There’s training, and then there’s Creative Facilitation training!


June 22nd, 2017

Mushroom risottoThere’s lots of things I can’t do well – way too many to list here – but I can cook a pretty good risotto and I can host facilitation training that’s memorable. I know this to be true because I love designing and delivering training that rocks. Yes, it’s just as well I’m not offering training in logic, because that logic doesn’t stack up. But I do think it’s half the battle – love what you do, enjoy it – and hopefully others will too.

A few weeks ago I sat through some pretty bad training – as a participant. It’s always good to spend some time on the other side. All was not lost though. I learnt a lot about what not to do, and I redesigned a version of Creative Facilitation training specifically for people who have to deliver a lot of content. It’s a challenge to deliver content and keep people interested and engaged.

If you’re interested in discovering lots of ideas about bringing training to life then there’s a two-day workshop in Melbourne on September 20 and 21.

On October 25 and 26 Lee Ryan and I are hosting our popular masterclass on designing for aliveness. We use what game designers know about designing board games that rock to apply to designing group activities, especially for difficult or complex topics.

Book either or both before the end of the financial year and you can have another 10% off the early bird price – just for reading this far! Use the promo code EOFYCF10

Games connect


April 28th, 2017

Ghost-MongoliaOn our recent trip to Mongolia, in winter, I knew we’d be spending a lot of time indoors, with host families and with each other. It seemed like a good idea to take some table-top games to play. I chose games that did not require any understanding of English: Ghost Blitz and Skip-Bo

Both games were a great hit. It seems easy to forget the power of games to connect.

We learnt games from our Mongolian hosts too – mainly games using sheep or goat knucklebones, those things we used to call ‘jacks’. DSC01340 (1)A game of pure luck soon became boring; another game combining luck and skill was a lot more engaging, if often frustrating. A third game – Shagai, also known as knuckle-bone shooting – was surprisingly fun to watch. Teams of six to eight flick a token along smooth wooden tool towards the shagai bones, about 10 metres away, while singing traditional melodies and songs.

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More recently my friend Lee arrived with the game Pandemic. Pandemic is unusual in the board game genre in that it is a cooperative strategy game. Four of us (including a real live immunologist) played it multiple times. It’s engaging, and addictive – and hard to beat the diseases, but importantly, not impossible.

Fast forward to the last couple of days where we have hosted our Creative Facilitation Master Class on Designing for Aliveness. There’s a lot of games in this workshop – games we play to understand the different mechanics of games and the effect of simple tweaks on the player/participant experience – and games we designed.

Some people tell us that they hate games. They say they don’t play them, and don’t want to play them. That’s a pity, because there’s much to learn from playing games, and from playing with others. Some of the newer games, like Pandemic, can be a revelation. People enjoy them, and learn something.

The Surf Coast Shire’s Fire Game is another example. It’s a game about a very serious topic – being prepared for bushfire risk. IMG_1881

There’s a very popular board game that’s been around since the 1950s called Risk. It’s a strategy game of diplomacy, conflict and conquest. It has simple rules but complex interactions.

That pretty much describes what it’s like for me as a facilitator to play games in workshops. It’s not so much the game of Risk – more the risk of games. One that I’m willing to take.

 

Imagine if you were the type of leader YOU would want to follow


December 15th, 2016

Fancy three days of fun, engaging learning on a theme of leading creative teams?

Johnnie and I are bringing our Creative Leadership workshop to Melbourne, February 7th to 9th.

Here’s some reflections from those who came to this workshop in Cambridge earlier this year.

Lots more info and bookings here

‘Easy and safe’ is over-rated


October 26th, 2016

Working with groups generates lots of dynamics. I want to focus on the dynamic between the facilitator and the group. There’s a long held position about facilitation that the facilitator needs to make the task easy for the group, and to create a safe space. I disagree.

When I’m tired, feeling a bit vulnerable, and wanting to be cared for I relish the easy choice in a restaurant of the chef ‘just bringing food’. I don’t want to make choices, or decisions. I want to be (not literally) spoon fed. It’s easy to sit back and let someone else do the work.

People coming to workshops and meetings are often tired too, maybe a bit resentful that their work time has been disrupted, some may be excited, others apathetic – there is no doubt there will be a whole range of emotions in the room. They want to feel that their time has been used wisely.

If it is too easy they will disengage. There are many demands on people’s attention and an email or Facebook post is just a click away. We don’t have the luxury of patiently explaining what will happen (describing the menu/agenda/process) and easing people into the main game. We will have lost them before we even get there. We need to jump straight in, even if it is uncomfortable or confusing. They will work it out.

Most of us do jump in – begin before we are ready. We start playing a computer game, or try out new software, or start making a recipe before we read the instructions. We go back to the instructions when our experience and knowledge are exhausted and we need more information. We are wired for acting, not thinking about acting.

Facilitators need to challenge, to create some uncertainty, to let go of the need to control what people are doing, and to allow for discovery. This can be messy. It can be scary. It can be challenging.

It’s the practice of easy and safe that has led to one of the biggest criticisms of facilitated workshop, expressed in one way or another as ‘but nothing changes when we go back to work’. Some resort to what Johnnie Moore calls ‘commitment ceremonies’ – rituals that pretend to bind people to a new way of acting, when in reality it’s simply a hollow promise where no-one is accountable.

Facilitators can be a greater service to groups by challenging them and dropping the facade of ‘easy and safe’.

An article in The Conversation by Jarod Horvath and Jason Lodge on ‘What causes mind blanks during exams?’ is helpful in explaining why ‘safe’ is not always best. They describe the difference between cold cognition – logical and rational thinking processes – and hot cognition – non-logical and emotionally driven thinking processes. “Hot cognition is typically triggered in response to a clear threat or otherwise highly stressful situation”. Exams can be perceived as a high stakes, threat. So too, might a facilitated workshop. The boss and all my colleagues are present, I will be expected to contribute, I have a lot of other things on my mind, I’ve never met this facilitator before, there’s no agenda, and where are the damn tables?

The easy and safe approach would demand that facilitators reduce this response, and stress around workshops, by providing, in advance, all the information participants need, to make the space ‘safe’ by making sure it is comfortable and familiar, thus reducing the risk of mind blanking, or hot cognition. Then when participants get back to the real world of work, with all the uncertainty, demands, unrealistic expectations, challenges and too-much-to-do-too-little-time, they will be equipped with new knowledge and skills to help them. As I said earlier, I disagree with this approach.

Hot cognition – mind blanking – can kick in at any time. And there are a couple of things to do to according to Horvath and Lodge. One is to de-stress a perceived threatening situation. Facilitators can help this by avoiding overloading people’s pre-frontal cortex with information and as soon as possible, get them up and moving about the space, talking with each other – providing just enough structure to get them going. Familiarity calms the brain and leaves people open for whatever else is coming.

The other concerns preparation. Some of my friends who work in humanitarian organisations return from training experiences with stories of extreme stress and sometimes fear. They have been to HEAT – Hostile Environment Awareness Training – which replicates what might happen in a kidnapping or other life-threatening situations. The trainers rightly know that information is not enough for being prepared – actual experiences, simulated nonetheless, but real enough – help people prepare for the unimaginable. “The reason the armed forces train new recruits in stressful situations that simulate active combat scenarios is to ensure cold cognition during future engagements. The more a person experiences a particular situation, the less likely he or she is to perceive such a situation as threatening.” say Horvath and Lodge.

Their final piece of advice for students preparing for exams, and wanting to avoid mind blanks, is relevant for facilitators wanting to make sure workshops are worthwhile.

“So when preparing for an exam, try not to do so in a highly relaxed soothing environment – rather, try to push yourself in ways that will mimic the final testing scenario you are preparing for.”

My approach, when facilitating, is to avoid the gut-wrenching, bowel-tightening scenarios for sure, but provide enough uncertainty and confusion to replicate what it’s like out there in the real world, to hopefully, keep people engaged during the workshop, and prepared for whatever happens, afterwards. How do I do that? With applied improvisation, of course!

The two not-so-secret secrets about Creative Facilitation


October 24th, 2016

bringingThere’s no big secret to Creative Facilitation, it comes down to two things: using creative processes that allow people to really participate, and showing up as a facilitator that people feel able to trust.

The hard part is letting go of all those practices that squeeze the life out of meetings. We are social creatures, fundamentally wired for socialising, playing and creating together.  To release energy into our meetings, we need to disrupt some conventions.

We need to have fewer presentations and more conversations.

We need to free people to move around, rather than remaining pinned to their chairs.

We need to give participants autonomy: instead of telling them what to do, we create choices for them about how to participate and collaborate.

We need to create a more level playing field in meetings, a space in which everyone feels able to contribute, so we don’t just get stuck listening to the usual suspects.

We don’t believe in facilitation-as-usual and therefore don’t do training-as-usual. There will be movement, surprise, emotion, engagement and fun. We learn our most powerful lessons from experience, not from lectures. The greatest value in workshops comes from sharing experiences, rather than taking notes from the “sage on the stage”.

If you’d like to learn more, I have a one-day introductory Creative Facilitation workshop in Melbourne on November 18th.

And Johnnie Moore has a two-day workshop in Cambridge – that also covers how to perform as a facilitator – on January 9 and 10.

Best summer ever!


September 15th, 2016

I’ve just had the best summer. Yet it wasn’t summer. Not here. And I wasn’t here. I was there, in the UK, hanging out with my friend and business buddy Johnnie Moore in Cambridge. There’s many reasons that it was a great summer, and one was the fun and connection we had in making a couple of little videos about our work. Our director, Colin Ramsay, is amazing. He’s calm, professional, patient (OMG, so patient!) and loves what he does as much as we love what we do. I think this comes through best in this blooper reel.

There’s so much to learn about ourselves and others through ‘trying stuff out’. As Johnnie says, “There’s a lot of creative energy in failure, if you don’t take it too seriously…Quite a lot of our training work uses rapid, playful failure as way to learn – a much richer experience than giving out right answers.”

Right on!

Engaging the Resistance


July 19th, 2016

EngagingTheResistanceI’m riffing some ideas here based on the four themes we’ve been exploring for Creative Leadership:

Having bolder conversations
Connecting more deeply
Engaging the resistance
Staying alive

 

Whoa! This one is hard! I’m not so sure about our “most difficult challenges” – there’s also “everyday challenges” – the things we, I, resist all the time. I have a mantra that helps me with this: Show Up, Let Go, Jump In. I’ve written about this before. Also, begin before you are ready. Both of these help me to bypass my natural reticence. Johnnie and I really like this quote by Hugh Laurie:

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready… There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”  

Resistance seems to become bigger, and harder to shift, once it gets a foothold. Beginning before you are ready seems a good idea to me. I often work with groups who have not done some of the activities that we like to use in workshops. As well having a reputation for finishing on time (a good thing), I also seem to be attracting a reputation for not answering questions (not always seen as a good thing). I have a reason for not taking questions before an activity. I try and give clear instructions, well, clear enough to start. The key is to start – to start before you are ready – and to gather more information when you need it. Asking questions, thinking about what hypothetically ‘might’ happen takes us into our heads. Sure it’s a way of mitigating risk. It’s also a way of not starting until you are ready – and who knows when you will be ready?

If you’re intrigued by our leadership workshop in Cambridge, August 31 – Sept 2, but not sure what to expect, why not engage your resistance, and take a leap into the (relative) unknown? We’d love for you to come and explore these ideas with us.

Staying Alive


July 19th, 2016

StayingAliveI’m riffing some ideas here based on the four themes we’ve been exploring for Creative Leadership:

Having bolder conversations
Connecting more deeply
Engaging the resistance
Staying alive

To continue doing what you have always done is the easy part, it’s when you want to try something new, something fresh, maybe even unproven, that we enter tricky territory. This is really important for me when I’m facilitating. I have many approaches that work, and I’m not about to throw them out. But sometimes it’s good to try something new, to refresh. The only way I’ve found to discover if something works is to try it. And here’s the rub. Not everything works. Not the first time, not every time.

Trying new things, even when I don’t know how to do them, is how I learn new things, and discover stuff about myself. It helps keep my work fresh and interesting, for me, and for others.

Taming the voice in your own head telling you not to try something new or different is hard enough, imagine what it’s like to try and encourage others? It can be a real nightmare, knowing how far to push – too little and there’s not enough challenge or encouragement; too much and people are frightened off.

I’m looking forward to discovering new ways of staying alive when I’m in UK this August, especially at our leadership workshop in Cambridge, August 31 – Sept 2.

Taming self talk


May 21st, 2016

Sometimes, when talking with someone, it’s obvious that they are elsewhere. They have gone into their head. While we can’t know what the other person is thinking, it’s usually pretty obvious that they are not listening to us, maybe even no longer aware that we are there.

It can range from slightly annoying to downright rude. And we know what it feels like from both sides – sometimes we’re on the receiving end of inattention, sometimes we’re guilty of drifting away.

It’s not something to fix. It is something to notice. When we notice when we do this we can then choose to follow our thoughts, wherever they are taking us, or bring our attention back to the person or task at hand.

Taming this form of self talk can help us be better listeners, better companions, and better work colleagues.

There’s another form of self talk that I’ve been experiencing a lot lately. It’s the voice that hovers like a huge question mark, it’s the voice of indecision. “Do this! No, don’t do that, do this instead! Are you crazy, do this!” Now there’s an insight into my head that you probably never needed to know.

I am learning to tame this voice. It’s another voice that says: “Just do what you know. And if you don’t know what to do, just do something.”

It’s good advice, that voice. One worth listening to.

A morning with David Whyte


May 1st, 2016

Rock balancing MongoliaFirst, two confessions. I’d never read, or listened to any of David Whyte’s work. And I didn’t know what genius loci meant. Nor did I know to what extent both might influence me.

After yesterday morning, neither is no longer true.

I was impressed with the rhythm of David’s performance, the strength, and loudness, of the silences, and the way he would regale his audience with story, to slip seamlessly into poetry, and whammo – reveal a line that connects the story and asks a question that “is an invitation to the imagination that the strategic mind doesn’t know what to do with.”

Repetition. Repetition, I now know, is not a part of his written work, but is certainly a huge part of his performance. And it’s very effective.

Gesture. David Whyte gestures a lot. He points and waves and pokes and prods and underlines his words with gestures.

Silence. The silences would begin as short, two-beat silences, and gradually increase to ten times as long. Powerful. And loud!

And then there’s his use of language. Not surprisingly, I’ve been a fan, a student, a user, and sometimes, an abuser, of language. Not surprisingly, a poet uses language well. The work that Johnnie and I are immersed in right now is also imbued with language – trying to find just the right word, getting rid of jargon and meaningless adjectives – trying to use language to explain the unexplainable.

Here’s some of the memorable lines from my morning with David Whyte:

“The ground makes no sense without an horizon. An horizon may also be internal.”

“Poetry is language against which you have no defences.”

“Be impatient with easy explanations.”

“When you show up you can be seen, you can be found, you can be touched. And when you can be seen, you can be hurt. So we create abstractions to avoid being seen.”

“I don’t have to have all the conversation at once. Just begin.”

“The person you are just about to become is a stranger to you.” I’ve just finished reading Cathy Salit’s book Performance Breakthrough. She writes about her experiences of using performance and skills from theatre directing to help people discover parts of themselves they never knew could, or would, ever exist. “The person you are about to become is a stranger to you.”

“Stay in this place until the current of the story is strong enough to float you out.” Johnnie hosts Unhurried Conversations, an approach that explores a different way of being in conversation with others. “Stay in this place until the current of the story is strong enough to float you out.” 

“What would it be like to be the ancestor of our own future happiness?” Indeed.

And genius loci? Genius loci is the spirit of a place – the type of conversation held there is shaped by place. I’ve always known this. Even before I knew it.