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!