This is such an exciting collaboration – and most of it has happened while I’ve been sleeping!
Regular readers will know that I’m pretty keen on bringing meetings to life, and that Johnnie and I have published a book. We also offer face-to-face workshops to share our ideas and approaches (the next one is in London on July 15th). Now we’re also offering an on-line course in collaboration with James Allen of Creative Huddle.
There’s full details here, including information about a nice little discount.
What’s that? You’re wondering about that sleeping reference. This is one of the characteristics of global collaborations. Johnnie and James are in the UK. I’m in Australia. So while I’ve been blissfully asleep, Johnnie and James have been working away during their day making the introductory video.Collaboration, Facilitation | Comment (0)
There are ways to facilitate meetings and events of all sorts that encourage participation and engagement. This week, while working in Papua New Guinea and helping community leaders learn how to facilitate in isolated communities, I’ve come to understand the following.
Facilitation can help the redistribution of power dynamics in a community
Many standard meeting processes, especially those used in communities, are based on the one-to-many model: speaker to talk to the masses and then take questions; discussions in large plenary groups where women, youth and children’s voices are drowned out by male community leaders; well-intentioned NGOs bringing in pre-determined agendas of what they think is important. Using processes that reduce the opportunity for the ‘usual suspects’ to grandstand can contribute to the redistribution of power and provide a voice to those previously silenced. These processes include World Cafe, Open Space and sociometry.
Poor literacy amongst participants is no reason to abandon participation and engagement
It’s often used as an excuse – community members are generally illiterate, therefore facilitation won’t work. It’s true, many facilitation process are not appropriate if there’s poor literacy. But that’s no excuse – it’s up to us to redesign those processes so as they are friendlier for illiterate people. Examples include using smiley faces for prioritising, sociometry again, small group discussions, graphic facilitation, music and found objects. It’s just not good enough to default to one-to-many processes simply because it’s easier.
With a big nod to Rob Poynton, this has never been truer than when working in isolated rural communities. Don’t assume anything. Meetings might take place under a mango tree. It requires a big dose of letting go and noticing what is actually available to support participation and engagement.
Today I was demonstrating Open Space in a building with no walls. That led to a dilemma as to where or how to organise the agenda ‘wall’. Right in front of me was a chain link fence. I just wasn’t seeing it. When my brain finally decided to see what was actually there, instead of focusing on the walls that weren’t there, I saw the fence as the ideal agenda ‘wall’. Duh!
Storytelling can reveal the unspeakable
When people have little or no power, and are suffering terrible deprivations – physical and sexual abuse, discrimination and gender-based violence – storytelling can be a window to safely explore and share their experiences – as long as those listening are open to hearing. This listening activity encourages deep listening and is drawn from Playback Theatre. In groups of five, one person tells a short personal, true story. The others in the group are given one of the following to listen for: the story in three sentences; the essence of the story; a metaphor or image ; and what’s not said. Good listeners can listen for all of these at the same time. This activity trains us to listen with intention.
And I was reminded how a troupe of travelling Playback Theatre performers could do wonders by visiting isolated communities; hearing their stories and playing back those stories thus building connections across the community. I’ve written about that before. If I ever had access to vast amounts of philanthropic funds, this is what I’d do.
We don’t have to ‘dumb down’ facilitation
Just because people live in isolated communities, may be illiterate, and have little or no access to modern resources, are not reasons to drop our standards of facilitation. People are people, with all the same feelings, emotions, needs and wants as someone living in the most modern of cities.Community, Facilitation, Playback Theatre | Comments (2)
I’ve now completed two of the five-day facilitation training that was occupying my mind (and blog). As I eventually remembered (and knew all along, it’s just that I forgot) most things became clear once I was with the group. There were a number of things I could not have known in advance.
The venue is a Morata Haus – that’s an open structure with a thatched roof. There’s a concrete floor and ceiling fans, and lights and electricity – so its not completely rustic. But there’s no walls, and I tend to use walls a lot. It was beautifully set up with tables and ribbons and flowers, so I felt a bit bad about having to remove the tables. I knew I would need the space and I knew the tables would get in the way.
There’s lots of noise, motor mowing, cars, music, people coming and going. The participants speak quietly. It’s hot. And humid. And today it was windy as well. These are the conditions under which most of the participants will be facilitating so I’ve had to adjust what we do. There’s a greater focus on story, on using what’s available, on listening and awareness.
Next,the participants. There’s 13 of them. I expected anything from that number up to about 18. They have varying degrees of experience in facilitating groups, and varying degrees of understanding of English. My initial activities were all about connecting with them, finding out about their world, their work, their experiences of facilitation. So naturally I used sociometry. It worked a treat. Once I had this preliminary information, and knew what resources I had to work with the rest fell into place.
It’s a good reminder of the folly of planning. I couldn’t have predicted any of this, yet I’m able to adapt to it. Quite a difference really.
Facilitation, Learning | Comment (0)
Warning: This post will be quite rambling as I’m using it to clarify my own thinking. It helps to know someone will be reading this – encourages some level of coherence. Maybe.
Here I am in Madang in Papua New Guinea, preparing to deliver a five-day facilitation skills training to local Papua New Guineans who will take what they learn back into their communities. Eek! That’s quite a responsibility. What to include? What to leave out? In the absence of anyone to prepare with, I’m using my blog. I’m at least getting my thoughts down where I can come back them.
In general, people want to learn processes, how to deal with difficult people, and how to know what process to use. In reality, difficult people are rare – oh we remember them only too well, and because of that they can take on a life of their own, way beyond the status they deserve. But in all the many, many people I’ve had in workshops and events, only a handful have been truly difficult. To focus on the exception, rather than the more common experience, seems to be unbalanced. And if you scratch below the surface just a bit, people often want to know how to control a group – not that they’d ever say that explicitly. This accounts for so many one-to-many processes, I think, where control is firmly in front of the group – a speaker, a teacher, a chairman, a panel. And if that’s what you want, that’s okay, just don’t call it facilitation!
I see facilitation more as shepherding rather than controlling – keeping people safe and heading in a particular direction, not so concerned with detours, and maintaining some connection and coherence amongst the group.
What of processes? Tricky. After all, process is at the heart of facilitation. Yet facilitation is so much more. You can’t learn to drive without using a car, so you can’t learn to facilitate without using processes. Attitude, knowing what is appropriate behaviour, having some skills in applying the processes – these are also important. Maybe even more so. It’s easy to learn a new process. It takes longer to develop the qualities and behaviours associated with great facilitation.
What are these qualities? What are the behaviours?
Lets’ start with the behaviours, or skills, if you like. This is what facilitators do when with a group…
- Challenge habitual thinking and behaviour
- Hold space
- Model behaviours
- Notice and reflect back
- Look for opportunities to get out of the way
Do I hear a how? How do facilitators do all of this? By…
- Selecting appropriate activities and processes
- Providing a suitable environment/space
- Keeping track of time and progress
- Clarifying, questioning, sometimes challenging and summarising
- Being non-partisan, not taking sides, not having pre-determined answers/outcomes
- Ensuring the group does the work
- Ensuring that the group’s work is captured, when necessary (which implies knowing when that is)
Hmmm….Is that all there is to facilitating? What distinguishes pedestrian facilitation from great facilitation?
Maybe it’s the personal qualities, or attitudes, that facilitators bring…
- Bravery and a willingness to fail gracefully
If I’m learning to be a facilitator, I probably want to learn the how (processes, techniques, tip and tricks) first. Then I’d want to know about application, when and why I would use one and not the other. Problem is, learning is not linear. It happens in loops and leaps, in small moments of clarity, in confusion and messiness. In other words, learning, and meaning, emerges. It can’t be structured in a way that makes sense to everyone because everyone learns differently (and no, I’m not thinking learning styles – that’s been well and truly debunked).
Here’s the dilemma. While learning is non-linear, the training is. It starts on Monday, finishes on Friday. Each day has a start and an end. We progress from one day to the next. Doing what? There’s no end of choices really.
It’s the curse of the agenda: in advance, we’ll decide we’ll do this, then that, then something else. I don’t know until I’m in the room with the group what the group really needs. The group becomes its own learning laboratory – it has within it all the complexity and messiness of any group of humans. It comes down to the curse of planning. We have the ability to think ahead, to plan what we’ll do. In many cases that’s a sensible thing to do. If I have to catch a plane I need to plan when to get to the airport, and make sure I go to the right airport. The consequences of not planning are pretty clear. I can apply the same thinking to working with a group of people. I can plan certain things – when we’ll start, when we’ll finish, where we will meet, when we will break for lunch, why we are meeting. It’s harder to plan for what might happen with a group of people, especially once I use a process that is participatory. If I follow a plan meticulously, I might miss some opportunity, or something important. If I have no plan at all…
I’ll need to draw on my ability to be spontaneous and improvise, to use what’s available (including the people in the room) combined with my own skills and knowledge of facilitation.
If an agenda is not so helpful, what is? Learning outcomes? At the end of this training, you will be able to…will understand…will know… Hmmm… There might be a shift towards these things. Learning may happen during the training. Most likely it won’t. It might happen next time one of them is in front of a group. Who am I to determine what learning you need? Nope, learning outcomes don’t help me.
In the end I need to do what I usually do – start somewhere, see what happens. Notice. Respond. Do something else. Explain what I’m doing and why. Provide opportunities to experience different approaches (processes) – not just watch, actually be a part of them, exploring topics that illuminate even more about working with groups. I need to be prepared for a number of possible approaches and to offer a rich and diverse, human, experience that enables people to learn at their own pace, to struggle in their own way, to allow meaning and insight to emerge by providing space and opportunities for them to make their own meaning, rather than me impose my meaning.
The topic of facilitation is so large, I need some anchors, some boundaries: time is one (a one-day course is very different from a five-day course); the participants and their current level of understanding is another (I won’t know that until I work with them). Briefing from the client? Can be unreliable, especially if they’re not sure themselves what they want. Facilitation principles? Too abstract. Qualities of a facilitator? Too obscure.
To be continued…Facilitation, Learning | Comment (0)
If the job of a facilitator is to get out of the way, why have one in the first place?
Because boundaries matter.
Boundaries provide safety, and structure, and edges. When the boundaries are clear, it’s easier to play with ideas, to try stuff, to be creative, to be more comfortable with uncertainty.
Improvisers know about boundaries. Improv shows have clear boundaries: a physical boundary, the stage; a time boundary; and a format boundary. Players also know the ‘rules’ – the principles by which the show will be performed. What they don’t know is the content or the reactions of the audience or of themselves.
Compare that to your typical meeting or event. The content is often known in advance, which raises the question of why have a meeting in the first place? The answer often lies in something beyond the content itself: a decision, an approach, greater understanding, a change that’s needed.
A facilitator can help identify the boundaries to an event. It’s way to easy to stretch the boundaries, to include more, to dilute the purpose with ‘can we just…’ And a facilitator can find ways to help people engage with the content and work with each other – and then get out of the way and let them get on with it.
It’s easy for people who are not facilitators to see the work of a facilitator as that which happens in front of a group. The real work – the hard work – happens behind the scenes.Facilitation | Comment (0)
When designing any group event I like to know the numbers – how many people?
I’ve had this rule of thumb, based purely on experience, about selecting activities for a group based on the number of people in that group. (Yes. Yes. There’s also the outcomes, the purpose, the time available etc etc – that’s a whole other post for another day.)
Oh, and this is also based on working alone. With a co-facilitator it’s a different ball game altogether.
Less than 5 people: it’s hard, but not impossible, to do group activities. Probably a conversation is going to work best with this sized group.
5 – 14 people: the most difficult sized group to work with. There’s nowhere to hide. Too many for a conversation, too few for most group activities.
15 – 24: My ideal group size. Most activities work with this number. Easy to break into smaller groups.
25 – 40: Harder, but still OK. The size of the room becomes important here. With this many people, I always want lots of floor space for people to move about. This sized group is prone to break into sub-groups, and there’s lots of different needs to be met. Great to have a co-facilitator with this number.
Between 40 and 70: This is tricky. May need a microphone. May need a projector so everyone can see instructions. Need lots of space. Need more time for everything. Really need a co-facilitator! Exhausting.
More than 70: Once you have 70 or more people in the room, it’s a whole new ball game. Large group processes are needed. It’s too easy to default to presentations. Requires facilitators to engage their creative and logistical mind.
And really, for any group, you’re kidding yourself if you think you can control them. They’re human. They’re unpredictable. It can be messy. Yet humans are used to being in groups and working stuff out – especially if we get out of the way. So my real rule of thumb is to get them started on something and then get out of the way – no matter what the group size.Facilitation | Comment (0)
I’m prone to trying new things when I’m facilitating with a group. I make stuff up. I create processes and activities. I get an idea and figure the only way to test it is to try it. Does it work? Sometimes. Does it work for everyone? Probably not. Is it scary? Yes. Will I do it again? You bet.Facilitation | Comment (0)
On May 1st.
(Sorry about the blatant self-promotion.) If you can’t come to the workshop you can still download the free book from here.Facilitation, Learning | Comment (0)
It is a well-intentioned question. It is (usually) a genuinely curious question. Those asking it do indeed have important information that they have for others. Sometimes it is potentially life-saving information, so we’re not talking trivialities here.
It’s often easy to do a presentation. It’s timely: you can present to a lot of people at the same time. It’s expected: no-one is shocked that you would choose to do a presentation. You can make sure you don’t forget anything important. And you can often adapt an existing presentation, saving time to get on with other things. You often get feedback that reinforces how useful it was to receive all that information.
So why consider anything else?
It’s the danger that the message wasn’t received at all.
Especially if there’s multiple messages, lots of information and supporting information.
There really is no way to make absolutely sure that your message was received. Unless you submit people to a test afterwards, and even that may only be a memory test. Further testing would be needed to discover understanding. All you can do it give your information in a way that maximises the possibility that people receive and understand it.
How to do that?
Provide ways for people to engage with the information in some way.
Here’s why this is harder to do. It takes more time. It takes more effort. It takes some different thinking to come up with ideas for how to get people to engage more. It’s often unexpected.
I think it’s worth the effort and the risk.
Here’s some ways to share information (you can find descriptions here). What ways have you shared information with large groups?
35, Sociometric choices, Essence, Facts and Opinions, Full Circle, ORID, Rip It Up!, Speed Dating, Story Spine, Survival, Trifector, Visual Explorer, Wave Analysis, World Cafe Lite.
Facilitation, Presentations | Comment (0)
Funny business this facilitating with groups. On a good day, I love it; on a bad day, I feel weighed down by people’s expectations. It’s easy for people to see the power you have as a facilitator. Not so easy to see is the pain. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal. It reminds me to be true to what I have learned about facilitating. Learned by doing.
Everyone has different expectations
You can’t please everyone. Being the focal point for all that energy – both positive and negative – can be exhausting.
The pace is too fast or too slow, or just right?
Some people like to go fast, some people like to go slow, some go with the flow. That’s the thing about a group of people. They’re all different with different needs.
Movement trumps sitting
Self explanatory really.
A reaction trumps apathy
A reaction, any reaction, is better than apathy. At least people are engaging. It’s hard not to take negative reactions personally though.
Remember the impact
Great facilitation can have a huge impact on people. It can even have a small impact. It opens their eyes to possibilities, it gives them a new way to connect with people and information. It’s good to remember that.
Facilitation | Comment (0)