The ‘why’ of facilitation
• The power of the group
• Roles and skills of facilitators
• The language of facilitation
• A simple model – from conversation to dialogue
• The fundamental distinction between content and process.Why facilitators don’t have to be subject experts
• Balancing the known and the unknown
Planning and preparation – the three P’s
• Design for purpose – starting with the end in mind
• Writing a purpose statement that is powerful
• Managing the tension around purpose – too sharp or too loose?
• Registering the probable issues
• Catering to different preferences and styles
• Who should be in the meeting?
• Difficult people
• Getting ‘buy-in’ and ownership of the content
• Managing the uneasy marriage of Purpose and People
• Designs for generating spirited involvement and robust interaction, using experiential
techniques (multiple tools and tips)
• Generating and sorting multiple ideas
• Prioritising choices
• Problem-shaping and problem-solving
Creating agendas using planning templates for (almost) all meetings
Skills for Doing It
The First Hour – warming up (to the facilitator, each other, the topic, the culture and tone of the meeting, sharing and moving)
QALINTO – essential skills for Doing facilitation
1. Questioning – good and great questions, dealing with silence, asking the dumb questions that explore hidden assumptions or expose ‘the elephant in the room’
2. Active Listening – an intensive focus on listening skills
3. Generating INTeraction – encouraging different voices and opinions without wasting time,
modulating the ‘dominators’, Building dialogue between participants and finding the common
4. Observing – monitoring the pace and quality of the discussion, keeping everyone involved and
on track, managing time.
• Assertiveness, and harnessing conflict for positive good
• Creating group meaning – synthesising and summarising
• Noticing and shifting patterns of behaviour that support or hinder interaction
Following up and following through
• Getting traction from your meetings
• Shaping ‘artefacts’ that create a memorable legacy from the meeting
It’s just a conversation
A good place to start thinking about facilitation is from a very simple place. What makes a great conversation, one to one, or in a small group?
In the course of this conversation, something shifts, for all parties. Something surprises us. New meaning is created, future directions become clear, needs are met, and commitments are made.
Good conversations enter unknown territory. When you start, you don’t actually know how it will turn out with your partners. You may have a purpose, or an end in mind. But this purpose must allow for other voices and other expectations. If you are just pushing for a specific result or change in the other person, it’s a lecture, or a scolding. It will be resisted.
The best conversations go beyond discussion or debate. Someone with a sense of humour noted the etymological link between ‘discussion’ and ‘percussion’. Discussion is the clash of ideas. The very best requires an open mind, and authentic and honest sharing.
The best conversations go even further. They enter the realm of dialogue.
Dialogue is more than a mere exchange of ideas, as useful as that is. It is not just about information, data, and facts. We can google for that. Dialogue encompasses at least two more things: empathy and intention.
Feelings first. Do we have a sense that we are open to another’s emotional universe? When someone is angry, moved, delighted by an insight, do we step into their shoes to sense the full implication of that emotion? By contrast, do we acknowledge the danger of getting railroaded by someone else’s passion?
Then intention. There is almost always some forward movement in someone else’s words. We are creatures of the future. We are heading somewhere (however vague or short term). For each of us, gathering in a group, there are multiple intentions available, intentions that have, potentially, coalesced for the brief moment of this meeting. Is there something that might emerge between us that creates a collective insight that has some mutual forward movement?
Then a last element. This one from David Bohm (a theoretical physicist who promoted free flowing, non-judgemental dialogue as a tool for social transformation): that some new meaning emerges between the parties in the discussion.
So. Dialogue implies is an openness of heart and intention that, from your careful sharing and listening , allows new meanings to emerge that are actually created between you all in this group discussion. Imagine, if every conversation was seen as an opportunity for this kind of dialogue? Dialogue with depth and delight. What would be different?
the etymology of ‘conversation’ : to ‘turn together’
It is worth acknowledging that managing yourself might be the greatest challenge in facilitation (and the most interesting opportunity for personal growth).
Facilitation is always about entering unknown territory. So take comfort in reminding yourself that this is the heart of your work. If you are facilitating something where the content is already mapped out clearly, it’s not really facilitation, it’s communication or presentation.
Your own uncertainty, or anxiety could be a symptom for something in the room that needs to be acknowledged, and might in fact be valuable for the group. Try and distinguish this: “Is this just about me and my own lack of confidence, or is there something here that others may be sharing”. If it is the latter, consider voicing it and asking the group for advice. This is an authentic and valuable offer to make.
Many of us struggle in our professional lives trying to achieve stronger alignment between our outer and inner selves (‘our role and our soul’). Some resolve it by projecting a tough, no-nonsense professional demeanour. After all, we are being paid or, at least, endorsed as the facilitator for this event. More creative and open possibilities emerge when the facilitator provides a role model for open and honest sharing. This means, to an appropriate degree, sharing something of our own vulnerability. On the contrary, you will strike participants every now and then who are incapable or unwilling to remain within a respectful range of behaviours. To protect yourself and your group, some professional boundaries are necessary and appropriate. How you manage this balance between vulnerability and security, is a question all of us face in each meeting and moment.
When you are in trouble, remember where we started in this book. It is about a conversation. That’s all. Not every conversation turns out. There can always be another one.
If you want to explore these questions in more depth, consider these references:
- Parker Palmer book on teaching (The Courage to Teach) is an extended essay on the relationship between identity and integrity.
- Brene’ Brown’s work is an impassioned invitation to greater vulnerability.
- And Michelle Howard, a Melbourne-based facilitator, has recently published a book of stories from the frontline of facilitation in highly challenging contexts (Stories from the Trough).
Enjoy the journey