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)
Goodness me, what I pickle I get myself into when I try and plan too much! (see previous post if you must)
I should have just read Harrison Owen’s words about over-planning that was sitting right there on my desk-top. It wasn’t written in response to my current flurry of planning, but it might have been! In part:
“I can’t help feeling that you that you may just be working a little too hard. I understand the pressures to describe a program (series of progressive/linked activities). Funders, etc like all that. But two things come to mind, or at least pop out of my experience. 1st No program ever ran the way it was “supposed to”, albeit a great deal of effort usually goes into trying, and then, after the fact, making it seem like everything “worked according to the plan”. 2nd Detailed Programs tend to take on a life of their own, regardless of what the emergent systems and the environment surrounding them are actually doing. It is called confusing the map with the territory, and is usually very frustrating and painful.”
Wise words indeed. I’m going to the bar for a drink.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)
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)
Johnnie Moore wrote significant parts that I’d forgotten, edited my clumsy words, challenged my thinking and was there throughout the whole process, providing encouragement and support.
It’s taken so long to get to this point simply because a book like this can never be finished. It is always in ‘beta’, always a work in progress and no amount of requests for cookie-cutter approaches to facilitation can stand up in the face of the messy, unpredictable and ever-changing world of actual facilitation with living, breathing humans.
Nonetheless, experience might count for something. If our experiences resonate for you – or even if they don’t, and simply get you thinking – then this book will have been worth it. In fact, it’s been worth it simply to gather our own thoughts, to spark some rather interesting conversations and to make our thinking accessible to others.
We’re giving it away, with a liberal Creative Commons licence, because that sits well with our philosophy of collaboration and connecting with people. If you download the book, we like to think of you as a collaborator and we’d like to hear from you. Indeed the whole process was a global collaboration – between Australia, the UK and USA – made possible by technology, particularly long Skype calls!
The linear format dictated by the book format gave us many sleepless nights. Facilitation is not linear. There may be some obscure logic in the format, but don’t take it too seriously. Start anywhere. Dive in.
The book is divided into five parts.
Part One: Why Facilitation? is about exploring the impact of facilitation and facilitators on groups, the qualities that make for good facilitators and some of the underlying philosophy that underpins our approach.
Part Two: Workshop Basics is about the necessary foundations of facilitating workshops.
Part Three: Beyond the Basics is about providing an understanding of how to engage people and use different approaches.
Part Four: Creative Facilitation explores some of the knowledge and understanding that helps facilitators step into complex, and sometimes difficult, situations. It also explores in more depth, elements of human behaviour and group dynamics.
Part Five: Resources provides suggestions for developing your own “toolkit” with what you learn from experience as well as useful links, resources and other information.
Stay tuned for some smaller companion eBooks that elaborate on our favourite topics.Collaboration, Facilitation, General, Learning | Comments (8)
Enough people have asked, so here it is – a one day intensive Creative Facilitation Workshop. Limited to just 18 people, we’ll experience, unravel and tap into each other’s knowledge about how to bring meetings to life.
I’ll be facilitating opportunities for you to learn a bunch of techniques that can transform your meetings. Importantly, we’ll explore how and why they work, their strengths and weaknesses and I’ll share my top tips for dealing with difficult people and situations, and more.
This will be a very practical, hands-on training. I won’t be talking about the techniques, you’ll be using them – and then we’ll explore them in more depth.
You can read more and book here.
Become part of the movement that’s saying no to boring, wasteful meetings in 2013, and yes to lively, engaging meetings.Facilitation, Learning | Comment (0)
It’s exciting to be offering Open Space Facilitation Training again with my friend Andrew Rixon in Melbourne on Wednesday, February 13. Here’s a flyer about the training for you to download and you can book and find more information here.
Have you ever been to an ‘unconference’? Or maybe just heard about them? You might have been to a Trampoline day, or a BarCamp or some other event where you, as a participant, are invited to create the agenda. Open Space Technology has been around for a bit longer than these, and Harrison Owen, creator (?), discoverer (?), user and prolific author about all things Open Space says the approach has been around as long as there have been humans making decisions together, and all he did was rediscover this self-organising approach to meeting, and working together.
Open Space is easy to learn and easy to use – and it has layers and layers of really interesting stuff that underpins how and why it works. Understanding the origins of Open Space and the nuances of how and why it works, enables you to more effectively apply its principles to any meeting or gathering.
We like to think of Open Space as an operating system that underpins our facilitation and consulting practices.
If you are responsible for bringing people together to share information, make decisions, work together, co-create the future, or if you’re just curious about self-organising systems, complexity and peacebuilding (yes, really!) – then this training will have something for you.
We’ll explore the logistics of Open Space, the experience of Open Space, and the philosophy of Open Space. When, where and why to use Open Space, when not to use it, and why it works in even the most complex and conflicted situations.
We’ll explain, and demonstate, Open Space facilitation (hint: you’ll have to let go of just about everything you’ve ever learnt about facilitation) and we’ll look at how you can design to use Open Space for half a day or a whole week, over multiple sessions and embedded within more conventional processes.Learning, Open Space | Comment (0)
I’ve enrolled in a MOOC (massive open on-line course) at Stanford University. The course, on Designing New Learning Environments is curated by Prof Paul Kim, and is done entirely on-line. I was surprised, when watching the first couple of lectures how relevant this is to my current work. Prof Kim has an interest in making education accessible around the globe, even in the most disadvantaged communities.
By the way, the lectures are also good – short, up to about 10 minutes with whoever is speaking in the bottom right of the screen and images filling the rest of the screen, not more words or graphs or tables, but images that illustrate the points made in the lecture.
It’s way more interesting than I thought it would be.
There’s weekly lectures or reading, and assignments – nothing too daunting, but challenging enough to keep me interested and engaged. What I miss is interaction with others. My own fault, probably, though I’m not prepared to take all the blame. This course lasts for 10 weeks and I’ve been travelling, and with intermittent, often dodgy internet, through weeks 2 – 7. It was during those early weeks that teams were formed, to later collaborate on a project. I didn’t form a team, not knowing how I’d be able to stay connected, and didn’t join a team for much of the same reason, as well as being unable to trawl through all the hundreds of teams and find one that interested me.
The search function on the course web site is disappointing – it doesn’t allow me to easily find people with similar interests, though I know you’re out there.
I’m now devouring much of the additional information that I was unable, or unwilling, to access while travelling. I’m reminded how much a little bit of discipline – as is provided in this MOOC with assignments and deadlines – while leaving me to do my own self-directed inquiry encourages (in me anyway) a deeper and more satisfying connection with the content, if not yet, with my fellow MOOCers.Learning | Comments (2)
There’s lots happening right now. I’ve been travelling in Kenya, immersed in nature and different cultures, I’m visiting with my friend Johnnie and I’m about to embark on facilitating a 10-day training where there will be a huge emphasis on content. Oh, and I’m also taking part in a Stanford University MOOC (massive open on-line course) on new learning environments.
There’s a strong link with all these activities and it has to do with learning and tipping what we know about learning on its head.
I had a conversation with my sister-in-law while travelling in the Masai Mara about learning. She’d been a school teacher for decades. My experience has always been that when I’m learning about something new, and when introducing new ideas or approaches in a group, that doing matters. Do something first, then get some theory, then do some more to reinforce. As we were leaving Kenya, Sue said she’d come to understand what I meant. Before the trip – her first to any African country – she’d read a bit about the people, places and culture, and now, having experienced it she was keen to read and learn lots more. There’s some experience and context for her to make sense of.
I see this content is king approach everywhere, and Johnnie has written eloquently about it here. There’s an assumption that good content is central to learning. I propose that relational learning enables people to find and assess content for themselves. What I mean by relational learning is learning with other people – building trusting relationships to enable exploration without the fear of failure or of looking foolish or of being dismissed; where ideas can be raised, tried and discarded rapidly.
We need to turn learning on its head. To unlearn approaches that no longer serve us, such as bringing people together and sitting them down in front of an expert. Some teachers and universities are already doing this, providing lectures on line and when students meet in the classroom using that time to work together.
Johnnie and I have developed over the years a way of doing this in workshops. For the moment we’re calling it problem theatre. No matter what the purpose or focus of the training is, we always have the question about difficult people. An abstract, theoretical response from us might make us feel good but rarely helps the person asking the question. When they are next faced with a difficult person, they have to draw on what we said, which by then is no doubt forgotten.
So we get people rapid prototyping new behaviours. Rapid prototyping has become the way for design thinkers to try out their ideas and quickly improve on them. Same can be true of behaviours.
Abstract, theoretical comments such as What would you do when…? How do you react to…? How do I deal with…? are cues for us to leap headlong into problem theatre, engaging participants with trying out new behaviour for themselves, feeling it in their bodies and learning from that direct, rapid experimentation. Any suggestions from the floor like Why not try…? are an invitation to do just that, come up and try, rather than talk about it. Guess what? When the next difficult situation arises in real life, these participants don’t have to wonder what to do – they have already tried stuff out and are much better placed to respond quickly and intuitively.
Design thinking, Edges, Facilitation, Learning | Comment (0)
Let’s say you’re planning a visit to a place you’ve never been to before. You might spend time researching where to go, what to do, what to see. You might look on-line, read books or travel guides, and talk to others who have been there. Friends might show you photos of their visit which you look at politely, if somewhat absently.
Then after you’ve been to that place, everything changes. You look at photos – your own and others’ – and see more than just the image. It evokes a memory. It evokes a visceral response.
What’s the difference? Clearly, the difference is personal experience.
I believe this is true in learning too.
It’s the difference between learning that sticks, and learning that ticks the boxes. I’m interested in learning that sticks, what I like to call visceral learning – learning that happens not only in your head, but in your body too.
Here’s what I think works.
1. Experience first, then theory/reading/analysis
Find a way to give people a physical experience before they go into their heads and start analysing, and before you provide lots of theory, additional reading and the like. It can be an exercise, an activity, anything that generally relates to the topic. Here’s some of the activities I use before exploring particular topics.
- Balls Up (a competitive, team-based ball throwing game) – Introduction to different forms of evaluation
- Pass the Zap! (a multi-layered, choice making, collaborative game) – Planning
- Basketball and Group juggling – Exploring the difference between dialogue and debate
2. Creating conditions for group-generated knowledge
Often, I work with subject matter experts (SMEs) – people brought in especially because of their skills and knowledge around a particular topic. It’s seductive to let them share all that they know, to be the ‘sage on the stage’, after all, they are the ‘expert’. Problem is, this is a very weak form of learning. Better to find ways for the SMEs to engage with the existing knowledge of the participants, to supplement and amplify it. Here’s some ways of doing this.
- Use the Thiagi activity 35 for the group to generate responses to a question or topic, then have the SME respond once people have engaged with the information.
- Use Full Circle for a group to generate responses to a series of questions then have the SME critique the information
- Tell personal stories around the topic
Reincorporation is very satisfying. It comes from improvisation and is simply bringing something up again, reincorporating it from earlier. Watch any comedy show and you will see lots of reincorporation. Why bother in training though? This is training, not comedy, right? Reincorporation helps makes an event, even a training event, memorable. It helps facts to stick. The trick to reincorporation as a trainer, is to be present to what is currently happening and to look for opportunities to reincorporate something from earlier. And it’s okay to do it more than once, it’s even more satisfying the third time around.
4. Use models wisely
There’s two types of models. Yeah, yeah – I know there’s way more models than just two. I want to concentrate of the type of models and how we react to them.
The first model is drawn on paper (or whiteboard, or flip chart, or screen). The most common of this type of model is the humble map – whether it’s maps on your device or a humble mud map drawn on the back of an envelope (does anyone use envelopes anymore?) it depicts something that is. This approach to models is then used in all sorts of situations to depict what is – relationships, movement of commodities, organisational structure, ecosystems.
The second type of model is one that is made out of things – bits of card and tape, lego, blocks, found objects. This type of model is to try and create something that doesn’t yet exist, to make concrete an idea that is in someone’s mind. Often a step between the idea and the model is a drawing. These models can be of things, and of experiences. This sort of prototyping has been made famous by design thinking, and I had an opportunity to experience it at the Stanford University d-School recently. Visceral, and memorable indeed.
The first type of model helps explain. The second type of model helps us understand
There’s a few of my ideas for visceral learning? What are your tips for sticky learning?Learning | Comment (0)