Friday, December 18, 2009

Facilitate … for powerful conversations!

To me, facilitation is always about meaningful and productive conversations, albeit sometimes verbally and sometimes nonverbally. I believe that when we as individuals, families, and community groups hold powerful and focussed conversations, we begin to accomplish what we need and believe in. It seems that I am not alone! And this affirmation comes from an unlikely source – a cell phone provider, WIND Globallive. A few days ago, I opened the Calgary Herald newspaper and a full-page advertisement leaped at me. The ad was for a new mobile phone provider that will soon launch in Canada. The ad tagline read: “We’re good to go. Thanks to the Power of Conversation.” The ad continued with fun and personalized thanks to many individuals who obviously had texted, twittered, posted, and e-mailed comments to the company. A few examples are: “Thank You TammyF for all your awesome posts. Thanks to moto for steering us in the right direction. And thanks a Mill to mccans for all your thoughtful comments.” The ad finished by stating “You are all proof that conversations really do make things better.”

My curiosity was piqued because the advertisement talked about the power of conversation in which I strongly believe. I quickly went to website and found that the conversation message was continued. I do not want to make this blog a promotion of the mobile company; however, their marketing approaches reaffirm principles which I use in my facilitation work.

WIND Globallive went straight to the core of why people use mobile phone services, that is, to communicate and hold conversations with others. The company did not expound on the merits of cell phones or how their services are better than other companies. Instead, they wrote about the reason they people want cell phone connections – to converse. As a facilitator, I always talk with participants about the core reasons for why they are holding facilitated discussions. Once we know the true purpose, then I can jointly design the discussions with them and select the appropriate discussion and decision making tools to use such as Skilled Facilitator (, ORID focussed conversation (an example is at ), Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry (, etc. In other words, I don’t start with one particular cell phone in mind!

WIND Globallive may be using conversations as an effective marketing tool however, the message that “conversations really does make things better” resonates with me.

My blog conversation questions are: What is a powerful conversation that you recently held? What made it so memorable?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Facilitate … with a drink!

Last week, a colleague and I facilitated a session about planning using a community development approach. While designing the session, we laughingly said that by the end of the day, we would need to go for a drink! This spontaneously spurred us to brainstorm ways to use a drink as a closing ceremony with the group.

We asked the participants, in small groups of 5 to 6 people, to create a Community Development Drink - alcoholic or non-alcoholic. We asked them to name it, to list the ingredients, and explain what the ingredients represented. What fun! Our participants “seized the glass” and had tons of laughs with the activity!

What types of drinks were created? Here are a few examples.
· A Caesar with the red clamato juice representing the passion and heart beat of community.
· A Community Sunshine Lemonade showing the joy of community
· A Community Spirit Drink because community is about the pride of its people
· A Celebration Drink with people as the ingredient to show “buy-in” and action.

And, to finish in a more traditional way, we all raised our water glasses and toasted each other for a successful session.

I love this quick activity because it meets my criteria for facilitation – Fun, Fervor, and Focus. The Fun is obvious! The Fervor or passion or intensity was evident as participants immediately started to throw out ideas to represent what they believed about community development. The Focus occurred as people intentionally honed their beliefs and ideas about community development by focussing on a single object, the drink.

Facilitate … with a drink! It works!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Facilitate with ... Fun!

There was a great team of co-workers.
Of whom, not one was a shirker.
They laughed and they learned,
Then they worked and performed.
They were a great group of mirth-ers!

I definitely took poetic license with the English language! It’s hard to find a word to rhyme with workers and shirkers! Yet, “mirth-ers” seems to fit. I believe that mirth, humour, and fun are tremendously important parts of facilitation.

I observe over and over again, how people come alive, are more attentive, participate with more enthusiasm, and I think, learn more when they are smiling and laughing. As a facilitator, I encourage my clients, participants, and me to plan to have fun and be playful as outcomes of a facilitated event. How do facilitators and participants plan to have fun? I do not mean telling jokes, although, they have their place when appropriate and tasteful, and if you remember the punch line! The best fun, to me, is the humour that comes from the group participants reacting to a situation in the session. This type of humour is genuine, spontaneous, and inclusive. A few years ago, a group of retired teachers were extremely excited about their small group discussions and would not stop talking when I asked them. The next time I facilitated a session with them, they gave me a big old-fashioned and loud school bell to call them to order.

Several weeks ago, at a three-day Leadership Retreat, my gifted co-facilitator introduced several discussion activities during the first afternoon. Both times, she instructed the participants to talk for three minutes, raising three fingers to emphasize the time. The next time she started to give instructions, the participants spontaneously chorused, “You have three minutes” and thrust three fingers into the air. Smiles were on every face, and the participants waited with anticipation for the next chance to chant "three minutes".

In the same retreat, some of the participants through an inadvertent mix-up by the facility operators, did not have bedding for one night. When I found this out the next morning, I decided to have fun. I asked the participants who were “sheetless” to raise their hands. Laughing, about 1/3 of them did. Then, I asked them to share how they had solved the problem. One explained that her t-shirt made a great pillow when stuffed with other clothes. Another said she had intended to buy sheets for a room at home, and therefore, she drove to a nearby town and bought them to use. We all enjoyed the opportunity to change an unpleasant situation into a fun and innovative discussion. And yes, the facility operators quickly and efficiently provided sheets.

When designing a facilitation event, I purposely think about discussion and learning activities that can naturally lead to fun. Unique questions during introductions create interest and send the message, “Let’s have fun!” Asking participants to choose pictures and images to illustrate their opinions encourages laughter and creativity. A colleague writes a poem about the sessions she facilitates. I occasionally write limericks!

Above my office desk, I have five small prints of cartoon people engaging in fun activities. These prints remind me to Facilitate ... with Fun!

My blog conversation questions are: What do you do as a facilitator or participant to have fun in a session? What is a time that you had lots of fun in a session? Write a comment and share your fun!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Technology fails...and encourages me to blog!

Technology fails … yet connects me globally … and encourages me to blog! Several days ago, I was a participant in a wonderful webinar about facilitation. I didn’t know who else was participating. Thirty minutes into the session, the Internet capabilities failed and we were disconnected. However, through some technological fluke, I remained in a three-way conversation with two participants; one in Melbourne, Australia and one in Cleveland, Ohio – and I in Calgary Alberta Canada. We had an enjoyable and informative chat for five minutes – Where are you? Who are you? What do you do? How do you facilitate? - until we were also disconnected.

How does this experience link with the topic of my blog: facilitation? For months, friends and colleagues have encouraged me to blog. I have hesitated for several reasons. Firstly, why would anyone want to read my ideas and thoughts? Secondly, in my role as a facilitator, I am an objective member of a group of people; helping them to hold productive conversations, asking them what they think, and rarely expressing my ideas about the topic they are discussing. Blogging seems like I would set myself up as the expert; sending ideas out without asking anyone about them. Lastly, in my work as a facilitator, I am normally with groups of individuals in face-to-face settings. A blog seems too impersonal; too isolated; a far cry from watching facial expressions, hearing voice intonations, and observing body language.

How did the webinar techno-flop give me the final push into the world of blogging? Through the webinar, (albeit by a failure!), I unexpectedly conversed with two individuals I did not know. This serendipitous event was fun! It made me think that maybe I could find unexpected conversations through the technology of blogging. As well, I and the two others in the conversation were genuinely interested in what each other had to say. Maybe people will want to read what I write and will respond. After all, I love reading blogs! Maybe sending my blog out into the world wide web will allow me to do what I love - facilitate productive and meaningful conversations –through a different type of medium.

I hope by writing a weekly blog about facilitation, others will comment and we will create a conversation. So, here are my weekly Blog Conversation Questions: What is your most memorable techno-failure that turned out to be a success? What did you learn from it?
Hope to hear from you!