Change your meetings, change your culture


February 1st, 2016

Beach1st of February – it’s when the new year ‘really’ starts here in Australia. The kids are back at school, most people are back at work, we’re all planning our next holiday…the weather is great. It really does feel like the new work year has properly begun.

And you’re stuck in a meeting!

Johnnie Moore and I are working on some great new stuff, building on our Creative Facilitation work of recent years. People often tell us how much they dread meetings. If our meetings are uninspiring, then so is our organisation. We believe that it’s in our meetings that we create our culture. Is it possible to set a different standard, and create meetings in which we are challenged, surprised and engaged?

I’ll be exploring this in some detail at my next public Creative Facilitation workshop in Melbourne on February 25/26.

Serendipity and discovery


February 1st, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s hard to get back into work mode after the holidays. It’s tempting to put off the inevitable, but today I had a couple of meetings to go to in Melbourne with some spare time to wander the streets. A bookshop beckoned. There’s not many bookshops around these days, so I was tempted. I never really wanted to be a librarian, as much as I admire their work, but libraries. I could lose myself in a library, making  discoveries. I’d sit on the floor, surrounded by books, lost for hours.

I’ve been tinkering with a taxonomy of improvisation. I thought it would be straightforward. It isn’t. I was thinking about this as I perused the cookbook section of this large bookstore, as I tried to work out how they organised the books. Was it by author, or by cuisine, or by course (entree, main, dessert)? As it turned out, yes. All of the above. It was slightly logical, in a confusing sort of way. I haven’t bought any cookbooks for years – there’s enough already on my shelves and Mr Google is my friend when I need instant inspiration. Nonetheless, I walked out with two books, and it was only through a great deal of restraint that I didn’t walk out with an armful. They are so beautiful to hold, to flip through. There’s always that potential for serendipity and discovery.

When I’m in a new city, or even one I know quite well, like Melbourne, I like to search out street art. The pic accompanying this post is from Lisbon, found in a very obscure, out-of-the way part of this great city. Serendipity and discovery.

Back in my office, I was searching through piles of old notes looking for something. I found myself reminiscing as I’d look at some notes and instantly recall the moment I was taking them – the ICA course I took in Toronto, Canada; the Casuarina Project I was delivering here in my own back yard. I even found an activity, long forgotten, that would explore this whole taxonomy business. The point is, if I did have everything ordered in a way that I could immediately put a finger on what I wanted, (and it’s effectiveness would depend a lot on my memory and my system of cataloguing) I might indeed gain some time but at the loss of serendipity and discovery.

Search engines, taxonomies, train time-tables, indexes – I love them all. And possibly, I love serendipity and discovery even more.

 

Bring your meetings to life in 2016 – February workshop dates announced


January 20th, 2016

VivCrouchingIt’s a whole new year, and a great opportunity to come to one of my Creative Facilitation workshops – still at 2015 prices. 

Where? Parkville, Melbourne.

When? February 25 and 26

How much? $440 per person for two days (if you book 3 or more people) or $700 for a single registration

How many people? Maximum of 18

Beyond the traditional ‘facilitator’ role – What does leading a meeting mean in today’s workplaces? How to avoid the mistakes that traditional education teaches us about how people share, learn and interact.

Participatory approaches – Ways of sharing information, gathering ideas, and making decisions that helps a group connect and engage with the content. How to create an environment of open-ness and trust, and getting people to work together.

Beyond words - How to get beyond wordy, and worthy, sometimes meaningless, words to unearth what’s really going on – using photos, action and story.

Bravo! You as a performer – While the group, and the processes you use, are important, what about you? How do you deal with challenges, stage fright, a crisis of confidence? The second day of this workshop focuses on YOU and gives you tips and tools to manage yourself, especially when things go wrong.

More information? Click on this link

Some musings on facilitating open space


November 11th, 2015

While open space has been part of my facilitation DNA for 25+ years, I don’t always have opportunities to facilitate open space events. That’s changed this past few weeks with two quite different events. The first was for a group of 40 humanitarian workers from the Pacific Region. They meet regularly, but this was the first time they had done so using open space. The second was with around 200 people, many with an engineering background,  from a state government organisation.

The first I facilitated alone, the second, I co-faciltated.

Given the choice, I would always choose to co-facilitate. It’s just not possible to have the sort of conversations I like to have with a co-facilltator (Should we or shouldn’t we do this or that? What if we…? How about trying…?) with my client. For one, it would probably freak them out to have too much of an insight into how my brain thinks up, considers, rejects, and eventually, after a circuitous route, lands on a course of action. Or not!

There’s a rhythm to an open space event, especially if people are new to the process. They arrive and view the circle with some suspicion, or at least apprehension. There’s nowhere to hide. It warms up slowly. Even if it’s a short open space, I like to include at least one sleep. People come back different after their subconscious has had a chance to process the experience of open space. Different how, you ask? More relaxed, more confident, willing to jump in – I’m not sure, but you can feel the different energy.

On the whole, I like big open space events better than smaller ones. There’s a buzz, an excitement around being able to get hundreds of people self-organising. It just seems to flow. As we know it always does. For me, it’s more evident when there’s lots of people.

I also love the way people are surprised by how useful it is just to talk with each other. Sure, there’s always someone who is a bit bored, or wants to move along at a faster pace, but generally the feedback is about the joy of actually sitting down and talking about what matters with other people who also care.

My favourite moment in open space is when people reconvene in the circle. I learnt from my friend and mentor, Brian Bainbridge, to sit in the circle and gently ring the bells till everyone comes and sits down. It may take a while, but eventually they do come. And with a large group, there’s also a lot of chatter. I absolutely love that moment, when ringing the bells, and all the chatter has stopped and there’s pretty much complete silence. It’s a moment you can practically touch. I find it deeply satisfying. A bit like open space itself.

Open Space on Open Space, Melbourne Dec 10


November 11th, 2015

IMG_7806I’ve just completed two days facilitating open space. And I’m exhausted. Why is facilitating open space – a process where it looks like the facilitator is doing not very much at all – so exhausting?

If you’re interested in this question and others about open space come along to our Open Space on Open Space in Melbourne on December 10. It’s for anyone who uses open space, has been a participant in an open space event and wants to know more, or is simply curious. It’s not a training (there’s one of those happening the following day, on December 11) – it’s more an opportunity to experience and share experiences of open space and deepen our understanding. Plus it will be fun to hang out.

What is Creative facilitation?


November 11th, 2015

And how does it differ from any other sorts of facilitation?

It took me a long time – literally years of trial and error – to find my own style of facilitation. It was helpful to see how other people facilitated and I would learn lots from them. But I was not other people. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say there were two huge influences on my facilitation: open space technology and applied improvisation. In-between I learnt lots of processes and techniques, useful of course to have many of these to draw upon, but alone, not enough.

Open space technology and applied improvisation provided a way of being a facilitator,not just doing facilitation. Eh? Does that sound a bit weird? Even if I am not specifically using open space or applied improv, the principles behind these approaches are always a part of how I facilitate.

For example, from open space I learnt to hand over responsibility to the participants, to step out of the limelight, to let people get on with it.

From applied improv I learnt to let go, to trust (both others, and myself), to commit, and how to perform as a facilitator.

Importantly, from both of these practices I learnt these things both cognitively and physically. Letting go is not just an abstract idea, it is a physical process.

Fast forward to 2010 when Johnnie Moore and I co-founded Creative Facilitation. Creative Facilitation embodies (literally) the best of open space and applied improvisation, and importantly, is based on this premise: that the participants in any workshop are creative, intelligent and want to succeed. With that in mind, we facilitate with people, not for people. It’s nuanced, and for me, it’s pivotal.

Words that drive me nuts


November 5th, 2015

Language, such an interesting topic. I’ve always been keen on plain English – or plain language, if you like. Solid words like nouns and verbs, without the added distractions of adjectives.

A travel brochure landed in my letterbox this week and here’s why this particular company is “the only way to travel”. (Really?) A professionally planned itinerary. Well, duh. I suppose an unprofessional itinerary, or one that’s not planned at all is well, not an itinerary worth considering. And here’s a selection of meaningless adjectives used: unparalleled, enriching, strategically, rich, seamlessly, one-of-a-kind, extensive, comfortable, traditional, preferential… And that’s just on the first page!

Such language rolls of people’s tongues in organisations too. Words that are abstract, and open to many interpretations: outcomes, objectives, sustainable, collaborative, deliverables. Here’s an example (made up, of course) of how these words might be used: “We are an outcomes-focused organisation, that uses collaborative and sustainable approaches to ensure our strategic objectives and deliverables are congruent with our organisational values and aspirations.” I threw in a few more. I’m on a roll! After a while I lose the will to live and just want to shout, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” I’m not alone, surely?

What is the purpose of a conference?


October 26th, 2015

IMG_2451“The best part of the conference are the breaks. I put up with all of the other stuff so as I can catch up with friends, and meet new people, during the breaks.”

I’ve heard variations of this over the years. I’ve even said it myself, though these days I’m less likely to spend the time and money, and ‘put up’ with the other stuff. I’ve attended, presented at and even organised different sorts of conferences from the tightly-controlled academic versions to experimental-type formats.

Asking people why they are not going to a conference – particularly if it is their annual ‘industry/professional’ conference, can be quite interesting. I’ve had this conversation with a few people recently and (recognising that this is not a legitimate survey and analysis, just some random thoughts) there’s a common theme emerging. It boils down to this: we want conferences to be radical, to challenge and to stretch us. We’re less likely to be interested in the conferences that reinforce existing practices and maintains the status quo.

And therein lies the problem – it’s risky, and if the (unexpressed) purpose of a conference is to get bums on seats and make money, then it’s better to give people what they expect, to not be too edgy.

This, of course, has been a dilemma felt by artists and performers forever. Continue to give audiences what has proven to work, or mix it up and take a risk with offending, or worse, alienating people? This is the challenge for performers – whether in the arts or in business or elsewhere – is around being liked. Everyone wants to be liked, everyone wants good reviews, awesome feedback, five stars – yet in the effort to achieve this, and please everyone, we do this by not taking chances.

Time, I think, to reclaim conferences as spaces for experimentation and discovery.

Creative Facilitation in Melbourne Nov 26-27


October 4th, 2015

bringingYou might be surprised by the variety and depth of ways to engage people,especially if you’re stuck in a meeting rut, listening to others drone on, and rarely having time to discuss what really matters.

I make my living from facilitating, so I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and better, more creative, and more engaging ways to get the best out of people in a meeting.

I’m hosting a two-day Creative Facilitation workshop in Melbourne on November 26 and 27. You’ll be able to share your reactions and insights with other professionals grappling with the same issues that you are. You’ll spend very little time sitting down, a lot of time doing; and while our appraoches are grounded in behavioural science, you won’t be bombarded with theory. You’ll leave with practical ideas to try at your next meeting or event.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Beyond the traditional ‘facilitator’ role - What does leading a meeting mean in today’s workplaces? How to avoid the mistakes that traditional education teaches us about how people share, learn and interact.

Participatory approaches – Ways of sharing information, gathering ideas, and making decisions that helps a group connect and engage with the content. How to create an environment of open-ness and trust, and getting people to work together.

Beyond words – How to get beyond wordy, and worthy, sometimes meaningless, words to unearth what’s really going on – using photos, action and story.

Bravo! You as a performer – While the group, and the processes you use, are important, what about you? How do you deal with challenges, stage fright, a crisis of confidence? The second day of this workshop focuses on YOU and gives you tips and tools to manage yourself, especially when things go wrong.

Rock balancing for mindfulness


September 2nd, 2015

My favourite form of mindfulness is rock balancing – introduced to me years ago by my friend Chris Corrigan. His advice about how to balance rocks still stands – you simply have to believe it’s possible.

Mongolia is a great place for rock balancing. And mindfulness.

Rock balancing Mongolia