Category Archives: Facilitation

Smile!

Facilitation is about creating bridges between people.

Natasha Walker

 

Those bridges can be semantic and factual; they can be inventive and suggestive; they can involve “translation” of one participant’s meaning to another’s understanding; they can mean putting up stop signs to protect participants’ feelings and allow them to hold their heads high and they can be bridges of energy and stimulation to get participants thinking and working together.

 

One of the most effective bridges is a smile, which is infectious and can even lead to laughter, one of the best ways to cement humans together.

I don’t always smile when moderating. My mimicry obviously tends to reflect my feelings – concentration (e.g. on complex material) or concern (e.g. for the process) will often produce a frown. But there are many opportunities to smile and we should use them: welcoming participants individually and as a group, thanking them for input, encouraging participation, etc. I’m not talking about forced smiles or smiling when there’s clearly no cause (e.g. when recognising a crisis or standing up for process fairness). I’m talking about liking (I would like to actually say “loving”, but it’s been so romanticised by today’s usage) one’s participants and accepting them for who they are. Because they are the resources and the capacity of the process. They are its problem-solvers and driving force of change and implementation.

We should show them we appreciate them being there and trust in their competence and ability. And what better way do we human animals have to do that than with a smile?

A smile is a self-fulfilling prophecy: all will be well!

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Women and Work – Talking Diversity

Saturday work is tough. Particularly when the Saturday is the year’s hitherto sunniest. Those are also the Saturdays bad for trade fairs and conferences. People seem to decide, last-minute, to get up just too late and do the garden (i.e. lounge in it). However, this year’s Women and Work Conference in Bonn, Germany, scorned the good weather and saw record numbers arrive    (and stay). I was responsible for the Diversity Talks – 7 workshops sponsored by DIS AG (thanks for a great day, Barbara Klunker) and focussing on, well, talking about diversity. We were reminded of the urgency, the huge demographic, digital, global and other trends beating down on a world no longer able to stick to what it knows.

Moderating Diversity Talks

We have to embrace diversity, we were reminded. And also, sometimes, that we already do, but can do so better.

I was impressed by the fact that HR programmes and strategies – according to Catalyst – lack impact on whether a woman can rise to the top. That’s a tough message. Much more depends on networks etc. (I must find that essay I wrote about networking in USA and Germany – a comparison). And I loved the video we saw about women’s invisible barriers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT9Zc9D1Big).

The most impressive for me was the final workshop with a wonderfully quirky, authentic, cool and uncomplicatedly optimistic representative of the Bosch Women’s Network – an internal network of ambitious and upwardly mobile female engineers. Just do it. Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Have fun. Network and use that network for your own benefit. Laugh. Wear high heels and aim high. Fantastic!

Teaching Facilitation

Every now and then I get asked to train budding or experienced practitioners how to facilitate. This involves input and interesting discussions on formats and methods, visualisation and dealing with large groups, small groups, managers and citizens. All of these things are important for making facilitation work, but the crucial thing people need to learn and practice is how to really embody the role.

    Here are some musts:
  1. Ask the right question. The right question is not necessarily the one you prepared. It’s the one that the group needs to find a way to reach the goal of the dialogue/workshop. And it may be a whole string of questions. It might make sense to pose them all at once and have small groups work simultaneously on them. Or it might make sense to build on each and hold people back. Making sense here means facilitating the most inclusive and efficient way to goal.
  2. How to ask a question and really be interested in the collective answer (i.e. in the process leading to participants finding their own individual and then the group answer). Not interested in relation to the facilitator’s own opinion, but because he/she really cares that the group achieves its goal and creates a joint solution or idea or makes a change or strategy its own.
  3. How to make sure people are able to understand each other. The facilitator must facilitate the movement of meaning from one person to another. It is his/her responsibility.
  4. How to appreciate people who talk a lot, who dominate or burst with an almost uncontrollable need to push their opinion forward. And how to appreciate introverted people or people who would prefer to be anywhere else than in your meeting. How to hold back judgement even when you’re “warned” about certain participants. How to support all the individuals in the group to be part of the whole. You don’t want to change anyone, but you enjoy watching them learn and grow. You live that wonderful Harrison Owen rule: “Who’s here’s here.”
  5. How to manage the energy in the room positively. The facilitator is responsible for upholding and even creating constructive energy in the room. This starts with the logistics such as light, seating, coffee, fruit, includes managing the convener’s/host’s expectations, playing with tempo and stimulation and culminates in engaging the emotions in the group.
  6. How to have enough knowledge and experience in the area under discussion to keep things on the right level and not slow the discussion down by lack of fundamental or relevant know how. It’s about encouraging the host/client to provide a sufficient briefing and by hard preparation work reading up about what’s going to matter for the group. The facilitator isn’t the expert, but he/she knows the client, understands the core business/issue and has got to grips with the important  opportunities, problems, uncertainties and questions the group is concerned with. The facilitator has also learned not to take one person’s views for the only view and remains open to what comes.
  7. How to sum up efficiently and create a coherent logic from start to finish. This includes summing up individual statements and increasing the common understanding in the room (see above) and also synthesising the diversity of a discussion to show areas of agreement and disagreement and suggest which questions still need to be addressed. It’s about presenting where we are, where we’ve come from and asking what that means for where we want to go. The facilitator effectively de-clutters the discussion for more focus and inclusion.

These are just some and I’m so grateful to be able to share my understanding of facilitation. I’ve trained about 1500 people in facilitation since 1999. Each training gave me a much clearer picture of what I do and generated plenty of new ideas for how to keep on getting better.

A workshop’s got to reach the innovation level: successful international biodiversity workshop in Brasilia


I’ve just had the pleasure to facilitate a three-day workshop for 80 country delegates from all over the world on how to revise their national strategies on biodiversity. It was a pleasure not just because of the excellent hosts (UK and Brazilian governments), the friendly and intelligent participants and being in Brazil for the first time. It was a particular pleasure because I believe the workshop achieved the level of dialogue and learning which makes for real value: analysis, self-critical reflection and joint innovation. Because I believe that all participants were able to take back not only knowledge and ideas, but the will, confidence and motivation to change important things about the way they will strategically and tactically approach saving biodiversity.

How did this happen? I think there are 4 main reasons (and a lot of other smaller ones):

  1. Adequate time, space and knowledge to reflect on established views and explore new ideas in small groups and plenary
  2. Participant diversity: being jogged out of your comfort zone forces you to question and learn
  3. Logical build-up of the workshop: taking participants to increasing levels of complexity step by step and providing them with
    1. constant, bite-sized syntheses to use as the basis for the next level
    2. clear and challenging questions to steer their thoughts and dialogues to focus on results
  4. The element of surprise: it’s not only fun, but also a real eye-opener to look at “old” issues and challenges from a different and unusual angle, i.e.:
    1. a TV talk show including 4 participants from the year 2020, where they report back on the most important decisions they took, how they managed to overcome barriers and what they are most proud of having achieved
    2. 3 participants take on roles of secretariat staff of the Convention on Biological Diversity and discuss what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it and what they’ll need in order for countries to speed up their efforts to meet the stategic goals

It’s great how much you can achieve with a diverse group of professionals. Thank you to all who helped to make this a milestone in getting to implementation of the strategic plan, particularly the UK team from DEFRA and the Davids from the CBD and also thanks to Roberto Cavalcanti, the Brazilian Co-Chair, for showing us the amazing city of Brazilia by night and for reminding us of the wealth of biodiversity on our earth. It was also great that Braulio Ferreira De Souza Dias, who’s just become Executive Secretary of the CBD spent so much time at the workshop!

Playing with workshop dynamics

Workshop dynamics and using speed

I’m having a lot of great experiences consciously adjusting workshop dynamics to fit my objectives. Take a workshop recently carried out with about 180 managers of a large German bank: a net sum of 2 x 1 hour to work with them on their future within the context of a huge conference. Not much time really. And yet – as it proved – more than enough to get really meaningful results, as long as the dynamics carried us through. Let me describe the sort of dynamics I’m talking about and how I try and steer them when I want a large group of people to take over control and responsibility for coming up with results quickly and in multiple constellations. Let’s take a typical World Café setting, with about 20 tables of 8 participants each. Results are written real-time on pre-prepared “table cloths” and will be synthesised after the sessions:

  1. Welcome participants warmly, moving through the room and slightly louder than usual as they enter the room, urging them to take a seat as quickly as possible.
  2. Usher the last participants into the room at the same time as closing the door.
  3. Start talking whilst walking towards the stage.
  4. Use a microphone.
  5. Your introduction reflects your excitement: this topic, these people, this context!
  6. Your mimicry, gesticulation and tone is sightly more expressive than otherwise.
  7. Participants have to know exactly what they are supposed to do NOW and why. Don’t overburden them with the detail of what they’ll be doing in the second and third steps. Assure them that you’ll give them all further information they’ll need when they need it.
  8. You suddenly introduce a long pause, looking slowly at all participants…….and say something emotionally expressive and hard hitting (i. e. why it’s so important that this group is here today to discuss this topic).
  9. Immediately afterwards you hold the silence…
  10. …and then say something light, (i. e. gentle humour, which surprises) and send participants off to work with the following:
    1. clear and brief instructions (use visualisation – i. e. slide/flipchart)
    2. main question for discussion
    3. if relevant: main rule (i. e. no right or wrong)
    4. information that I’ll be walking around and am available for any questions at tables
    5. thanks, good luck, etc.
    6. main question for discussion (again)
  11. When getting people to finish: provide a countdown (verbal: “another 5 minutes”…”2 more minutes – please make sure nothing gets lost”, etc. and/or visual with a conspicuous backward-running clock on the screen)
  12. If getting participants to change tables and add to previous results, slightly change the focus/objective of each round, so the content is continuously built upon and develops not just in quantity, but also quality. Make sure participants are making decisions (i. e. to prioritise ideas) within a set amount of time.
  13. The change itself can be crucial in getting people to really feel and enjoy the dynamics – a bit like a surfer on the crest of a wave. Let me give you my own words: “Think of the amount of ideas developed in the first round – the best way to share and multiply these is to change the constellation of the groups. You now have the opportunity to develop the discussion (on TOPIC) with a whole new group – look around the room and focus on one of the other tables – you know which one – and now don’t look back, don’t look left or right. Just walk straight over to your new table and make sure you take your seat before someone else does!”
  14. Introduce brief and colourful water-testing rounds, in which you stick your microphone into 4-6 participants’ faces and ask for some authentic accounts of what’s going on and what’s surprised them during the discussion. Talk whilst walking – that increases the dynamics and focussed people’s attention.
  15. Introduce competitive elements – preferably with reference to other groups “not there”, but also – gently – between tables.
  16. Keep your closing words short and emotional. Use words like “Wow”, “amazing” and “really/very” if it’s authentic and justified. Take out the high speed for a sincere thanks and close with something either emotional or funny. The shared experience of the high-speed, dynamic workshop is the final note!

Perhaps it’s got something to do with adrenaline? Our ability, chased by dinosaurs, to quickly adapt, decide and motivate others to move. I’m sure it’s easier to play with dynamics in a fairly homogenous setting – more or less mono-cultural. As soon as we’re international, we have to deal with intercultural differences in time-feeling difficult to reconcile (i. e. Anglo-saxon participants are far less excited about working through the night than Danish. French far less willing to accept an 80% “good enough” solution than Dutch. Without wanting to over-generalise and stereotype, this observation has proven true over and over again.)

It also won’t do to over-do speed. That can be really annoying, stressful and counterproductive (“more haste, less speed”). It’s good for a brief period of time, but won’t do for a whole day, let alone a process. Introduce a space for something entirely different (i. e. a piece of theater or a volley ball match) if you have to rush. It’ll make people fitter for action!

More comments on speed and taking it slowly are appreciated!

Simple and effective ways to create ownership in a group 1

This is a series of practical tips for facilitators who want to pass on ownership for change to the group. Why? To strengthen responsibility and motivation for the group’s results and increase the likelihood that they’ll be implemented! And also to allow each and every participant to develop and grow through the experience of participation.

1) Who has the final word?

First things first: I think it’s very important for the person at the top of the organisation to introduce a meeting he’s invited participants to attend. He’s got to let everyone know – authentically – why he’s invited them and what he’s hoping to get out of the dialogue. And it’s also important to have him introduce me as facilitator – actively passing the baton of authority into my external hands.

However, in a participatory process, I like to delegate the final word (we’re talking about 2-3 minutes) of the meeting to one of the participants.

How?

It shouldn’t be a competition, where participants feel they have to show how superior they are. And it shouldn’t be forced on someone through peer-pressure or co-nomination.

It should be fun. And it should be a bit exciting.
I do it according to “luck of the draw” – somehow a mixture of random selection and a sort of intuitive self-selection (“Somehow I knew I’t’d be me”).
And it should be the same procedure each time. This makes participants see it as fair. And that’ll make them agree to play the game.

You pick up the mouth? Your's is the final word!

I do it like this:
1) everyone selects one of the cards I’ve placed on the floor before the meeting begins, one of which has a mouth printed on it, whereas all the rest show an ear.
2) Suspense.
3) The person with the mouth card is asked to own up!
4) I congratulate them and tell them we’re looking forward to hearing their final word (writing their name in the programme, so no one forgets!)
5) Right at the end, the mouth-card-holder gives the final word.

And that final word will be really really good. There’ll be a very personal note to it. And it’ll usually include a symbolic image. And the group will feel empowered.

The last word of a workshop on Tuesday was given by a participant something along these lines. I enjoyed it so much I’d like to share my recollection of it with you:

“I’ve experienced this meeting – and in fact the whole strategy process – as a hot-air balloon journey. At the beginning, we all packed ourselves and our precious and important belongings into the basket and used the great energy of the group to lift the balloon higher. But it was tough going: pushing that hot-air balloon higher was hard work and soon we started to lose height. So we all started thinking about ridding ourselves of some of the weight we were all carrying around with us. There was some discussion about what to throw out, but after a while we became more and more free and clear on what we needed to keep with us on our journey and what we could get rid of with no real lack of comfort. And I’d like to add that we never thought of resorting to throwing one of us out!
We’re moving fast now in our balloon with seemingly endless energy and I can enjoy the journey. I know exactly where we’re going. I feel safe and in good company. This journey will make a difference.”

The Ronald Reagan Approach

Not necessarily my political hero, but one of the most popular leaders of the twentieth century with a great impact. Why? What’s the Ronald Reagan approach and what can leaders of today learn from him?

Ronald Reagan was an actor and concerned with creating a role, an impact. With creating an audience and steering that audience’s understanding of what is right and wrong and of what is real. Let’s not get tied up in the content and detail of WHAT he was preaching and representing, but with HOW he did it.

I’ve just come back from an interesting conference on facilitation, leadership and participation (I wish there were shorter, slightly less pretentious words for this concept of involving people who matter in solving questions that matter and creating new realities that work better). The issue we were dealing with, thanks to Dr. Raban Daniel Fuhrmann who coined the word “Profizität” (a rather messy mix of authenticity and professionalism) and posed the question, was “how much of me should I give light to in order to professionally lead a group to cooperation?” I was inspired by our conversations and some of the challenging inputs and, before we went to lunch on day 2, a small group of us summed up our thinking on this matter with the “Ronald Reagan Approach” to facilitation and leadership. If we agree with Dr. Eike Messow from the Jacobs University in Bremen, that a successful facilitator and leader aims to

  1. reach an objective, which will improve the reality of a team/organisation,
  2. build up a trusting environment for participation and evolution and
  3. instill in the team a sense of responsibility for achieving their goals

then we might want to think about how Ronald Reagan did this.

Firstly, we have to rid ourselves of the idea that all leaders and facilitators are necessarily authentic. Who’s to decide who’s authentic or not? And why is it important whether a leader/facilitator is authentic? My example: it might be very authentic for a facilitator who’s grown up in protestant church group dynamics to ask a group of bankers to introduce themselves to each other by throwing a ball of wool from one to the other. Or for George W. Bush to be the cowboy (where’s the Marlboro?) whilst hosting international negotiations in Texas. All authentic stuff, but excruciatingly embarrassing, alienating and not at all conducive to dialogue and trust.

I think we can all accept that Ronald Reagan wasn’t necessarily authentic. I think most of us are pretty glad we have no idea of what really went on in his mind! He was an actor. And we, as his audience, as those who followed his lead (and most of the western world did, even with grit teeth, follow his lead), were led by his impact, by the way we perceived him to be. Whether a leader/facilitator is authentic, professional, “nice” or good depends on whether he’s perceived to be so. We, as an audience, want to believe we can see the man/woman behind the leader or facilitator. Whether we really can make out the genuine person below the surface of the iceberg, really have an inkling of the values, norms, intuition and emotions at the core, is irrelevant. We want to believe we’ve sussed him out. That we are able to judge. Reagan was an actor. Acting is art. Art demands our willing suspension of disbelief. Why do we want to suspend our disbelief? Why do we want to believe we know and understand the man/woman behind the role? Because we hunger for security. In “knowing” what makes a leader tick, we feel safe in their hands. In “knowing” what’s really driving a facilitator, we feel safe as a group.

(Again, please don’t think I’m the big Reagan fan. Sure, I grew up in the UK of Maggie T and am, most certainly, a “Thatcher-Baby”, but I shudder at the Star Wars plans of big Ron. I am repulsed by the neo-liberal attitude to society’s responsibility for itself. Sorry, had to throw that in.)

So let’s have a look at how Ronald Reagan used his power of impact (as an actor) to deliver messages and at what those messages were. I’m convinced that we should deliver the same messages when leading groups:

  1. I’m listening.
  2. I’ve understood you.
  3. I’m interested (really burning to learn) in what you think and what you want.
  4. I am in charge
  5. I have everything under control (process, structures, culture, individuals)
  6. I have a suggestion I really believe in, but am willing to adapt to suit you too
  7. I am a human being, with values, strengths and weaknesses, experience (good and bad) and love
  8. I am fair and will uphold what’s important for you and protect you and defend your process
  9. I am fascinating (if only you knew all…), creative, unique and artistic
  10. When utilising the wisdom of the group, I’ll subordinate my own position and opinions

Whether this is true or not; whether Ronald Reagan really thought this or not, is irrelevant for our relationship with him as leader. Whether Nancy did, is, as his wife, another matter… What matters for our relationship with him is whether we “buy” it, when he says:

“I know in my heart that man is good.
That what is right will always eventually triumph.
And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.”

I don’t know Reagan’s heart. But I have the choice to decide. It’s the same story with any group I’m facilitating. Do they “buy” my words and actions? Do they believe that I mean it when I deliver the 10 messages above? If they do, we’re on to something and can achieve great results. If they don’t they’ll feel insecure, unmotivated and rebellious towards the process.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong in really meaning what you say. It would be wonderful if Reagan really did believe in his heart that man is good. Or if a facilitator really does believe in his heart that the group before him is capable of change when he tells them he does. We’ll never know as participants. We just need to believe we do.

It’s not about authenticity, but about professionalism. We’re playing a role and need to use our impact to inspire, motivate and empower people to change the world. That means we have to adapt the way we choose to appear in order to be “relatable to”. The 10 messages remain, but there’ll be different ways of telling them, depending on the group.

An afterthought. It’s not enough to be a good actor as a facilitator. Our deeds must follow our words. And our actions too. If our mimicry/stance tells a different story, or if we neglect to follow-up after a meeting, the group will be lost and our professionalism dead.