About Christine Bellthompson Leeds

I am an international facilitator and trainer working with managers to creatively innovate and engage people in finding solutions to problems. I combine an organised and focused approach with a relaxed style which encourages people to quickly feel at ease and start contributing their best ideas to overcome problems.

The Complexity of Virtual Collaboration for Large Groups

Over the last month we have facilitated conferences for 40- 70 people that were planned as face to face event pre Covid19. In March 2020 we agreed with our clients that we would all take the risk and attempt to convert these planned events into virtual events. We were excited and a little nervous about taking this step but the option to postpone would mean that our clients would not be able to consult with their communities and this would hold up the planned strategy for 2020. We all agreed that it felt worth taking the risk and giving virtual events a go as “something would be better than nothing”.

Feedback Matters

It was a huge relief that the feedback from the events has been overwhelming postive. People have been surprised about how much was achieved and how engaging the virtual environment could be.

“You’ve set a new standard in terms of virtual workshops”

“It was an awesome interaction.  For me I benefited hugely and I look forward to future engagements”

“A really impressive event, I’m still thinking through many of the observations and learning points I took from it.”

Learning Insights

In March 2020 we were experienced at facilitating virtual meetings for small groups of people, usually for planning purposes, we had experimented with digital tools within face to face events and we had completed some training in virtual facilitation. Scaling up the process and finding ways of bringing to the virtual world the warmth, friendship and engagement that we generate in face to face collaborations would be a challenge, and we were excited (and a bit scared) about how to make this happen. Here are some learning insights we have picked up on the way that are helping us to raise the game for virtual collaboration, to make it both possible but also enjoyable.

  1. Keep it Simple

In our first event we were keen to capture data from people at every stage and we were guilty of overcomplicating things. We have learnt that initially having breakout groups with no more than about 5 people and providing a simple conversation structure is enough. Keeping it dialogue only allows people the chance to meet, to engage with each other, to get used to being together virtually, without the barrier of another technological tool to get used to.

2. Provide Support and Structure

The virtual space still feel awkward for many people and the usual cues that start and end conversations are not as evident. We have found that having a table host helps to smooth this process. The table host can help the group to focus on the question, can bring people into the conversation and keep an overall awareness of time.

The table hosts have been from our team of trained virtual facilitators or subject experts provided by the client. All table hosts need to be competent and confident in using the technology and so training and support for them in their role is critical. Time and resources for this has to be factored in.

3. Make Digital Tools feel Familiar

Our events have been collaborative consultations and our clients needed to capture information and share that information between people. We have been using Mural as our preferred interactive tool. The advantages of Mural is that the interface is relatively intuitive to use and people can view and edit without having to set up an account.

We have set up the Murals to look like a typical group flipchart space with piles of post it notes and arrows and some easy to follow instructions.

4. Sharing Feedback

In large scale events it is always a challenge to share information across groups. In our virtual space we have swapped groups around so that people can view and add to the flipchart Murals created by previous groups. We have provided space for groups to report back briefly verbally so that they can share their main highlights and we have used a shared polling tool like Mentimeter as a way of groups sharing insights across the groups.

5. Screen Breaks

The common complaint about virtual events is the concentration which feel more intense than in a face to face event. We have learnt to build in regular screen breaks and to give people permission to turn off their video whilst we take a reflective pause. The moderator will turn off their video to cement this permission giving and then will turn their video back on with 1 minute to go and gently ask people to turn their videos on again when they are ready.

We Need to Talk about Money

This is awkward for everyone at the moment, to be very honest most facilitators are glad of any work right now so it was great to be able to invoice something. The reality is that we are a business and going forward we need to make a living from facilitating events or our businesses simply will not exist. The cost issue also applies to internal facilitators and organizers

These large scale events were planned and contracted for before they went virtual. We agreed to deliver them for the same price as the face to face events. I think we all recognize that this is not sustainable as a business. The costs for these types of complex virtual events are DIFFERENT but not cheaper than a face to face event. These are not events where you simply have someone speaking at the group with a bit of text chat. These events involve complex participatory dialogue and are designed to develop collaborative communities.

There are huge savings from the hire of a venue, the food for the event, the travel expenses, the overnight accommodation and all the glossy event materials. Our team saved time by not needed to pack and travel to the venues. But any savings on physical costs will be spent on the preparation time for the organizing team. The planning has to be much more precise than in the face to face world, everything needs to be created and uploaded in advance. You cannot just whip out a flipchart and a few post-it notes. To make a process be really engaging you have to meticulously plan the process, test the process and ensure that everyone involves knows exactly what they are doing and when. You have to communicate more and engage participants before the event and post event.

As a rough estimate I reckon our team spent 4-5 times longer working on the design and planning of the virtual events as we would have spent in a face to face event. With experience, practice and the value of being able to use existing templates this time will reduce but it is probably higher than we and our clients initially expected and as a business this is something that we have to seriously consider and discuss with our clients when we are providing cost estimates for events.

Would we do it again?

We have loved the challenge of working virtually. It was great to find ways of making the virtual tools work for larger groups and to find ways of creating events that combine on line and “offline” contact and connection.

There are huge benefits to the virtual format. We are facing a global climate emergency, and we have to reduce the amount of travel and the waste that is generated at events – there was no wasted food or surplus plastic at these events!

We recognize that virtual events enable people to participate who cannot travel easily to events, particularly those people with disabilities, caring responsibilities or who live in remote places with inadequate transport links. This can create much more diverse, inclusive consultation processes.

Virtual events offer a way to collaborate in a more intimate close up manner than is possible in physical settings at the moment. Given the choice of a virtual event or a “living with COVID-19” face to face event… we believe that virtual events will make it easier to collaborate than sitting 2 metres apart, wearing face coverings and not sharing any materials.

The more we facilitate virtually the better we can make the process and this period of experimentation gives us the opportunity to really develop the work and to find a way of making virtual events a viable option beyond the current restrictions on social interaction.

Next Steps and More Learning

We are moving into the next phase of virtual experimentation with our next events being planned from the start as virtual events and supporting people to use theory of change in collaborations, to develop new networks and form collaborative teams.

If you would like to be part of this experiment in virtual collaboration then do get in touch to talk about ways in which you can continue to collaborate, consult and engage with others whilst living in the Covid reality.

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Things are Never Going to be the Same: Covid19 Facilitation

Covid 19 is changing our world. How many of us thought it possible that the whole economy of the World would go into shutdown and that many of us can only leave our homes for a ever descreasing number of reasons?

We might yearn for things to get back to normal but things are never going to be the same as they were, the impact on our economy and on us will be profound and long-lasting. Seeing friends stranded many miles away has made us question whether we really want to embark on long journeys for work in the future when we now realise how fragile life can be. Will we want to risk going to an international event and finding it almost impossible to get back home? Will we want to plan large scale events, knowing that the virus could re-emerge and the lockdown process be re-instated? Will we want to return to noisy open plan working environments away from our family when the “impossible” homeworking option has miraculously become possible? Will we be able to keep our calm in challenging situations when underneath there lurks this unresolved grief for those loved one we lost but could not mourn for in our normal ways?

Every industry has been impacted by this and as a team of facilitators we are experiencing huge changes to our work and our income. Facilitated events were cancelled very early on in this time of change and yet the need for people to get together, to connect, to generate new ideas is even more needed now than it ever has been. The shutdown has given us time to regroup and consider what is needed and now we are starting to plan a way forward.

That way forward is not about just responding to the current crisis by quickly putting together virtual rather than real gatherings. Our team see this is an important opportunity to create long term change. We  want to find ways of connecting people together that allows more people to participate and that does not require hours spent travelling to make that connection. It is something we all knew needed addressing but this situation has provided the chance to experiment in a period where there will be some forgiveness for the virtual connection being less smoothly professional.

There needs to be a deeper exploration of this change and what it will mean but for the moment our team is thinking more practically about HOW do we make participatory dialogue viable using an online format and how can we bring the same openness, trust and engagement as we do to face to face contact?

Learning Insights

Our team of facilitators have been facilitating virtual meetings and using virtual technology for many years and have able to quickly get our creative heads around something we all thought would not be possible and to make large scale participatory dialogue work on the virtual level. There have been 3 critical elements in our regrouping and reimaging our world of participatory facilitation.

Risk Free Practice: The Virtual Pub

On the day of the UK shut down we were up and running with our first virtual pub for my local bike club in Otley. Since then our team have been helping their families and communities with virtual pubs, parties, film nights, games nights, pilates and quiz nights. These community sessions have helped us to feel useful in these times of isolation and are great practice as many of the typical “user” is not familiar with the technology and we have learnt a lot from helping them get to grips with the technology

Stress Testing: Virtual PlayShop

Some of the different tools need testing in a more work like environment so we devised the Virtual PlayShop so that our team and some other colleagues could play with the technology together and experience it as participants as well as facilitators

The planning for the PlayShop helped us to identify the design challenges of creating a virtual event that flows and how much time the preparation takes (more than you might think!) The PlayShop time was a fun way to connect with colleagues and to share our learning with the different tools.

Transfering Learning to Action: Virtual Lessons Learned

As with any new process it is important to share the learning insights and to bring this knowledge together. We did this in a virtual lesson learned session and from this session generated some actions for things that we needed to investigate further and some protocols that are the beginning of our good practice guide. This helped us move from Play to Practice and create a plan that would move us forward

Moving Forward

Many people reading this want some quick fixes to make virtual meetings go well. There are lots of these available and we are very grateful for all the other people who have graciously shared their learning. We have four important messages from our learning insights to share and for the pragmatic people out there who want to just get started we have provided our practical guide on Runing a Virtual Pub!

Settle on the Right Platform for your needs and Pay For it

We have got experience of facilitating using Adobe Connect, Microsoft Team, Skype and Zoom. Our events are focused on building trust and collaboration so for us Zoom was the best platform. The stand out features for us was the very visual way that you can see everyone “in the room” at the same time and the ease of organising people into break out rooms.

Once you have settled then pay for the platform! We have all experienced being in meetings where you have to log back in because the free account limit has been reached. These technology providers are providing a service and if you like it then just deal with it and pay for it!

Know Your Audience

One common assumption is that everyone participating in an online event has access to a keyboard and superfast typing skills. We have found that whilst for some people using the chat function is easy to do for others it is impossible to use because they are joining from their mobile or their typing speed is painfully slow. If we want to encourage participation and engagement with the virtual format we need to make it as easy as possible. We are starting by using our team to support the process by doing the note taking to harvest all the rich dialogue. This helps to build all our expertise at using the tools and keeps us out of mischief..

Find Ways to Help People Talk Nicely!

We choose Zoom as our platform of choice because of the breakout rooms. You can set up break out rooms for small groups in the same way as you do for a face to face workshop and once people are over the feeling of being “teleported” into a virtual room of strangers they will quickly start to connect and make conversation.

In the large group setting the desire to talk is so strong that unless you are running a social event it is easiest to mute all the microphones and ask people to use the “raise hand” function to contribute. This helps calm the conversation down and stops people interrupting. As groups get more experienced then it is less important to mute all and this can be very positive because the person speaking can often appreciate having some verbal encouragement as well as the non verbal nods!

Keep it Simple

We are going to be using Zoom in events with people who probably are not working in the virtual world, including many community users who are attending consultation events. We knnow that many people, even seasoned professionals, may come to the events with trepidation.

We want to be able to use other tools in the events to reproduce how we might brainstorm with post it notes in a face to face event. There are lots of tools out there to help with this including Miro, Mural and Padlet but we have realised we need to keep it simple in this initial phase. It is easy to get excited and then overwhelmed by all the different tools so just go back to the basic facilitation question: “What is the purpose of this intervention?” and craft your questions and then start exploring the best way to achieve your purpose.

….and finally as promised…..

How Do you Run a Virtual Pub?

This is our most frequent query from clients who read about our very early experiment with a Virtual Pub for Otley Cycle Club! The first thing we learnt is that whilst you might be the landlord of the pub it is not like normal facilitation!

  1. Set expectations low – we warned people it could be “really awful or really fun.  Invite people to join early – “before the bar opens” so that they can get their sound and video sorted, this helps for the people new to Zoom.
  2. We set the time between 19.00 – 20.30. We found that 1.5 hours which feels the right amount of time
  3. Open the “virtual bar” at the official start time and keep all the microphones on and videos on and just let the chaos start. You might want to put in a general question to get things started but resist the need to structure the conversation. People will talk over each other, you will not hear everything but chill – it is a pub not a facilitated workshop!
  4. After about 10 mins greet everyone and explain the rules of your bar – we got people to change their name because some joined as “Ipad” and some couples just had one person’s name so the other person was nameless. This will help in the smaller group sessions when people will be talking more together. We also set a rule to turn the video off if you go off for a natural break (by virtual pub 2 we had all seen THAT You Tube video)
  5. Once you have set out the rules of the bar you can move people into Cosy Corners in the pub (Break Out Room function) When you are working out the groupings be conscious some people are joining as a couple so try and balance the numbers out – 3 people could be 6 people if they are all in couples! As host you just join which ever group you want to join.
  6. Before you go into the Breakout Rooms shut down the Waiting Room function otherwise late comers just get stuck in the lobby and will start texting you to get in! Once the waiting room is closed, they will join in a kind of pub limbo and you can allocate them to the small group you are in.
  7. Set the first break out group for a short period – about 7 mins seemed about right! The timer automatically reminds people when there is 60 seconds to go so they can close down their chat.After that 10 minutes felt about right.
  8. Alternate between the noisy main bar and the cosy corners, finishing with last orders at about 10 mins before your closing time. This is a chance to talk about the week ahead and to share views on the virtual pub.
  9. Be careful that just because it is a virtual pub this does not mean any alcohol consumed will give you a virtual hangover!!

Feedback has been positive with some people who are in high risk isolated groups saying it has become the highlight of their week. Our team have a pro subscription anyway for our work so it is great to see people using it for social events too – you need the pro account for the break out functions and without this the virtual pub would just be a very noisy mess and would only be open for 40 minutes!

If your team would like our help facilitaing Virtual PlayShops, Virtual Events or you want to have deeper conversations about the future of leadership and organisations in the future we will be facilitating some Virtual Action Learning Sets shortly….just get in touch

www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Are Facilitation and Training the Same Thing?

The term facilitator is used to describe people who may be doing very different roles. This confusion can mean that expectations are not met, and people find group processes frustrating. Our team of facilitators are experts in process facilitation, and sometimes we might facilitate some training but although the two things are similiar…they are not interchangeable roles at all.

Facilitative Training

Many clients seem to prefer the word facilitator to trainer and this can be confusing. We use the term “facilitative trainer” to describe situations where there is prepared content for the session and the trainer is using methods that are “facilitative”. This could involve participants working in groups on learning activities and will usually involve discussion sessions in the whole group that are facilitated so they keep on time and the task. There will usually be theoretical content, delivered in an interesting and engaging way so that participants can use the learning outside the workshop format in their working lives.

In a training session the participants will expect by the end of the workshop to have learnt something new and to have been taken through materials which have been designed in advance eg slides and handouts.  The learning could be related to the development of skills in leadership, diversity or learning how to solve problems.

Process Facilitation

By contrast a process facilitator has no theoretical content that they are expected to cover. They will work instead with a road map for the workshop. There will be a clear destination defined and the group will work together to find the best way to reach that destination. The facilitator will design structures to encourage participants to talk to each other, to reach consensus, to avoid group think and to make action plans together.

If a process facilitator was tasked to facilitate a leadership session the destination might be about making real tangible change in the leadership style in the organisation, however the facilitator will not defined what that change will be like, this is defined by the participants who will be supported to come to a consensus about leadership style. They could create a shared vision for leadership in the organisation and from this identify what needs to stop/start/continue happening so they can achieve this vision.

The facilitator will ask questions and suggest structures to help the group to share views and make some decisions, but they will not offer “models of Leadership” or present any theoretical overviews of Leadership approaches. The focus of the work is about how to create a change in the organisation and its leadership and the people in the group are the right people to make this change.

Not Better: Just Different

Process facilitation is different to training. Both facilitators and trainers focus on outcomes that are agreed in advance with clients. Both will design activities that will engage the participants in the outcomes. The difference is in the type of outcomes –process facilitators work with the group to achieve progress on an agreed challenge. The facilitative trainer is working towards outcomes that will help people to learn about the topic so they can choose to change their approach in the future.

Process Facilitation OutcomesTraining Outcomes
Agree on the focus areas for the next 6 months for the project teamUnderstand the importance of setting project targets and reviewing these
Create a draft of the 2025 team strategyExplore different methods for writing team strategies
Make connections with potential collaborators for ongoing projectsDevelop networking skills and reflect on techniques to build collaborative relationships

If you want to have a chat with us about whether a process facilitator or a facilitative trainer is best suited to your needs just get in contact with us and we can explore what is best for you.

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Strategic Retreat: Using Theory of Change

FORWARD is an African-led women’s rights organisation. The work of FORWARD focuses on responding to female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and other forms of violence against African women and girls.

FORWARD have developed a new strategy and plan for the next five years and now want to focus on how to make this plan operational. A strategic retreat was arranged for 4 hours so that each of the operational teams could identify an area of activity in the new strategy and develop their theory of change route map to reach their agreed target.

An external facilitator was needed because of the ambitious plan for the strategy session. The five teams (22 people) would develop five distinctive road maps and they wanted collaborative sharing to be at the heart of the retreat.

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What was the impact of the strategic retreat?

Many of the team were familiar with theory of change but mainly through taught workshops. At this workshop they experienced creating their own theory of change for their area of work. This was a revelation as one team member commented:

“After many years I now understand the theory of change. So simply and well presented”

In the workshop each group identified their vision for their area of the strategy and then identified the current challenge that they were facing with achieving this vision. Step by step then they started to develop ideas about how to achieve the vision. The activity combined individual reflection, small group discussion and sharing of ideas in the larger forum. The final draft roadmaps were taken away by the team and typed up to form the basis of further team planning.

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What were the benefits of having a facilitated session?

The facilitator worked hard to provide a space where everyone could participate. There was time for individuals to reflect and time to share and talk. Everyone’s point of view had the opportunity to be heard.

The process encouraged everyone to read and understand the new strategy document. The ideas that emerged will support the teams to make progress towards the FORWARD vision.

“you got us to really think about our strategy and we were all engaged in the discussions. It’s a great start to our projects and a pleasure, as always, to work with you”  Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director

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Summary: Keys to Success

  1.   Setting time limits for activities so that decisions were made and ideas recorded and the task completed in the time allocated
  2.   Using a large charts to capture the theory of change so everyone could get involved and see the work evolve
  3.  Providing examples of what a completed theory of change could look like to provide clarity and structure

If you would like to find out more about our work and discuss a team strategy event for your team…. check out our  Website or send us an email info@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

 

How to Improve Project Collaboration

Complex projects will involve teams from different parts of your organisation or from multiple organisations, some of whom could be competitors on a different project. It would be hoped that the common goal of project completion will encourage the different interests to work together to resolve any problems quickly so that the task gets done on time and to specification. Our experience has been that hope alone is rarely enough for effective collaboration to thrive.

“Although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success” Gratton and Erickson, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2007 

If you want your team to work successfully  in a collaborative manner you will need to take positive action to embed the behaviours that will encourage co-operative and will  overcome the natural tendencies to privatize knowledge and to be competitive.

Feeding back 2

You could put on a training programme but this can often be theoretically and not always applied in practice we find it better to make a number of live interventions once a project team has mobilised. Of course these interventions will only work if the culture of all the organisations involved are supportive to collaboration and if this is something that senior leaders consciously demonstrate during their work. If the culture is in place then our three easy interventions will help you as the project leader to drive the change you want so that collaboration becomes a key element to your project success.

Stage One: Establishing the Collaborative Team

This stage will involve a number of activities but a crucial element will be a face to face event. The value of face to face conversations are hard to fully replicate in other ways so unless it is just impossible  find a time and place to physically connect. The amount of time for this varies but often the 24 hour retreat – 13.00 – to 13.00 works well, as it provides time to connect socially as well as professionally.

This event is an opportunity for your team to work collaboratively together on a number of real challenges and tasks you need to do to kick off the project. This will include the following activities:

  • Setting the project vision – appreciating the different expectations of success can help your team to find “win win” solutions to challenges that they will face during the life time of your project.
  • Exploring Expertise- highly intelligent and skilled professionals often do not explain their expertise in an accessible manner and this can be a source of conflict when their expertise is not fully utilised later in the project. Providing time for your team to share and appreciate the range of skills and expertise they have will work much better than playing any number of “trust games”
  • Exploring Behavioural Expectations – this is a really important activity because it will involve you sharing your expectations of behaviours to support collaboration. You can use the results of this activity later on in project reviews to provide an easy forum for team members to address behaviour that is not supporting the project.

Groups discussing

Stage 2 – Project Team Collaboration Reviews

The number and timings of these collaborative reviews will vary but the critical element is that there is space provided to specifically explore collaboration and not just talk about the project goals and milestones. Sometimes these reviews are done virtually and sometimes a combination of virtual team meet ups and face to face sessions are used.

  • Reviewing the Vision – you can review the vision from the start-up session and ask the team to identify the activities that have directly addressed the overall vision for the project. You can explore alignment between the collaborative behaviours and the project vision.
  • Updating Expertise– sharing learning and identifying any gaps in knowledge, skills or behaviour will help your team make better use of its resources. A useful method for this are action learning groups. These give you a face to face or virtual space to explore learning from the project and identify any gaps in knowledge/skills.
  • Reviewing and resetting expectations – you can covert the discussion about behaviour in the start up to a quick “temperature” checking tool. Your team can self assess the levels of collaboration in the project team. You can collate the resut and share these with the team to help you all explore both successes and challenges in behaviours and agree a options to further develop your collaborative work.

Clustering postits large scale

Stage 3 – Celebrating the Collaboration

A frequently overlooked intervention is an opportunity to review and celebrate your project collaboration . This can be done with a series of interventions, it does not have to be a face to face event. Some elements you will find useful include:

  • Reviewing the Vision– reflecting on your shared vision at your first project session and exploring how this differs from the project outcome. This is a great time for you to ask questions about the difference between aspirations and the realities of projects and to explore the impact of this mismatch
  • Celebrating expertise and skills – during the project your team  will have developed their skills and expertise so it is about providing a way of charting this growth in a shared format.
  • Reviewing behaviour – if your team are likely to bid for future work on collaborative frameworks then taking time to honestly reflect on the collaborative behaviours shown is a the best way to prepare your team to perform at even higher levels on the next project.
  • Recording the story of the project creating a story board of all the photos and key stages to your project can be a good way of celebrating your journey. This can be done easily using an on-line pinboard facility.

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The interventions outlined above are things you can do as the project leader. You may to engage a neutral facilitator to work with you so that you can participate in the discussions and leave someone else to worry about the process. Whether you work independently or with a facilitator you will find that giving this focus on collaboration will help your team avoid some of the conflict that can often set project team behind schedule.

If you want to have an informal, free chat with one of our team we have facilitators working across the  the UK and Europe and we can call by for a face to face dicussion or connect virtually with you to talk about improving collaboration

Christine Bell

Contact us

 

 

 

Collaboration – industry/academics

What was the collaborative challenge?

Mapp is a funded Manufacturing Hub for the UK Research focusing on advanced powder processes. The team has a vision to use powder-based manufacturing to provide low energy, low cost and low waste high value manufacturing options. The team combines cutting edge research innovation with practical application within manufacturing. It has therefore been critical throughout the project to engage and consult with industrial partners.

The team wanted to run an update for their industrial partners that went beyond the standard presentation and lunch/networking. They wanted the event to be immersive and to provide opportunities throughout for academics and industrial partners to really connect together so that future collaboration would be possible.

They sought out professional facilitators to work with them on the design and facilitation of the event so that it would be engaging, active and distinctive

What was the impact of event?

The workshop has been instrumental in terms of developing our relationships with industry partners – we have a deeper understanding of how they want to work with us and some new ideas for collaborative projects – Dr Richard France

During the event the frequent changes of groups provided many opportunities for discussion and connection. The final activity was an open forum which provided the opportunity for individuals to propose ideas for future investigation and gain insight from others on this idea. We knew the connecting had worked well because many of the group stayed after the event had closed to continue their conversations and exchange contact details.

The event generated new ideas for collaborative projects. All partners were able to articulate their expectations of each other and this has helped provide clearer guidance for effective collaborative relationships

What were the benefits of working with facilitators?

The format of the day meant that participants were kept engaged throughout; there was none of the usual “drift” after lunch.

By working closely with us the team created a format which met their needs and had clearly defined outputs which we helped to capture so they had a record to take forward to develop the project

Christine and the team did a great job of tailoring a workshop format which met our needs and kept delegates engaged throughout the day. Dr Richard France

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If you would like to speak to us about arranging a similar event please Christine or Lucy  on 08456 210008 or send an email to: info@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

 

 

 

Powerful Annual Team Plans

Many organisations have an annual planning cycle in which teams work out together their individual and collective priorities for the year.  Team objectives and personal performance contracts negotiated with the boss, or worse, copied from the schedule the planners gave you, implicitly have low ownership by the team.

The best teams we have worked with break this cycle by taking a time-out to get the whole team together and answer questions like:

  • What should we be doing, given our purpose/role in this organisation?
  • How can we add more value for the organisation and our external and internal customers?
  • How can we work more effectively as a team to deliver great results?

One team at the oil company BP chose to do this through a facilitated process as part of their quarterly team meeting.  The objectives were to (i) generate collective ownership for an integrated team plan (ii) get team members to understand and connect with each other’s priorities (iii) identify owners for key tasks such as continuous improvement activity that did not align neatly with job roles.

A collaborative plan builds clear links for team members with the big priorities including measures of success.  Working collaboratively also provides the opportunity to get everything on the table, reducing delivery risks.

Making this Happen

Collaboration on a joint plan needs time away from day to day work. A facilitated workshop really helps this process and gives teams time to work on their behaviours and to explore their objectives in more detail.

The key to this is focusing on the team objectives first and being honest about the priorities and focus that will be needed for the team to be successful.

Once this is done then individuals can draft their own objectives so that these directly support the team objectives.

These are discussed in the team and individuals are accountable to the wider team for the achievement of their personal objectives.

For projects, alignment of objectives is even more critical especially if you’d like to involve the client, prime contractor and supply chain partners.  We recommend a workshop process that emerged from the work of Andersen, Grude and Haug and that they called Goal Directed Project Management.

It was later adopted by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and uses elements of systems thinking to address the co-dependencies, interdependencies and operability of complex projects.

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Customer Consultation Panels

Great Western Railways wanted to re-establish their Customer Panel organisation, to provide a forum for a broader base of customers to engage with the organisation. The intention was for the panels to be a combination of information about corporate strategy, current activity and performance with the opportunity for customers to question mid-senior level managers on specific topics.

Our company was approached because of our specialism in facilitation and our track record in facilitating a range of consultation events for a broad range of clients. Our chosen facilitator has a strong background and qualification in mediation which was felt to be of benefit in this situation

Our Approach to the Design

In the design phase we explored with the client the specific requirements for this project. This exploration gave us insights into the expectation of the role of the facilitation and the importance of being able to provide a neutral presence at the event.

We used a collaborative design approach and over a series of phone calls and emails we agreed with the client the event logistics and timing and the facilities. We explored the role of the managers/speakers who would be attending the event and their style and aptitude for this important customer facing event.

Facilitating the Event

It was agreed that the event should work in an informal way, rather than having a “panel” of managers at the front of the room, presenting to and answering questions from the audience. This would enable the GWR staff to sit at tables with the customers, leading to a less confrontational environment. However this requires a more complex facilitation style. The facilitator used nonverbal signals to the presenters, ensuring they endeavored to keep their presentations to time without having to interrupt the presentation.

Once presentations were over the facilitator managed a question and answer session, identifying those who wanted to question and making sure each individual was heard. Additionally use of body language to “close down” those who were trying to ask second questions. This method helped to reduce the need for “verbally shutting people down” that can often result in upset and emotive responses. Additionally the facilitator worked hard to make sure that the room understood when there was a ‘“final” question on a subject, so closing each section of the meeting ready to move to the next and therefore keep the whole meeting to time.

Post Event

The facilitator had a follow up meeting to discuss the event and to draw out learning from the event, to take forward for any further customer panel meetings. Feedback from the event was positive, with key GWR staff noting the lack of confrontation that had been experienced at other customer panel events. GWR customers also noted that everyone who had wanted to question or contribute had been given the opportunity and the event ran to time.

Communication for Collaboration

One of the challenges for project teams where there is collaborative between different organisations and professionals is the lack of a common language. We all use short cuts in our language and descriptions within our own circles and it is easy to assume that others will understand you without needing any further assistance.

As facilitators we will often run sessions at project kick off meetings to help explore the project goal or problem by explaining it by using visual methods. One of our more challenging recent projects has been to bring together people working in the energy industry, systems engineers and academics to agree the research programme needed to develop an energy system for the UK.

The breakthrough for our client and for the participants was an early activity when we invited participants to explain the challenge of the future energy system by creating a model. Our client from the UK Energy Systems Catapult team commented that for him the highlight of the event was

“watching the construction and explanation of models of the energy system put together using balloons, card, pipe cleaners and sticky back plastic”

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Initially he had been concerned that this activity would be too radical and too “playful” for this group of senior professionals but he realised how the activity helped created a level playing field for the communication across all the different professions in the room.

We agreed that created a shared visual understanding enabled the group to work more constructively together so that they were able to complete the task of creating the future research programme and were able to build potential collaborations for the future.

We only get out the pipe cleaners if they have a clear purpose, there are many other ways to explore a topic to reach a shared understand and the power of visual communication can really help with your team collaboration so take a risk to communicate differently!

Christine Bell

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Making Business Meetings Productive

Business meetings are often limited to 1 to 2 hours. They need to be tightly controlled to avoid overrunning and to make sure that you make effective use of everyone attending.

Contrary to some popular belief, meetings can be useful if run effectively.  Many organisations use meetings well to:

  • Have a dialogue to reach a decision of importance the organisation/project/team
  • Identify key themes for a future strategy or plan
  • Share challenges and explore options to address these

Last night was a significant achievement for the club. We made key decisions about important issues and were finished by 9.30. There were smiles and people are now looking forward to future meetings. Thanks for helping us to change the way we do things – Paul Luxton

To create a useful meeting a few simple steps can help you along the pathway to productivity.

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Clarify the Purpose

What is the meeting for? Too many meetings exist because historically they have always done so. In the days before electronic communication meetings were an effective way of getting a message out to everyone at one time but to just use a meeting as a one way information giving forum is a total waste of time. Using email, social media and discussion boards will achieve this end more effectively.

Once you are clear on the purpose of the meeting you can decide who needs to be involved and then get down to the business of setting the agenda about what needs to be discussed. Check out ABC of meetings

Manage the Agenda

Your agenda for your meeting is an essential planning tool. It should set out why each item is being discussed, what outcome you need from the meeting (eg a decision, a commitment for action) and should give an allocation of time based which is agreed with the item presenter.

We intervened with a community sports group who had a regular business meeting which started at 7.45 and often did not finish until 10.45. The team recognised that they had a problem and that “the kind of meetings we have now are neither enjoyable, productive or sustainable”.

We worked with the chair and secretary to analyse the last three meetings and to review the purpose of their face to face meetings. We used this to create a list of guidelines to club members setting out the criteria for bringing items to the committee and some other options that could be used to disseminate information.

The result was that the following committee meeting had a limited agenda and was over in 1.5 hours leaving the committee time to talk to each other and socialise, sharing their love of their sport.

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Reviewing agendas

Making Decisions

Most items discussed at a meeting will result in a decision. Be clear about whether that decision needs to be made by a majority vote or by reaching consensus. If aiming for consensus you need to provide more time to allow clarification of concerns to be raised and have a clear process to follow

A major engineering project was starting to fall behind schedule due to communication issues and conflict between the three project teams. We facilitated a process so the teams could outline their expectations of each other’s behaviour. It was important that everyone was involved in the decision about behavioural expectations so we used the colour consensus cards so people could flag green for agreement, red for disagreement and yellow for some concerns.

Items were only accepted if we could reach a mainly green/yellow consensus. If there were any red cards showing after the consensus discussion the item had to be put to one side.  Although this is not a quick process it does make sure that only items that have full commitment are agreed to.

Other methods to make decisions are to take a vote of members and make the decision based on the majority viewpoint.  In smaller groups it is better to ask each attendee to state their position by going round in turn. This can help the views of the minority be heard and also makes it harder to make a decision because the chair assumes everyone is in agreement.

We worked with a community gardening project who had reached stalemate on a decision, they just could not reach consensus. We guided a structured process to explore both the advantages and disadvantages of the two options and then did a final round to hear what everyone’s preference was for. It was clear that the majority preferred one option and it was helpful for this to be heard so that although consensus could not be reached the two members who opposed the option were able to accept that this was the overall preference for the whole group and they stepped back from their opposition.

“I know we did not reach a consensus and we are losing two people but this has happened in a moving forward and respectful manner” Roxanna Summers, Back to Front

Allocate Actions

A meeting with no action is pointless. You also want to avoid the actions all being allocated for one person (often the chair!) Two tips which often help are:

  • Prepare a wall chart with everyone’s name on it and then space for actions to be recorded against their name, this avoids some leaving the meeting with lots of actions and some with none. It makes it very visual and can help to prompt the chair to remind people to commit to a specific action.
  • The chair of the meeting can respond proactively to comments made during the meeting to convert these into action – “thanks for that x, can you follow that up with x and email out the outcome, we will record that in the action plan”

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Minutes

The minutes can be drafted in advance based on the purpose of each item so they use the agenda to shape an introduction to each item and the purpose of the discussion and then record the actions to be taken.

It is useful to summarise the planned actions in an action plan as well so that there is an easy document to track progress before the next meeting.

Part of the planning for the next meeting will involve the chair or secretary reviewing the agreed actions and checking on progress so this can be minuted in advance of the meeting and a very short verbal overview given.

Review what went well and how to improve

At the end of the meeting set aside 5-10 minutes to share what worked well and to give constructive tips for the next meeting. Read our blog on Agile Team Working – making time to talk

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If you would like one of our facilitators to talk to you about how to make your meetings more focused, engaging, productive and shorter then give us a call.