“Everyday process literacy” – en français dans le texte (et en audio)

Yes, I blog so often in English that some might forget that my native language is French.

And recently I had an opportunity to use it. Indeed I had the honour of being invited by Lily Gros (on LinkedIn), on her fabulous podcast ‘La Licorne‘ which celebrates ‘extraordinary collective moments’ of learning, realisation, inspiration, intense experiences or feelings.

In that episode – all en français except for a few English words here and there – I’m exploring little insights of ‘everyday process literacy’ and how that might be useful for all our interactions, at work and even in life…

With a big bow out – as ever – to Sam Kaner and his Community At Work tribe for quite a few insights that he/they shared with me, and for the general body of work that these pioneers have done on (collaboration) process literacy throughout various decades.

For now, if you feel like having a short break, dans la langue de Molière, here is a piece that might be interesting and fun. And if you have interesting stories to share – in French still – feel free to contact Lily, she’s good, she’s fun, and her podcast deserves a lot of attention because she’s really onto all kinds of interesting reflections!

Also a big thank you to Myriam Hadnes who is organising the next ‘Never Done Before‘ facilitation festival in November. She’s the one who got Lily and myself in touch with each other. Thank you Myriam!

Now for the podcast episode:

The episode in question: https://lalicorne.buzzsprout.com/1516522/8867579

Want to work on your own process literacy?

By the way, talking about everyday process literacy, we are on our way to starting the promotion of a new Liberating Structures Immersion workshop in January, so how about you join us and bring your friends to join the silent revolution in the making?

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’).

UNPLUGGED
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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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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My 10 commandments of group facilitation

Principles, principles, principles…

I’m not fond of rules. I don’t like constraints. I do like ‘strange attractors‘ and boundaries that guide our path, whether secretly or overtly.

Principles do that. So I guess I’m a person of principles.

And as I’m pondering this excellent post by my friend Nadia von Holzen on the 10 principles of Liberating Structures (LS), I want to offer, hereby what have become some of my ‘commandments’ of facilitation over the past few years.

Using again this amazing LS body of work and other instrumental sources of inspiration such as Community At Work‘s incredible living legacy, I’m thinking it’s a good moment to offer my 10 commandments of facilitation, based on my own practice and experience.

It’s likely to become a living list which I may update here and there in the future. Though even now this list comprises some fundamentals that I believe prepare someone doing facilitative work to do and be the change they want to see as part of their work…

So here we go…

1. “Stay out of the content, manage the process”

This one doesn’t come from me but from Community At Work’s seminal ‘Group Facilitation Skills‘ training. And it’s pretty fundamental. Not all facilitators are neutral in the content/process dichotomy. Some allow themselves to mingle in the conversation and share their opinion. Others influence the direction of the conversation (even from a process perspective). And yet I can only honour this commandment and recommend it to others, because the role of a facilitator is, to mirror Sam Kaner’s mantra “to help everyone do their best thinking”. Meddling in that process and taking a stand from content perspective means sending mixed signals: you may value certain points of view that are close to your own. Ultimately, it means there is no integrity to expect from the facilitator.

2. Be the one person that works in ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE’s interest

This is perhaps the second commandment from Kaner, Noakes et al.: not only is a facilitator majorly involved in managing the process, but also in nurturing healthy and productive relationships among the contributors present. By focusing on the process and not adopting any bias in any conversation involved, the facilitator can free themselves to pay attention to how everyone is doing, and to protect the safe space and time of everyone to express themselves. This is fundamental, as it goes to the core of what facilitation is about: the practice of skilfully collaborating.

3. Along the way, develop everyone’s process literacy

This one comes much more from my own practice, directly. Now that I’ve started to write about process literacy more centrally it’s only logical that this becomes one of my 10 commandments: As facilitator you (expectedly or arguably) possess a strong process vision, a lot of process knowledge, and have developed critical process skills. All of this is extremely helpful to have. So how about getting every group you work with to benefit from some of that? Make the process scaffolding visible, explain the principles or reasons why you have managed this particular process bit or not. Share your process language and invite others to see the value of this meta-stance. Every individual, every group, every community becomes all the stronger along the way.

4. Whenever you can, involve and co-facilitate with others

Directly in line with the previous principle, seek to work with other co-facilitators, preferably people that are members of the group you’re working with. This way, not only are you sharing a little bit of process literacy with everyone, but you develop – crucially through joint experience with them – a lot of that process literacy with one or a few people that will directly play a co-facilitative role in the process. A great learning and discovery, not just for them but for you too. Still be mindful of the dark side of co-facilitation, but then actively involve others relentlessly, you’re making everyone smarter this way!

5. Do not fall in love with your own interests, desires, hobby horses – it’s not about you but about THEM

It is very tempting, when designing a process, to get attracted to this new participation format you’ve been bound to try out or adapt, or this new visual tool you want to get your head around. Exploring the edges of your repertoire is great, it relates to another commandment below about self improving, but behold this: Is this approach you’re suggesting something your group really needs, or is it something you have suggested to please your curiosity? Very often, groups don’t need the most sophisticated approaches, tools, bells and whistles. Something simple but solid usually does the trick. Use other safe-fail avenues for pushing your limits. When working seriously with a group – especially a group that pays you to do this, honour your commitment to them and keep thinking about what’s in it for them. Time, and time, and time, and time again.

Group facilitation – It should be more than you, in quality and in quantity (photo credit: Mathias Weitbrecht)

6. Remember your inner yoda – embrace your ethical self

When in the room, facilitating, you have no space to colour your statements politically or ethically. But upstream, when designing the process, it’s your every right – and perhaps duty – to follow your own code of ethics. And I’m thinking particularly about how you look at dynamics of inclusion, diversity, representation, transparent decision-making. Is the plan really paying attention to everyone the way it should? Is it complete? Is it doing due diligence? Is it not reinforcing entrenched power patterns, and perhaps even creating a climate of distrust etc.? Be very mindful of how you contribute to a healthy (or not so healthy) environment and dynamics in the groups you work with by not asking some critical questions upfront.

And this leads me to the next commandment…

7. Be mindful of who you are – the ‘self as instrument’

The ‘self as instrument’ is again a principle from Community At Work. Know yourself and work with yourself in the room. Know what triggers you both positively and negatively. What is likely to make you over enthusiastic and less risk-savvy, and what will rattle you. Understand the “communication styles that bug you” (C@W, still!) and the ones that you display yourself (with a tinge of TRIZ here). Meditate perhaps, so that your inner eye remains open and alerts you to emotional triggers that affect your judgment and your integrity. The more you know yourself, with all your weaknesses and your strengths, the more you are able to serve others fully and unconditionally.

8. Be the facilitation that you want to see in everything you do

Don’t limit your facilitation practice to the events and collaboration initiatives that you end up working on. Apply it to your life, to your working and wherever desirable your personal relationships. Be supportive, be helpful, listen actively, be mindful of outcomes, be collaborative. When you breathe what you preach, people trust you all the more, because they can see that you walk your talk and respect your work and approach. And bonus, doing so you might even cheekily bring people to taking an extra step of slight discomfort that they might not take otherwise, though that’s matter for another blog post…

9. Self-reflect and self-improve

Maybe it’s the heritage of my knowledge management profile, but I firmly believe that much like a lot of facilitation is getting groups to reflect on everything, you should also reflect on how you’ve been doing this or that, what you did well, what you did unexpectedly, what was good, bad, ugly and lovely in all of that, and what you can do to get it even more right next time around. As the LS gospel goes “Learn by failing forward”. Growth thinking drives the best facilitators, and the pie is always getting bigger. So have your portion now, and then some more! Yummy learning! And at that, you might need the feedback of others to help you cover your blind spots and help you grow, which paves the way for the last, but certainly not the least of these commandments…

10. Work with (many) others, and be grateful!

Facilitating is inherently collective. And it takes many people indeed to go through successful collaboration, even during just the space of an event. So go out there and find your partners in crime. Involve the sponsors, the people in the room. Whether they help design, co-facilitate, document, manage time, manage technical platforms, review the works, the more you involve others, the more active the entire crowd becomes and the more likely they are to invest more of themselves in the time together, and in building quality relationships with each other. Besides, it’s sheer pleasure – well, with some spicy moments ha ha ha. Don’t stop there, thank them, and once again show that collaboration scaffolding: it wouldn’t be possible if all of these people, all of you hadn’t been involved.

It’s a beautiful job to facilitate, and I hope you enjoy these commandments, and perhaps apply some of them or share your own here… What are your 10 commandments of facilitation?

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Process literacy perks: The participants, as ‘leaders in the shade’

With this new year’s resolution to blog somewhat more than I’ve done in the past four years, one of the biggest and nicest endeavours ahead of me is to finally write a series of posts about ‘process literacy’ – following this seminal post. I’m getting started with this series today, focusing on the benefits of process literacy in relation to different types of people/functions involved in collaboration. In this post I’m exploring the benefits of developing process literacy of (and for) the participants of a meeting or collaboration.

Who benefits the most from process literacy? Of course you might say facilitators and other people who operate most of the time in the ‘process’ realm.

Well, there’s much to say about this, for sure.

Though how about the majority of people that will not end up organising, chairing, let alone facilitating meetings – indeed let’s even just think about meetings here, not even broad collaborative initiatives.

So let’s look at meetings that involve process literate participants.

Cultivate fruitful interactions, collaborations and meetings through making everyone a key actor (Image credit: Atlassian)

You might still wonder: What is the benefit of having participants that have developed strong process literacy when there’s a facilitator taking care of the process, and better still: it’s their job!! – right?

Wrong!

Of course, you can always work with a group that has no understanding of process literacy whatsoever. You don’t NEED it to get where you want. But let’s just say it will take more time…

Let’s examine some benefits of having process literacy as distributed as possible, borne by as many participants as possible:

What becomes possible when process literacy is distributed among participants?

Here are just some very real possibilities…

A handy flowchart (download link here to the left) (image credit: Atlassian)
  • Everyone attends meetings as they know exactly why they attend that meeting (ever seen this handy flow chart about organising a meeting or not, by the way?).
  • They have also a good understanding of the topics and outcomes that are aimed at for this meeting. And if they don’t, they ask questions about it upfront, preventing ill-conceived meetings and inviting the organising team to do a better job at realising why they are organising the meeting themselves.
  • They have realistic expectations about what can be achieved in a meeting and are thus not going to shoot for the moon in a two-hour online meeting (or even an eight-hour face-to-face meeting for that matter).
  • They also clearly understand what is expected of them in terms of dynamics: whether to understand, share ideas, co-create solutions etc. This greatly enhances expectation management for everyone around.
  • They are aware of their own expectations, objectives, communication style, and are capable of factoring this into the group dynamics somehow, instead of focusing on themselves only and letting their emotions rule the game.
  • They create consistent and warm norms that help everyone find their place in the group and contribute, respectfully though potentially in disagreement, and they set examples of behaviours that others can follow to further contribute to this fertile atmosphere of collaboration.
  • They collectively manage time in relation with the overall objectives to accomplish, not just mechanically. And in breakout groups, they are able to keep their eye on the ball of ‘what is it we are trying to accomplish’ rather than just ‘what are we discussing at the moment’.
  • Although they may have some ideas about how to run this or that process, or come up with an alternative way of achieving the objective at hand, they are respectful enough of who’s ‘running the show’ at a given time to make that happen.
  • They really pay attention to each other and to managing relationships, because they understand it’s key to the present and future of that work.
  • On the other hand, if things are going horribly wrong, they will call it out and ask for a serious facelift of the process at hand – even all the way to cancelling or adjourning the meeting.
  • And a real bonus here: You can turn participants into facilitators – whether for break out groups, or even (segments of) plenary sessions.
So what are we waiting for to get into a more process literate collaboration? (image credit: QualitDesign)

…and I can get to think about other benefits still, but you get the gist…

In essence, with process literate participants, you have a group of ‘shadow’ facilitators that understand what it takes to move forward with a complex agenda. They make you that much more likely to achieve the results you set your eyes on. You can count on these ‘leaders in the shade’ to bear the collective process and its integrity every step of the way.

This is of course an idyllic picture, a unicorn in the realm of meetings (sigh…) but it sets a vision for what we should strive for. A bit like communication, process literacy is really everyone’s business, or it should be.

Obviously, the reverse picture of the above is also true, and that’s why there’s a lot of benefits in getting the entire set of participants to develop their process literacy rather than dealing with the ills of process illiteracy…

How to cultivate that process literacy?

Well, that’s my holy grail, and I’m getting started on my quest after some successful but rather random errands in the past.

What is sure, approaches that aim at involving and unleashing everyone, such as Liberating Structures, are key in this endeavour. But many more avenues are worth exploring.

Do you want to join my round table, noble knight of distributed intelligence?

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