Waltzing with the complexity of collaboration in three simple dances – a Liberating Structures festival…

The beauty of complexity is the choices that it gives you. Not like in the simple or complicated domain where there is a best or good practice to follow – or a simple set thereof.

If none of the above paragraph makes sense, I’m referring to the Cynefin Framework – of which I just stumbled upon a fabulous ‘dummy’ version.

Cynefin framework for dummies (image credit: Ron Donaldson)

No, when it comes to complex stuff, it’s actually a good thing to have various entry points. As we do in life.

And that’s what an upcoming Liberating Structures festival is aiming to do:  offer three entry points (or three different types of dancing with our realities) to unlock some simple ways to embrace collaboration between people in all its complexity – especially in all sectors that have a social purpose (ie. health, education, development etc.).

Liberating Structures reveal their layers, and help us unravel our consciousness (Credits: Soren Lauritzen)

Liberating Structures reveal their layers, and help us unravel our consciousness (Credits: Soren Lauritzen)

The simplest entry point is to go through an immersion workshop, along the lines of the ‘social’ immersion workshop that took place in December 2018. This is a great way to get familiar with the deceptive simplicity and subtle power of Liberating Structures (LS). That first part of the festival will essentially cover the ‘what are Liberating Structures?’ Liberating Structures are one of these funny constructs that bring a lot of things together – I’m still wondering what it is and will soon talk more about that in an interview.

A second entry point is to further deepen our understanding of how LS work, and particularly how they can work in our specific contexts, with the idiosyncratic challenges that come with those. This ‘Beyond the familiar’ clinic will really look at the technicalities of LS, the ‘how to get it to work better (for you)’.

A final entry point will be a creative practice jam that will aim at going all the way down to the DNA of Liberating Structures to understand how they work and how they could work differently, better etc. Essentially a LIVE lab of LS that could lead to a load of silly ideas, and some genuine gems for the next generation of collaborators. With a few steps back, it really looks critically at ‘why LS?’

Whatever ticket we follow, whatever pathway we end up with, all have a few things in common: the complexity-driven and -oriented DNA of Liberating Structures, their capacity to examine complex issues with systemic change in mind, the micro-structures that bind them all (see picture below), and their simplicity and elegance in helping everyone, absolutely everyone, question and augment their process and collaboration literacy.

The micro-elements of Liberating Structures (Credits: Full Circle)

The micro-elements of Liberating Structures (Credits: Full Circle)

And to me, this is one of the most precious aspects of Liberating Structures: they are one of the safest, easiest, least threatening and yet potentially most powerful ways of bringing important questions to the fore.

So pick up the train and join us on the Festival 🙂

LS Festival (image credits: Nadia von Holzen)

More information about the LS festival here: https://liberatingstructures.eu/the-hague-ls-festival/

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Connecting gender and facilitation – why, when, how?

Next to my collaboration and facilitation practice I also work a lot on gender issues as part of the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research hosted by KIT Royal Tropical Institute (my half-time employer thus).

Working in the gender domain has been a wonderful experience so far. The scientists I’m working with are all experts of social inclusion – so they have a natural sensitivity for the unheard/unseen/unrespected (be it women, youths or others). And they are also natural listeners. In other words, they have been a great community to reflect on fertile grounds for better collaborative practices.

This leads me to today’s post: how can one combine facilitation with a bit of a gender lens?

BMGF empowerment framework (detail)

BMGF empowerment framework (detail)

And if I were to use a mini ‘gender framework’, as it were, to this issue, I would emphasise issues of ‘voice and choice’, ‘resources and structures’ centered around ‘agency’ (with elements of decision making, collective action and leadership) all borrowed from the empowerment framework from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Voice here is how women and men are taken into account in conversations and are visible, respected and put to an equal pedestal. Choice would be how men and women have access to ‘engagement’ resources and are able to engage in various ways as they see fit, and as much as possible, equally.

Bearing this in mind, here are some of the ways that I’m thinking about ‘genderising’ our facilitation practices:

Gender-focused attention to process design

Are you planning interactions that allow both men and women and just all participants to express themselves and co-create their future? (photo credit: European Institute for Gender Equality)

These are all the key opportunities you have ahead of people’s interactions to ensure that your process is as equitable as possible. And there are many many opportunities here…

  • Voice: Ensure there is as much as possible a gender/equity-balanced group of participants. How can you encourage more diversity in the group? Who is not there that should be? How clear are the organisers about the value of having diverse viewpoints and experiences in the room?
  • Choice: Think about processes that engage participants in different ways and certainly in other ways than just the typically old Caucasian male-dominated formats such as keynote presentations and panel (or manel) discussions. Buzz groups, break out group conversations, escalating conversations a la 1-2-4-all are all good options.
  • Resources: What engagement artifacts, tokens and props are you making available to your participants that could actually encourage more attention to diversity and equity? If you’re using pictures, do you have an eye for the kind of visuals you’re using? I was rightly blamed for relying too much on pictures of (active) males in my presentation on giving presentations for instance.
  • Structures: What participation formats are you going to use? Are they diverse enough and encouraging diverse connections, diverse ‘ways of knowing’, diverse knowledges etc.? How is even your venue set up? Does it reinforce participation formats that particularly (old) white males feel used to and comfortable with e.g. pulpits and lecterns, U-shaped rooms, inviting the (male) sage on the stage? And talking about key decisions etc., if you’re working with a (group of) ‘person(s)-in-charge’ in designing the process, how do you ensure that they respect and honour different points of views?
  • Agency: How diverse is the set of sessions and segments of your event or process? To what extent does it allow different decision-making dynamics that, as per Community At Work‘s typology of ‘informative, consultative and collaborative meetings’? Are there going to be moments when everyone in the room (men and women, young and old, tall and short, black and white, I mean EVERYONE) will be invited to co-create a decision together?  Or will it just be a pouring of information on participants? On that note, my friend Nadia von Holzen recently quoted Johnny Moore and Viv McWaters on Twitter with much sense and inspiration:

If you go to the trouble of getting people into a room together, you need to create emotional connection. If you’re simply going to push information at them, you could do that online

Gender-focused attention to process facilitation

Now that your design is in place, are you sure that in the moment you are doing everything you can to ensure equity among all participants, including women as much as men and all people generally?

How can you encourage balanced interactions (photo credit: Gender 2 & Interventions – ALa, Galway, FETAC Theatre of the Oppressed Facilitation Skills Training)

  • Voice: The Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making emphasises a number of active listening skills that prove really essential to create
    Heard Seen Respected (image credit: Liberating Structures)

    Heard Seen Respected (image credit: Liberating Structures)

    space for people that may not be encouraged to speak: encouraging, balancing, making space for the quiet person etc. Participation formats like ‘Heard / Seen / Respected‘ can also be pulled out in order to point to the lack of attention put on some people’s voices. Sometimes simple tricks such as ‘making space for the ladies’ (in one of my last posts on ‘a daily dose of process literacy‘ is a good thing to bear in mind at all times).

  • Choice: When specific decisions are being made, are women (or other non typically dominant participants) able to effectively choose what is happening? I’m thinking about when responsibilities need to be taken about taking notes in a group (usually a woman is pointed to doing it), or chairing (usually a man suggests taking it up) etc. Is there a conscious option available for both men and women to make decisions? Or does decision-making seem one-sided?
  • Resources: Are you putting in place some elements that allow also women and others to express themselves fully and uninterruptedly? Do you use a talking stick? Do you allow people to reflect and share their individual thinking at times? Do you decide to involve other resources that are bending the potential one-sidedness of your participants’ engagement? e.g. different ways of expressing oneself through music, dance, drawing, a camera or otherwise?
  • Structures: Do you reflect on how the structure of engagement and decision-making might be playing out differently than planned, and not necessarily in a way that advantages women or other participants that are typically not dominant in the group? What can you do (together with the people in charge) about it? Can you establish checks and balances along the way?
  • Agency: Are you checking generally how different participants feel ’empowered’ to discuss, decide and act or not? Or are you just assuming it’s all going fine and that’s ok? Are you checking in and seeing what else you can do to “support everyone to do their best thinking” (the Community At Work definition of being a ‘facilitator’).

You see, there are lots of ways to think about inclusive and equal participation. Again a lot of it as at the core of the Community At Work philosophy (and of other facilitation approaches) not because of gender issues but because it’s about including everyone in interactions that aim at tackling complex issues together or (not so) ‘simply’ collaborating.

But it takes a mindset, and a conscious set of options and decisions to turn that philosophy into a practice that redresses inequity.

What are your additional ideas?

Image result for nozomi kawarazuka gender platform

I’m now thinking that it would be great to entertain a conversation with all these gender specialists who end up facilitating a fair number of events and processes themselves, and are also very often the victims of poorly designed processes as women and gender specialists (read this interview to understand more about this).

I’m sure you also have some great ideas and tips and different ‘structures’ to go about inclusion and attention to gender and other issues of equity… What are they? I want to take this to the next level…

Related stories:

I am, you are, each of us is an ‘everyday facilitator’ – let’s cultivate this together!

While co-working on a facilitation training event, one of the themes we’ve been exploring is that of the ‘everyday facilitator’.

Become a facilitator, and cultivate collaboration, empathy, and sorting out the many problems that really need solving! (Credits: Meetville.com)We don’t need to always rely on superpowers from outside to facilitate our conversations and collaborations.

We can cultivate our own facilitative abilities here, today, now!

Why isn’t it the case already? As a species we humans tend to be lazy thinkers and prefer leaving the mental heavy lifting work to outside ‘facilitators’… that is when we even know why it makes sense.

There are different starting points here, as per this very rough typology of people’s appreciation of facilitation:

  1. Level 1 (the most basic) is complete Ignorance. “What is this ‘facilitation’? What does it look like?”.
  2. Level 2 is when people have a vague idea of what facilitation is and they simply don’t want to invest in it for sometimes good, bad or confused reasons (e.g. “why do we need someone from outside to come tell us what to do?” or “we can manage time by ourselves”). Rejection.
  3. The next level up (Level 3) is Confused appreciation, ie. when people are actually ok with the idea of having facilitation in the room, but they have the wrong idea of what it is – they think it’s moderation, or time keeping (see this post for some answers about that)… It’s an improvement from the previous level, but it still doesn’t really do justice to what facilitation brings in the room…
  4. The level up from that –Level 4Commitment– is when people not only understand, and appreciate facilitation but they actually invest in it on a regular basis because they really get the point of facilitated interactions – more often than not coming from outside.
  5. A final level (Level 5) is Cultivation – when the people in charge not only want to commit towards facilitated interactions but want to ensure it facilitation skills are actively cultivated among their ranks, so that facilitated interactions and general group collaboration depend less and less on an external ‘facilitator superhero’ meant to be helping a group. Facilitators are not superheroes. Great facilitators are just there to help the group do their best thinking, and the bulk of the work.

When people see the value of this cultivation, each of us is set to become (and be recognised as) an everyday facilitator. That is when we start using skills and approaches that bring us closer to one another.

That idea is one of the deep reasons I believe in process literacy. It is also the seed that shows where we should invest our scaling efforts (empathy), rather than believing in scaling up our results.

And frankly, how on earth can we stay away from cultivating facilitative skills?

  • Are we not facing problems that are so complex that we can’t solve them on our own and need collaboration?
  • Are we not working almost continuously with teams, collectives, networks, but still don’t have the baggage to make these interactions more effective?
  • Do we really have enough resources to keep on bringing an expert ‘facilitator’ from outside without getting them to share their expertise with the rest of us?
  • How many insipid meetings, boring-as-hell symposiums, agonising conferences, confusing workshops, pretending-to-be-participatory sessions, just all-out-awful gatherings do we need to go through before we act upon these every day business place sores?
  • Do we really prefer to save a few pennies now rather than save big pounds later by investing in everyone’s capacity to work with groups effectively?

I think this is a pretty universal issue. And certainly in the socially-driven sector.

So get started on your facilitation ‘cultivation’, it’s a decision you’re not likely going to regret.

A concrete opportunity to make it happen…

And because a good piece of news never comes alone, THIS is a golden opportunity to get started with it, whether you already facilitate meetings and processes or not. Go on then, join us and be surprised at the power of simple collaboration.

As you can see in the picture below (that’s our design team for this golden opportunity), working on collaboration is not the least exhilarating of experiences 😉

Our design team (Credits: Nadia von Holzen)

Our design team (Credits: Nadia von Holzen)

Dealing with the sticky elephants in the social room, and how simple facilitation can help

Many years ago, after working initially in the corporate sector, I happily switched up to global development cooperation. I could have just as easily ended up working in other socially driven work. In any case there was something really compelling in those ‘social’ sectors, compared with the online marketing I was previously busy with.

Complexity in social work: how to deal with it?

Complexity in social work: how to deal with it?

The attraction of the ‘social’ sector related to two things in my mind: a) socially-driven work is in principle not making matters worse for the universe or for our fellow human beings, and b) it is essentially a lot more complex than releasing a new product or service. Indeed we are talking about accommodating vastly different world views, experiences, skill sets, and dealing with globally challenging issues that some even characterize as ‘wicked problems’ (e.g. chronic poverty, gender inequality, climate change etc.)…

This high level of complexity is one of the reasons why process literacy is so important for the ‘social sector’ (if there is such a thing).

It is also the reason why we decided to incorporate some of the typical narratives of that sector into the fabric of our upcoming training course on group facilitation and collaboration ‘Liberating Structures Social Immersion Workshop’ in The Hague, the Netherlands, on December 12-13.

On that occasion we want to focus on some typical socially driven work narratives:

  • The essential importance of relationships as a necessary guarantee of long(er)-lasting change – how to cultivate trust; why active listening matters; what is the place of ‘caring’ in social work?
  • The complexity of the social sector – Understanding the big picture we’re operating from and the DNA of wicked problems; realizing the central concept of tradeoffs and choices; embracing paradoxes and uncertainty…
  • The necessity to learn and adopt an agile approach to work – focusing on ‘less is more’; happily destroying what we’re doing now to make way for what matters next; going beyond the ‘what’ we have to do, to focus on why and how we do it, and who with…
  • The power that comes from everyday facilitation – ie. no longer relying on the omnipotent expert from outside; the preciousness of peer learning and self-managing groups; going beyond organizational silos etc.;
  • The ‘fallacy of scaling out’ – why silver bullets, blueprints and the magic scaling machine are rabbit holes; what are the minimum we can focus on when thinking about such issues and agendas? Where are examples of more successful, deeper ‘scaling’ of good work?
  • Power dynamics – particularly in the global development cooperation sector (with donor-led financial flows) – what can we do to deal with paralyzing power and hierarchy? What are new ways of looking at this?
The Elephant in the room (Credits: Jeff Gates / FlickR)

The Elephant in the room (Credits: Jeff Gates / FlickR)

These narratives are not new. They come back around at various junctions in socially driven work, they are ‘sticky’ narratives. They are the elephants in the room that some people ignore, or do not acknowledge they exist. But they really are blockages or free passes to the next level if understood well.

Next December we’ll use simple group participation (liberating) ‘structures’ to peel the layers of this social onion, to explore its dimensions, get happily confused, find seeds of genius, rally energies, contemplate paradoxes, imagine the future, learn from the past, explore ourselves and our relationships and a whole lot more.

 

Come join us for a one-of-a-kind experience in The Hague, 12-13 December.

Register HERE

The principles at work with Liberating Structures

The principles at work with Liberating Structures

A liberating step towards team collaboration, creativity and (social) impact

A lot of teams try to collaborate and hope to reach impact through their interactions. But the reality is that it’s not very clear for many of them how to really go about it. Group / Process facilitation is certainly not the worst step you can make in this direction.

In fact, it can be one of the most impactful, creative, constructive steps you decide to take. It’s not for no reason that process facilitation is considered by one of the sharpest global knowledge management experts – Nick Milton – as one of the very most important skills to master.

One special training workshop taking place in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 12-13 December might be a step in this direction for you and your team(s).

The past few years of my life have brought me to facilitate more and more interactions between people, teams, groups, organisations, networks. And in the process I have really found my calling, thanks among others to Community At Work (C@W) and their incredible approach to group facilitation which rewired my practice entirely.

Another strand that I have been using and have found very complementary to the C@W approach is ‘Liberating Structures’. I even compared the two on this blog (though this was a while ago). One of the main benefits of Liberating Structures (LS) is that it is easily applicable, even without prior facilitation experience. I have tried many of these structures in my practice in the past five years or so, and have seen many others use them for their benefit too, whether to explore new topics, vision the future, address thorny issues, think holistically, help each other, improvise and innovate, consider paradoxes of our work and lives etc.

This December (12-13), I will be working with LS pioneers Fisher S Qua and Anna Jackson, as well as with seasoned facilitators and friends Nadia von Holzen and Cristina Temmink, to immerse (some of you?) to the fascinating world of Liberating Structures, applied to social purpose organisations.

Two days of exploring many of the structures from the Seattle collective, and helping each other think about how to apply them to social work, whether development cooperation or otherwise. It’s a really small investment, when you think of the situations it might unlock (and the relations, time, pain and money saved) in your work further down the line.

I have full confidence that this will be beneficial to all the participants, and I am available on this blog and other social media to explain how this might work for you.

So I hope you join us and apply soon – early bird tickets stop on 15 October.

This upcoming adventure will be an excellent opportunity to blog some more on this space also!

Register (early bird)https://ls-the-hague-18.eventbrite.com/

More infohttps://liberatingstructures.eu/the-%20hague-social/

A daily dose of process literacy

In my quest towards developing people’s process literacy, I had an opportunity to make another small stride a couple of weeks ago. During an event where I was MC, I used a tiny bit of the air time I was granted to share one process tip per day.

 

Here are the ones I shared, and some others that I had planned to use (but didn’t get round to):

“What the heck did you mean”? Write coloured cards, flipcharts and other public writings with capital letters and full sentences. That will be a business skill useful for your future conferencing, and it will help the recording of the works.

The public stage fear not, young jedi”. If you fear public speaking, get to know the room/stage where you will have to perform. And get to know the audience by meeting as many people as you can. When speaking, focus on the people you know (your friends) and remember that no one wants you to fail, they’re all supporting you. And most importantly: rehearse!

Pop your mic up”. The art of holding a microphone. With mikes, you aim at a pop music effect, ie. easy listening. On the other hand you want to avoid the heavy metal stance (mic in your mouth – really not cool as an audio effect) and the reggae stance (mic by your hips because you’re too relaxed). The pop stance is about one fist away from your mouth.

Feed your feedback forward“. One way to give good feedback: Make sure it’s welcome (not unsolicited) – and btw the onus is on you as a collective to develop a culture that favors regular and quick feedback. Give it on the spot as much as possible. Be specific about what you noticed and what the impact was e.g. “When you did xyz, this is the effect it had on me”. “When you said abc, this is how I felt”. E.g. “when you said communication doesn’t matter, you made me feel invisible and useless, and resentful as a result”.

Read the colors” – the language of colors is fascinating. Including for flipcharts, Powerpoint slides etc. Some research shows that black is dull, red makes people upset, and that the most comfortable colours for core content are earth tones: dark green, brown, purple, dark blue. Use these in your slides and write-ups!

Remember me”. This is about your presentations. Use fewer words in each slide and more visuals to harness those words – make YOURSELF the focus, not the presentation. And see more at: https://km4meu.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/wow-public-speaking/

Make space for the ladies”. When you set up a ‘panel discussion’, first of all be aware that you don’t have to (there are many alternatives to panel discussions). But if you insist on a panel, avoid ‘Manels’ (all-men panels) or ‘womanels’ for that matter. And when it starts, most importantly, ask a woman the first question always, that will give them (and possibly other women on stage) more incentives to engage more.

Make it worth their while“. This is about sharing information, whether in a Powerpoint presentation, or more generally talking to another person. Think always about the other person – what’s in it for them? WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and drop all the details that are not useful (e.g. sharing your research protocol details to policy makers)…

Was giving this series of tips effective? Probably not in the sense of changing behaviour directly. And it happened in my spiel in the morning so at a time when not everyone was caffeinated enough to fully embrace these ideas.

Was it useful? Difficult to say again, but with behaviour change, I’m a disciple of ‘Bend it further, one little step at a time’…

Was it fun to do? For me, certainly, and I think for some of the participants.

And actually I did see some people embrace my chart writing tips, and I’m sure some of the 300 people present then might have picked up the general idea that there’s a whole process world out there, even if they only saw the tip of the iceberg.

And that’s one little way to honour my contribution to the world… More to come!

Learning never ends…

Getting to ‘wow’ with public speaking and presenting

I should have added this post a while back but here it is anyway, as it relates to the world of facilitation too…

Agile KM for me... and you?

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR) Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

My current work environment is academic. Which means people around me produce a hell of a lot of information. And presentations.

I would have thought their presenting and public speaking skills were very good, considering… uh uh… not quite the case. And there are many reasons for that. But I guess many people around me are actually busy undertaking their research, not spending (so) much time fine-tuning their presentation. “It only takes a few minutes to put together a presentation”, right? UH UH!!

This a real pity, because it means entire years of research can see their future use be wasted by one single badly designed, or badly delivered presentation (or both). So after thinking about this for a while, and encouraged by a couple of colleagues who wanted to get this kind of information out, I put together a presentation about what…

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