Coach

Facilitation training - can it work one-to-one?

I love to train people in facilitation skills.  It's so much fun! People get to try new things in a safe environment, games are played, there's growth and challenge, fabulously supportive atmospheres can build up.

What's the minimum group size for this kind of learning?

How about one?

A group of one

From time to time I'm approached by people who want to improve their facilitation skills, but who don't have a ready-made group of colleagues to train with.   I point them towards open courses such as those run by the ICA, and let them know about practice groups like UK Facilitators Practice Group.  And sometimes, I work with them one-to-one.

This one-to-one work can also happen because a client doesn't have the budget to bring in facilitator for a particular event, and we agree instead to a semi-coaching approach which provides intensive, just-in-time preparation for them to play the facilitator role.  This is most common in the community and voluntary sector.

The approach turns out to be a mix of process consultancy for specific meetings, debriefing recent or significant facilitation experiences, and introducing or exploring tools and techniques.

Preparing to facilitate in a hierarchy

A client had a particular event coming up, where she was going to be facilitating a strategy session for a group of senior people from organisations which formed the membership of her own organisation.  She had concerns around authority: would they accept her as their facilitator for this session?  She was also keen to understand how to agree realistic aims for the session, and to come up with a good design.

We spent a couple of hours together, talking through the aims of the session and what she would do to prepare for it.  We played around with some design ideas. I introduced the facilitator's mandate, and she came up with ways of ensuring she had a clear mandate from the group which she could then use to justify - to them and to herself - taking control of the group's discussions and managing the process.  Helped by some coaching around her assumptions about her own authority, she came up with some phrases she was comfortable using if she needed to intervene.  We role-played these. She felt more confident about the framework and that the time and energy we'd put into the preparation was useful.

Facilitation skills as a competence for engaging stakeholders

As part of a wider team, I've been working with a UK Government department to help build their internal capacity for engaging stakeholders.  As a 'mentor', I worked with policy teams to help them plan their engagement and for one team, this included helping a team member get better at meeting design and facilitation.  He already had a good understanding of the variety of processes which could be used and a strong intuitive grasp of facilitation.  We agreed to build this further through a (very short) apprenticeship approach.  We worked together to refine the aims for a series of workshops.  I facilitated the first and he supported me.  We debriefed afterwards: what had gone well, what had gone less well, and in particular what had he or I done before and during the workshop and what was the impact.  He facilitated the next workshop, with me in the support role. Again we debriefed.  We sat down to plan the next workshop, and I provided a handout on carousel, which seemed like an appropriate technique. I observed the next two workshops, and again we debriefed.

Instead of a training course

I worked with a client who wanted to develop his facilitation skills and was keen to work with me specifically, rather than an unknown and more generic open course provider.  I already knew his context and he knew I'd have a good appreciation of some of his specific challenges: being in the small secretariat of what is essentially an industry leadership group which is trying to lead a sustainability agenda in their sector.  His job is to catalyse and challenge, as well as to be responsive to members.  So when he is planning and facilitating meetings, he will sometimes be in facilitator mode and sometimes he will need to be advocating a particular point of view.

Ideally, I'd have wanted to observe him in action in order to identify priorities and be able to tailor the learning aims. But the budget didn't allow for this.

We came up with a solution which was based on a series of four two-hour sessions, where I would be partly training (i.e. adding in new 'content' about facilitation and helping him to understand it) and partly coaching (i.e. helping him uncover his limiting assumptions and committing to do things differently).  The sessions were timed to be either a bit before or a bit after meetings which he saw as significant facilitation challenges, so that we could tailor the learning to preparing for or debriefing them.  The four face-to-face sessions would be supplemented by handouts chosen from things I'd already produced, and by recommended reading.  We agreed to review each session briefly at the end, for the immediate learning and feedback to me, and partly to model active reflection and to get him into the habit of doing this for his own facilitation work.

In our initial pre-contract meeting, we agreed some specific learning objectives and the practicalities (where, when).  Before each session, we had email exchanges confirming what he wanted to focus on. This meant I could prepare handouts and other resources to bring with me.

And this plan is pretty much what we ended up doing.

He turned out to be very well suited to this way of learning. He was a disciplined reflective practitioner, making notes about what he'd learnt from his experiences and bringing these to sessions.  He was thoughtful in deciding what he wanted to focus on which enabled me to prepare appropriately.  For example, in our final session he wanted to look at his overall learning and to identify the learning edges that he would continue to work on after our training ended.  We did two very different things in that session: he drew a timeline of his journey so far, identifying significant things which have shaped the facilitator he is now.  And we used the IAF's Foundational Facilitator Competencies to identify his current strengths and learning needs.

Can it work?

Yes, it's possible to train someone in facilitation skills one-to-one.   This approach absolutely relies on them have opportunities to try things out, and is very appropriate when someone will be facilitating anyway - trained or not.  The benefits are finely tailored support which can include advice as well as training, coaching instead of 'talk and chalk', and debriefing 'real' facilitation instead of 'practice' session.

There are downsides, of course.  You don't get the big benefit which can come from in-house training, where a cohort of people can support each other in the new way of doing things and continue to reflect together on how it's going. And you don't get the benefit of feedback from multiple perspectives and seeing a diverse way of doing things, which you get in group training.

But if this group approach isn't an option, and the client is going to be facilitating anyway, then I think it is an excellent approach to learning.

 

What's down the back of the sofa?

It's the time of year for clearing out the cupboards and taking all the cushions off the sofa to sweep out the composting satsuma peel.  So I've been through my email inbox dealing with things.  And there - among the discarded invitations to really interesting meetings and unanswered requests for advice on things I just didn't know enough about to reply rapidly - was a jewel, waiting to be rediscovered. I get Michael Neill's weekly coaching newsletter, ever since I went on a two-day coaching magic course which he ran in conjunction with Kaizen Training.  Each Monday morning week there's an anecdote or exercise and they help me understand better how to coach, consult to clients or facilitate groups.  Of course there are also notifications of the courses he's running or books you can buy, but it's easy to ignore that stuff if you're not in the market for it.  (From time to time I get a bit exasperated with the recurring theme of money, earnings, finances and feeling rich.  That's not why I'm interested in coaching. I ignore those bits too.)

A Conceptual Jewel

The jewel was one of Michael's conceptual frameworks.  I'd kept it in my inbox so that I'd remember to blog about it at some point. That point is now.

It's the Four Quadrants of Creation, and it's a way of understanding what might be getting in the way of you achieving or creating something.

I think this is a great framework to have in a coaching toolkit, and I wonder if it can also be used with a team - for example a transition group, or a sustainability team within a larger organisation, or a consultant team reflecting on a particular 'stuckness' with a client?

Michael says:

Think of something you have thus far failed to achieve or create...

Now answer this question:

Is it because you couldn't, you didn't really want to, or both?

He goes on to talk about the twin importance of commitment and competence.

"Commitment is your "want to" - the amount of desire and willingness you bring to your project or creation. Competence is your "how to" - the amount of skill and capability you are currently able to harness."

Sorry about the poor image quality - it's better in the original.

You can probably see straight away how this can be used in a coaching situation: the coachee can consider where their espoused goal is in this matrix, and whether it's insufficient competence or weak commitment which is holding them back.

What's holding you back?

One of my coaching clients has been using a metaphor of baking a cake, for achieving a particular goal.  At the moment, something is getting in the way of moving forward, and it is as if the cake batter is being stirred endlessly.  It could be that more stirring is what's needed - when the mix is ready for the oven, it will be obvious.  Or perhaps there is a reluctance to let go of the comfortable and known act of stirring, and take the irreversible step of putting the potential cake into the test of the fiery furnace.

Only the client can know this, but the framework can help them to discover 'what is' and work with that.

The framework with a team

Could this framework be used to help a team reflect on its progress towards a goal?  There would need to be a high degree of trust in the group for it to be used successfully: who wants to tell a colleague about their own lack of competence, or question another person's commitment to a team goal?  A prior agreement not to use self-disclosed low levels of competence or commitment against each other later would be needed.  Self-disclosure would need to go before reflection on the team as a whole.

In some situations, it would be very helpful to have a framework for understanding what competence is needed for the task.  For example, this framework is about sustainability leadership.   A structure like a spectrum, with attitudes to the goal marked on it, may also help to give permission to people to be honest about their level of commitment. The horizontal dimension from the 'who can help me' matrix is a possible tool to use for this, if some additional options are added in between the extremes.

Dotting along the scale would form a whole-group picture of where people stand, which can then be used to focus discussion on the team's commitment and what would increase it (or what alternative goal would elicit high commitment).

The matrix could also be used as part of prioritising a team's work - something which will surely be more fraught as cuts make themselves felt in the public sector here in the UK.

Find out what you are really committed to

Some goals enthuse and inspire us, generating remarkable levels of passion and energy and bringing out the best in us.  Others feel more like burdens or accusations, staring at us sulkily from the teetering pile of unread journals or the magic inbox which can apparently hold an infinite number of low priority emails.

Peggy Holman, in Engaging Emergence (fantastic book which I keep recommending to people and will blog about properly one day), talks about "taking responsibility for what you love as an act of service".  If you move towards the things which you really care about, you are providing your best gift to the overall endeavour.  You don't have to do it all, and you don't have to do the things you think you should do - just the things you love to do.  This strategic selfishness is echoed in Michael Neill's thoughts about commitment:

"...check to see if this really is your project or if it's someone else's dream placed in your hands. If you decide to fully own it, notice any thoughts about why you can't or shouldn't really allow yourself to want this for yourself. Authentic desire doesn't need to be created - simply uncovered, one limiting belief at a time, and given space to breathe and to grow."

Making my work a no-fly zone

Last time I flew for work was in 2007, running a workshop in the Netherlands.  I had tried to find a way to go by boat and train, but couldn't make the timings fit in with other commitments. The last time I flew for pleasure was so long ago that I can't remember. I have turned down all work that involves flying since then, but without being up-front about this.  I say I'm unavailable or "I'm sure you can find someone locally" .  And I try to help them do just that: a great reason to network internationally and to keep in touch with people who I've come across over the years who understand both process and sustainable development, or may know someone who does.

Being up-front

On a coaching course this year, we did a pairs exercise about 'boundaries'.  We had to identify a time when we had noticed a boundary and maintained it.  We were invited to illustrate this.  As I drew the picture I realised that flying was emerging as a boundary for me.  It has been a value-in-action and I can choose to make it an espoused value too.  In that realisation I decided to make it an explicit aspect of my work.

The illustration I drew at the time shows this through the picture of sealed charter which makes 'not flying' a clear part of how I do business.

Since then, I've included this in the 'walking the talk' statement on this website, and in an updated discussion document which I share with new clients which sets out how I intend we will work together. (This latter also includes a range of other 'draft ground rules' for our consultant-client relationship: things like honesty, collaboration, learning from feedback, acting in good faith and so on.)

Testing my commitment

I've had a chance to test out this espoused value in two different situations recently.

One is a new client is based in the UK and the USA.  I set out up-front (before putting in a proposal) that I would not travel to the USA as part of this assignment.  I felt some trepidation in doing this: might I lose the work?  Reflecting further I realised that this outcome was not, surprisingly, such a big worry for me as I'm turning down work at the moment and I knew I didn't want the work if it meant flying.  The bigger source of my anxiety was that these people who I'd only just met might they think badly of me. They might interpret my refusal to fly as a criticism of them - they almost certainly are obliged to fly for work.  They might simply think me wildly eccentric.  (One day I'll blog on the EAFL meme : "environmentalists are **** loonies" ).  They might worry that association with me would make their colleagues think this about them.

I'm being very frank here - explaining my worries discretely even though I know they were quite murky at the time before I was able to pin them down precisely.

The new client was not put off, although I will continue to watch for the impact this stance has on our relationship, as well as the practicalities of the project.  Our first multi-continent workshop was run using impressive video presence facilities, and I'll blog about that separately.

The second challenge came about because I wasn't really paying attention!

I am working on stakeholder engagement for the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment. As part of this, there are workshops for stakeholders in the Devolved Administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  I agreed to facilitate these workshops as part of a team, with the workshops distributed between us.  Only later did I realise that - of course - Belfast is usually accessed from other parts of the UK by plane, these days.  As luck would have it, the Belfast workshop is the one date that I could do.  Could I get there without flying?  Fortunately I had a full day with no meetings on either side of it, allowing slow travel.

I checked the cost of travelling by train and ferry, using the legendary Man in Seat 61 website.  I also checked the travelling times, and worked out that two nights accommodation were probably needed, not one.  I resolved that I would absorb the additional expenses if they proved to be higher than those of my flying colleagues, and not charge for the longer travelling time.

Armed with these mitigations, I raised my 'no flying' commitment with my immediate client (the consultancy I am sub-contracted by).  They seemed fine with it.  And - thanks Sarah, you're a star - one of my facilitator colleagues said she'd travel with me too.

I still feel a bit funny about this choice to go by train and ferry rather than flying.  It takes much longer.  And if we miss a connection, or there's a storm at sea, people may criticise me for choosing a less reliable way to travel.  It feels like an experiment which could go wrong.

And I have read and re-read this blog entry, afraid to click 'publish', for some weeks now!

Experimenting with 'being the change'

I know that for many people, deciding not to fly for work would be a seriously career-limiting decision.  The way we organise our working lives and our international organisations is now so dependent on being able to travel very long distances or across seas fast, that  using only surface transport would be very inconvenient.  Even within the UK, there are lots of journeys which involve moving from one island to another, where boat is slower and - ahem - more bilious than flying.

I have the great good fortune, though, to be in a position to say 'no' to flying for work even as I recognise that this is not an option for many of the people I work with.  So I can be an experimenter, someone who tries out what a world with seriously reduced dependence on aviation might look like.  And if I can do it, perhaps I should.

How are people taking it?

The reaction from people who I've told about this has been an interesting range.  Some applauded and said "I bet your clients love it that, because you're really walking the talk".  Some said "that's a long time to be away not earning".  Others said "that's really interesting, I'd like to experiment like that, tell me how it goes".

I'm going to actively reflect on this experiment, and I'll tell you how it goes.

I don't want to go back in the box!

This post is about coaching, the power of unexpected questions and the alchemy of metaphor. I have just completed the first two days of a Diploma in Intermediate Executive Coaching, run by AOEC.  I've learnt loads, including realising once more the power of metaphor.  The striking thing I'd like to share is an insight I had about a project I discussed, as part of a practice session run by one of my fellow trainees.  Hats off to Simon!

The problem

The project had been bugging me.  It's enormous and complex, and I'm a relatively small cog in a very large consultant / client team. Things have been rushed and not all the plates have been spinning smoothly. It had been on my mind the previous evening, and I knew I was angry about how out of control it was feeling.

I came to the coaching session with a metaphor already in my mind, that the project was like a semi-wild cat, which was currently spitting and using its claws.  I wanted to speak calmly to it until it was pliable and tame enough to coax back into its box.

My focus was on the cat: wild and capable of causing a lot of pain, in its anarchic panic.  It was afraid and it could smell my fear.

I saw my own role as needing to move from being angry with it or afraid of it, to being the calm person who could 'cat whisper' it back to being tame, for just long enough to get it where I wanted it.

And anyway, this was only training: I felt I probably wouldn't get much out of the twenty minute session and I - wrongly - thought I knew already what my learning would be.

Surprising question

The training partner who was coaching me in this practice surprised me.  He didn't ask about the cat, he asked about the box.

That was definitely left-field for me.  I hadn't paid much attention to the box until he asked, and it stopped me in my tracks.  I described the box that I was picturing: small, carboard with a hinged lid and a padlock.

As I got a clearer picture in my mind of this box, I had a revelation.   I was trying to play a terrible trick on the cat.  I wasn't serving the cat, I was only trying to deal with my feelings.  And what a disrespectful attitude I had towards it.  I was looking at it all wrong.  This project is hard because it is ambitious and complicated and taking place in difficult circumstances.  If it wasn't hard, it wouldn't be worth working on.

I care about it, and I am proud of its ambition and the attempts the team is making to keep things going and to realise that ambition.

I shouldn't be trying to turn it into a pussycat.

Pride of a lion

Without really understanding how, my attitude to the project was transformed - and it has stayed transformed (at least so far).

This project is a lion, and I am proud to be walking alongside it in the open air, head up and back straight, not flinching when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune assail us.

The take-away

So the original metaphor was powerful in enabling me to raise this subject matter in the session, but it was the unexpected question from the coach inviting me to explore an aspect of it which I had overlooked, which really transformed my perspective. I had gone into the session with the explicit aim of 'sounding off', and I emerged from it with renewed pride and purpose.

Are your clients going to Copenhagen?

If you're a consultant (internal or external), are any of your clients going to Copenhagen? What are you doing to prepare them to, in the words of Dave Hampton, "succeed, against the odds, and pull off a real deal".  Dave suggests, in his letter to the Independent, that if this comes about, "history will remember them for eternity, for the bold leadership they found, out of the blue, when planet Earth needed it most."

Those of use who are coaches, mentors, facilitators or similar help our clients to think better, listen better, find out what they really want and co-create their future better.  Those of us who are advocates, communicators and campaigners bring inspiration, motivation and purpose.  What are our best, most excellent ways of helping clients find bold leadership, out of the blue, when they need it most?

If you're interested in hearing from others and sharing your own perspectives on this, why not pop along to this informal meet-up of the AMED Sustainable Development Network, which will focus on the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

If you are planning to come, please RSVP on the site, so we have some idea of numbers.

And why not post your thoughts here, on the discussion thread on AMED's website.

I'm, uh, disappointed.

I work with this great mentor, called Hilary Cotton.  She's coached me over a long period of time, and her insights and support have been invaluable.

In our last session, I was describing the development of this website, and how the process that the web development team took me through obliged me to think really hard about what I do to help clients and to develop my field.  (Thanks Jonathan, David and Matthew!)

I mentioned the challenge that I have set myself here - for all my work to contribute to real change for sustainable development.

The work that needs doing is the work of transformation, and that's where my passion is.

But, maybe inevitably, it isn't where all my work is.

Some of the work clients ask for is a bit more workaday - more about being a bit better in today's context, than co-creating a transformed future.

And I was feeling uncomfortable about the incongruence, to the point of wondering if I should change the text on the page.

Thanks to Hilary's incisive questions, I had an insight: I was disappointed that not all my work is transformational, and I was letting my disappointment get right in the way.

The incisive questions technique leads you to identify limiting assumptions and replace them with liberating assumptions.

Here's the liberating assumption I came up with, which is also a reframing of my emotional response:

If I knew that respecting my disappointment will lead to understanding better the opportunities for transformation, I will pay it proper attention and be unafraid of it.

So here's the reframe: I can view my disappointment as a phenomenon, and be curious about it and what it teaches me about transformation.

I feel disappointed in what I've been able to do in this piece of work.  That's interesting.

And more, I can respect my disappointment, as a useful companion which can remind me about what I value and what my ambitions are.

Hello, Disappointment.  What can I learn from walking with you, looking you in the face and studying you for a bit?

And then I can bid it goodbye, and try on another attitude.

I'm going to look at this another way: with curiosity about what will happen, gratitude that the work was brought to me, and openness to what might emerge from it.

And I won't be afraid of being disappointed in the future.

Cutting the carbs

When I wanted to lose weight and get a bit fitter, I did what millions of women and quite a few men have done around the world - I joined Weight Watchers.  In doing so, I got interested in the parallels between the support and motivations that work for slimming, and the ones we use to promote a low-carbon lifestyle. So I used them to write an article for the environmentalist in November 2006.

Part of a wider change movement

This is a slide show that I gave to the EABIS Colloquium in 2008.  It presents the results of a survey I conducted of organisational change agents, and asks how we can better support ourselves, and each other, at a time when we're getting better informed (and many of us more anxious) about the sustainability crisis.

 

View more presentations from PennyWalker.

There's also a paper and a  journal article to accompany the slides.  The article / chapter was originally published in Greener Management International and in "Consulting for Business Sustainability", edited by Chris Galea.