Facillitation Category

Options for avoiding ‘death by feedback’

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In my facilitation training I am often asked what my ‘nightmares’ are. I find that hard to answer, but I do know the things I think about a lot.

These are the issues which I have worked on the most.  A few of these ‘points I ponder’ include:
1) Very ‘introverted’ groups – I now make sure I give people lots of private time to think.
2) Long post lunch plenary sessions – I use voting and humour and physical activity to keep it lively.
3) Very long panel discussions – I use controversy or comedy. I use buzz group conversations to surface any questions (to avoid the long silences that can happen when opening the floor to a large, unsure group – silences that can depress, further dampen or unsettle a group). Some colleagues like to pump prime a few people to lead off with comments and questions from the wider group. I find that a bit artificial.
4) Teach or communicating something I know only very shakily (eg directions, a concept) – I get someone else who knows, to do it!

One issue I think about a lot is how to ensure all plenary feedback is successful. In most large meetings there are times when small groups meet. And after that there is often the expectation that there is some sort of report back.

Some of the options I think about at this time of plenary expectation (and risk) include:
a) Is feedback really needed? Maybe participants will be happy to find out what happened over tea. Or you could just ask for one point from each group. This will then create time and space for other ways of working – such as the neglected Q&A or reflection (“what have you learnt; what is bothering you; what is the single key issue we need to crack” etc).
b) How can feedback be focused and brought to life? I like the use of posters to focus both group work and feedback. As well as a gallery of charts with a host to explain them, do consider getting photos of each poster on a screen and asking a rapporteur to point out a couple of key points. If the posters ask for images/doodles, you have a natural discussion point. Getting a question to put to the vote (and discussion) from each group is useful too.
c) Might asking each group feeding back to use photos and bullet points on a slide or two help?
d) Would a ‘fishbowl’ with representatives from each group be more interesting (due to the theatricality of the moment)?
e) If a design team has been working on the event, then their involvement can mean there is more ownership and a better vibe. These groups are often about 10% of the whole, so the ripple effect in terms of concentration, interest and buzz can make a very big difference.

Have fun experimenting!

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The stories some people tell

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Leaders are often exhorted to tell stories as part of how they present their ideas. Over the last decade or so this encouragement has become almost deafening. We have joined in with the chorus (see the second part of this business briefing and point 5 in this blog). You read about stories everywhere it seems – for example and this.

Why the interest? Outlining a logical argument for change often doesn’t convince. Preceding those messages with something that engages the heart and mind of the listeners helps. Ganz is powerful on the importance of developing and using a ‘personal narrative’. He has helped President Obama in his oratory…and this speech of his shows the ideas of the story of self, us and now in action.

For me, and my colleague Steve Bagi, there are 3 sorts of stories:

1) To build rapport
2) To illustrate a point
3) To motivate for change

Stories that motivate the listener to want to change often involve the leader sharing an analogous personal example that illustrates COCO: the context and challenge they faced, the options they considered, the choice they took and the outcome they achieved. This might be a key moment in their career, something from the life of a family member or even someone or some moment well known that clearly means something significant to the person listening to it.

And the risks? It can seem a bit instrumental. Will there be a backlash? Will we hear “oh no not another personal anecdote”. I doubt it – as humans we don’t tire of the novels or movies, for example. Searching out stories about personal and collective quests is part of who we are, it seems.

What are the best ways to start to practice this sort of approach? Well it isn’t rocket science. It really isn’t. You might want to have a go with our personal narrative worksheet…give it a go when you next have an opportunity to speak with your staff. And a tip – try photos…and, of course, really try to avoid bullet points.

Engaging with the shadows

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When planning a survey or a meeting, I tend to find starting positively works the best. Asking “what is going well, what gives you hope, what should we build on” frames the day in a way that is both pro-active and focused on possibility. The spirit of appreciative inquiry, positive deviance and solutions based therapy lives in our work.

But I also engage with difficultly and problems and pathology too – see the yin yang on page 7 of this older article of ours.

Oliver Burkeman describes the power of negative thinking in The Antidote. Whilst I think he over argues his case (more on that another time), I like the general principle that negative ideas, feelings and outcomes might be ok in our personal lives.  And generally I believe that there is some wisdom in resistance, correction through opposition and that conflict is good. I am with Lencioni in being ok to talk about ‘problems’, not just ‘challenges’; dysfunctions, not just strengths.

A key application of all this for a facilitator is the trying to strike a good balance in designing a conversation – so the focus isn’t just on the potential but also the difficultly too, and vice versa.

A key skill for any group facilitator, is judging when a ‘negative’ response is productive and when it is likely to derail. In helping make this judgement it is worth thinking through the possible sources of the negativity. And here the psychodynamic literature on group dynamics is especially helpful.

Do you think that what someone said was a helpful correction – or motivated from something not related to the stated comment? Was it from something going on under the surface?

Two key concepts come up time and time again from this school of thought – power and anxiety. These lenses are regularly used to explain and help understand what goes on in groups, from jealous attacks to scapegoating by others; from feeling dumb to believing you are on a creative roll individually.

There are lots of ideas to investigate and some are a bit complicated, but they are worth persevering with and drawing on. However, remember this health warning when ‘diagnosing’ a group behaviour: First we can never really know what is going on – we can merely hypothesise. Secondly, what we notice happening might be just what it seems to be, and not some mysterious embedded current. For example, you might be criticised because you are not doing a very good job and not because someone doesn’t like the colour of your shoes! In the (misattributed) words of the father of group dynamics “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.

In a nutshell, projection can lead to being dumped on, blamed…and you risk projective identification if you take it in and take that persona on.

Transference is where you remind someone of another person (good or bad), with the associated risk of countertransference, when you take it heart. This can work both ways – you can also be told you were brilliant, when really it was the memory of someone else that was.

So the key insight is that when stuff happens (good or bad), it isn’t always about you.  However, it can be hard to put on a protective shield from the flattering or threatening dynamics of a group.

Large groups can be especially tricky for a facilitator and bring out the worst in participants due to feelings of abandonment plus anxiety about significance, trust or control. This can lead to a powerful flight or fright response (down to leaving early, tricky questioning and passive aggressive responses from people who seem fine one minute and not the next.

I have an interesting article from the Huffington Post critical of the dynamics of a famous self-improvement course if you are interested…let me know.

How can you cope in large groups specifically?
a. Be human – the ‘blanker’ you are the more likely you are to receive projection. Actually, in group relations training it is common for the consultants to choose to be inscrutable to provoke this! So, being ‘professional’ might increase the risk of a hard time. Quirky authenticity might not be a bad thing.
b. Look calm – do not seem anxious, don’t stoke the feelings others will certainly have. Your tone of voice, facial expressions and way you walk even really do matter. Try to turn up calm, even before you are on stage. Don’t start your (and the venue staff) off on a bad footing by letting it out on them. I have, and really try hard to contain my anxiety now!
c. Avoid recommending some of the common ‘defences against anxiety’ such as working groups to delay a difficult conversation – think how you can seize the initiative and get stuck in. Even in large groups methods, such as fishbowls or careful plenary questioning, can be very powerful. Try to avoid nurturing a dependence on you – dependence is a form of collusion based on low responsibility, and one that might feel comfortable to you and them.
d. Working in a facilitation pair is powerful, and limits any projection to one of the pair usually, which leaves at least one of the two free to carry on working (though that isn’t much fun for the person who is scapegoated, and that needs careful debriefing, see below). A shadow consultant role (where one facilitator doesn’t do much up front) is another option. Think how you prepare in a new pair with this checklist.
e. Finally, there are some top notch methods and ideas for agendas  in large meetings.

Other ways to prepare so you increase your insight and options for informed, resilience action include:
a. A key step is to acknowledge and try to reduce any group anxiety – maybe even by naming it.
b. Be aware of the possible power battles that may occur with you or others – maybe ‘irrational’ ones (eg transference, as you remind them of someone else).
c. Read around the topic such as this paper I commissioned in a role I did a few years back and this from a good book. There is lots online about large group dynamics too.
d. Do a course – there are lots, and I am happy to advise.
e. At the meeting, if things are tough, imagine you are in a glass chamber where the dynamics can’t reach you, but you and the group can see and hear everything.
f. Practice thinking under the surface, with various iceberg (and onion!) reflection techniques! Get into the discipline of thinking what might be going on that you can’t see – or that others won’t discuss (the proverbial ‘elephant’)
g. Rehearse Heron based tactics – what options do you see, for example .
h. Get into the best shape for the day – intellectually, emotionally, physically – taking care of your energy.
i. Use techniques that promote engagement and responsibility – open space methods for self-suggested sessions for example.
j. Never work with a group that has had a drink!
k. Maybe think of ground rules that are authentic to you and helpful to the group – eg “I have designed today to appeal to as many as possible, if things are not right for you at a particular moment try a bit of discomfort for a while, but tell me if you are close to panic”, “no side conversation please unless you are helping a non-English speaker” and “we are working to be balanced – between structure and freedom, chaos and control, big and detailed picture thinking, logic and emotion, positive and negative reactions – please say if that balance isn’t working for you”.  You can then use SPOG (see two blogs ago) to guide your response to any challenges
l. Maybe try to be a bit playful – really! Play involves transitional objects, or toys. Children play to handle their anxieties, as adults humour, games, getting outside, being kinaesthetic can help too!
m. Journal your thoughts and feelings before, in breaks and after meetings. Try meditation too.
n. Undertake supervision as well – with an expert coach.

So, don’t fear the dark side – and as with de Bonos six thinking hats, the black hat can be the most useful.

It is all about balance. Try positivity first, but be prepared…

When you feel dumped on – think, what might be going on here?

May the force be with you!  Do work to bring your hope and light and wisdom to bear.

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My Moderation Checklist

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I was speaking with a friend and client earlier. We were chatting through our respective approaches to moderation.

After some syntactical knowledge exchange we came up with the checklist – which regular readers know will have made me very happy.

If you are booked to ‘moderate’ are you clear what you being asked to do?  Do they want you to facilitate, for example, see this tweet – the big difference being how far you suggest the agenda and lead pre-work such as surveys and speaker coaching…and maybe the propensity to split a large group into smaller conversations too.

And are you clear what sort of moderator the client is expecting – a sage, joker or host? And can you do what they are asking – best to say no at the start than be found out as not very funny or wise!

1) Prepare well
– Do you know how the speakers have been briefed (what have they been asked to do, for how long, is there breathing space between them for you to use for a comment, humorous aside, summary etc?). The bigger and more formal the meeting the more important it is for all speakers to have been rehearsed…by the event company probably, though you might want to get involved too, which can cause tensions with others who don’t see the importance of this (both speakers and conference organisers).
– What is your pre event routine…depending where you are on our reactions assessment, things like making sure you sleep well or do not arrive with a coffee OD after a party the night before, really matter. Personally I like to try and get 8 hours sleep, go for a run, do a short meditation and visualise the day – all before getting on site 2 hours before it is due to kick off.  You can see I try to get to bed early the night before!
– Know your contingencies – for example if the day is flat or you go over time…use a buzz group or shorten a Q&A.

2) Know how you will set the tone for the whole meeting.
– First things are fateful and what you say and do in the first 10 minutes really, really matters. If you run through housekeeping and just introduce the first speaker the die is cast, the day is lost – the meeting is almost certain to be passive and dull unless you are lucky to have totally brilliant speakers.
– As an expert moderator you might want to include your SCQ early on. In our Brilliant Thinking Made Easy course Ross shares the Minto Pyramid. This starts with Situation, Complication and Question. You might wish to outline what you’re hoping to discover as you listen to the days proceedings – you can then keep referring back to what is emerging for you and keep asking the group about it too.
– As a performer you might want to tell some jokes – and even other types of moderator might want to find some smirkful segue
– As a community builder finding out a few things with a show of hands can make a huge difference even when you don’t have time for any sort of small group discussion that would meet the facilitation principle of “all use their own voices in the first 10 minutes”. For example, my ‘human pie chart process’ asks who has travelled the furthest, what first languages are spoken, who knows less than 10 people and who over half, what job roles and organisation types are represented etc.

3) Keep track
– Keep an eye on time – are you on schedule for breaks, key time points?  Do you know where you have flexibility to catch up? (eg Q&A sessions, long breaks etc)
– Do track speakers as they work through any slides – reminding a speaker who looks like they are going very slow at around half way through their allotted time.
– Do notice and use in real time what is happening in social media about the event, for example hashtag comments on Twitter. These sort of illustrations make great segue!

4) Managing conversations
– Are you a fan of Buzz groups – these can work even in large events. But in the wrong hands (or at the wrong event) are a bit naff.
– What about setting a question for the group to take to coffee – and asking for a few responses to it later?
– And what about asking people to hand in questions, comments to you on paper (a sort of conversation with you!) – you can read out some on arrival. You can even get them to try and throw them in as paper planes for a prize if you are feeling playful.
– I am not a fan of stacking Q&A to the end of a whole morning or afternoon…I sometimes suggest what I call the “seminar sandwich” – with Q&A or table work etc every two speakers….
– The degree of ambient light in the room (natural or artificial matters)…the more light the more you are signalling interaction and less a show. Sometimes those working on the AV side of an event don’t get it when you ask for more house lights. Some clients like the theatrical darkness too. By the way, so do I for some things (eg a selection of photos with music before a start, a video after a break etc).

5) Knowing how to manage panel discussions
– This is the hardest thing for most moderators – especially after lunch! However a lively and interesting panel can be THE event highlight.
– Be clear how far this is a broadcast show or really a chance to engage the audience. Panel discussions are more of a “sell and tell” event format, less of an “engage and shape” one – so if you don’t think it is relevant say so and find other uses for the time (NB though, a ‘pure’ moderator doesn’t challenge the client agenda and ‘merely’ seeks to bring it to life).
– I recommend choosing a TV or Radio interviewer (news anchor, chat show host etc) you admire and who you think has a relevant style, and try to imagine what they would do – tone of voice, sort of interactions, how they play guests off each other. Give it a go.
– Do you want to play it nude or natty! Do you want to dive straight into the discussion or start with some witty CV summaries…”And in her last/on twitter job Lisa said…” to kick it off.
– Try to avoid pre prepared reflections to start from each panel member. At the most you might allow some quick, spontaneous comments from each member of what they have learnt if the panel is about the day – or what they are wanting to discover/explore if the panel is a new topic.
– How will you engage others in the audience – will you leave the stage and bound around with a mike, or use runners?

6) Capturing the event
– how far are your comments part of the record?
– who is capturing the meeting and how – video, cartoon, narrative record (idenk style for example) etc.

Once again, be authentic. However, as a rule of thumb, plan to take 1 or 2 risks a day, things that are out of character: what seems safe is often the most risky thing to do, for a dull day is lethal…it won’t be neutral. It will be good – or bad. Try to bet on good.

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From nightmares to no cares

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In my one to one coaching I often use a framework adapted from scenario planning. I get clients to describe 4 futures they think they could encounter (and possibly create): the Dream, the Disaster, the Default and the Do-able. When coaching someone to develop their facilitation skills and repertoire, I find that the disaster scenario features prominently – where things could go horribly wrong looms large. Our online facilitation skills assessment has a tenth category that surfaces these fears – and that ‘facilitation nightmares’ section regularly reveals low scores!

So what are these nightmares? The same ones come up time and time again and include these four:
1) Will the group start talking – “there’s no energy, will they interact with me?”
2) Will I be able to stop them – “will some people go on and on, boring everyone and distracting the process?”
3) Will they fall out – “how do I stop them getting into conflict with each other?”
4) Will they reject my agenda, will they reject me – “what if I don’t know what to ask them to do or they don’t like it?”

Which do you worry about the most?  For me, you might be surprised to know, is 2).

What would you do?

In my facilitation training we explore lots of top tips for these. Briefly, a few of my favourite tactics are:
i) Too Quiet: Get people to work in pairs or trios within the first few minutes of starting – and whenever the mood seems flat
ii) Too Talkative: I find that humour, reminding all of the time and seeking other peoples views works
iii) Too Argumentative: See conflict as good (something to be harnessed and embraced even, not avoided), and frame the day as about exploring different views…and then methods like the six thinking hats, Thomas Kilman, scenarios, hexagon mapping, iceberg, polarity management, dilemma resolution, the idenk agree/differ process kick in!
iv) Too Resistant: I like using the SPOG process…

The ‘SPOG’ method is helpful when you experience sustained pushback to your suggestions:
 Summarise the Situation
 Propose a process, maybe sharing the alternative options you see too
 Outline the output you believe it will achieve
 Gather the views of the group: what do others think of your suggestion? Check what they think might be useful to do…

[And a more facilitative alternative: Before you share your view of what to suggest next you might call time out, tea or set up a trio – to create you breathing space or time to go over things with any colleagues or client. This can lead to a version of this called SGPO where you jump straight from 1 to 4 – and then maybe back to 2 and 3 after some conversations in groups or trios – and with your co worker. We are firm believers in the ‘power of pairs’ to help at times just like this! ]

And what can be done to avoid nightmares?

There is lots to do in rehearsal – the second D of the 4Ds of Facilitation (design, dry run, do it, debrief)…and one of the 13Ps too!

And in the heat of the moment..
A. First think about what is going on – what are your hypotheses for what is happening under the surface (see the iceberg or Deep Think model here  – maybe even working this explicitly with the group)
B. Explore your options: using the Heron framework and this list from one of the best facilitation books

C. Have a go!
D. Then reflect: what went well, what would you have done differently, what are you curious about (what do you think might have been going on), what will you do next (you can journal this process with a pen and paper in a book to keep or type in an e-file)?

The more you do this, the easier it gets. Building your capacity to reflect regularly after a session increases your chance of seeing alternatives and options ‘in the moment’.

And revisiting the promise of this blog: from Nightmares to No Cares? Well not quite, but less worry is certainly possible!

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There is nothing like the smoothness of a…good segue

Facillitation No Comments

The performances of the band I play drums in have transformed this year. We have largely done this by creatively mashing (or bashing) songs by different artists into and over each other. We have enjoyed finding new ways to create medleys of tunes so we can move swiftly from one segment of a song to another. From an audience point of view this helps maintain interest and energy. It took us a fair bit of work to learn how to do this, but it is now much easier to do. And it is enjoyable too.

When I am asked “what makes for a great moderator?”, I tend to think about what makes the difference between adequate and exceptional talent. And in answer to that, I think one of the key things is the same as what makes for a good (or in our case, improving!) band: an in-depth knowledge of how best to ensure a slick (or at least skilled) and interesting connecting between the parts. Of course there are plenty of other moderation skills (responding flexibility when a plan needs to change, starting a session well, building rapport, dealing with difficult situations), but this is a key one, that often gets overlooked.

As I have noted in a couple of blogs recently the aim of facilitation is to make things easy– and by using various pointers and rules of thumb we can build the suspense for, and attraction to, what is coming in the next chunk. As with a band, if this is got right, the agenda just flows. Even if there are problems and push backs it seems more like surfing in on a great wave, and rather less like struggling out through breakers in a stormy sea – to add another analogy!

The skill of Smooth Segues is central to this sense of movement. A common facilitation nightmare is of low energy in a group – and the art of segues helps address this.

So what are some examples of, and pointers for, a good segue?

1. Early on, do use what you notice in the venue or the press or in your travels that day. Make a metaphorical connection if you can. I once worked in a welding institute on the day there was a split in a boy band – with a group who were meeting to discuss partnership (once they had arrived through the gridlock of local traffic)…you can get a sense of some of the things I used!
2. Remind the group of the overall task regularly – be clear what question the session is designed to answer.
3. Confirm, both verbally and in writing (slide, poster, clip chart) what you are asking of a group at any particular moment.
4. Be ready to share what you have heard in a session that has interested you. Be ready with a question. Listen to all speakers (presenters, group members), and follow your curiosity with open ended, inquiry questions.
5. Use images, humour and stories to illustrate the links from one part to another – choosing what you say each time you get the groups attention (e.g. after small group work, after a break etc.) really matters. What tales from lunch, the days weather etc. can you use? Recently I was able to make a focused link into the last session where we were about to look for some small steps and actions, by reference to what I had learnt about the Swedish spelling of millionaire that day. Sounds dry? But it worked…ask me, you might get a feel from the slides (though maybe not!)
6. Linked to this, be prepared to be wacky: look for lateral links. For example, share what is trending on social media and ask what connections there might be to the day’s proceedings. How can you use any photos from the group or even the weather! Reflect back ideas you are hearing. For example, come back after a break having googled any key ideas or topics from earlier. Acknowledge people who make bold or boisterous points. Be brave – what seems risky is often fine, and playing it safe can be plain dull and lead to negative group dynamics.
7. Be creative in your use of energisers: tongue twisters, human histograms, guessing north, conducting music, group percussion, quizzes, games etc…let your (internet inspired?) interest and creativity run wild if the event allows it. And seek volunteers too…you will be amazed at what people know (yoga is common) or can imagine (charades on the days content) or are prepared to try on their colleagues (laughter therapy)!
8. Think of how you signal time – a visible clock, shout out reminders, music, chime, checking out if people are done, letting it go etc.

Good segues show you are listening, lighten the mood, lessen the load and lead to next thing. They frame and focus each session, reduce the anxiety groups members can feel (especially in large groups between the fear of abandonment or attack) and channel or even create energy. They reduce the likelihood of a facilitation nightmare, be it silence or rejection or fighting.

Overall – be authentic in what you offer.

But try to be balanced, not just doing the things you would like! A useful rule of thumb is to try and provide something for everyone, regardless of personality. For example, in terms of MBTI, try to provide both information and illustration segues that work for all participants, whether they are big picture thinkers or a totally into the detail, wanting freedom or a bit of structure, a logical thinker or much more intuitive.

I regularly use the ‘Goldilocks test’ to check anything from the speed of a meeting to the temperature of the room. I hope you find that by applying these principles your groups tell you things are “just right”.

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Getting it: facilitating understanding,in timely chunks

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A friend was saying this week how she now ‘gets’ her iPhone. A shop assistant was describing a feature, and she just understood it. That wasn’t always the case for her.

In the late 1990s ‘Knowledge Management’ was at the peak of its fad cycle.  And at that time I heard US leadership expert Peter Senge explain a model of learning he finds helpful. He described two sorts of knowledge transfer:

A) First The Syntactical. This is where colleagues share many common assumptions – so there is a basic level of understanding that allows easy communication of meaning. Like two chess grandmasters, one person can merely outline a new idea (e.g. on a move), and the other person gets it. They tend to be equally motivated – and connected with sufficient trust and respect to value the other point of view too. This peer to peer approach is seen in ‘communities of practice’ where there is curiosity and enough common ground to allow the use of shorthand – so things move fast. In Syntactical knowledge transfer ‘straight transmission is easy and often swift – however, even dry talks and dense articles engage becasuse the content is so meaningful and shared.
B) Or The Transformative. Here a shared understanding needs to be built – and this requires relationships to be developed, different points of view understood and the meaning of words to be explained. The quality of the experience (whether a talk or a workshop session) really matters. It takes time.

As moderators and facilitators, we are concerned with both. However, it is easy for us (or bosses or clients) to make assumptions about how fast things need to move, assumptions that might not quite reflect the needs of the group.  Our desire for pace may be due to the ambition we have of completing certain things by the end of the day and our learning style/needs, not the groups.

When designing an event we need to think of the time required to ensure each session achieves its learning goals. Thinking and asking “is this a time for syntactical or transformative learning” really helps.

So when considering the design of an agenda, here are a few pointers:

1) A facilitated day tends to be made up of four 75-90 minute chunks – interspersed with breaks (i.e. arrival, chunk 1, coffee, chunk 2, lunch etc). Think of each of these chunks as the length of a film, many sports matches or a sleep cycle. After an hour and a half or so the human body needs some movement and transition. There is a natural cycle and rhythm at work – and we do well to remember that.

2) Remember a little known Russian psychologist for the Zeigarnik effect – the legacy from Bluma Zeigarnik is that the human mind finds it helpful to be reminded what is about to happen, regularly and especially at the end of one chunk (before the break and heading into the next chunk!). This creates a helpful suspense between the parts – when we state what is coming up, others start to anticipate it and move to wanting it – a bit like a trailer in a cinema.
3) Think about how long each part within a chunk is likely to need – what will it take for the group to understand a presenters point or work through an issue? This is where knowledge transmission A or B comes in: syntactical learning means participants are ready to apply ideas much more quickly. Think of this as about how long you would allow for a scene in a film if you were a director or scriptwirter. Or, as a home viewer, are you going for fast forward or slow-mo!
4) Even when you allow longer because you know transformative learning is needed, long talks are not required.  We see in the popularity of TED talks (at less than 20 minutes each) that any input is probably best being kept short before a group can reflect, speak and apply. Do you practise the key sandwich principles for adult learning? Do make sure: first, you start with where the group is at; before taking any input/talk;, then ensuring lots of time to consider and trial and review the application of what has been learnt.
5) And a recent blog, argues that even if a presenter has a short slot, keep it shorter than scheduled anyhow! Do you rehearse your speakers? Do you know how to timekeep a contributor in an relaxed manner, stopping a session in a way that seems calm and respectful (and in tune with interest of the group)?

I hope that made sense – I sort of assumed an type A audience…did I get that right for you?

All the best in applying the ideas…these relate to the Ps of participants, principles, potential risks and process in our 13Ps.

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Facilitating value?

Facillitation, Personal productivity No Comments

Last weekend I visited a family member in her new flat. She had bought a flatpack chest of draws – and my job before lunch was to assemble it. I was a bit apprehensive recalling a recent experience with a different brand of self-assembly and struggling with flatpack products in the past!

However, it went well:

1) My 90 minutes of time added value to the box of bits, and the life of my family memeber. The deal with IKEA is clear: we will sell you a cheap product and your time will make it into something that would otherwise have cost far more.
2) I was impressed by the simplicity of the instructions and how it did what it said – the design and supply of bits was spot on.
3) I had taken an electric screw driver – that tool helped hugely.

And the analogy to facilitation…?  When working with a group:
a) We need to add value to what they are doing. Facilitation is about making things easy (or easier). Helping a group get further and faster with their task and relationships than they could on their own. And to complete our FFFF of facilitation, doing that in ways that are both fun as well as focused.
b) We need to think about the way we structure and explain sessions – so they are in some ways fresh (another F) and helpful: sharing what we are planning to do in ways that earn confidence without confusion.
c) We need to be aware of the key personal skills and knowledge we might need: from a new creativity technique or a bit of digital kit or an in depth understanding of group dynamics, for example.

Build well!


Aiming to be authentic

Facillitation No Comments

In our facilitation training we make a big deal of finding your authentic style – you don’t have to pretend to be someone else! Authenticity even gets a whole domain to itself in our facilitation assessment. We believe that to be really useful to someone else (whether we are consultants, managers, caring professionals etc) there needs to be some congruence between our values, how we live our lives and how we try to help others. Working for that alignment requires feedback, awareness, honesty and, probably, time.

I like the work of Mike Robbins on authenticity , see this Huffington Post article for example.

Also, this YouTube clip is a great TEDx video of Mike – don’t worry about the wobbly footage (you will learn to ignore it or can just listen in and look at something else). There are a number of powerful stories to make you laugh, and maybe cry, that illustrate his points – and not a PowerPoint slide in sight. Listen out for his iceberg ‘icebreaker’.


A majestic city (agenda)….with visible ‘water’ flowing in it

Facillitation, Improvement, Meetings No Comments

Keeping the watery (and summery) theme of the last blog going, what makes for a great city?

Last year we considered what gives a place a good vibe. I have travelled to lots of cities over the last year. I think there are a few things that stand out in the most special ones, those with a great ‘Feng Shui’ – from UK regional cities to foreign capitals:
1) Great buildings, often with a mix of striking new architectures, as well as some great old designs too – sometimes with supplemented grandeur from the surrounding mountains or forests.
2) A sense of movement in the place, often due to water running through the city (or when on the coast, around it). This movement of water seems to have a positive impact on the flow of people and energy (from the practical use of ferry’s to culture of the city)

We have written before of the useful lesson from good design: function and beauty – something worth considering in product development, workplace creation and event design.

Additionally, I think a truly majestic city is due to a mix of structure and flow: the visible beauty of both the natural and created environment plus the way that water (and people) move through it.

So The Great City can be a metaphor for an event. The agenda, the structure (the stone, the wood) is one thing – we might think of this as the anatomy.

The water is the other – the physiology, the life, the movement, the surprise.

So, thinking of cities with water running through them, (such as London, Sydney, Paris, Cambridge, Amsterdam, Newcastle, Shanghai etc.) we might want to think of how to moderate meetings to bring the agenda to life.

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