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

Agile Team Working – making time to talk

Proud and Sorry

Proud and Sorry

As facilitators one of the great benefits is that we work across a range of different organisations and professions, picking up little bits of technical knowledge as we go. I worked within a software company on a series of projects and facilitated events to help them explore some Agile working practices. In the process of this I came across an excellent reference source: Agile Retrospectives

This book is often my “go to” book when working with smaller teams. One of our recent challenges was a piece of work with a small team of remote workers for the ECC The team needed to make progress on some work tasks during a series of two face to face meetings but more importantly they needed to talk to each other and build the feelings of trust. Some of the tools in the Agile Retrospectives really helped with this challenge.

One of the ones that I often use successfully is the “Proud” and “Sorry” session. By using this format it is possible for people to share what disappointed them about the project, or others, in a way that seems to avoid the normal defensive reaction. This method also does something which we always suggest to even small teams – it allows you to write and think your responses individually first before sharing them in a group. With a small team it is tempting to have all the discussions in the large group but this can lead to Groupthink and make some contributions less significant than others.

As with all teams taking time to listen to each other, to build the trust will then make sure that the actual meeting work can be done very effectively. We find that the meeting takes no longer than a normal more agenda driven type of meeting approach, but the richness and depth leads to a far better result after the meeting.

Case Study of our work with ECC

Home Early: Good or Bad?

Whenever I run sessions, the question “We are really doing well – how would you feel if we had a shorter lunch and tried to finish earlier in the day?” is usually greeted with universal enthusiasm. Occasionally, however, there are people who prefer to stick to an agreed and advertised end time rather than find themselves with an unexpected half hour’s free time. This was driven home to me during a recent session when one participant felt aggrieved that the outcome had been achieved earlier than she had expected, and the day finished at 4pm instead of the advertised 4.30pm.
Of course, as we all know, people have different preferences when it comes to sticking to a schedule. More importantly, a good facilitator will know when the timings have to be “flexed” to allow for penetrating and valuable debate on an issue which, although timed for maybe 60 minutes, is clearly taking longer to solve. Similarly, we have to know when a discussion is not achieving its desired outcome and needs to be cut short and the process changed to enable a different method to be used to achieve the required result.
I think the key skill lies in flexing the timings accordingly within the agreed start and end point to a day, without finishing late, and yet taking into account those (admittedly few) people who may get upset if you finish early. One solution I find works ( on the enjoyable occasions when a range of facilitated techniques have resulted in an early conclusion) is to warn participants that the timings may be cut short, but that the session will still be “live” and open for further discussion for those who wish to stay until the appointed end time. This works well because although the formal debate has concluded, and results captured, the informal networking and sparking of ideas can continue.
Of course, this means that the facilitator needs to be on hand, and still working hard, right up to that appointed time, but after all that is what we are paid for!

clarehoward@centreforfacilitation.co.uk