that we can draw – live! 

Here are several of my graphic recordings .


 I love the way that visual images heighten awareness of a conversation; give a different perspective to written and spoken words; records a conversation; and conveys fun and flair!  I will select,  practice drawing, and regularly use 10 to 20 images such as:

 ·       Group of people for teams, families, community
·         Mountain tops for visions and goals
·         Bulls-eye for goals
·         Arrows for direction
·         Pathways for travelling

 I will use graphic recording when it fits the purpose of the facilitated session and enhances the record of information for the group.

My facilitation blog questions:  Which of my images do you like?!  How do you use or could use graphic recording?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Facilitate … with inquiry as illustrated by a Grade 8 Class

My son is a Social and History teacher working with Grades 8 to 12.  One of his colleagues blogged about a story he shared with her about a Grade 8 Social class.  This story and blog are wonderful examples of one of my fundamental facilitation principles; ask questions, don’t tell.

The blog is at:

The blogger, Brooke Moore, says that:
• Inquiry means to ask questions and investigate those questions.
• Learning happens when students ask questions that they care about answering.
• Engagement means thinking or connecting to the learning… questioning is active and requires thinking.

The story that Brooke shared about my son’s Grade 8 class was:

All of this good stuff happened in Chris’ Social Studies 8 class today. When Chris stood up in front of his fresh-faced grade 8s he was all ready to tell them the definition of civilization - but then he didn’t. On an impulse, Chris pushed aside his carefully planned lesson and, instead of a definition wrote, “What is a civilization?” on the board.

“I just suddenly decided what I wanted the year to be about and telling them the answer would have been boring,” he told me. By the end of class the learners had revised and rethought their words until they had composed the following definitions. “We’ll use these throughout the year – revisiting them as their understanding develops.”

This excellent example of asking rather than telling illustrates how individuals learn and retain learning.  I am sure that the Grade 8 students will remember and understand what civilization is because they developed their own answers.  When facilitating, I ask open-ended questions as much as possible.  Participants learn and understand so much more because they think about the answers, discuss them with others, generate options, and reach decisions – themselves.  They are not told the answers.

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.
Peter Drucker, Management Consultant
I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.
Lou Holtz, Coach

Many facilitation approaches use questions as a foundational basis. Here are a few resources.  The Word Café, The Art of Hosting Conversations, and Appreciative Inquiry

My congratulations to my son and his colleague for using questions to encourage learning. 

My facilitation blog questions are:  How do you use inquiry in facilitation? How do you use questions effectively? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Facilitate physically… with inspiration from the Olympics!

A Usain Bolt lightning pose! A javelin throw! A triathlon swim, bike and run! I was inspired by these Olympic moments and sports and created physical activities for two webinars I facilitated this week. 

When facilitating, I like to build upon events in the world that most participants in my sessions will know about.  The Olympics just finished and everybody knows something about them; whether they watched or not. 

Here’s three fun and productive activities I used:

The Triathlon:  sitting in our chairs, we swam, we pedalled bikes and then standing up, we ran on the spot.  Then, I asked the participants to relax and take a recovery moment like athletes do after physical exertion.  During the recovery time, I asked each person to think about one thing from the session that stood out for her.  On the webinar, each person typed this aspect into the Chat area.  In a face-to-face session, each participant could turn to someone else and share the aspect.

The Usain Bolt lightning pose:  We stood up (or if more comfortable, remained seated) and struck the famous Bolt lightning pose.  I was using my web camera during the webinar and participants could see me demonstrate the pose.  I also encouraged them to google Usain Bolt to see pictures of him doing his pose.  I asked participants to hold the pose and think about one thing from the session that they would use in their work or volunteer life.  Then, each person shared it.  In a face-to-face session, each person could turn to someone sitting at a different table and talk about the thing they would use.

The javelin throw:  I invited participants to stand up and hurl a javelin.  I used an analogy for envisioning the future; throw the javelin towards what you wish to create in the future.

These physical activities inspired by memorable events let participants stretch and move, enabled kinesthetic learning, encourage reflective thinking, and provided good old fun!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Facilitate … Huh?

I see the blank look come into people’s eyes when I try to explain what I do as a facilitator.  Their reactions are funny and frustrating!  Over the years, I have tried to explain what facilitation is; have pondered what facilitation is; and laughed and snarled at the strange definitions given to facilitation.  In fact, my family still struggles to describe my work!

Here are some of the various weird and wonderful definitions I have heard or read:
  • Facilitating is like teaching kindergarten – trying to get all the noise and running going in the same direction.
  • Facilitation is helping a group nail the jelly to the wall!

The strangest definition I had heard was during an appointment with a new dentist many years ago.  He asked what I did for work and I replied that I was a facilitator.  He got a funny look on his face and asked me to tell him more.  After I explained my work, he laughed and shared this story.  One of his clients told him that she was a professional escort; however, since that profession is illegal, she always reported on her annual income tax statement that she was a facilitator!  Not quite the work that I do!

I have developed an elevator speech to explain facilitation which goes something like this:
  • I help people in groups to effectively talk about important topics, to reach beneficial decisions and to work together more effectively.
However, I have discovered that the best way to describe facilitation to others is to give them examples of discussions and conversations I have facilitated and hosted.  Then, I ask them about group discussions in which they participate at work, in community, as a volunteer.  Often, the conversation turns to situations in which they could have used a facilitator.  Their personal experiences help them understand what I do.

Here are a few definitions of facilitation that I like. 
  • Facilitation’s is generally considered to be a process in which a neutral person helps a group work together more effectively.
  • A facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. (Kaner, S. with Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, S. and Berger, D. Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, (2007) Jossey-Bass)
  • At heart, facilitation is about the process of helping people to explore, learn and change. (Smith, Mark K. (2001; 2009) 'Facilitating learning and change in groups',
  • The facilitator’s main task is to help the group increase effectiveness by improving its process and structure. (Schwarz, Roger M. (2002) The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers and Coaches. 2e. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)

My facilitation blog questions are:  How do you define facilitation? What is the funniest or strangest definition you have heard?

Friday, July 6, 2012

A facilitator ... says thanks to ACE!

For the past month, I have been searching for the words to express my appreciation to my amazing friends and colleagues with the Active Creative Engaged Communities (ACE).  ACE Communities is an initiative of Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) that over the past five years used a community building approach to strengthen leadership in rural Alberta communities.  Talented and passionate leaders in 34 communities were involved with ACE Communities, working to enhance the quality of life in their community through recreation, parks, arts, culture and heritage.  Check out ACE Communities at

 One part of ACE Communities has come to an “official” end; although, I think that the saying “It is the end of the beginning” really applies here!  ACE’s legacy continues through the leaders and initiatives in communities throughout Alberta.  I gained so much personally and professionally from ACE. Therefore, I want to pause and say thanks to the very special people I have met through the ACE experience.  I made new friends and deepened existing friendships.  You are my mentors, my inspiration, and my go-to people when I need ideas, innovation, creativity and feedback.  So, a special SHOUT OUT to these fantastic people! 

To Brenda Herchmer – thanks for being a living, walking, talking, believing role model showing how one person’s passionate belief in community can make a difference!  Your passion and commitment led you across Canada, and Alberta is richer with you being here.  Thanks for inviting me to share in an incredible journey.  And I gained a “sista”!

To Carol Petersen – You help so many people to understand and appreciate that leisure is an essential part of every life, every family, and every community.  You help Albertans become “more active, more often”.  Thanks for dreaming big, inviting me to be part of making the dream a reality through ACE, and connecting me with fabulous people.  I rediscovered a “sista”!

To Rose Carmichael – Who knew imagination and organization can go so well together in one person!  Your ability to create a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear” is evident in everything you do.  Thanks for reminding me to breathe and that anything can be solved calmly. 

To Karen Driedger – you show me all the time that life is about meaning, movement, enthusiasm and fun!  My facilitation and my life are significantly better from working and playing with you.  You constantly turn things on their heads and shake our thinking.  And you make us smile!  Here’s to many more Mustang road trips together!

To Janet Naclia – thanks for blowing the stereotype of the artistic temperament out of the ballpark (or football field).  You combine your cultural and creative side with amazing logic and organizational ability (and athletic prowess).  You find the best side of everything; bringing a can-do attitude to all you do.  Thanks for being so consistently cheerful.

To the rest of my ACE colleagues – From you I learned and re-learned that community development IS always about the people in the community (thanks Susan Roberts), that a quiet and gentle leadership style is incredibly effective (thanks Angie Dedrick), that appreciation to others brightens a day and is fundamental for community building (thanks Cathi Groves for the cards), that community building occurs when a person follows her heart, steps up to the plate, and does what is needed (thanks Carol Ohler), that meditation and yoga are great to incorporate into facilitation (thanks Susan Simo), that seeking to understand is a leadership strength (thanks Wanda Hogg), that letting events and conversations flow naturally is a fabulous attitude and approach (thanks Letty McFall), that evaluation is a fascinating and people-focussed undertaking (thanks Tammy Horne), that attentive listening and thoughtful planning are core facilitation skills (thanks Barb and Lindsay Stroh), that kindness and generosity are essential behaviours in facilitation and in life (thanks Carolyn Mead), that a great sense of humour makes work so much fun and that technology is my friend (thanks Byron Walker), that striving to learn and improve is so important (thanks Heather O’Hearn), that a youthful perspective adds wisdom (thanks Cameron Sault), that thinking far ahead is challenging yet rewarding (Dianne Clark), that pitching in to help makes such a difference (thanks Lois Byers), and that the Art of Hosting philosophy and approaches aligns with my facilitation beliefs and style (thanks Beth Sanders).

To the leaders in the ACE communities – my utmost admiration and awe!  Every community I visited was the best!  Every person I met is a champion of his/her community.  You completely reaffirmed my belief that individuals make strong communities and strong communities are the foundation of strong families and businesses.

In my professional capacity with ACE, I facilitated many leadership training retreats and community engagement sessions, researched community engagement approaches from around the world, and coached community leaders.  All of these experiences enhanced my skills as a facilitator and trainer and deepened my beliefs about community and the power of people.
Thanks ACE!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Facilitate … like a musical arrangement!

Tempo, tone, dissonance, consonance – how do they connect with facilitation?  Several weeks ago, I had the intense pleasure of listening to a musical therapist, Jennifer Buchanan ( who provided a combined entertainment/education session at a retreat I was facilitating. What a hit! What a moving experience!  Jennifer shared her songs, her passion for music, and the ways that she uses music to improve people’s health and wellness.  We sang along with old favourites, we laughed at her stories about going through her 14 year-old teenage phase, and we wept at moving stories about people who gained hope through music.

As I listened to Jennifer, I thought about the connections of music and facilitation.  Jennifer explained concepts in music like tempo and tone.  Tempo is defined as “the speed at which a musical composition or passage is performed.” I think that a group of individuals in a facilitated conversation has tempo.  Each person has a different pace or speed.  Some take time to reflect upon questions, issues and ideas; others shout out their thoughts immediately.  Like a musical arrangement, each person’s tempo is needed for a full bouquet of sound.

Tone in music, is “a sound with a distinctive quality” or in a conversation, “the way somebody says something as an indicator of what that person is feeling or thinking.”  As a facilitator, I try to encourage each person in a group conversation to contribute their tones to reflect what they are feeling.  They might be happy, anxious, confused, angry, excited, passionate, joyful … all tones are needed to create the full facilitation arrangement.  Yes, we try for harmony; yet often, the most beneficial result comes through the dissonance in the conversation.  In a musical arrangement, dissonance is “ a combination of notes that, when played simultaneously, sounds displeasing and needs to be resolved to a consonance, that is, a combination of musical notes that sound pleasing when played simultaneously.”

In conversations, we as facilitators and participants can encourage the dissonant notes to ensure that all of the information and ideas are included.  Then, we can work towards considering and arranging the notes, or information and ideas, into a wonderful arrangement.

My bog facilitation question is… What “musical” experiences have you had as a facilitator that moved from dissonance to consonance?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Facilitate … around the bends in the road!

Change!  Flexibility!  Uncertainty!  These are often common experiences in facilitation processes.  I and a colleague are in the midst of an exciting and challenging process with a large organization.   Over the past three months, the process was taken many unexpected twists and turns.   I feel like I am driving a snazzy sports car on a straight road and then suddenly climbing into the mountains on hairpin curves. 

 The changes are legitimate:  new information coming to light, clearer articulation by the client of the desired results, changes in people to be consulted, etc.  During a recent conversation that my colleague and I held with the client, I realized that we had employed several “driving” strategies to help all of us navigate the bends in the road.

 Start over and drive a different route … As the consultants/facilitators, my colleague and I encouraged the client to go back to the start of the journey.  What had been clear in terms of desired outcomes and process was now possibly changed due to the new information.  We would likely end up at the same destination yet would possibly go a different route, make different stops, and visit different people along the way.

 Have an emergency road kit … We discussed whether the client needed consultation or facilitation services.  What needs to be in the road kit?  How much expert knowledge about the information was required?  Who could best provide it?  Was our role to learn the information or to facilitate discussions about it?  Did we need to know about  the internal combustion of the car?  Or was our role to ride shotgun (be the passenger and back seat driver) and suggest different ways to drive and ways to observe the scenery?

 Invite different passengers … We talked about the passengers for the road trip.  Who was most needed to give direction to the journey (guidance and leadership), to share stories along the way (content and information), and to take care of the gas, food, etc.  (logistical supporters)?

 Enjoy the ride … Our client, my colleague and I all agreed that we would wholeheartedly enjoy the changing road trip, particularly the bends in the road!  Often a detour or side trip proves to be the highlight of a journey.  We will move forward, secure in our ability to change the process to obtain the best results from the best people. 

 My facilitation blog question is:  What are your experiences in “bends in the roads” when consulting and facilitating?  How did you successfully navigate them?