Facilitating transitions


January 9th, 2008

sunflowers.jpgThis is the photo that I drew at random from Visual Explorer. It reminds me of the somewhat artificial world we facilitators operate in. We’re often called in to ‘fix’ a situation, or work with a group as an independent, neutral outsider. Sometimes we’re asked to challenge the group or help them explore other ways of thinking. Our role and our workshops vary enormously – especially, if, like me, you are an independent consultant. What is common though is the time-out aspect of facilitated workshops. Some people like this, others resent it. It’s a change from the everyday. And therein lies a challenge. How do we make the transition from the ‘event’ – a conference, a forum, a workshop, an on-line discussion – to the ordinary world that we usually inhabit?

This photo encompasses that transition. Plants are nurtured in the controlled environment of the greenhouse. They are carefully monitored, fed and watered. there is a barrier between them and the harshness of the real world. If the greenhouse nurturing has been done well, and they are gradually aclimatised to the outside environment, plants are likely to thrive. If they are taken directly from the greenhouse to the outside, they may encounter extreme conditions and wither.

While I would never claim that facilitated workshops are as controlled as a greenhouse – although I do know sometimes I wish they were – it is often an artificial environment. And I’m intrigued by our role in facilitating the transition. Does our job finish when the workshop is over? Do we have any responsibility for what happens afterwards? What can we do in a workshop to gradually aclimatise people to a new way of thinking or working or being?

In many ways change is incremental. Giving people time out from the everyday to explore or reflect or simply work differently is one of many ways that we are influenced, develop, grow or change. Facilitation is a means – one of many tracks that people may choose, made more complex still by the choices the facilitator makes.

So I’m going to look at facilitation more as a continuum than a single event – more of a hiccup in the everyday that may or may not be what’s needed by all or anybody. And I’m going to give more attention to transitions: how to enable whatever emerges from a facilitated event to be gradually aclimatised so that it has a greater chance of survival.

What do you see in this photo that relates to your practice of facilitation?

6 Comments so far

  1. Daryl on January 9, 2008 11:52 am

    Looking at the sunflowers in the safety of the Greenhouse brings to mind the importance of providing safe spaces in which people can grow. Continuing the plant metaphor; creating the right conditions and providing a little bit of nurturing and attention are crucial to growth and the reward is a full blossom.

  2. Andrew Rixon on January 10, 2008 10:07 am

    Nice one Viv.

    For me the photo has a rustique look to it. Giving a sense of ‘unrealness’ or maybe even better is a sense of ‘it being in a dream’, or ‘not-being-sharp’. The mountains or ridge looming in the background also seems to provide a centre point of return for me.

    This relates definitely to my practice of facilitation. 🙂

    And in particular, I just read an interesting paper on ‘The use of intuition in Mediation’. Like Sash said, you could almost replace ‘facilitation’ in some of the things said. In particular they provide a great quote from Freud who said with regards to developing technique:

    “It consists simply in not directing one’s notice to anything in particular and in maintaining the same ‘evenly suspended attention’ (as I have called it) in the face of all that one hears. In this way we spare ourselves a strain on our attention which could not in any case be kept up for several hours daily, and we avoid a danger which is inseparable from the exercise of deliberate attention. For as soon as one deliberately concentrates his attention to a certain degree, he begins to select from the material before him; one point will be fixed in his mind with particular clearness and some other will be correspondingly discarded, and in the making of this selection he will be following his expectations or inclinations. This, however, is precisely what must not be done. In making the selection, if he follows his expectations he is in danger of never finding anything but what he already knows; and if he follows his inclinations he will certainly falsify what he may perceive. It must not be forgotten that the things one hears are for the most part things whose meaning is only recognised later on”

    So for me, this picture brings forth that sense of living with the mystery and not-knowing that often one finds oneself in facilitation…. Not a comfortable space sometimes! 🙂

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