We’re pretty used to asking people to talk in small groups, but which kinds of groups work best for different kinds of conversations? If you’ve scratched your head wondering how to form small groups, take a look at these options.
Our opportunities to change things can come from unexpected directions. A new CEO who wants to shake things up. A sudden upsurge of public enthusiasm for naked shampoo bars or reusable cups. A cost-cutting drive.
How can you make the most of these changes from elsewhere, and surf them expertly to get things moving in a sustainable direction?
As a participation professional who’s been lurking around NHS Citizen as it develops, one of the most exciting aspects has been the webcasting.
The two worlds I straddle - sustainability and process - interweave in all sorts of ways. And one of those ways involves challenging myself, and other facilitators, about the sustainability of our own practice. And although I've called this blog post 'greening' our practice, of course there are the social and ethical aspects of sustainability as well as the environmental ones to consider.
Contemplating ecological apocalypse, and being really really angry with the bozos who are letting it happen, can make us sustainability people pretty dull conversationalists.
In a bid to learn some new ways of delighting people while helping them stare into the abyss, I enrolled in the marvellous Sustainable Stand Up course, run by my old friend and colleague - and all round laughter fairy - Belina Raffy with support from Dr Steve Cross.
When I first met with Brigid Finlayson and Carolina Karlstrom, to see whether we could work together to create the first She is Still Sustainable, we talked a lot about the kind of event we wanted to make it. And our conversation focused a lot on mood, atmosphere, emotional tone: we wanted it to be “warm, safe, friendly event which is refreshing, inspiring and supportive”.
Lots of the women who came along to She is Still Sustainable said that the highlight was a co-coaching exercise we ran, using a solutions focus approach. People paired up and coached each other, asking positive, future-oriented questions about the sustainability work they wanted to do. The instructions are here.
Any fool can design a workshop. What really tests you is having to redesign it part-way through.
You’ve done a great plan, and prepared your materials. You know how you’d like the space laid out, and your workshop will take the group on a journey towards a convergent, satisfying conclusion.
And then it all goes horribly wrong. Nasty surprises throw your plans into disarray. You need to redesign and you need to do it NOW!
One of the lovely things that we did at She is Still Sustainable last month, was to build a wonderwall of our achievements. And wow! What a lot we have achieved.
Some were very personal – surviving divorce, arranging funerals, raising children....
Some had enormous reach – training 100s of facilitators, systems change programme with Sierra Leone Ministry of Health to improve community health, part of a team delivering a sustainable London 2012...
In a recent coaching session, my client was exploring whether they had permission to do something. And, in an uncertain and fluid situation, how they would know whether they had permission or not. What if they misread the signs?
We developed a two-by-two matrix, to sort out the possibilities.
The Beast from the East has blanketed much of the UK with its beautiful sparkles, covering up roads, railways lines and in some cases front doors.
But the snow has also revealed things that aren’t usually seen: particulate pollution, uninsulated roofs, space which could be reclaimed from traffic for pedestrians and cyclists, and the impoverished nature of our soil.
One of the things that came up again and again when I was talking to people about the new edition of Change Management for Sustainable Development, was supporting ourselves as sustainability professionals and as change-makers. There are three key pillars which support us: perspective, association, and giving ourselves a break.
Many organisations in the sustainability field do their best system-changing work when they are collaborating. They recognise this, and they seek out collaborators who, like them, want to make more change than one organisation can do working alone.
They understand the power of collaboration so well, that they put resources and staff time into facilitating and convening it.
And they find themselves in a challenging situation - playing the role of convening and facilitating, whilst also being a collaborator, with expertise and an opinion on what a good outcome would look like and how to get to it.
Why is it a problem?
When you have expertise and a point of view on the topic being discussed, and you're also the convenor or facilitator, it causes three kinds of problems:
- You are insufficiently neutral (or are thought to be) when you are playing the 'honest broker' role, helping the rest of the group discover their consensus. The decisions made unravel, because they are not deeply owned by the group.
- Your point of view and your expertise are lost to the group, unless someone else can contribute them on your (or your organisation's) behalf.
- The people you have convened don't see themselves as collaborators, rolling their sleeves up to get on with real work after the conversation. They see themselves as consultees, telling you what your should do after the conversation.
These problems are not insurmountable, but they are real. Understanding that they are an inherent feature of being a non-neutral facilitator/convenor helps you to anticipate them, spot them when they occur and mitigate.
Thinking it through as a team
I work with a lot of organisations who are in this position, and recently I ran a half-day masterclass for one of them. The masterclass began with me setting out the problem, and then the group shared their actual experiences and discussed what they wanted to do about it.
Here are the slides, suitably anonymised.
Once you understand the typical challenges, you can decide which situations need that additional neutrality, which really need you to be 'in' the conversation, and come up with ways of making sure that happens. There are some ideas here.
I'd love to help other organisations think through these dilemmas and make their own choices about them.