When a facilitator takes a stand with principles – the yoda soul

Yoda-Principles (Credits: James Deacon / FlickR)

Yoda-Principles (Credits: James Deacon / FlickR)

Not everyone is principle-based.

As I’m learning in ‘the culture map‘ there are cultures that are primarily principle-based and others that are more application-based. As in a) caring about the general context and nature of ‘stuff’ or b) caring about what you can do with ‘stuff’. In simpler words, why vs. what and how.

Particularly in process design discussions, bringing your own principles on board as facilitator can add a bit of ‘soul’ to your approach.

For instance, I don’t facilitate anything for anyone anywhere, because I have some principles. Some of my principles are obvious (to me anyway): I work around interactive events and processes, not orchestrated death by Powerpoint etc.; I work with people that allow me to co-design from the start, not facilitate an event that’s been cooked for me.

Other principles of mine are more subtle, less obvious, and may even take more time for a facilitator to be conscious of them, all the more so to ensure they are put in practice.

One of these principles for me is to ask:

  • What’s in it for the participants?
  • Who is missing in this perspective?
  • What are the implications of that?

There is a potential risk of going blindly with the choices of a client (the person-in-charge) to the extent that there is no attention to equity or to the widest interest group possible.

While when facilitating ‘in the room’ I don’t think a facilitator has to take a stand, in the design phase it is not only helpful to question the choices made by a person in charge but it can also make the difference between an event or initiative you want to be associated with or not.

Other such principles could be related to these questions:

  • What are going to be the benefits of this event/initiative over time? For whom? (Is anyone gaining anything here?)
  • Who is potentially losing out with this event/initiative?
  • How clear is it for a group that a decision is taken? Who needs to be part of the decision-making? (Are you following an autocratic approach?)
  • Who should be informed about this? (Is everyone that should be aware of this?)
  • What is unique about this event/initiative that couldn’t happen otherwise? (Is it worth having this event in the first place?)

So next time you are helping design an event, it might be useful to think again about what principles drive your work and make you want to accept a gig or not… And maybe it will be time to let your yoda soul out?


The role – and attitude – of a facilitator in designing events

I had to take a stand and clarify this.

I’ve recently witnessed some event design processes that went really badly, where the ‘client’ and the ‘facilitator’ ended up at complete odds with each other. With as result a seemingly permanently damaged relationship, and the serious risk of derailing even the event they were planning together.

This incident offers me a good opportunity to restate what the role of a facilitator is at process design stage. And not only the role, but also the overall attitude. But first here’s for roles and responsibilities:

Process design is a complex map (Credits: The Value Web)

Process design is a complex map (Credits: The Value Web)

Listening (and asking questions)

First and foremost, you don’t jump on process design, you listen. Carefully. You read if you’re being given background literature. You make sure you have enough context to understand the context in which you’ll be operating. You prepare your questions to clarify that context. And consistently, relentlessly, unhesitatingly you listen and listen and listen some more and better.

You want to find out about the motivation behind the event/process, the people involved in the organising and participating sides, the possible tensions, the way things have already been organised etc. All kinds of things addressed in the BOSSY HERALD.

Helping to identify topics, outcomes etc.

In process design, of course your role then is to clarify the list of topics that your client – your ‘person in charge’ – means to address, and what outcomes they hope to achieve for each of these topics. This is not only good practice for your client to articulate their objectives, but also for both of you to get a sense of realism put into the time planned for that event or initiative against the objectives set.

Your role is to develop processes for each of these topic outcomes, but you need to get that first part right. And how do you do it? You guessed it, by listening (see point 1).

Help check logistics

A very important aspect that could easily fall between the cracks otherwise is the logistics of the meeting. Help your client make sure they have booked a proper room, have all the equipment you and they need, have instructed people to help with e.g. the set up of ICT tools etc.

You can also refer to my 10 advices to dramatically improve un-facilitated meetings; they contain some ideas about this.

Teasing issues out 

I alluded to this earlier in the listening part. Your role is to understand what is invisible, unspoken, but actually playing a critical role. This kind of a teasing out is a business critical skill when it comes to developing your network, as you need to be able to recognise the challenging gigs from the simple ones (and to decide whether to take them on or not).

So keep asking questions: about who has the power to decide things, who is missing in the room, what topics cause frictions, who is possibly at odds with who else, why things have been done in a certain way, what decisions have been made to do things differently and why etc. etc.

In the process you may also find out about some useful procedures, frames of reference, templates etc. that could shape your event. But tease things out you must.

Clarifying who takes decision etc.

A specific point that requires more emphasis here is the question of ‘who has the power to make a decision’ – whether the decision be about the process design or about any point of content discussed during the event. It remains one of the difficult but very impactful elements of your work.

I tend to work with a clear ‘person-in-charge’ whom I feel free to call upon during the meetings to take decisions (about time allocated, about choices in adjusting design, about deciding the issue). It can (and should) follow a much more thorough process of clarifying the decision rule, but even in the absence of that, you can’t get away without asking who calls the shots, unless you’re ready to fall into a nightmare scenario.

Remaining neutral

Apart from some specific cases that I’ll explore in an upcoming post, you’re not supposed to take decisions for your person(s)-in-charge. You’re supposed to focus on the process and on how to help everyone do and share their best thinking. So in the process design phase you can make suggestions about certain design implications, but the content items are not for you to comment on. They’re for your client.

And because things can and usually somewhat do run out of hand, your last task in this ‘process design process’ is…

Educating your client about process literacy

It’s also your job – it certainly has become my vocation – to also teach your clients about processes. So that next time around, when you work together, the design process is easier and smoother. Because you share language, and perhaps even a vision about how a process is supposed to run. This is about everything that relates to your job. You can decide to keep it all for yourself but I find that it really helps my clients to explain how I do stuff and what effect it has. Once they see process they can become better process visionaries and implementers themselves.

That little bit of building peoples’ process literacy pays back 10-fold.

Now, about that attitude…

As I got to read in the ‘culture map‘, some cultures are more ‘principles-oriented’ and others are more ‘application-oriented’. I find my culture, and my personality, are very much geared towards principles. And for me attitude is also a matter or principles. I don’t do my work without thinking why I do it. I have ethic, ethos. And so for me the attitude when designing a process is of utmost importance. And it relates to what Sam Kaner would describe as the first commandment of facilitation:

Be helpful, be supportive.

Even if as facilitator you don’t like the event, or your client, you’re there to help them,  to fa-ci-li-tate their work, not to make it more difficult.

So a facilitator should assume a globally positive and flexible behavior, no matter what.

And of course things happen and problems occur, but you learn from these and get to plan things better the next time around. So keep that in mind and until the show is over, rub it in and give your best 🙂


Good bye acute meetingitis! Plan your day-to-day meetings as a true KMer…

Another post fished from my Agile KM site that should have featured here… And now I’m caught up across my blogs.

Agile KM for me... and you?

On this blog I talk a lot about (large) events, how they’re designed, facilitated, useful, successful, impactful… or not. There is a related, mundane, day-to-day topic: the case of everyday meetings. We spend sometimes so much time that we might want to think about how to make them as useful.

And in this post, I just want to stop and consider how to plan your time in these day-to-day meetings in the best possible way, from a KMer perspective (also because good KMers are innovation conveners – and good practice-shapers).

So many (bad) reasons to hold a meeting - time to reverse the trend (Credits: Axbom) So many (bad) reasons to hold a meeting – time to reverse the trend (Credits: Axbom)

So here are some principles to get your started in planning your (attendance at) meetings:

Come prepared

Long preparation, short war so… If you’re not prepared, you’re likely going to be wasting your time and others’. And as I keep referring to meeting cost calculators (such as Meeting Ticker

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Do you suffer from acute ‘meetingitis virtuales’? Here’s some antidote

Another post fished from my Agile KM site that should have featured here…

Agile KM for me... and you?

Does this sound familiar? (Original item here)

But then repeatedly, several times per week or per day even?

You are clearly a patient of acute meetingitis virtuales (or MV88 – 88 standing for infinity infinity), a modern virus that is affecting more and more people every week, far from the public attention it deserves…

How has MV88 become such a widespread disease? We are a globally connected world, where people increasingly pay attention to their carbon footprint and try to reduce their travels (look here to calculate, very very roughly, your carbon footprint).
That’s all very well… except we can’t suffer from that typical homo socialus affliction without doing something about it!

Here are some ways to deal with THE virus of our times…

Know your enemy (the symptoms)

All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services) All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services)

Meetings are the mega virus of which

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Net added value in an event: networkshops and the power of contextual webs

Another post fished from my Agile KM site that should have featured here…

Agile KM for me... and you?

I’m going to preach against my chapel here: Is there actually much of a point to design workshops to get the best user experience? It seems obvious from various studies and own experience that unless a workshop (or event) is embedded in someone’s own context (see this brilliant IDS report on capacity for a change which refers to this problem), experience, current needs and aspirations, the results of any event matter little. Because they are islands of focus, of luxury of resources, of delusion or rather luxuriously delusional focus – rather than continents of realism.
In other words, unless specifically tailored for a group of people, the applicability of any event’s contents is – arguably – usually rather low.

Where the real value of these events lies is the networking. Echoes of colleagues past and present “I’m just going there to talk with x, y and z and…

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Use quality face-to-face time for synergy, not for logorrhea

I should have reblogged this earlier, just noticed it wasn’t on my agile facilitation post when it should have been 🙂

Agile KM for me... and you?

How many meetings (even one on one) are spent to regurgitate something, to present ‘stuff’ of various relevance and quality, to eruct presentation upon presentation as if the audience needed to know everything ever written about the topic at hand…

Logorrhea - and it's only getting worse... (Credits: Scott Adam) Logorrhea – and it’s only getting worse… (Credits: Scott Adam)

How many events with an avalanche of information, and so little co-creation?

Hey, I’d get it if we were in 1983 and there was no other way to get that information. But in 2015, almost everyone has a phone that can provide all the information we need. Share if you care.

Death by Powerpoint (Credits: Tom Fishburne) Death by Powerpoint (Credits: Tom Fishburne)

This single-route approach to face-to-face is not only another (often not so) disguised attempt of inducing death by Powerpoint, but it is also: a completely missed opportunity to develop something new, an insult to our intelligence and capacity, a deliberate attempt at…

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Taking stock: facilitation videos

So what videos about facilitation are out there?

This was a question one of my ‘group facilitation skills‘ trainees asked me last week. I didn’t know what to say. I learned facilitation all by myself, observing others and reading and observing my own practice, until I got myself trained on group facilitation skills last year.

So I had to dig for those videos…

And I have to say, I’ve been left hungry on this one… Rather unimpressed with the top suggestions by supposedly omniscient Google.

But I have to do due diligence to the people who asked the question to me. So hereby a tour of facilitation videos I personally encountered, with my short commentary on them. There are many more videos I checked but not enough was worthy (in my eyes) of sharing those videos for.

So here you are for my totally subjective take on useful facilitation videos. They are split between videos that a) explain generally what facilitation is and what facilitators do, b) share some tips and tricks for more effective facilitation and c) show in practice what it looks like.

What is facilitation, who are facilitators, generally?

The art of facilitation

This TedX video is by a facilitator (Jay Vogt) introduces what facilitation is for him and highlights his specific experience, whose aim is to “transform the way we meet”… It’s a bit longer than the other videos but really shares some of the ‘what happens when there’s no facilitation’ and Jay Vogt gives me the idea he’s got a practice that I would really value. Selfless, supportive, engaging. A good introduction!

Facilitation best & worst practices

Already introduced in my last post, this video features – in an animated whiteboard kind of format – some of the fundamentally good and fundamentally wrong practices that facilitators (might end up) do(ing). I don’t agree with everything (e.g. documentation is not necessary a requirement for facilitators) here but roughly this video is getting it ‘right’ (in my totally objective opinion ahem).

What do facilitators do

This video is probably the closest to explaining what a facilitator is. You can also read my recent post clarifying what a facilitator does, as opposed to a moderator, chair, MC etc.  In that same post I covered this video in more details. Even though I’m not raving about the video itself it’s probably the most sincere attempt at explaining what facilitation really is.

Four essential functions to facilitating meetings

The set up of this video is a bit strange but the tips given are also on the ball – with my reserves on the drawing/documenting at the same time as facilitating, and on the fourth part where this type of facilitation seems to also push to consensus.

Some tips…

Facilitation tips and tricks for newbies

Viv McWaters is one of the facilitators that is listed on the list of background resources on this blog and for good reason. In this long recorded webinar (47’06”) that unfortunately has a not-all-too-great sound, McWaters explains very articulately the moments when you need a facilitator (e.g. when you’re stuck / when you need to frame / when you need to disrupt) and gives five tips and tricks for facilitation groups. This is possibly the best video of all the ones here in terms of its content. And an extra emphasis on this tip: remove the tables, as they get in the way!

Six quick facilitation tips

This video is much closer to my own practice than most of the other videos (McWaters’s aside). And though the 6 tips are quickly served, they are good! Have a check 🙂

Seven key skills of workshop facilitation

This presentation is a quick glimpse onto some of the basics of facilitation, particularly in terms of the attitude the facilitator should adopt. Nothing ground-breaking here but some good tips – with the caveat that ‘challenging’ is ok at design stage, not in the conversation itself (when they should be managing the process)…

The importance of energy in facilitation

Michael Wilkinson is one of the commercially busiest facilitators. I’m not won over his style, which makes facilitation sound quite mechanical, but in this TedX video he touches upon the important aspect of energy in facilitation – or rather energy in the facilitator, which helps energise the topic, the participants and the facilitator. Pity this video doesn’t talk directly about the energy of participants. Still, a good point is being made here. Inform-excite-empower-involve in the first 15 minutes!

Facilitation techniques – part 1 of 3:  

This guy clearly has quite some experience, and he introduces some interesting basics of facilitation. So overall the point is there. But his approach has a number of aspects that I don’t feel really excited about – to say the least – e.g. ‘no stories’ reinforces the point that participants should shut up (NOT a good idea); I’m also not convinced about the ‘justification rule’ – sometimes you can’t justify every of your point and it might condemn you to shut up if you feel you can’t justify. The presenter also confuses ‘paraphrasing‘ for ‘mirroring’.

Meeting facilitation

About this video, I would like to just point to the useful HALT acronym in this video (Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired). The facilitation approach suggested is quite pushy otherwise.

Facilitation in practice (demonstrated)

This has been difficult to find. But my KM4Dev friends came to rescue and:

Nancy White mentioned that the site ‘Liberating Structures’ has peppered its pages with videos. Some of them are available here: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/km-marquee-projects.

And these videos featuring friend and fellow facilitator Camilo Villa (in Spanish but giving an idea of the dynamics):

With International Organization for Migration: https://youtu.be/ADN9Vtge-IU
With WorldBank, MetroLab in Argentina: https://youtu.be/iq-y_8NAhkw
Sophie Alvarez also mentioned: Our wikipage for the Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) methodology, which has, sadly, been a bit abandoned lately, has some facilitation of parts of a PIPA workshop in videos, here: you can see problem tree and network drawing in action (in Spanish, with English subtitles), and some ways we facilitate it.
Carl Jackson mentioned: “here’s a nice video of using Open Space facilitation to support CLA strategy development for USAID Indonesia Country Office: https://youtu.be/WJaPFKTXQTg”.
At last, Chris Grose mentioned: “Our videos at IMA International highlight much of our face to face work.  They can be found here: http://www.imainternational.com/video_gallery” 

And finally – a facilitation model for group dynamics


This is a different video, featuring Sam Kaner talking about ‘Participatory Decision-Making in Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations’. The group dynamics framework he offers is explained from minute 51 or so. As usual there’s some really rich content there so I hope you find this useful too!

What facilitation videos do YOU refer to?