Looking behind the veil – the little nooks and crannies of process literacy

So if process literacy is a crusade to develop everyone’s capacity to use the power of ‘process’ to communicate, collaborate and achieve amazing things together, the obvious next step is to structurally build that capacity through proper training (or ongoing coaching) on facilitation and collaboration etc. But training is not a panacea, it’s not always possible (timing-wise or otherwise), and it comes at a cost. Ditto with coaching.

So what can we do every day to build that process literacy?

The light behind the veil
Revealing the process light behind the veil of our conversations (photo credit: Peter Prehn /FlickR)

It’s simply a case of unveiling the reality of process, revealing the process scaffolding that supports the building of our conversations. And it’s about zooming in on all the little nooks and crannies that help our relations and interactions flourish. And in the process, it’s about whetting the appetite of people for that process literacy, getting them to want to see more and more behind the veil. Getting them to both understand why they might not be comfortable with certain situations, and helping them get more comfortable with slight discomfort. And it’s also about shaking them out of their ‘content’ comfort zone into a process ‘groan zone’ where they feel challenged and invited to think and look differently about themselves, the environment and others.

Just like learning should take place at a slightly uncomfortable junction (I think).

But before embarking on the process literacy crusade and revealing everything all the time, let’s be mindful that not everyone is indeed comfortable and so it takes a multi-tier approach to revealing process.

  • In the words of the Community at Work gang, it’s being aware of and playing with the Influencer-accommodater scale, between teaching or showing process, or letting it unfold by itself without intervening so that the group itself deals with what’s at hand. And even within the same group, it can prove very helpful to switch between both ends of that spectrum over time.
  • And sometimes the best thing is to play this below the radar, for instance in groups that are really uncomfortable in process waters, don’t mention the participation formats you’re using, and certainly don’t overplay the slightly confusing language of e.g. Liberating Structures, it will put them off even more. But get them to experience what is going on, and to reflect on their (process) experience afterwards). Then they usually see the power of process and feel invited to smell its magic again…
  • On the other hand, sometimes it’s helpful to blatantly point out the process that is unfolding, so that the people around you realise that process is everywhere, all the time and sits -partly at least- with everyone.

Here are various other instances of what you can do to reveal the process scaffolding:

  • I already shared some tips in a daily dose of process literacy. Essentially it’s about progressively building up a collage of insights that depict process, relationships, diversity and inclusion, representation, decision making, group dynamics, self as instrument, communication styles etc. all the invisible things that help make relations grow and results flourish.
  • A simple way is to invite as many ‘contributors’ (the wrongly called ‘participants’ as my friend Nadia pointed out in Myriam Hadnes’s podcast Workshops work) to join the daily ‘after action review‘ to check how the day went and what could be done differently. You are then reviewing the process, not revisiting the same conversations…
  • Getting people to play an active role (whether facilitating a breakout room, chart writing or documenting, managing time etc.) because it formally gives them a process role, meaning they’re no longer bound by just the content of conversations. And it’s a sure approach to get them to invest themselves emotionally in the interactions and enjoy themselves even more!
  • Particularly with the people or teams you end up designing processes with, whenever you disagree on a way to do something, see this as an experiment: share your process assumption about how things will pan out if you follow approach A over B, try out in reality and reflect together afterwards on what happened…

Because of their very participatory nature, Liberating Structures are a great way to build that process literacy. But any step back that you take – anything that gets you to focus on the ‘meta’ level – helps everyone see the process scaffolding better, and get intimate with these myriads of nooks and crannies…

Why cultivate everyday process literacy? What’s the result?

If you’re lucky, you inspire people to know and do more with it. After masterful Sam Kaner delivered his Group Facilitation Skills training at my former employer ILRI, one of the senior scientists there mentioned to him that after going through this course he felt like entirely changing directions in his professional life and dedicating himself to this facilitative domain. So let’s awake and cultivate the blossoming world of process literacy in each other and make magic happen, because it’s there for the taking 😉

Sometimes you also realise that all that investment may not lead directly to a change, but slowly and surely it does. That same institute ILRI invested a lot of money into these group facilitation skill training sessions for instance. For sure many of the trainees actually never put their skills to use, and most of them forgot a lot (if not most) of what the training entailed – the fallacy of training again. Yet, at the institutional level, the whole organisation keeps on valuing such training, and many staff members are process literate enough now that they really value process design and facilitation, and that is a major achievement because it places them in a much better position to combine their staff and partners’ capacities and intentions much more effectively.

By the way, on 9 June, Myriam’s podcast will feature an episode with me in which I’m talking about some of these issues. Follow her podcast here: https://workshops.work/podcast/

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One thought on “Looking behind the veil – the little nooks and crannies of process literacy

  1. Pingback: Ordinary meetings need more than bullet points to fly – Learning moments

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