Wicked Questions, /confusiasm/ and diverse richness at their best

Wicked Questions is one of the original Liberating Structures.

It’s not as straightforward as 1-2-4-all

It’s not as directly productive as Troika Consulting or 25/10 Crowdsourcing

It’s not as deep and complex as Ecocycle Planning or Panarchy

It’s not as creative as Drawing Together, Improv Prototyping or Tiny Demons

So what is it?

Life, the wicked questions way

Wicked questions is a lens for life. And not just any lens: it is a confusiastic lens. A lens that invites the rich diversity of our myriads of ways of being and doing…

It builds upon the assumption that in complex work, there is no silver bullet, and putting all your eggs into one basket is the surest way to fail. Wicked Questions, instead, invites us to consider the paradoxes we are facing, however uncomfortable these make us.

So indeed it is actively enthusiastic about the confusion it may breed.

It puts us in front of our complexity, in front of our choices, and it encourages us to hold the confusion there. It does not rush us to a response, a solution. It asks us to pause and think, feel, acknowledge: our reality is richer in hues than we tend to admit to ourselves…

Why (and when) is it helpful?

Wicked Questions is logically a helpful reflex to get at the start of something, for a group to realise and process the complexity of its agenda or reality and of itself as a group.

As to why it is helpful, Wicked Questions addresses many issues:

  • It helps everyone understand the diversity of perspectives in the room. As such it’s a non-threatening way to introduce non dominant perspectives. I’m thinking here of the specific perspectives of e.g. women, youth (or elderly), specific ethnic groups, specific functional groups, partners (vs. project team) etc. etc.
  • It goes beyond that by quelling the either/or thinking to embrace more of a both/and approach that not only recognises but actually invites more diversity in the conversation, thus more ‘data’, more brainpower. Therefore, it potentially helps create more sustainable solutions
  • Already at an early stage, Wicked Questions helps be more creative by imagining more complex solutions based on more options…
  • In its very process, it reveals many other nuances that, even though they may not be factored in the top Wicked Questions here and now could prove helpful to channel further down the line
  • Individually, Wicked Questions invites us to bring our whole personality, rather than just one facet of ourselves (e.g. the manager in us, the worker/colleague rather than the person we are etc.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it gets us more confusiastic. As human beings, we tend to like putting things, ideas, people, in neatly labelled boxes. Wicked questions forces us to hold combining opposites, to withhold the confusion that this creates and to stretch our mental elasticity… This allows us to accept more easily the messiness of life, and of people. So it also helps us accept more confusion and frustration in dealing with each other
  • With this confusiasm, it brings in another creative feedback loop: our acceptance of confusion makes us more likely to go beyond business as usual and beyond our first-draft ideas. It helps us rack our brains together and imagine even bolder, more daring, ambitious, off-the-wall, downright insane ideas that could be the next game-changer…
  • Finally, in holding that diversity and stretching the limits of our patience and tolerance for confusion, Wicked Questions even holds an element of relationship and community building. If I am able to see the importance of an opposed view point, I can value the inputs of anyone else in the group and appreciate their contribution to making our collective work more robust…

Doesn’t it feel inviting enough to use Wicked Questions then?

How does it work?

Actually, I don’t find Wicked Questions a very graceful structure.

It always feels a bit clunky and leaves me wanting for more, but for whatever it’s worth, here are the standard steps…

  • Introduce the concept of Wicked Questions and give a few examples e.g. “How is it that we want our conversations to be liberated from conventions and simultaneously we want to make sure we introduce structure in our conversations to make them productive?” (5 minutes)
  • Individually:
    • List all the activities that you do or realities of your work (5 minutes). In the original instructions this step is skipped
    • Identify in your list some activities or realities that seem to be opposed or in paradox and alone formulate a Wicked Question in the form of “How is it that… And at the same time…” (5 minutes)
  • In groups: sharpen the Wicked Questions and select the most wicked questions of them all (if focusing on collective Wicked Questions) (5 minutes)
  • All together: Share your best Wicked Questions in plenary, agree on the most Wicked Question and further refine it/them (10 minutes). The idea at that stage is to discuss, compare, sharpen the questions to make them perfectly wicked.

Notes from my practice – how to make Wicked Questions work even better?

Embracing paradox isn’t easy, that’s why Wicked Questions don’t always come easy, especially the first time around. So here’s a couple of tips that could help make the process easier and more effective, based on my own observations:

  • When listing realities / activities / intentions, either restrict yourself to one of these (indeed choose either realities, activities, intentions, attributes) OR when getting items into paradoxical pairs, pair up similar types of items. e.g. pairing intentions ‘How is it that we want to help everyone individually to become more comfortable at voicing their opinions and at the same time we want to help groups thrive as self-facilitating and collective-focused groups’ . Although I realise that this might be constraining too much, but perhaps for a first attempt it may prove handy?
  • Spend more time in helping each other refine the questions and make them wicked – this could be made even more helpful by introducing a prior step of ‘helping heuristics’ to help everyone find their preferred style of receiving help/advice and of giving it. You can find other ways to combine it with other structures following this post by the Liberators.
  • Revisit the Wicked Questions you selected as ‘most wicked’, even during the same workshop/session. It’s a way to test out whether we have already reached the optimal level of ‘wickedness’ or we can bring in some more… The Agile process applied to WQ!

Now you just have to try it and apply it in your work!

My friend Nadia already offered some very concrete ideas about this.

And for that matter, when it comes to trying, you can put both feet in the same direction 😉 Or perhaps you prefer to ponder this Wicked Question at this stage: “How is it that I am keen on releasing the power of paradoxes with Wicked Questions and at the same time I am afraid of being overwhelmed with paradoxes?”.

The LS gospel (based on principles) would say: “believe it before you see it”.

Fear not, jump and happily fail forward, we have many more (interesting) paradoxes to deal with further down the line! And you’ll see that we already embrace Wicked Questions in many aspects of our life and work 😉

And if you want to experience it first-hand with some help, join our Liberating Structures Immersion workshop (June 14-15, July 5-6)

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Read more posts about Liberating Structures on this blog

The why, what and how of ‘9 why’s’

When not to partner, when not collaborate? (Drawing credit: Olivier Cornelissen / ILRI)

Whenever you can do something alone, without anyone’s help, just indulge yourself.

No need to embarrass yourself with collaboration. As the saying goes: “want to go fast? Go alone”. Because collaboration takes time. It’s not a ‘need to have’; collaboration is rather something that is unavoidable for high stake and/or high complexity issues.

But whether you go the lone wolf way or the collaborative way, one thing you can’t afford to miss is ‘why’ you’re doing this.

Well, actually you can spare yourself that trouble. Just that you may be wasting your time.

So why are we doing certain things? Why are we doing this activity? Why are we working in that position? Why do we like what we do (or not)? Why does it feel like what we’re supposed to do?

These are all good questions. And the reason why we all deserve to ask ourselves about the 9 why’s every so often. Asking ourselves why is generally a good idea

9 Why’s is a specific methodology from the Liberating Structures (LS) repertoire.

Why 9 Why’s?

If you consider that the single most cited mistake (in the Workshops work podcast of Myriam Hadnes) made about meetings and workshops is that they don’t have a clear purpose, 9 Why’s aims precisely at clarifying what purpose lay ahead of you. It follows the Simon Sinek’s gospel of ‘start with why‘.

I don’t think there’s any simpler way to lay this out… What makes sense?

What is 9 Why’s looking into?

9 Why’s doesn’t settle with asking why once indeed. It doesn’t have to ask precisely 9 times ‘why’, but the point the microstructure is trying to make is to get to the bedrock of our purpose.

It could be our collective purpose – and 9 Why’s can be an syncretic message combining various individual takes on the collective purpose.

It could be our individual purpose.

It could be as our personal or collective mission statement, or it could be what is motivating a one-off activity etc.

How to run 9 Why’s (originally) and what is not always working so well about it

These are the standard steps from 9 why’s in the original LS gospel:

  • Individually, list what activities you are spending time on (2-5 minutes)
  • Interview each other for 5 minutes each, starting with ‘what are you working on?’ and asking ‘why is that important for you’
  • Switch between interviewer and interviewee after 5 minutes
  • While interviewing, take notes about what the interviewee says that matters to them (“Take notes for your partner – capturing and documenting important statements, phrases, fragments, or words that might help them compose a description of their purpose”)
  • Begin writing your purpose statement e.g. ‘my work exists in order to…’, using inspiration from the fragments captured by your interviewer
  • Potentially mix pairs into a quartet to share statements and/or important insights that
  • Invite the whole group to reflect on ‘how do our purposes influence the next steps we take’ for 5 minutes.

The intention of 9 Why’s is wonderful.

The practice of doing it is, however, rather irritating.

Indeed after a rather short while it becomes really annoying to keep hearing ‘but why does this matter to you?’. Even more so to just keep hearing ‘why?’

Repeatedly asking ‘why’ tends to put people on the defensive. Indeed it feels like they have to defend the reasons that motivate their actions and at the same time it makes them feel like they haven’t thought it through. No one likes to be put in a negative light.

On the interviewer part there is a risk of transforming into an inquisitor that is tormenting the interviewee, rather than supporting them.

And finally, another limitation is that the structure may pan out differently if you focus on a personal / individual purpose or if you are asking people to define their collective purpose…

How to run 9 Why’s more effectively?

If working alone (e.g. on your purpose statement):

  • Individually (3-5 minutes)
    • List the immediate purpose(s) coming to mind about what you do
    • Also list activities that describe your work
    • Feel free to add your own meta commentary about what gives you energy in doing this
  • Interview each other (5 minutes)
    • Hear first the bits and bobs that the interviewee has noted down for themselves and what their immediate purpose seems to be
    • Ask them their 9 why’s by using a variety of sentences and tactics e.g.”
      • What for?
      • Because…?
      • Tell me more…
      • And the next step here is?
      • What is your ultimate goal with that?
      • Is that the rock bottom of it?
      • When everything is said and done…
      • And the gist of this is…?
      • And this is significant in the sense of…?
      • Is that contributing to something even more important?
      • You may also beat around the bush with ‘What if…’?
  • Switch roles following the same process (5 minutes)
  • Share your fragments, notes etc. with the interviewee and each compose your own purpose statement (5 minutes)
    • If time allows, offer your own purpose statement to the interviewee, from the best of your understanding and synthesis capability
  • Challenge each other to come up with a statement that feels like the most complete (5 minutes) and if this doesn’t feel sufficient, re-do the 9 Why’s from the place you landed with at the end of the previous iteration.

If working on a common purpose:

  • Individually (3-5 minutes)
    • List the immediate purpose(s) coming to mind about what you are collectively trying to do
    • Also list activities that describe that collective work
    • Write all of these on different post-its or virtual notes
  • Interview each other (5 minutes)
    • Hear first the bits and bobs that the interviewee has noted down for themselves and what their immediate purpose seems to be, and stay with them until they feel complete with their 9 why’s
    • When you feel they’ve exhausted their first draft thinking, ask them about their 9 why’s endorsing a complete supporter role, and using a variety of sentences e.g.
      • What for?
      • Because…?
      • Tell me more…
      • And the next step here is?
      • What is your ultimate goal with that?
      • Is that the rock bottom of it?
      • When everything is said and done…
      • And the gist of this is…?
      • And this is significant in the sense of…?
      • Is that contributing to something even more important?
      • You may also beat around the bush with ‘What if…’?
  • Switch roles following the same process (5 minutes)
  • Share your fragments, notes etc. with the interviewee and try to compose a purpose statement that emerges from your pair (5 minutes)
  • As a pair, meet another pair to form a quartet to discuss your purpose statements and to compare the nuances. the fragments you used and discarded etc. (5-8 minutes)
  • As a whole group, hear the different purpose statements, meta-plan/organise all your listed activities/purposes on the wall, and if needed and possible come up with one general purpose statement for the group, building upon the collective statements, fragments and ‘debris’ that are there… or delegate some people to do the next 8 Why’s based on all the contributions of everyone?

A final tip, in order to make this even more effective, you might want to run ‘helping heuristics‘ to identify what is your preferred heuristic to help and to being helped…

Just give it a try, and find out how meaningful, liberating and extraordinary it is to hit the true purpose of what you/we are trying to do and achieve! Perhaps, like me, you will get to see 8 Why’s as not just a method, but a go-to lens that precedes a lot of good things…

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea

(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

A reflection, a self-disclosure, and an invitation…

🫵🏼 My Monday reflection, clarification and Invitation 😝…

Join the revolution of facilitated collaborations!

Before I proceed with the invitation, a quick *reflection* and a sort of self-disclosure *clarification*:

The reflection 🤔

————–

FINALLY, people are really waking up to the power of #facilitation. Between the boom in ‘facilitator communities’ #NDB [https://neverdonebefore.org/] being one of my absolute favourites), the recognition of the need for these skills, the multiplication of books and other resources about it online and analogue, the discourse of people around me is really changing towards appreciating and investing in the value of facilitation. It’s one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic which had us face big questions about our collaborations when we all had to learn to structurally move these online (I blogged about this here).

The clarification ⭐

—————-

So here is the self-disclosure piece before really getting on to my invitation:

People might see me as a ‘Liberating Structures’ practitioner and only that. It’s not true. I actually borrow from various ideas and approaches (particularly Community At Work / Sam Kaner’s school of participatory decision-making) but also a bit from the art of hosting, Deep democracy and the various bits and bobs I’ve gleaned along the way observing the giants in that field.

👉🏽 But the reason why I keep banging about #liberatingstructures (LS) is that it’s really an incredible repertoire that helps you shake your collaboration, communication, engagement, leadership etc. in various ways, even your personal life (as I posted last week).

LS don’t require 10 years of facilitation experience to pay off. They are plug and play and they transform the way we think, talk and work together. And they are very versatile. I mean, it’s a no-brainer to invest in them and the return is manifold, also because they bring a much deeper transformation than just using another toolbox.

The invitation 🫴🏼

————–  

So here is my invitation: get curious, read about LS (on the LS Slack group, on the LS website, in local communities) but even more so, practice with them, explore them, immerse yourself in them. Join the many organisations that have tried it and have been changed forever. Only with my partners Nadia and Ruben we have brought it to the The Global Water Partnership (GWP), the University of Utrecht, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, ResultsinHealth, Amideast, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other CGIAR centres and programmes, World Wide Fund (WWF), Feedback Training & Consulting, and obviously in less overt ways in pretty much all the events and collaboration processes I’m involved in.

💡 The best way to get a good hang of it?

And the best of it? After the training, we are personally happy to help you in myriads of ways to keep the fire going.

🪄 It’s time to liberate our structures, structure our liberation and give this magic a shot. Join the cruise!

Related stories

Read more about Liberating Structures on this blog.

Structuring our everyday liberation, because facilitation magic is not just for the workplace

It often feels invasive, particularly to the close relatives and friends of facilitators, to see facilitation ‘stuff’ (exercises, lenses, props) being applied to personal, private, moments.

It’s a pity really, because facilitation is a life skill. And it is magical too. It helps us improve our own and our bilateral or group communication, our empathy, our patience with silence, our staying focused on the other party and listening intently, our ability to build on each other’s point etc.

And on top of all of that, there’s the actual facilitation ‘exercises’ or structures or participation formats that can really help for ourselves (alone) and for our chats with other people, whether bilaterally or in larger groups.

Let’s take Liberating Structures and look at many ways that they prove handy in everyday life:

Liberating Structures - LS in Development

Individually:

  • Get some answers about what feels stuck and what feels like it’s not moving fast enough with Ecocycle Planning – oh and you could even review your relationships through that lens 😉
  • Think about what really matters for: your travel list, what you hope to get out of everyday, principles of parenting, conditions for saving money or investing, the criteria that matter to find a romantic partner, this new project starting… I mean, with Min Specs, the possibilities of applying this ‘bare essentials’ approach are nearly endless!
  • Face your own demons and de-dramatise how they play up in your mind with ‘tiny monsters/demons
  • Embrace paradoxes rather than function in simplistic ‘THIS OR THAT’ mode with Wicked Questions
  • Imagine the future and find resilient ways of dealing with the risk and uncertainty with Critical Uncertainties
  • Etc.

Bilaterally:

  • Hear the unfortunate moments of not feeling respected, and get an opportunity to understand, and explore together how to prevent these moments from happening with Heard Seen Respected
  • Find out what your preferred way of being listened to or listening to is with ‘helping heuristics
  • Approach any question with a creative visual through Drawing together
  • Help each other find out what is the rock solid foundation of something that has true meaning for you with 9 why’s
  • Etc.

And on that note, Myriam Hadnes had already shared on LinkedIn how she could use Liberating Structures to go on a date.

In groups of 3 or more:

  • Find and offer help to each other’s daily or more complicated problems with Troika Consulting
  • Understand how you can do things with each other better (say in how your organise your family chores, how your group of friends is going to prepare for this trip or birthday party together, how your scouting association or book reading club is getting projects on the go) with ‘What I need from you (WINFY)’
  • Realise together, before it’s too late, what toxic behaviours you and your relatives / friends / neighbours / sports mates are occasionally guilty of and what to do about it with TRIZ
  • Share a lot of stuff with a lot of people in relatively little time and with a lot of dynamics and energy using Shift & Share – this could be handy for a local fair you organise, or even virtually with a group of friends that hasn’t been together for a while etc.
  • Etc.

And all of these are combinable, and then some more!!

So what are we waiting for?

Indeed, I would really advise everyone and anyone to explore Liberating Structures, and facilitation more broadly. You will find a wealth of life hacks and ideas to live a healthy, productive, successful, fun life!

Are you interested to find out more about Liberating Structures, get a proper feel for them, understand more deeply how they work and how they could transform your life?

Come join us at this upcoming immersion workshop 3-4 + 24-25 November (online)

And we get to meet each other and open up our little backpack of magic together!

We > Me, but we still need all ‘I’s’ on board and on the prize…

Collaboration, engagement, the world of facilitated interactions, it’s all soaked in ‘we, us, the group, our society, the world’.

And for good reasons, because there’s enough egoism going on, and people focusing on just themselves.

And yet… for ‘us’ to thrive’ we need all ‘i’s’ on board and on the prize, ready to support the collective ambition. Perhaps there’s a hidden wicked question here: “How is it that in collaboration we try and focus on what matters for the collective, and at the same time we have to make sure that everyone, individually, finds their place in there.

If we don’t invite individuals properly in the group, we may remain in the cushy world of platitudes that give a fake sense of a coherent collective. Phrases like “we all know what’s best for us” (NOT, because what might be best for you might not be best for me) or “That’s your opinion, but that’s not what the rest of us thinks” (OH, and how do YOU know what ‘the rest of us’ thinks?)…

So we need to give proper attention to the individuals that are forming the group. It’s a matter of a) acknowledging who is in the room, b) appreciating our unique profile and qualities (and how they get to complement each other as in the S in STAR), c) understanding our experiences and deeper motivations, d) processing our own thinking, e) expressing our individual opinions on the way the group is going… so me is indeed totally meshed up with ‘we’…

(Photo credit: Dewey Ambrosino)

Here are some examples of how we can invite the many ‘I’s in our collective interactions:

  • By doing activities and exercises that draw directly from who we are (whether icebreakers or icemelters that reveal more of our own private world and personality) and help us reveal ourselves… to ourselves first of all (remembering who we are) and to each other. A spiral journal really helps in this individual grounding, among many other options…
  • By celebrating the diversity, complementarity and individuality in the collective, so we appreciate all the shades of the rainbow we are composing together. My comfort questions there are ‘what is your unique hidden superpower?’ or ‘what do you think you are best or uniquely placed to contribute to this gathering?’ etc.
  • By focusing on the experience of the other person, deeply, attentively listening to what they have to say, not interrupting them, not guiding them in our own thinking but staying with their train of thoughts. This could be as part of e.g. Heard Seen Respected, a celebrity interview, or simply any interaction where one person asks the other person to share some moment, experience, reflection…
  • By asking everyone to compose their thoughts by themselves (one of the go-to design decisions in Liberating Structures, starting for instance a 1-2-4-all with some time thinking alone);
  • By asking everyone to voice their individual opinion on a matter, whether in converging towards a possible solution, even further in a group decision making moment, or simply by organising for instance a structured go-around to hear everyone’s opinion, or inviting people to share their opinion in writing (even anonymously).

This stuff matters, because it allows us to find ourselves, our space and time, our thoughts, our voice, our confidence, our role, our energy as part of the wider orchestra that is the group we are interacting with/in. The orchestra is only as good and strong as every instrument plays its part -individually- well and is collectively supporting the whole. At the same time, paying attention to every individual in the group helps us move away from the ‘we’ language (who is ‘we’?) towards each individual person, which brings more strength and authenticity…

It makes all the more sense to pay attention to ourselves individually when we are change-makers and we know that every individual is actually contributing in big and small ways to any change process ongoing or desired.

This element of ‘meshing me in the we’ will be one of the themes that will no doubt surface and be unpacked at our upcoming Liberating Structures immersion workshop in November.

Come and explore this and many other aspects and structures mentioned above.

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Structuring our liberation (LS under the lens): Heard, Seen, Respected

(It’s been now seven years that I’ve been actively and centrally using Liberating Structures (LS), following three to four years of beating around that bush and borrowing from the LS repertoire haphazardly. Now it is firmly in my practice, and I’ve decided to start another blogging series (Structuring our liberation – LS under the lens), looking at some of the not-so-common structures from the LS repertoire).

Heard Seen Respected

Today is a bit of an exception in this series, because Heard Seen Respected is not among the most obscure structures, but it may not get the visibility that it deserves because it’s one of the most emotional structures in the LS repertoire. Perhaps because of that, it’s also one of my favourite structures.

What is the purpose of Heard Seen Respected?

It happens to everyone to, every once in a while, feel either not heard, seen and/or respected. It’s so commonplace it’s actually mind-boggling. It also shows there’s a long way before we share more of what is going on in our life.

Heard Seen Respected (aka ‘HSR’) is there to:

  • Help people share these moments with one another and thereby a) just acknowledge what happened b) lighten their heart (“a problem shared is a problem halved”), c) process their grief
  • By doing that, focus on what is brewing inside of us before getting on with fixing, solving, acting. That is a crucial prerequisite
  • Understand what were, and what could be generic, factors that made these unfortunate moments happen
  • Realise how common place such experiences are
  • Analyse how we can avoid these situations in the future, for ourselves and others in similar situations
  • Potentially find solutions and even a catharsis for these moments
  • Invite emotions in our reflections, mobilise the ‘memory of our body’ in that process
  • Stimulate our deep listening to each other, and our empathy
  • Develop, stimulate, enable a culture of emotional feedback as a whole
  • Ritualise and normalise moments of acknowledging, sharing and processing these feelings
  • The LS website also indicates ‘help managers discern when listening is more effective than trying to solve a problem’

How does it work?

There are variations of it – one version is offered below, from the LS website – but essentially they all involve a pair and the following steps:

  • A short time telling a story of when you were NOT heard, seen or respected (about 5 to 7 minutes for each person)
    • When listening, practicing quiet presence (listening, not responding, possibly asking non-directive open-ended questions to draw the storyteller out)
    • When talking, selecting a story that is not the hardest and focusing on the facts, not on blaming the situation or other people
  • An optional, but very useful 5-minute step, of revealing what it felt like to recount that story, and to listen to it…
  • An even shorter time (3-4 minutes, or larger in a larger group as below) debriefing what happened and ideas we have to prevent more of these stories from happening…

The steps are summarised below

So this structure is incredibly easy to set up…

Read more about this structure on the Liberating Structures website.

Who could really benefit from it?

This is the thing: pretty much ANYBODY can benefit from it. Regardless of age, sex, ethnic group, geography, function. Whether at work or in (personal) life. Obviously, the more privileged the less it may be necessary but even white-haired white men can benefit from a moment of disclosure on the pains of their past.

We ALL feel invalidated, and almost rejected at times. Yet rejection is one of the deepest fears we have as human beings. HSR is helping everyone unpack that experience.

Beyond this universal value, in places of conflict or tensions between ‘groups’, Heard Seen Respected adds even more value by giving texture to the lived experience of each other. But even in places where seemingly no conflict arises, there are always mental frontiers and places of rejection. In a former organisation I worked for, the same HSR session helped two colleagues deeply apologise to each other, and revealed in stark contrast, and tears, the experience of one person from a different origin than the majority. HSR is deep, much like the whole Liberating Structures repertoire…

HSR, one of the most deeply liberating LS structures? (Image credit: Michael Nir)

What is liberating about it?

Like many LS, Heard Seen Respected is brought about by a very simple means: a couple of stories that are exchanged by two people. And indeed that simple step helps us trespass into another deeper, meaningful, heavy and yet hopeful dimension: the land of invisible scars.

HSR is liberating because:

  • Our pains become fears, and naming our fears diminishes their power – following the same logic as with ‘Tiny Demons’, another LS which I will explore here at a later stage…
  • Re-living that experience is helping us not flee from the pain but inhabit it, live it, feel and sense it again, without the emotional charge of being in it. It helps us activate our brain to analyse it also, and it may bring about different emotions again…
  • The forced ‘listening’ which is present in many LS is helping us get present, focused, attentive, intentional, supportive, empathetic. In the fast-paced world of social media antechambers we need to regain that attention, that slow pace and space that is the soil for trust, bonding, collaboration
  • The empathy that it develops is particularly crucial here;
  • It brings us to reflect together, co-solving the conditions that lead us to these moments of not respecting each other;
  • As the last reason exposed above, it helps us understand once again more deeply that fixing problems is sometimes not the way to go. That instead we have to acknowledge the pain, the suffering, the situation of somebody else before we can have a rational conversation together. And that that acknowledgement is probably overdue in many cases, because we tend to jump the guns and race to action and business, when our bodies, minds and souls are sometimes not even capable of getting in motion…
  • And last but not least, the shared experience of zooming in through our suffering history brings us closer together, it heals, melds and reveals relationships, and that is also the key to future liberation…

How to stretch the structure further?

There are various strings that can naturally incorporate Heard Seen Respected:

The applications are nearly infinite with HSR, but here are a few just thinking out loud here and now:

For managers and subordinates that want to hear from each other how they are not being helpful to each other.

For groups that have gone through a crisis or a major challenging moment, a big reform, a collective trauma, a pandemic etc.

For teams that want to improve the quality of their communication (the ‘tuning’ part of STAR).

For multi-stakeholder collaboratives that need to build stronger empathy and understanding of the different (groups of) people involved.

As part of a retrospective, after-action-review, assessment or evaluation.

For anyone keen on improving their empathy, social intelligence, communication…

The website also offers this daring variation: To bravely replace ‘HSR’ with ‘Loved’ 😉

At any rate, give it a try, and see for yourself 😉

This may be a unique Liberating Structure, and it’s nuclear power in bubble of speech…

Want to find out about HSR and Liberating Structures at large? Come join our immersion workshop in November!

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Why are we still arguing over pennies about what facilitation is worth or not? Here’s the *real* value we bring!!

[the gist: At the NDB Testivál I attended a session looking at how facilitated assignments are charged, and it’s largely undervalued when you think about the importance, complexity, craft, transaction costs, societal benefits and other factors that go into this… It dawned on us that we had to collectively articulate all the benefits of facilitated conversations to avoid negotiating every penny, to understand what is real value and to all value this work. Here is my stab at it].

How much is it worth to facilitate your collaborations and meetings? (photo credit: AJ&Smart)

And so the Never Done Before Testivál is over.

It went in a finger snap. And there is a lot to report about it, and much will be done and said I’m sure on the NDB community and on the web.

One of the most fascinating sessions I attended was named ‘what if you doubled your rates?’ It talked about how much we – people who are hired to facilitate engagements and collaborations – financially charge for our work, and how we justify our fees.

The session was really fascinating to me because:

  • Charging for our gigs and work is not spoken among us. So having a community of practice on this helps us rationalise our approach and make a case for our profession as a whole;
  • There are so many variables that help set up a budget: daily fee rate, time required, complexity of the assignment, urgency, familiarity with the client, familiarity with the topic, long term hopes / outcomes and benefits etc. and it was good to double-check that list with the group;
  • The general cost of things is often more complex than meets the eye. I am still under the deep impression of the WASHCost project which helped to explain the many cost components of water and sanitation services (beyond the obvious ‘construction costs’ of a water point or toilet. Similarly here, there are many cost components going into the service we provide, that should realistically be reflected in the prices we quote, and most often are not;
  • Most importantly, it is a reflection of how the ‘facilitation domain’ itself is perceived and valued by both its lead actors (us), but also the clients buying/renting these services, and the people and groups at large. This session helped us all understand better what value we really bring, and how we can advocate for that value because it’s meaningful and everyone should realise that…

So there are at least two important sides to this conversation:

a) the pragmatic side of it: what elements to bear in mind in costing and charging, what pricing models etc. and…

b) how professionally facilitated inputs are perceived, valued and what are opportunities there. The latter point is what I want to focus on here.

The conversation was attended by a Testivál record 30 or so people (out of 100 participants in total), showing that this mattered to many of us. It also became clear that we will be a lot more effective if we collectively advocate for the basic value we are bringing to the table. As I realised this, I sort of volunteered to start articulating our value towards our clients. So here is a starting point, a meagre individual point of view that hopefully will stir some ideas and get us to really get our act together and make sense in explaining what value we bring to the table.

So what is it that a facilitator really brings as value, and why, as the session description gave it away, we (facilitators) tend to “under charge and almost systematically over-deliver”?

We bring impact at optimal costs (the return on investment / opportunity cost argument)

And that’s the main reason people bring in a facilitator: facilitated conversations and collaborations are effective and impactful, they help get the job done (whether ‘the job’ is what was scheduled for conversation or something else that proved more important along the way).

Indeed, when we step in, we help clarify objectives and outcomes. This happens both when designing a gathering upstream, and downstream, when we’re facilitating in the room and find out that some topics have more ‘energy’ than others.

In the realm of complex issues, we thrive -and help you thrive- by approaching wicked problems with methods and approaches that are significantly more effective than the ‘business as usual’ approaches.

And all that at a very low cost indeed. Think about the opportunity cost of 15 executives at a 2-hour meeting: for an average person’s hourly fee of € 100, that meeting would cost € 3000. If nothing has been achieved, it means a lot of wasted money. Usually we manage to use that money to be effective now (and a whole lot more), so is there a point in arguing on pennies?

We bring light – with lightness

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are clear, and enjoyable!

First off, at the very least what we bring about is an absence of complete chaos. That is already a major achievement. And if we hit a zone of conflict, or frustration, or confusion – which in our lingo is often referred to as the ‘groan zone’, it’s for good reasons: we are your guides in those turbulent times to see a promising destination, rather than go back to the safe but same harbour as everyday.

And in most cases, we bring a whole lot more than that: fun, energy, joy, creativity, beautiful charts, music, laughter, informality. It feels good to take that formality mask down and have fun with us, while getting stuff done. Focus with fun!

Photo credit: MyTasker

We bring skills, methods and ideas

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are eye-openers and build the collaborative muscles of the group.

I have met a number of technical specialists who, transformed by their exposition to facilitation, wanted to get into this facilitative work. That’s not surprising: we bring a very compelling ‘capacity development’ arsenal of skills, knowledge and tools to the table:

  • By demonstrating them, we share skills – that are actually super handy life, and leadership skills – for everyone to be more productive;
  • We stimulate everyone’s thinking, help connect everyone’s ideas and offer creative ways of looking at issues which make new options possible;
  • We have lenses and use frameworks that reveal a whole new world about issues and about how people go about them and go along with each other;
  • We help develop stronger management – by teasing out our sponsors’ understanding of group dynamics, group decision-making, communication etc. – and at the same time…
  • We help cultivate leadership in everyone: because it is our starting premise to help everyone do their best thinking, so they can mobilise their ideas, capacities and gifts, energies, and in so doing inspire others to do the same.

Through all these things, and getting groups safe through the groan zones of their agendas, we help our groups – your groups! – to develop their collaborative muscles to ‘do it themselves’. I don’t often point this out but this is actually rather generous and selfless: we want you to get rid of us and do this by yourselves!

We bring relationships to new levels

Facilitated conversations and collaborations bring people together, deeply and for long. This is something that matters deeply to many of us playing that facilitative role.

Through icemelters, teambuilding exercises, but even more so through getting people to ‘the real deal’ (see next point) and exploring all sides of the human experience, through the lows of struggle and the highs of laughter, through the wideness of scopes and the depth of perspectives, we bring people together.

Not just for that one workshop, but for longer term acquaintance, contact, connection, click, resonance… and that is not a bad premise for meaningful collaboration down the line…

Image credit: Daniel Christian Wahl

We get people to meet and chat with each other, to do things together, to question each other and themselves, to agree and disagree with each other, to listen carefully to each other, to expose themselves to each other, to advance together.

This is not only useful for the ‘here and now’ but also for the future, for future collaborations, and for future relations. Relationships are nearly everything in the complex realm of human interactions… So how priceless is that support we bring?

We bring authenticity and trust

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are vulnerable, critical, meaningful. They are full of humanity. We call for that humanity to come in the room. We want everyone to reveal as much as they can -and feel uncomfortably comfortable- about their private conversation, the one going on in their head. We see through the boasting and the self-deprecating, we try and get people to be themselves. The real ‘myself’. Because when we all are ourselves, then and only then we can start talking about genuine inclusive solutions. And because we don’t take ourselves seriously or central stage, and because we avoid an atmosphere of exclusion, of mockery, of jadedness, we invoke trust and stimulate it.

In the process, we help reveal elephants in the room, because only when we’re really honest with ourselves do we accept to really see these elephants.

And so, by the same token, as the people in the time-spaces we create and entertain are finding their trust, renewed comfort and authenticity, we ensure their engagement, their attention, their commitment…

That is the holy grail of many an internal marketing team… And they charge a lot of money for what they do!!! We do it, and for little…

We (sometimes, sort of) liberate you – and all of us!

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are a ticket for your full engagement, dedication, openness, without having to play another specific role. We help you and your team thrive. And in the process this helps all of us because it means everyone is really playing from their most logical standpoint.

So what ? Now what?

In conclusion… We prevent massive waste of money, time, talent (helping everyone do their best thinking), energy (giving people different ways of dealing with it), ideas (getting away with ‘duh’ and boring business as before), relationship-building, authentic humanity… We bring impact, in a conducive atmosphere and with many invisible added benefits…

If you ask me about the above as a client, I would say it is pretty awesome, so why is there sometimes some quibbling over pennies for what we charge?

Is it not a moment to a) see things for what they really are and to agree to pay for the value that we bring and b) understand why it seriously matters that everyone gets their facilitation skills under their skin and that you invest in making this happen, so you don’t just depend on us?

Process literacy, here we come!

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‘The periodic table of facilitation’: What did I learn about what we can learn about facilitation

This year, one of the main sources of excitement and renewal in my work life is coming from Never Done Before, the community of facilitators created and co-hosted by Myriam Hadnes (from the excellent facilitation geeking podcast ‘Workshops work‘).

One of the great sessions I had the pleasure to attend there was about the ‘periodic table of facilitation‘. We set out to dissect the field of group / process facilitation and distil elements that would feature in a such a table, following some design principles of the actual periodic table.

Without a prescriptive formula, we actually started with a brainstorming session (in breakout groups) where we populated a whole Miro board with all the thoughts that came to us, before we started organising them – in different breakout groups – from the whole set of ideas into categories that made instinctively more sense to our various groups. And then we took one more step back to identify what might be the deeper ‘organising principles’ of this table we landed with.

And the result is this periodic table of facilitation in the making, on Miro: https://miro.com/app/board/uXjVO3Hhsmg=/

We didn’t manage to land with a neat periodic table.

In fact, we kind of agreed that perhaps this was pushing the metaphor too far for a domain (group/process facilitation) that is perhaps more an art than a science, and that may not have such clear properties ascribed to it as the physical table.

The biggest aha moment for me though, was that I (and a few others apparently also) kind of assumed that some bits of facilitation were almost innate/given, and others were acquired, it turned out that pretty much anything can be learned in facilitation.

BUT…

Not everything comes as easily, quickly and naturally. In our last breakout, we actually even found a sort of gradation from instrumental and fundamental between:

  • What we have (the tools, equipment and props, participation formats / structures / work forms / facilitation exercises) e.g. Lego Bricks (for Lego Serious Play), World Café, Open Space Technology, Miro etc.
  • What we know (our knowledge of the domain, frames of reference, frameworks, repertoires with their own ontology etc.) – and that is also together with what we believe and what we imagine… e.g. Art of Hosting, Liberating Structures, Theory U etc.
  • What we do (our practice, but from an intentional practice point of view, because throughout our development pathway of course we do stuff) e.g. process design, active listening skills, group decision-making rituals and practices…
  • What/who we are (our traits of character, abilities, areas of mindful attention etc.) e.g. curiosity, empathy, acceptance, humour etc.

Some of my own learning from this great session (which hopefully will be followed up by another session to deepen the metaphor or export it to a more fertile ground):

Of course it’s not quite that simplistic. What we have, know, do, are mesh and mingle somehow. But there is definitely a difference in how quickly we can ‘pick up something to learn’ or not. Ie. it’s easier to grab a set of post-it notes compared with running a 1-2-4-all, which in turn is easier compared with understanding Theory U, compared in turn with applying the gospel of Theory U or Liberating Structures, compared to working on our empathy or sense of acceptance…

There is somehow almost a parallel here with the four levels of teaching by Broadwell (from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence): What we have might be our starting point. Usually, what people think of when thinking about facilitation are the tools and exercises. But that’s just a start, when we don’t really know that that is not the name of the game. What we know is when we realise that there is a lot out there that we may need to go through before we start understanding better (what we know). That leads to what we do intentionally, practicing and practicing. And ultimately, we actually have integrated all of the above in the way that we are and by this power we facilitate…

There is perhaps a parallel with the excitement and pacing of excitement that each of these four ‘areas’ provoke in budding facilitators and in people getting interested in facilitation: they are first attracted by the tools, then often by the repertoires, then by the skills (applying the repertoire), then by the philosophy behind it and the deeper traits that help all the above to work better…

These four domains offer ways to reinforce our overall practice, because of course we probably need a bit of everything to make collaboration work. So it’s also a case of picking and choosing our favourite angles to focus on next, and going in spiral to discover it all…

Maybe all the above is utter rubbish, but in any case that session has been engraved in my memory and though we may not have found the right metaphor with the periodic table, there is something about ordering these domains of facilitation that is deeply resonating with me…

By the way don’t miss the opportunity to join the NDB ‘Testivál’ starting tomorrow:

Join the Testivál for over 30 workshops across 24 hours – and be transformed as most of us were in this community

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What do you do, as facilitator, when you are ‘clearly confused’ (and expected to be the one adding clarity 😜)?

So there you go: apparently facilitators cannot be confused… ?? That’s what my compadriña Nadia von Holzen found out when we were brainstorming to design a session about being confused as facilitators…

Confused??
Confused? (photo credit: Matthew Kang / FlickR)

Of course our experience tells us otherwise. We are confused, we have been confused… When I had to think about when I get or got confused while facilitating, a few moments came to mind:

  • When I had to work with clients that were both really ambitious about how far they wanted to get, and quite demanding in this respect, but had no clue whatsoever how to get there. I found myself having to negotiate what that path looked like as we went along and it was stressful to feel that the whole group seemed to be my sole responsibility…
  • When I found myself facilitating workshops on a topic that I really knew nothing about and I occasionally realised that everyone understood the conversation around me but I – and seemingly only I – didn’t. It was both liberating and extremely confusing to have no grip on the conversation, having to lean in on the group to actually facilitate their facilitator ha ha ha. But that was mostly fun!
  • When in process design conversations, teasing out what the group is trying to achieve, and I got regularly confused as to what exactly was at stake because that ‘why are we gathering’ wasn’t really clear and was being cleared out as we went along…
  • And then my “imposter moment” of finding out that I need to really think on my feet and quickly come up with a better plan and I feel like I’ll run short of options (when in practice it’s not really the case)…

I find that on those moments, I tend to be a bit stunned, possibly nervous or stressed because I don’t know what comes next and I feel the sense of responsibility for the experience that everyone’s going through and for the personal time they put into this.

Then my brain kicks in quite quickly and starts rationalising what’s going on so I find some grounding. So perhaps not as much letting go as I’d like to…

But then perhaps it’s also because I don’t hold a lot of things as very firm either, and so at a micro-scale, confusion, doubt, curiosity, open-ness is there at every corner. I can go with the flow. I just sense that if in case I wanted that, I might not be the best one to conjure up a very powerful counter-flow… Going with the flow suits me better in that sense too…

confuse
Confusion might be a dance – where do you begin it, where do I end it? (photo credit: Tall Chris / FlickR)

In any case, on those moments when I experienced confusion as a facilitator, my reptilian brain kicked in. As I was so much in the moment and dealing with the ‘crisis’ at hand, I was oblivious to what was going on at the meta level of what I was doing. It’s when you realise that facilitating means often operating from that meta level, so much so that living experiences firsthand does not always come so naturally.

On those moments, it would have helped to be more aware of how I was reacting, to find some support in my friends and other contributors, to realise there were quite a few options to deal with that confusion. But hey, we learn one thing at a time…

So anyway, how do we deal with confusion as facilitators?

  • Do we know what it looks like, feels like, taste like?
  • Do we even realise what confusion really means or represents to us?
  • Do we know what elements rattle us most and cause us to get confused?
  • When it happens, do we fight, freeze or flee?
  • How do we connect with the acticipants (all the people around us in that gathering) on those moments? Do we bring them along in our confusion, do we seek advice, do we let them know how we feel?
  • How does the confusion dance unfold?
  • How do we process confusion afterwards? How do we deal with the traces it might leave behind?
  • Do we try to anticipate confusion, cope with it as it comes, accept it or even embrace it – much like the ‘groan zone’ that means we are onto something alive and full of energy?

Together with Nadia we will be unravelling all these questions and more in a forthcoming session at the Testival organised by the Never Done Before community on 23-24 June. Hopefully we can then understand better what it means for us, we can get to remember and even inhabit our confusion so we can recognise its symptoms, we can laugh it off also, and hear other stories of confusion and how our peers have dealt with it, to find out what shades of response might suit us best, going forward. We can tap into the wisdom of the group and the generous care of its individuals to help us inhabit the most confusiastic version of ourselves.

Just speaking about it I look forward to it already!!!

And I think you might too…

Itinerary of a (meeting) change maker

It’s not easy to be a change maker, ie. to be someone who wishes to shake up the culture around them and stop the endless cycle of ‘business as usual’. Even when everyone agrees that ‘business as usual’ is broken.

The meeting about our meetings (image credit: The conversation factory / Daniel Stillman)

I am thinking here specifically about the kind of change maker that should actually be ordinary: someone who wants to change the culture, etiquette and rituals of bad meetings and collaboration in their company.

Someone who has seen too many bad meetings without clear purpose, without participation from most, without any respect for people’s time, intelligence and feelings. Someone who’s seen how taxing that is to everyone over time, leading to complete exhaustion, mental check-out (physical presence but mental/emotional absence) or cynicism…

That someone would want to host the one meeting that every group of people should have: the meeting about our meetings that Daniel Stillman encouraged us to have. And based on that, change the norms and practices around ‘meeting and collaboration hygiene’.

Along that journey, there are many ‘themes’ that would be likely to crop up. These themes encompass opportunities, challenges or obstacles, qualities that help, principles of success etc. And these themes are what can make or break the changemaker’s journey.

So let’s dive into those themes and see what matters about them… My little finger tells me I’ll get to unpack these themes with my friends later on this year…

Clarity / Intention

The first step is to be clear on what’s not going well in ‘business as usual’, and developing an intention to go against that ‘business as usual’. Because you see that people are getting stressed, jaded, cynical, exhausted, absent-minded. A change-maker has to be able to see it, describe it, and state what it is they want to do about it. And as much as possible, have that eye-opening conversation with other like-minded people that can join the movement of ‘let’s do something different here’, because change is not easy.

Curiosity

This is probably one of the most useful features of a change-maker at all times. Curiosity about ideas, curiosity about people. Not a fixed mindset, a liquid mindset, ready to accept different data and perspectives, curious to understand what tickles people in a different way, knowing that remaining open to deeply understand peoples’ deepest motives is the key towards mutual understanding. That also means not having a fixed idea about the exact itinerary towards the end result (or even what that end result is); instead, having some idea of where you’re headed but keeping open to anything that could make that path more strong and true. Like a bird builds a nest, picking up different twigs and items that show up along their flyovers.

Listening

This derives naturally from the previous item: it’s not just about a mindset of curiosity, it’s also about having the skills to be able to understand others, and that is through building listening skills. Active listening skills: paraphrasing, mirroring, everything that Community At Work and others encourage you to build up. It takes mindful practice to get good at listening, but that’s a non-negotiable skill to have, and it happens to be both an incredibly useful lifeskill but also seemingly the most important leadership skill according to many successful business people. So there: 1-2 flex your listening muscles 💪 !

Active listening (image credit: Normat)

Crafts (and arts of process facilitation)

Up next in the bag is having some command over participation formats (or structures, facilitation methods, work forms etc. however you call them). These ‘exercises’ allow you to organise collaboration and meetings. It’s the ‘toys’ that very often people think about when they think about facilitation. And usually the bit that people calling meetings might want to concentrate on. I generally tend to underplay these because they should always follow function and objectives -thus come quite late in the process- but I also recognise that not having any knowledge of these crafts is a real hindrance for any change maker to achieve their goals. It just takes some practice mastering some repertoire of these participation formats. Liberating Structures is one of many repertoires that comes in handy here.

Trust

If you are hoping to achieve long-lasting change, you can’t really dodge trust. You need to build it in order to make some of the change more acceptable. Trust is the truth as I’ve been saying all along… Trust takes authenticity, vulnerability, openness and open-mindedness, honesty, respect and no-nonsense… it’s about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels invited to reveal as much of themselves as possible… easier said than done, but this is one of the key differences between successful change and anything else that might look good but just doesn’t happen.

Courage

And of course it takes some braveness to challenge the status quo and to wish to establish a new norm. Because change does not feel good, even when you are the one initiating it, let alone when you are not so much involved in it. And here again I’m thinking about the courage it takes for our change-maker to bring it to their boss and colleagues that business as usual is broken and needs to be reconsidered. It takes courage to imagine a different practice, to share it with others (who are partly going to be skeptical about it)… but courage it is that drives every change maker to face being mocked by the mainstream because deep down they know there’s no other way.

Resistance

And one of the main reasons why it takes courage is because the proposed change will meet resistance. For the change maker, this is the famous ‘snap back’ effect (that Brenda Zimmermann coined) which risks ruining all good will to change things for a positive result. Being aware of that resistance is essential. And not just that and quickly waving it off as an irrelevant ‘force from the past’. No, that resistance is real, and understanding its deep roots is of the essence. What is creating the cringe about change for some people?

(image credit: Biola University)

Grit

No matter what challenges are put on your way, no matter how much resistance you encounter, as change agent you don’t want to give up. Grit is what it takes: some combination of determination, resilience, learning and of social creativity to keep going at it. Indeed, it’s an attitude (not giving up and bouncing back no matter what happens), mixed with knowledge (based on what we learn works or doesn’t) and creative skills to try out other solutions. And perhaps it’s also about finding allies along the way, that allow us to nurture that determination. I remember one of the KM4Dev gatherings that focused on this notion of ‘keeping the fire alive’. That resonated strongly with me. We get inspired at times, but that spark of insight and willingness to change can easily get snuffed out unless we create a network of care around it that allows us to keep going, it’s that notion of keeping the fire alive.

Teamwork

And provided you have all the above in place, then you still need teamwork to make these new collaborations and meeting processes stick around. You need a distribution of roles, including the impromptu facilitator, the documenter etc. Especially for online meetings there’s even more need for additional roles (e.g. tech support, chat box or graphic platform steward etc.). So bring along your mates to show that ‘the new way’ works. Because if your attempts at setting a new norm fail early on, and more than once, you are dead in the water…

Ownership

At some point – often even at various points – in the process the question comes up of ‘who owns this?’. Who is sponsoring this change, who has vested interests in it, who takes decisions, who is actually involved in thinking about and implementing this, and who is impacted by this new way of doing things? All these are facets of the ‘ownership’ issue and they all matter. At least all these questions deserve to be raised at least once. Getting this right builds up the trust mentioned above. And when it comes to setting new norms for meetings and collaboration, it’s pretty much everyone’s business, not just the concern of a few, so how to make sure everyone’s on board and feels vested in this change?

Diversity

Finally comes the point of involving various profiles that cover all the bases. At least all the ones that matter in your ecosystem. If you don’t have that diversity, your change initiative risks falling apart because some ‘groups’ will call out their lack of involvement, representation, ownership, power in it. So make sure you have representative demographics of your group (whether the latter is a network, an organisation, department, team or whatever…). This is about having all points of view taken equally seriously and contributing to the conversations and solutions as legitimately as anyone else.

And here we complete our change maker tour and can conclude that though not exhaustive, the above themes will matter at a point or another in bringing about the change and getting it to stick…

Any obvious theme that you would add here?

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