Messaging and massaging feedback into our culture: A video chat with Nadia (3/3)

And just like that…

…Nadia and I reached the final part of our video conversation about feedback.

I loved our entire conversation about feedback. Episode 1 unpacked it (the why and what), episode 2 analysed it (the how, when, where), and this episode is bringing it home and to a whole new level: US, all together.

For someone who craves individual change in the service of collective transformation (towards ever healthier societies and a healthier planet), this is the holy grail: how do we harness feedback not just in the space of a nice conversation, between two people, but everywhere, all the time, with everyone, and for everyone else to see and draw inspiration from…

So yes, we covered a myriad of topics in this rich episode:

We brushed through different lenses that help stimulate a healthy culture of feedback: growth mindset, tolerance for failure etc. A positive ‘mindset’ is so important for change, as testified by this infographic shared on Twitter by the fabulous Helen Bevan.

We considered how having “some feedback about feedback”, or at least a conversation on how feedback is being practiced in the group, is a simple but useful and powerful first step, which reveals more than the tip of the feedback iceberg. Taking that step back is a little like “having a meeting about our meetings” that Nadia suggests in this welcome provocation.

Management plays a mirroring and amplifying role vis-à-vis the feedback culture of a given group…

We obviously reflected on the role of management, the top leadership, the human resources teams or departments, how they can couple or decouple feedback with formal assessments, and how they also hold a part of the solution by mirroring useful practices – or precisely not, then adding to the gospel of “Do what I say, not what I do”.

We also flickered through the Liberating Structures (LS) repertoire to see what structures might come in handy to understand, discuss or act upon a feedback culture in the team/organisation. And we actually used quite a few of these structures in a feedback training workshop we gave to a client organisation earlier this year with Nadia. We were left feeling there was even still so much more that could be done about feedback, with LS and generally. Our conversation reminded me that Liberating Structures bet on changed practices by focusing on modifying the everyday behaviours and actions rather than modifying the values or principles that guide those actions.

So what is the surer way to embrace, or expand, a culture of feedback?

Tell us what you’ve tried, or what you’ve witnessed around you.

Tell us if anything from the video below resonated with you or not…

And also tell us if there’s any topic related to collaboration and facilitation that you’d like Nadia and I to think and talk about…

Time, the ever-present elephant in the room of our meetings (1/4)

Time, the ultimate obsession of human beings, is nearly the only variable we have no control on whatsoever, and the measure that separates us from the end of our existence.

Time, the big obsession of our lives and meetings (Photo credit: CathRedfern / FlickR)

Time is not only a reason for existential angst at the macro level of our life. It also creeps into our meetings and interactions in a myriad of significant ways:

  • In how we obsess about time generally and the overall conduct of the meeting
  • In the expectations we have about what it takes to realistically achieve an objective in a given amount of time
  • In how we are respecting people’s time and finishing every segment of interactions on time or not
  • In the pacing we use to interact with each other
  • In how people are monopolising the conversation and depriving others of air…time
  • In how much (or rather how little) we should focus on passing information – which can easily be done asynchronously and individually – as opposed to conversing together, which asynchronously can’t be done with quite the same effects as face-to-face interactions
  • In our tolerance to go further than business-as-usual or not
  • In how we manage our energy in our collaboration and interactions
  • In how we create space for meta reflections, sharing our feelings, disclosing our private conversation etc.

These manifestations of time in our interactions have a major influence on the quality of our interactions and what we can expect out of them.

So, what have I learned about time in our interactions?

It’s such a big topic that I’ll split it up in several posts, to explore in four breaths:

  1. Time as a driver of our process design
  2. Time as the comfortable space to reveal ourselves
  3. Time as the uncomfortable measure accompanying our collective groaning
  4. Time as an adjective of our interactions, to be thought again radically (towards…?)

Time as driver of our process design

Time is one of the finite resources in our gatherings. When designing a conversation or event, it is one of the hard variables that requires us to think carefully about what is possible and what is not.

And as this quote illustrates, we do not make a particularly rational use of time when thinking about what is possible.

Like so many things in our human beings’ existence, we want to bend time to our desire, control it and manipulate it, fit it in our mental boxes so it can be dealt with neatly and efficiently, dare I say ‘pperfectly’. And here our first lessons about time emerge.

Meaningful interactions take time, and so do our deepest outcome desires

What can realistically be achieved in the space of two hours? One day? Three days? Four sessions over one month?

Even if we ‘just’ wanted to devise a strategic plan, review a programme, brainstorm around a topic, imagine a future together, we have to be realistic as to what can be achieved in the artificial setting of a gathering. What’s more, when we superimpose an objective of getting people to know themselves and to get to know the others and acknowledge their differences and commonalities, ie. when we are also working on the relationships and on achieving trust between people, we have to be even more humble about the baby steps can that be achieved.

Human interactions are characterised by all the quirks that play out at the interplay between our ideas, our feelings, our inclinations, values, our language, our habits, our self-consciousness, our degree of empathy, our understanding of group dynamics etc. etc. Do we seriously take all of this for granted? Are we back to the hypothesis of homo economicus who deals with life with the rational precision of a robot? When you think about how feelings shape even (vividly) our memory of things, let’s realise that we are dealing with homo sentiens and one homo sentiens is complex enough, let alone a whole group of us trying to get somewhere together.

We have wild dreams about solving the world, finding quick and durable solutions. So when will we learn that these objectives are inseparable from the relationships that contribute to these outcomes? In ‘real life’ we don’t (or hardly ever) become friends for life in just one moment spent together. Developing relationships takes care and momentum.

Our impatience to achieve our most deeply desired outcomes is a reflection of our core misunderstanding of human dynamics, and of how real time plays out at a completely different pace to what we hope.

Humility is the key here… And breaking down our outcomes into achievable steps. Better two small and concrete steps forward that will effectively be taken than 10 big leaps that will remain another abandoned intention on the way to hell.

Time is hidden in many aspects of our interactions, and remains a blind spot

Interestingly, even when at a strategic level we may have accounted sufficient and realistic time for specific conversations and desired outcomes, we may remain blind, in our process design, to the time-crunching quirks of interactions… which comprise, for instance:

  • Making sure that everyone is around before you can start an activity with the group
  • What it takes to frame, explain, introduce activities
  • The problems that happen with technical interferences (internet connection going down or slowly, a program with a glitch etc.)
  • The time to transition from one activity to the next, from one speaker to the next, from one (physical or virtual breakout) set-up to the next
  • The time it takes on average for someone to express themselves in front of a plenary group
  • The time it takes to get responses to questions in plenary, and the domino effect it has on inviting other contributions

Are we seriously thinking about all these chronophage activities in our design? Do we then have an even more realistic sense of how much real time we have on our hands? Or do we simply assume that a 60-minute segment means 60 minutes of productive time, when in reality it’s probably closer to 50 minutes, or even (much) less…

Time is not the measure of choice to manage group interactions

Unlike (some) children, adults want to finish a task that is given to them. Finishing on time per se is not the ultimate goal to cherish for a group, unless you are just illustrating a point and not exploring an issue ‘for real’. It’s better to come to the bottom of things, and get the group to feel (at least somewhat) complete than to manage only by time.

And I know, sometimes our participants seem perfectly happy to just finish an exercise on time rather than to go on and follow the logic until the end. But is that not a case of intellectual laziness or simply checking out from the overall interaction, settling for ‘business as usual’ or whatever point some people have decided (“I don’t care, this is not for me anyway”)?

So here is another assumption to seriously shake off: managing by time is not respectful of peoples’ intelligence, capacities and desires. It just gives the epidermic sensation of release and of having ticked the box. But meaningful relationship-building and developing sustainable solutions is no box-ticking or back-patting exercise. It is raw, it is rough, it is intense, and it takes whatever time it has to take, because it’s meeting people where they are, not where they should be.

The health of a group also depends on respecting their time

All of that said, we cannot get completely oblivious to the personal time that people are dedicating for interactions. Going over that time significantly, repeatedly, and/or without giving them a choice, is not respectful of the gift of their presence. Ditto for all these interactions where basic needs (food, drinks, bio-breaks, need to take a full break) are ignored for the pretentious sake of the greater good. But a hungry person is not a rational being. A thirsty fellow is not a happy participant. Someone who badly needs to go to the toilet is no longer capable of working in the service of the group, and someone with their head rammed in with information cannot take it any longer.

We simply need to respect the breaks and closing times agreed, generally, and keep our realism in what can be done outside of these boundaries.

Respecting peoples’ biological needs is a requirement, not a variable that can be messed around with. Productive time is all that happens between those ‘biological adjustments’.

So for that matter, an event I attended once (as a participant documenting sessions) where people were sent to lunch past 3pm after a slow and evidently painful death by Powerpoint (with very little or no time left for something as dry and as timidly participatory as a Q&A session) is a caricatural example of what not to do.

Time, in process design, is a measure of our outlook to either control or to embrace the world around us

Whose time are we actually accounting for? In many cases, it’s the sand timer that is playing out in the head of the sponsor or organiser, not of the contributors (participants)…

Time is a measure of our impatience and of our self-centredness. Instead, we would be much better off happily embracing time as the landscape running behind a genuine encounter with ourselves and with others, where we are, where they are, not where we should be. That outlook determines our capacity to cope with time early on in the process, and that’s not the end of story about time, only the beginning…

I’ll unpack the next level of the sand timer in the next blog post.

For now though, let’s ponder this humbling quote from one of my favourite jazz trumpet players…

(certainly not my favourite tune performed by Miles, but here you go, on par with the theme…)

What it means to be a facilitator – The dawn of ‘Facilitators unplugged’ chats?

Nadia and I recently gave a training course on (online) facilitation to a networked organisation operating in the water sector. The training itself was really interesting as an experience, to the participants, but also definitely to us both. Every group is different and the pacing, content, facilitation, engagement always works slightly differently with any new group or setting.

As we went through four different sessions addressing ‘facilitation basics’, ‘group dynamics 101’, ‘participation formats and structures’ and ‘collective decision-making’, we had fascinating conversations with the contributors (as Nadia rightly insists we should call ‘participants’).

Is this the dawn of ‘facilitators UNPLUGGED’? (photo credit: M Fisher / FlickR)

Many questions that emerged are facilitation evergreens, the same issues that keep reappearing:

  • What is facilitation?
  • What are the trademarks of a good facilitator?
  • Should a facilitator be neutral or not, and knowledgeable with the topic or not?
  • How do you build and cultivate engagement?
  • Why bring in a facilitator?
  • What does it mean, in the room/zoom, to be the facilitator?
  • How to apply your facilitation skills with confidence, in the face of power, cynicism, your own inexperience etc.?
  • etc….

We addressed these questions in the sessions, but usually time was short for a fuller conversation (the training consisted of four sessions of 1.5h so it was a very light training, more like an introduction).

And so the idea came to us to address these questions in our own way. In so doing this ‘Facilitators Unplugged‘ conversation came off the ground… Our own private corner to have an off-the-record, heart-to-heart and reflexive conversation between two friends that happen to love their facilitative practice and experiences with many groups.

Our conversation was fun, easy, relaxing and interesting. And it was also helpful for us (to clarify our thoughts and pick each other’s brain), for the contributors of our recent training, and hopefully for quite a few other people. Including you, reading this blog. Knowledge SHARING is power, as testified by this quote:

“The traditional assumption that ‘knowledge is power’ and is used for personal gain is being subsumed by the notion that knowledge is an expression of the shared responsibilities for the collective well-being of humanity and the planet as a whole.”

Jeremy Rifkin

So here’s this video conversation, with the timeline of our questions to ourselves and each other, in the first comment…

…and this might indeed be just the dawn of more such conversations among us. Because it was too enjoyable to not do it again.

Let us know what you think – whether it’s worth another episode or we should call it a nice experiment 😉

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How to gain confidence as a facilitator?

Learning the 1000 dances of facilitation is one thing. Tricks, tools, tried and true, yeah alright (<< blasé >>)!

But what happens then?

When you’re back from your facilitation training and you’re not sure how to apply what you’ve just learned?

When you are the only one that knows this new language, these concepts, approaches, tools etc.

When you’re up against a cynical crowd that doesn’t take a young, female, black facilitator (or any combination outside of the grey-haired white privileged man) seriously?

When you feel your reality is very far away from the unicorn universe of your facilitators’ bubble, full of happily hopping fluffy bunnies that experiment ad vitam eternam…

Indeed, where can you find the confidence to develop your plans A and B? (photo credit: Gerriet / FlickR)

Yeah, what then? What is some no-nonsense advice to build your confidence as an aspiring facilitator?

And before that: What happens when you lack self-confidence?

Well, you may fumble, flop, fail… that’s all part of the game, and that means that you’ve tried things out 🙂

What’s more problematic is when this lack of confidence means that others don’t take you seriously and don’t allow you to establish the most perfect setup for yourself to succeed. And if because of that you don’t stand for your principles, you let some foundations of your work go down the drain. The devil is in the detail and the colours and passion of your dance are revealed in these details that you bring to the mix. You need to keep these alive, and thus to be confident enough to stand your ground on what you know works and allows you to perform the best dance possible in service of another group.

Never let things slip away into someone else’s rabbit hole.

Of course, very often you need to compromise on your way of working with those of the client, but if you feel you’re no longer doing something you’re at least a little comfortable with, if it all feels like someone else’s dance, then you’ve lost that opportunity to make your colours come to life in service of others, and it’s time to change your game plan.

So what can we do to build that confidence?

We brushed on this important topic in a recent facilitation training course. And coming to think of it on the spot – I expect there will be more blogging matters emerging from this training by the way – it boils down to a few elements that almost mimic the project management cycle of Plan > Do > Observe > Analyse.

In this case it’s: Mindset > Practice > Individual and collective reflection > Mindset again.

Let’s dive into these options to build your confidence, which may happen at design (strategic facilitation) stage or at ‘tactical facilitation’ stage ie. in the room, whether real or virtual…

The mindset

Reflect on who you are, what you bring, what you believe your role is to be, what it entails and what not: The closer you are from your inner convictions, beliefs, values etc. the more confident you will be about your approach also

Embrace a ‘quick and dirty’ mindset: don’t strive for perfection, remember that it’s better to fail fast and to pick yourself up, and that perfection is usually unattainable. Instead, remember also that people see much less about the details than you yourself do (no reason to become complacent however). Agile is all about quick & dirty. Liberating Structures would suggest to “Fail forward”.

Confront your fears: What are the fears you have about yourself and about the situation in which you will land? Are your fears justified? Is there a chance that a ‘tiny demons‘ session might shake off your fears and help you see that you can tame them? Fear has as much hold on things as we give it. It may not be a luxury to focus on exorcising these fears first?

Start small: Develop your skillset in safe-fail environments. Try out your facilitative work with your immediate team, network etc. so you see what works and what not. They will be forgiving and you’ll get your work under your skin.

Bring ethics on your side: raise all the delicate questions about politics, participation, representation, diversity, power, decision-making, consequences, whose agenda, whose benefits, whose work etc. When you stand on the right and righteous side of things, very little stands across from you… But keep checking with others that you are not blind to certain issues (as Haemin Sumin would encourage us):

We must cultivate all three intelligences for our overall health: critical intelligence, emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence. If one falls to the wayside, it slows the growth of the other two:

If you have developed critical intelligence but have neglected emotional intelligence, then you may not be sensitive to the suffering of others.

If you have developed emotional intelligence but have neglected spiritual intelligence, then you may lose hope after seeing the world’s suffering.

If you have developed spiritual intelligence but have neglected critical intelligence, then you may fall victim to the abuse of a cult.

Haemin Sunim

Jog through your plan mentally: Run things through your head, with some help (more about that below) and imagine how your game plan would feel like minute by minute for the people that are going to follow your inspiration – this will give you a reality check of how well-founded your hunch is.

Hypothesise: Always see your facilitation design as a set of assumptions, that you will be unravelling with the team that helps you organise the work – you will learn with them what works and what doesn’t, and this way, progressively you gain confidence in your toolbox, and more importantly, in your art of “supporting everyone to do their best thinking” (as my friends and mentors from Community At Work would say).

The practice

The most obvious answer to gaining confidence, really is: (mindful) practice, practice, practice. 10000 hours of practice (Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers‘ invitation).

Work with a team: This is anyway a great practice (and one of my ten commandments) to build confidence as a group and rely on each other’s complementary creativity, inspiration, energy etc.

In process design, keep being creative, adaptive, and twist things around. This experimentation is also at the source of embracing quick and dirty, failing fast. That creative practice and related mindset will bring you far in earning confidence because you no longer stick to the script but embed it in who you are. So go on, keep it playful. Keep bending new corners!

In the same vein, be the everyday facilitator, practice your facilitation skills and approaches etc. whenever and wherever you can, so you get them under your skin – another commandment of mine ha ha ha 😉 This means trying it out by yourself individually, with a teammate or partner, with your friends, with your family etc.

If the problem of confidence comes from hierarchy (perhaps another post about it later), give and take: give the people that want to see their chips honoured in an honorific position e.g. through a celebrity interview. There you attend to hierarchy and order and formality and convention. And at the same time, you also open the door to trying a bit more engagement etc. (because in this example, celebrity interview also requires engagement away from the formality of plenary sessions)…

My friend Nadia would add to that list: “do some improv theatre” as a great way to build your confidence…

The collective reflection

Keep learning and holding your assumptions in check – that’s the key to improving (and it’s also one of my facilitation commandments), so be humble, try and be a bit scientific about what went well and what not. That rigour in looking at your practice will also give you confidence.

Seek feedback from people you work with / for – find out what your blind spots are and what your unknown known strengths are…

Find a buddy or coach or mentor that can help you build your confidence, that is willing to support you, challenge you, relax you, encourage you, mirroring and explaining yourself to you, praise you etc. This is so so soooo valuable!!! We all rest on the shoulders of our respective giants. And if 15 years of knowledge management practice have taught me something, it is this: nothing beats apprenticeship and joint work to get better at what we do.

So let’s build that confidence then!

In my view, the question of confidence is 60% attitude and 40% practice (including reflection). But we have not much to lose in trying things out, so let’s keep building this. As I know – and here’s one more possible blog post for the future – the source of all ills in the world is lack of self-confidence, and it’s high time we shared our secrets to counter that and reveal our true selves!

What are your other secrets to build your confidence as a facilitator that designs and/or facilitates ‘in the moment’?

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