Pack #5

Facilitation

Facilitation is perhaps the skill that can help a group be great. Not only is it there to add huge effectiveness to the output of a team, but it's there to make the whole process of being a group a wonderful thing. Facilitation is in my view perhaps the top skill for the 21st century.

Episodes

Section Introduction: What is facilitation?

Introduction

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This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

Self-organising teams are the thing to aim for. They are more engaged due to the degree they get to participate, they benefit from the groups collective intelligence, they are more resilient because they don’t depend on a single point of failure, they’re more fun and purposeful because we do it together.

However groups of people aren’t always the best at getting stuff done. There is often a mis-understanding that self-organised means chaos. But this isn’t the case! In fact self-organised teams replace hierarchy and old fashioned command and control with very explicit and high levels of organisational clarity and process. We’ve discussed a lot of different methods to help a group self-organise and the one that has come up most is to have a facilitator.

So what is facilitation?

Well the definition I normally give is that a facilitator is there to help the group decide.
Facilitation, from the word 'facile', means to make something easier. Group facilitation is the act of making it easier for the group to organise.

This can take various shapes and sizes but common to them all is one key notion: which is that the facilitator is the guardian of the process by which decisions are made or work is done, the facilitator is not implicated in the content of the decisions, or work. The facilitator is the person focussed on the process.

Perhaps another way to look at it is ‘What isn’t a facilitator?’
A facilitator isn’t somebody who makes decisions. Or simply runs meetings. Or designs ways in which the team works. The facilitator certainly isn’t the person who has loads of actions to do after the meeting. The facilitator isn’t the servant of the team, rather they are the supporter of the team, they help the team to help themselves.

Another way of looking at it is that if an executive coach is somebody that is tasked with helping an individual decide. A facilitator is the there to help the group.

A facilitator is absolutely key to the success of a group. It’s thanks to them that we have clarity, that we have high levels of engagement and that we can move forward effectively.

Why Facilitation?

Perspective

Read Transcript

This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

There are many benefits to having a facilitator in the team.

1. Organisation and effectiveness: Meetings particularly can be messy. We do them off the cuff or in an ad-hoc way and ultimately they end up in-effective, and frankly a bit of a waste of time. The facilitator can help to keep us running to some basic guidelines and make sure we get the most out of our time.

2. Clarity: Most confusions or losses in efficiency, come from our lack of clarity. Nobody is sure why we’re here, what we’re doing, whose saying what. We also often misunderstand each other, what we’re saying, what we're actually agreeing and disagreeing on. A facilitator is above all things an amazing listener and is able to summarise and reflect what is being said to ensure we really are all on the same page.

3. Empathy: The role of a facilitator whilst it sometimes involves some more engineering type approaches, it is predominantly a psychological role. It requires us to deeply listen and care for the people in our group. It requires us to ensure somebody feels heard, that they’re feelings are accepted and that our needs are clear.

4. Self-learning and personal development: The main problem with having didactic managers and leaders is that it withdraws our autonomy and therefore our opportunities to learn. But humans really are learning machines when allowed to. A facilitator is able to show a mirror, to ask questions to a person or to the group that help them reach their own insights, thus in a way the true role of a facilitator is to help people to learn to learn.

5. Honesty: Much can go unsaid in a group, and if that goes on for too long it creates a lack of clarity around our work but also all sorts of problems in our relationships. Often the role of a facilitator is to bring up the elephant in the room, to call out the things that aren’t being said, or simply to ask the group ‘what aren’t you saying right now?’. 'If your silence could speak what would it say?’. This keeps us real and helps us resolve issues rather than sweeping them under the blanket.

6. Accountability: We can often wriggle our way out of commitments and actions. The role of a facilitator is to leave nothing to guess work but rather really help us to nail down who is doing what by when. They’re job is to make sure we all have agreed publicly what we’re doing.

7. Navigating ambiguity: The modern world of work often means we have no idea what we’re doing. Things are uncertain and unclear. Rather than us all being a bit lost, the role of a facilitator can often be to help us have fruitful conversations that result in us being slightly more clear than we were originally. To work in divergent and convergent phases where we bring up many options, and then hone them down.

8. Energy: Whether we like to admit it or not, how we feel at work is vital to how we perform. Meetings particularly tend to suck our energy because we run them so badly. The role of a facilitator is often to read the mood and energy levels in the room and to adapt the process so that it meets our needs. Or perhaps even to adapt our moods and energy to the job at hand. Whether that’s asking us to stand for certain things or sit for others. A facilitator reads the room.

9. Objectivity & Intellectual Rigour: When we’re involved in something deeply, particularly things that involve our own ideas or egos, it’s easy to lose clarity and intellectual rigour. We’re too subjectively involved. A facilitator isn’t in the conversation but on the conversation, thus they are sufficiently removed to be able to intervene, create forums and ask questions that help us think sharper about things. Perhaps sometimes helping us to distance ourselves from the issue.

10. Fairness: Finally, the facilitator is in some ways a guardian of freedom, equality and diversity. It’s thanks to them rebalancing the room and giving everybody a voice that we’re able to not slip into power dynamics and overly coercive situations. The facilitator is in a way somebody who champions values and process over power.

These are some of the many reasons why facilitation is important.

One thing I know is that teams that use facilitation well, in fact at all actually, not only perform way better but feel way better. Perhaps that’s the greatest reason to use facilitation.

Types of facilitation

Perspective

Read Transcript

This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

I’ve heard different people use facilitation very differently. For some it is just a little job, a tool to guide people through a set process. It’s an engineering process where we go through different very planned steps. For others it really is a calling. A way of life and relating to others. One that embraces ambiguity and that puts human psychology and complexity above all else. There are benefits to both ends of this spectrum and perhaps it’s worth talking about the different settings a facilitator can inhabit:

1. Meeting formats
Every meeting needs a facilitator. Otherwise we will have either chaos and ineffectiveness, or autocracy. When a meeting format is very clear and set in stone, the role of the facilitator can be simply to take us through the steps and to hold us to account. This form of facilitation is something everybody can learn. It requires a guide book and some practice.

2. Guided Workshops
Some guided workshops can be much the same as the meeting formats. We have some steps. Some exercises. Some templates or canvases to fill in. And the facilitator takes us through these gates, step by step and we end up in a good situation. It might require a bit more adapting but overall we’re just going through the process. One part of their role is to design that process.

3. Dialogue and discussion
Sometimes however the conversation is open ended. Here the role of a facilitator does start to become a calling. There are few guidelines as to how this is going to work beyond what the facilitator creates as guidelines. They’re job is to read the room, to summarise what is really going on, to manage tensions, to help us get clear on why we’re having this conversation in the first place, to help us identify what we’re agreeing and disagreeing on and what next steps will be. Here the facilitator is a kind of human AI, taking in large swaths of data, synthesising and pruning a decision tree to help us get somewhere. This job is sometimes intellectually demanding and always emotionally demanding because we're having to read people and learn when and when not to intervene.

4. Group Dynamics & Conflict
And perhaps the most specialist situation a facilitator can help a group navigate is their own internal dynamics. The unsaid. The tensions. The dynamics. These are the really human sides of groups and are the invisible elements guiding everything we do subsequently. Weirdly despite being the thing that is guiding everything, group dynamics is normally the most ignored. Here the facilitator is kind of a group therapist to be honest. Their job is to create psychological safety. To create an environment that allows for honesty, that helps people to hear each other far better, that helps people to work out their dynamics, their relationships and their own attitudes and behaviours.

So the role of a facilitator can go from running a meeting, to helping a group get real with each other. We are not all suited to them all. For some of us the more intense encounter group scenarios could well become a calling, and what a calling that is. But for others, simply learning these principles and tools to rotate the facilitator for our team meetings, that is form of facilitator we all need and can do, all the time.

I think it's worth us all learning to do at least basic formats.

Alignment > Agreement

Pattern

Read Transcript

This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

There are some dynamics that occur regularly when facilitating in groups.
One common dynamic is that we fail to distinguish between alignment and agreement.

They are perhaps best explained with two images.

Agreement
With agreement, we have a box. With a dot in the middle, the focus point. Then we have loads and loads of arrows pointing towards the dot but slightly missing it. We have everybody’s attention at that tiny detail but we’re not agreeing on the tiny detail. The result is a team that keeps missing the mark, the is speaking past each other and is gradually no doubt getting more frustrated from the wasted energy.


Alignment
Alignment on the other hand is a different image. Instead of a box, we have a big outline of an arrow. Within that big arrow, there are many arrows more or less going in the same direction. Not exactly, but more or less. As we get towards the narrow end of the arrow, the tip of the arrow, only a few little arrows remain. This is a group that is broadly aligned on the important things on vision, on values, on the broad bits. To some degree the details naturally take care of themselves because we’re in this process of always aligning and we get the help of a few people to agree.


We unfortunately normally have the first instance in a group. We’re all trying to agree the exact details of the time we’re going to have that meeting and the result is we can’t agree.

What we need is to align on our goal. When we’re aligned and all our energy is going in the same direction, the details seem to look after themselves one way or another with minimal energy wasted. It's far easier to sort out the details once we're aligned.

No more spinning in circles. No more speaking past each other.

The role of a facilitator is to help the group align. To help them see their commonalities. To notice and make visible the patterns and themes.

Divergent & Convergent Phases

Pattern

Read Transcript

This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

There is one dynamic I see in groups all the time. A dynamic that makes us speak over each other. That particular dynamic is the conflation of divergent and convergent phases.

Divergent phases
A divergent phase is one whereby we create more and more choices. The goal is to unearth possibilities, options, information, potential. It’s often represented by an open triangle, resembling the ‘inferior to’ < sign in maths.

Convergent phases
In contrast, it’s convergent phase is one where we make choices. The goal is to decide on which option we are going to pursue. It’s often represented by a closing triangle, resembling the ’superior to’ > sign in maths.

These two phases work with one another. We start with a divergent phase where we unearth options and create choices, and then move into a convergent phases where we decide and make choices.

The problem is that rather than using a divergent phase and then a convergent phase, we do both at the same time. In fact, I actually think these phases mirror broad personality types: some people want to create more and more choices and explore, some want to make choices and decide. These two personality types can speak over each other. With the divergent person feeling the convergent one is constantly closing off creativity, and the convergent person feeling the divergent person is constantly adding too much. The result is frustration.

This dynamic is pretty easily solved.

As a facilitator simply make it clear to the room that we will simply have an open divergent phase for a certain period of time, and then a closed convergent phase for a certain period of time.

This way both personality types will get there moment and the overall process will benefit from a more rigorous and clearer process.

The result is more creativity, faster decisions, more engagement, more clarity, more energy.

Work Sheet

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Being > Doing

Perspective

Read Transcript

This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

In more in-depth facilitation training, there is often a distinction given between what we do and how we do it. Sometimes this is called our ‘doing’ and our ‘being’.

Doing
Doing is the things we do. The meeting format. The instructions. The check in. The checkout. The frameworks we learn. These are the tricks of facilitation.

Being
Being is how we are. Our vibe. Our tone. Our body language. Our mood. How we're being.

Both are important and need consideration. The doing part requires us over time to learn more ways of asking questions. More workshop formats. More decision making processes. These are the engineering mechanics. The being part requires us to think about ‘how we show up’. If you’re giving off angry rushy vibes, the meeting will be hugely affected by this. If you can’t be bothered today, the meeting will lack clarity. If you’re feeling impatient, you won’t listen to people and won’t create a safe space.

On the reverse, if you bring the best version of you. If you are there to hear people, care for them, listen to them, help them take responsibility, the group will do so. It’s possible that our biggest influence as a facilitator comes from the intention and energy we bring to the dialogue we’re hosting and so taking the time to think about our own attitude is vital to good facilitation.

The way you show up can really impact a group and can be a really magical thing.

Work Sheet

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Awkward Questions & Interventions

Practice

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This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

There is a term in coaching called Powerful Questions. These are the questions that cut through the nonsense. Questions that yield disproportionately valuable answers. Questions that can help people to speak up and turn awkward silences into powerful moments. That’s why I call them awkward questions or interventions. These are wonderful tools for you as a facilitator. They are tiny interventions you can use to help the group move forward.

Here are some types of questions:
• Open Questions: Most of the questions we ask as facilitators should be open. They certainly shouldn’t be ways of sharing an opinion. An open question can help us come up with solutions, explore problems better and are more likely to help the group express itself. So ask open questions. They typically start with why, how, what…

• Going Deeper: Some groups that aren’t used to working with facilitation or that don’t have a very comfortable dynamic can do with a facilitator that helps them dig deeper into things. One example might be that the facilitator asks ‘what do you think?’, somebody answers ‘it’s good’, then the facilitator can ask ‘what’s good about it?’. Something that asks us to go beyond the surface level. Typically beyond evaluation.

• Translating Body Language: I’ve had the experience of some groups being very quiet but the body language speaking volumes. Or sometimes the body language is at odds with what’s being said. With the right tone, it can be very powerful to point out somebody’s body language. You might simply say something like ‘I see you tapping your fingers on the table a lot, but not saying much, are you frustrated?’. It doesn’t matter whether you’re right, it’s an opportunity to call something out that might lead to us all being a bit more honest and unearthing the unsaid.

• Critical Thinking: Good questions help us think better. Asking a group ‘what do we know here?’; or ‘what is fact and what are our assumptions?’; these are ways to help a group be more rigorous intellectually. Great for strategic work.

• Imagine…: When the group is silent perhaps or just not thinking with enough perspective, it can be useful to solicit as many ideas as possible before going back to the issue with a better thinking.

• Make it personal: It can be useful to ask people to explain their personal perspective and get an insight into their personal world (whether emotional or mental). That can often unlock a conversation. Questions like "Why do you think that? How did you get to that conclusion? What do you need? How do you feel?"

• Take a stand: If you smell a disagreement or lack of alignment, it can be useful to illustrate that physically whether through a raise of hands or asking people to move in the room across a spectrum and then create a discussion about the result. E.g. Why did you choose to stand there? What do you see in the room now?

• Simple language: Asking direct questions in very simple language seems to get a response. There’s something very disarming about it. I think it’s because it asks us to take jargon out and get very real. E.g. Why should we care? Who’se going to do that?

• Blunt about actions: If said with kindness and a little smile, it can be helpful to ask blunt questions which lead us to action. Jargon terms like ‘plans’ or ‘moving forward’ obfuscate (irony intentional) the real meaning. Saying it how it is helps us be clear. "Who's doing what? When are you doing it by? How will the team know that you've done it?"

• A different angle: Asking somebody to say the same thing with different words can help us explore more. "Can you explain it a different way? I’m not sure I understand you..."

• Summarise: Our job is to summarise for everybody. When we mis-summarise it helps participants to make their thinking clearer. "If I understand you correctly, I think you’re saying that [summary of understanding]. Is that right? How well am I understanding you here?". It's important that the group is able to validate or not to keep seeking clarity and understanding.

There’s many other ways. The key is to ask yourself what can you ask that will help the group to express itself, to think better, to get honest with each other.

Work Sheet

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Taking Responsibility, Starting With "I"

Practice

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This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

A lot of the times, the basic job of a facilitator is to help people to take responsibility. This is easier said than done. From school through to most workplaces, we have be brought up sitting down and passively receiving information. So asking people to lean forward and take control over things they want to change is really important.

I have one habit when facilitating that is particularly annoying but which I consider really powerful, and that is at the outset of the meeting I tell the group that I will correct anybody who speaks using ‘you’ or ‘one’ or 'we' as generic terms. For instance, somebody might say ‘you know when you go to work and you just feel overwhelmed’. That is very different  to somebody saying ‘I went to work this morning and I just felt overwhelmed’. Subtly by not using ‘I’ that person is shaking responsibility.

Our role as facilitators isn’t just to empower people within a group context, but it really is often to help that person take control of their own lives and work. I find that facilitated groups can help individuals to really grow. It’s beautiful.

If somebody is moaning in a meeting that they would like things to be like ‘X’ or like ‘Y’, it can be useful to ask them,’what do you think needs doing?’, ‘what could you do to get that initiative started?’, ‘when could you do that by?’.

Correct people and ask them to use 'I'.

Now there is a fine line where being pushy can make things worse and I cross that line all too frequently, but overall I think seeing a part of our role as helping people to take responsibility is a really noble purpose. It's not just good for the company or the group, but it's amazing for that individual. It helps them own the impact they want.

Work Sheet

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Hosting And Space Design

Practice

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This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

There are some who don’t like the term facilitator and prefer the term ‘host’. The idea being that the host simply creates a space within which great conversations happen. Think when you host somebody at your house. You might tidy up before your guests arrive, you might turn the TV off, you might make nice hot drinks…etc.

We should think the same about the meetings we host in the workplace. The environment really matters. If you want a creative session, where are people most creative? If you want an honest and intimate environment, what environment does that? If you want people to be present, you might ask everybody to leave their phones at the door.

What it’s about is creating the basic conditions for good conversations to happen. Here are some tiny tips that might be useful depending on the situation:

• Meeting in informal environments is sometimes better
• Having a screen or projector is guaranteed to have everybody looking at it, not each other
• Asking people to leave their phones at the door or simply asking everybody to put them and their laptops away before the meeting can be great
• I prefer to have meetings without a table between us because it has a really tangible effect on how humans participate and relate to each other
• Music can be valuable when people enter the room, it can prime participants towards the vibe you want. If it’s contemplative, some calm music can be good, faster if a more creative meeting. Just entering to it can help put people in the right headspace.

Whatever it is, try to create the environment most conducive to what you’re trying to achieve.

In some instances with group discussions, the most important thing a host can do is to create a good space for conversation to happen.

Work Sheet

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What about Online Facilitation?

Practice

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This pack is designed to help people consider a shifting global context which requires us to build different types of organisation and see to reconsider traditional organisations, work and our own mindsets. It includes "perspective" episodes designed to provoke new thoughts, "reflection" episodes to make sense of new insights and a "mini-workshop" to share insights related to change management in a group.

  • Section Introduction
  • The Straight Line Instinct
  • The Destiny Instinct
  • Losing Control
  • Ice or Liquid
  • The Implications Map
  • [BONUS] Daily Anchor Canvas

More and more I think there is a role for an online facilitator. I don’t mean online video call meetings. I think that role is basically the same as for an in person meeting, but with some added tweaks around using open documentation clearly…etc.

I mean more in terms of the public channels we speak in. Ultimately it’s all our jobs but I think there is value on people using some of the tools of facilitation in our channels in MS Teams or Slack. Here are some ways this can be done:
• Asking a channel to set a purpose: Making it clear why this channel exists and what happens in it
• Channel guidelines: I think it can be great to make the rules of conversation in a channel explicit, the facilitator can help crowdsource that decision from the group
• Team Wiki: Essential document should be updated, the facilitator can ping the person responsible to do so
• Sign posting: There’s so many channels, we’re bound to speak in the wrong place, it can be valuable to have a facilitator point us in the right direction sometimes
• Cleaning & converging: A lot of channels stop being used, the role of a digital facilitator can be to clean and archive channels, as well as encouraging people to group or separate channels apart
• Speak in the open: One thing a digital facilitator can always do I think is to nudge people to speak in the open more, that is a really key task.

All to say that perhaps there is a need to have somebody be our digital shepherd and create transparency and organisational clarity as a result.

Ultimately it's everybody's job and it needs more focus.

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