A quick and straightforward introduction to group facilitation. It includes some interesting thoughts on the role artificial intelligence could have in collaborative workshops of the future.
The facilitators job is to ensure that we have assembled the right elements in the upper teardrop of the hourglass and then to provide just enough direction to the movement of the sand during the workshop itself and afterwards so that the lower teardrop fills up in the most satisfying way possible.
The design team invest several weeks understanding the problem to be solved or the solution to be designed.
A solution to the problem can exist. No one sees it yet.
We’ve invited a good cross section of participants, representing conflicting points of view, cutting across the hierarchy, with sufficient knowledge of how things work and don’t work.
Similar design methodologies to Scan, Focus, Act: Open Space, LEAN, Theory U, World Café, Scrum / Agile and many derivations of Design Thinking approaches: from Target and IDEO to Grove and Stanford Design School.
Objectives refer to the ultimate result that the work performed during our event will contribute to.
For an event of any importance, months or perhaps years will pass before the ultimate objective can be judged to have been achieved or not.
Outcomes are the specific, tangible products of a workshop.
No matter how ambitious the event, you never want more than two or three objectives. More than that deprives the event of its own identity and the subsequent association of results with the processes used to achieve them.
Professor Michael Porter describes strategy as making clear tradeoffs and choosing what not to do. The same discipline is necessary when scoping a workshop.
I frequently identify several questions that I hear the sponsors explicitly or implicitly asking me or, more likely, themselves.
All these sponsors, men and women, have great clarity of vision – they know exactly what they want their group to achieve – but they are bad communicators and their teams fail to see what their boss really wants.
The sponsor ‘sees’ the solution right away and is then increasingly frustrated when his or her people fail to reach the same conclusions with sufficient speed and clarity.
I suggested focusing on three types of participant:
What exactly am I looking for? Three things really:
Two key considerations are iteration and recursion and common language.
How the same themes emerge in different contexts and at shifting levels of detail.
The use of metaphor and of learning tools to help participants discuss their concerns in unexpected ways and establish a deeper dialogue.
The moment in some events when facilitation overtakes design, or when the two merge in the most unexpected and profound ways.
How facilitators behave during an event.
We help people have new conversations about old problems.
The principal role of the facilitator during an event is to make it new. Make everything new.
Storytelling to make the conversation new. Stories serve to provide new language and new imagery with which to diagnose a condition or circumstance as well as to imagine alternative realities.
The fundamental barriers to collaboration are the same – fear, unequal power, lack of understanding, unwillingness or inability to listen – and the same creative approaches should be employed to overcome these barriers regardless of context.
The flip side of metaphor is simile, and we need both. Metaphor is useful when we need to open up a topic, when we need to see a problem from multiple and unexpected points of view. Simile, on the other hand, is useful when we need to develop more precision in language.
A story is not a line connecting A to B, the beginning to the end, but rather a scene-by-scene sequence of divergent paths, and the path that is chosen reveals to the audience – and to the protagonist himself – the true nature of his character.
Participants usually leave our events on a high. They feel as if they have seen the invisible and achieved the impossible. Yet they have done nothing of the sort.
At best, our work has created the potential for change. The value of our work evaporates in hours or at most days after the event unless we, our sponsors, and the event participants make a conscious effort to channel that potential and capture the value that our clients are paying for.
Many Executive Summaries capture event highlights without distinguishing between signal and noise. A more useful document builds on a very few themes (the signal) and ignores, as much as possible, the rest.
It is relatively easy to check whether we produced the desired outcomes, but the real value of those outcomes can only be judged in hindsight and only when their contribution to the event’s objectives and its deeper purpose can be assessed.
I often describe the arc of an event; how it develops a narrative and passes through moments of doubt or crisis and then lands firmly in a safe and desired place. Achieving this narrative arc is more a function of design than of facilitation. Once in a while, though, the arc closes in on itself and becomes a circle.