I started my facilitation work in 2018 by learning from 2017. I was fortunate to facilitate many sessions in 2017; all with amazing clients and colleagues. I learned from each session and participants; and in some situations, faced very challenging topics, relationships and processes. Here are highlights of 2017 lessons which I re-affirmed.
Be comfortable with intentional ambiguity about outcomes. I work very hard with clients to identify and agree upon the results of a facilitated session. That is a competency of a certified facilitator. However, I believe that, sometimes, the undefined outcome is OK with the client. I worked with a senior leadership staff team to explore significant changes to their department. They did not know what the changes could be; only that they wanted to discuss and explore them. They were intentionally ambiguous about the outcomes they wanted; and asked that I design conversations to take them on a journey without a destination.
Prepare, prepare, prepare … and then change! I facilitated a two-day staff retreat with my role defined as a facilitative trainer in change management and communication. I prepared diligently to train in these topics, however, kept an open mind based on discussions with the client prior to the sessions. I and the participants quickly agreed that they needed to spend more time talking about the ways that they could effectively communicate and work together rather than having information presented, even in the most facilitative approach. I changed from training to facilitation; using the Consensus Card Workshop by ToP (http://top-facilitation.com; www.ica-associates.ca; www.ica-usa.org) and to Open Space Technology with remarkable success.
Never assume! How often do we hear this phrase? I was reminded of it once again when I facilitated with several Indigenous organizations in 2017. One organization involved an Elder throughout the sessions, opened with a smudging ceremony and prayers; and talked with me about ways to honour the Indigenous culture. When I met with a different Indigenous organization, I asked them about the ways that their history and culture would be recognized, assuming that many of the same elements would be observed. They told me that they did not want any specific cultural activities. I was reminded again to always ask and never assume.
Accept a challenge, even if scary! I agreed to facilitate a neighbourhood committee facing a very contentious issue. I knew that I would be challenged to help each of them honour each other, to help them listen to each other and understand different viewpoints, to speak respectfully and bluntly, and to reach mutually beneficial decisions. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of each individual and the commitment to working together.
Working with Indigenous People. I was very honoured to facilitate with three different organizations that are comprised of, and serve, Indigenous people. I learned so much and am now reading and taking courses to better understand the Indigenous people who live within Canada.
Lots can be done in a short amount of time! I am usually uncomfortable with facilitating short sessions with many, potentially contentious, topics because I do not think well-thought-out decisions can be reached with limited discussion. However, I learned from one group, that at times, much can be successfully accomplished in a brief time. Based on the clients’ request, we discussed and decided about three BIG topics in two hours. I asked the participants to divide the time and they choose 50 minutes for Topic A, 40 minutes for Topic B, and 30 minutes for Topic C. I prepared various discussion and decision-making techniques and decided on the spot which one would best suit the topic. Going into the session, I did not think beneficial results were possible and am glad I followed the clients’ instincts.
Working with Colleagues. What I learned from working with colleagues, is another blog! Such joy! Such lessons!
My facilitation blog question is: What did you learn from your work in 2017 that you will use in 2018?