The Craft of Facilitating Online

One of the questions I am exploring with a group of students at Aarhus University is how I have transformed my practice from facilitating groups face-to-face to the pandemic practice of being virtually based….what theoretical models have helped me to do this. Initially my response was that I do not really have a theoretical base for my work, and then I was baking, and I realized that much like a skilled baker, I can adapt, add spices, change timings, but there are certain things that have to be put in place for the magic to happen. So this is my attempt to explain some reasoning behind some of the things that I do as a facilitator (often without conscious thought)

Experience not Theory

Once you have opened your session just get started! If you need to deliver content and provide detailed overviews about your speakers why not do this in advance? People can choose to watch. Aim to get people talking and connecting with each other within minutes by using the chat, polls, breakout rooms or annotation tools (and thanks to Phil Walsh for his tip on using WordSearch as a way of helping break the ice!)

I learnt early on my career the importance of stepping aside so that people can get on and participate and the work of Christine Hogan and frequent inspiration from the World Cafe movement helped me to develop my thinking on this further. We must give groups the opportunity to experience virtual collaboration and provide easy to understand instructions and then stop talking and let the magic happen!

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

Space to Think

Some people find it easy to think whilst they are talking. Many others need a bit of thinking time first. The advantage of providing a structured period of time in first is that you will get richer conversation and content. It is easier to do in the online room. I simply invite people to turn their cameras off and spend 1-2 minutes getting their thoughts prepared. Then move to the breakout groups.

The principles behind this hold true in the virtual space, and you can read more about it here in our blog Not Everyone Wants to Talk First

Hierarchical Planning

One of the first formal facilitation training sessions I attend was based on the work of John Heron. One of the models that has stuck with me from that session was the idea about different styles: hierarchical, cooperative and autonomous and how important it is to choose the right style for the dimension you are working in. You can read some more about the model here and for me the essence of this is deciding when I need to use my power over a group and when I can release that power. We often think that hierarchical power is wrong but in my experience the facilitator using that power initially in a facilitated session helps to create a safe working space so that the group can become more autonomous over time.

My facilitation practice is based on a process approach, I am not involved in therapeutical facilitation so having structure and giving clear guidelines helps the group to get their work done. Online collaboration is still unfamiliar to many and so in my experience we need as facilitators to use our hierarchical power to create supportive structures and to make the space feel safe.

Equality of Contribution

Online collaboration should provide a space where everyone can contribute. This is where timing on contributions can be so important. If your breakout session is only 15 minutes and there are 5 people and the first person talks for 10 minutes then the rest of the group have less than 2 minutes. I wish more facilitators would use their maths wisely and work out timings that make it possible for everyone to contribute AND then use an actual timer to make it happen.

For formal events I now have a set of neat timers that sit above my head to give a visual reminder of time

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Orientation: Positive and Possibilities

Online sessions are often short and can be very draining. We can help avoid the drain by choosing questions wisely. Go for questions that explore positive experiences and that encourage possibilities. If you are new to facilitation then explore the theory of appreciative inquiry to gain valuable insights into the power of positively framing questions

Harvesting Data

I love the idea of Harvesting and have borrowed it from the work of the World Cafe movement. What this means is thinking about what you want to do with the “stuff” generated at the end of the session. Sometimes harvesting can be left to individuals, they can take away new connections and ideas, but usually a more purposeful harvesting of the data can help people to see different connections than they first thought and can help a team to move forwards.

Using digital tools can really support the harvesting process. Tools like Mentimeter and Vwall mean that everyone can post their comments anonymously and you can quickly share the results at the end.

Building On Line Facilitation Practice

My experience has taught me that what is critical to the success of an online facilitated event is using the skills of a professional facilitator to help shape the process, humanize the technology and create structures that work. Being a digital expert helps but the thing that really stands out is the craft of facilitation and the core of this remains the same as it was during our face to face practice.

Avoiding the Facilitator Vanity Trap

The new world of virtual facilitation has given us an ever-growing selection of shiny tools to choose from. It is easy to get over-excited about the options and create confusion for participants by adding more and more tools to demonstrate our amazing ninja skills in the digital world. I am definitely guilty of this at times. So…. how can we avoid falling into the facilitator vanity trap? How do we make sure that we are using the right tools that will support people get to their desired end point easily?

I am going to share with you five questions that will help you facilitate using a “less is more” approach

Five Ways of Swerving Facilitator Vanity

1. Am I competent in this tool?

Facilitators have a Magpie tendency. We hear someone else mention a tool or technique and we are off onto Google to look it up, sign up for a free trial and then find a way to use it.

Whilst experimentation is valuable we owe it to both our participants and the designers of the tool/process to have road tested it first. We run regular “Playshop” sessions in our team where any of our facilitators can test out a tool or process that they are considering. We do our best to “break” the tool and to simulate what happens when someone does something random.

We need to be sure that we know how the digital platform works, and have explored all the functions before we take this into a live group situation. It is very easy for groups to lose confidence in the virtual platform when the facilitator is stumbling.

Photo by Petr Ganaj on Pexels.com

2. Do we need a report or formal output?

Some times the purpose of an event is to bring people together, to facilitate them to build a connection and then to leave them to make things happen. These are the types of events where previously you might have just taken a few photos of the post-it notes, circulated these and that was the post-production work done.

On the other extreme we might be facilitating events that will help our client create a roadmap, complete a consultation or develop a new set of ideas for the company’s future innovation focus. In these situations it is vital to be able to capture information in the right format.

V-wall is one of our favourite tools for events where capturing the participants individual thoughts is important. It is one of the easiest tools for everyone to engage with and the report is generated within minutes post event into Word so that it can be easily read by other stakeholders. Mural, a tool we love for many events, is much harder to generate a quick report from, it is a more messy process and not ideal for sharing with other stakeholders. Mentimeter bridges the 2 tools and is an easy to use process with output that can be exported and added into a formal summary report.

3. Do we need to gain consensus?

After a process of idea generation it is easy for a group to be overwhelmed by the quantity of ideas. Most facilitators will help the group to navigate through the output with some kind of prioritization method.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

This will often start with clustering of similar ideas and then some form of prioritization will need to be put into place. This could be dot voting or it could be a discussion where participants use coloured cards to show whether they agree with the proposals.

We have found Dotstorming to be a useful tool for participants to post ideas, comment on ideas and finally vote on ideas. Vwall also has facilitator tools that help structure the clusters into voting. But just because you can cluster and prioritize does not mean that this is the most appropriate thing to do. It takes a lot of time, and you may decide to simply let participants to pick out verbally the elements that they find most relevant to the challenge being addressed or for some events we have left the participants to prioritise after the event.

4. Am I just using this tool to impress the group?

This happened recently when I wanted to impress a client by using Mural because they were data scientists and I knew that they would easily pick up the skills to use Mural and would enjoy interacting with it in the focus groups. But because this was a focus group process, reporting was vital and the project team needed a quick, robust report output. I know that Mural is awful at that!

We used Vwall which looks old-fashioned and did not have the “wow” factor with the group for being cutting edge technology, but it has an excellent reporting functionality, so we could quickly and easily share the content with all the stakeholders.

5. Can I make it any simpler?

The final question challenges us to review the process and tools again and to work out if we can make it any easier.

One question I often ask is whether it is possible to just use functionality within the meeting platform? I recently joined a networking session with other facilitators and the Zoom polls, the Zoom chat and the breakout rooms was enough tech for the purposes of this event.

I have supported a colleague who is a more traditional classroom based trainer to convert her programmes online. We tried various methods and decided that what worked well was using a physical flipchart in her Zoom window, so she could write up the feedback from her group and then share them as a photograph in the chat. She felt confident doing this, the participants like the change in focus and the end result was as effective as trying to use the whiteboard or other digital tools

Using these 5 questions will help you to check whether the tool/process is right for the group and what they want to achieve. It will help you to avoid falling into the facilitator vanity trap and choosing a tool which you are attracted to and which makes you feel good!

To find out more about our digital work check out our website: www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Using ORID for Team Reviews

Today our team choose to sit watching the sunset from our respective home offices and to listen to each other talking through our reflections on the year. It was a structured and creative process.

Purpose

To provide space for each team member to explore their reflections on the past period using the ORID structure (Observation/Reactions/Insights/Decision)

Observations: What Happened

The initial phase of the ORID process is designed to capture initial responses – what you noticed happening, what the main differences were. This can often be the easiest way of starting into a reflective process.

  • What were the main learning insights for you?
  • What did you noticed changed for you?

Reactions: WHAT WAS THE IMPACT

The next phase in ORID takes us into a more personal reflective space by encouraging us to explore our reactions to the situation/changes

  • How do you feel about those changed?
  • What surprised/frustrated you?

Insights: so what?

The ORID process then encourages us to consider the value, meaning or significance of the this period of time and the wider personal implications of the changes?

  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • What options does this offer you for the future?
  • How might this affect the way you approach things?

Decision Questions: now what?

The final stage in the reflective process is to consider any decisions that you might want to take. This could be immediate decisions that you intend to implement, or it could be a longer-term decision about how you want to go forward in your work.

  • What will you do differently because of the insights you have gained?
  • Longer term what are some of your ambitions?

Learning more about ORID

http://www.meeting-facilitation.co.uk/blog/files/focused-discussion.html

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.

Contact Us

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

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.

2016-01-15 13.22.48

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

2017-06-21 09.17.24

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

 

 

 

 

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”

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

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