Monday, March 15, 2010

Facilitate … by focussing on participants!

I have just finished three weeks of facilitating highly rewarding and highly challenging sessions. I have been privileged to work with caring and passionate individuals – from a staff team of four people to 40 members of a provincial organization to a gathering of community citizens to a Board and Staff retreat. Some of the sessions were with people I had worked with for six years; in other sessions, we were meeting each other for the first time. The purpose varied from session to session – developing a three-year strategic plan, strengthening organizational unity, celebrating the strengths and assessing the needs of a community, affirming the direction of the organization, and openly discussing board and staff relationships. One session was three hours; another was three days. For some, I could pre-plan; for another, I had to design “on the spot” throughout the event.

This amount and complexity of facilitation activities is not unique for me; in fact, it is the norm! However, at times during the past three weeks, I was anxious at the variety and intensity of the facilitation. I felt the familiar “butterflies in the stomach” as I wondered if I could design and deliver the methods that would help these groups hold meaningful discussions and make productive and beneficial decisions. Oh, and have fun!

Then I focussed on what was important – the participants. I reminded myself that the session is about them; not me. At the start of each day of the facilitation sessions, I visualized the participants – where they were coming from; what they were leaving to attend the session, what they wanted to achieve, and how they might feel about their upcoming experience. During the sessions, I observed the participants – what their body language said and how they interacted. I listened to the participants – what were they talking about? How engaged did they seem? And most importantly, I asked the participants about the design, the flow, the approach, the timing, and the intent of my facilitation activities. In the evenings of the three day retreat with the provincial organization, as I sat in my room and designed the next day, I once again focussed on the participants. What had they told me about the day? What did I notice and hear that gave me clues to the next day’s activities?

During this intense period of facilitation work, I reminded myself of what I need to do to be an effective facilitator. I need to remove the “I” from my mind and think of “We”, that is, the participants and me as a team. While I always want to have some butterflies to keep me from complacency, I know that focussing on the participants will always help me to keep my attention on what is important when I facilitate. I needed to remind myself of that. As always, I calmed myself by focussing on the participants.

My blog conversation question: How do you focus on the participants?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Facilitate ... with Olympic medals!

I am definitely in Olympic withdrawal! Not only because of the amazing performances and grace of our Canadian athletes and the truly fantastic job that the City of Vancouver and Vanoc did but because the Olympics provided exceptional fun and focus for facilitation.
For the past three weeks, I have used the Olympic medals as symbols of success in organizations, communities, and individuals. I bought Hershey chocolate candies wrapped in gold, silver, and bronze shiny paper. At various sessions, workshops, and meetings, I spread the candies on the table and told participants that they were gold, silver, and bronze medals. I asked participants to select a candy and describe the success it represented in their community, group, initiative or organization. What fun and focus! People related extremely well because most of us are closely tied to the Olympics. The success focus came through quickly and profoundly. Participants would laugh and then seriously think about successes. We had many gold medals yet also silver and bronze as participants explained what efforts they still wanted to do to enhance a success.
From community building workshops to sport advisory groups to provincial planning retreats to team development sessions, I enjoyed this Olympic analogy with wonderful Albertans and Canadians. Go Canada Go into the future! We all have our gold, silver, and bronze medals of success!