IAF

A warm welcome in Kansai!

A warm welcome in Kansai!

What a warm welcome I have had in Kyoto and Osaka, from facilitators based in this Kansai area of Japan. 

When I knew I was going to come to Japan, to visit my daughter who is studying in Tokyo for a year, I wanted to make the most of the trip by meeting facilitation and sustainability professionals and learning more about their work in a very different cultural context.

Inventing techniques and exercises

Inventing techniques and exercises

I was hosting a networking and learning meet up of facilitators yesterday.  We were running behind time - mostly because there was so much people wanted to say when debriefing previous exercises.  So my challenge was to find a way to debrief it that didn't take too much time.

'Greening' our practice as facilitators

'Greening' our practice as facilitators

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.

In-house facilitation networks - what makes them work?

Post-its by  Erwin Brevis

Post-its by Erwin Brevis

Inside some organisations, there are networks of facilitators who design and run better meetings.  Perhaps you are in such a network, or have worked with people who are. Perhaps you've designed and run training for people who go on to be part of such a network.  These are, for the most part, people who facilitate either as a part of their job (and are given management support and time within their job to do this) or on top of their day job (having to carve out time informally, and doing it because they love it). They are not generally full-time facilitators.

I was asked to share some insights about facilitation networks, for SALAR, the Swedish Association of Local Government and Regions. This was done as part of some work that Edward Andersson is helping them with. A link to my presentation is at the bottom of this post.

Facilitation as an essential skill for participative approaches to decision-making

SALAR's interest came from their desire to revitalise dialogue between citizens and local government, in order that decisions taken at a local and regional level are much better informed by people's experiences, insight and preferences.  When bringing together a group of citizens to discuss contentious questions like whether and how best to welcome refugees, or what to do about school provision or local transport services, you need a skillful facilitator who can both design a good process and facilitate it 'in the room'. 

And the in-house facilitator network I know best - at the Environment Agency* - arose because of exactly this impulse: the need to have much better conversations with stakeholders (both professional stakeholders and communities) about important questions like pollution control, flood risk management and protecting water quality. (The Environment Agency also has a framework contract for Stakeholder Engagement, Advice and Facilitation Services, known as SEAFS, which has professional independent facilitators on it.)

Facilitation for internal conversations

There are also in-house facilitator networks which focus on internal conversations, rather than inside-outside conversations.  They help out with specific initiatives or projects - like whole-staff conversations in the run-up to the development of strategic plans - or can be called on for smaller conversations, like project planning or to sort out a problem.  Some organisations choose to take a very focused approach to their facilitation, by training facilitators in a specific methodology like agile or design thinking.  Others will equip their facilitators with a wider range of tools. 

Inter-organisational networks

There was a period in the UK when the stars aligned, and there was enough political focus on the role of citizen participation in local decision making that all sorts of public bodies - police, emergency services, health, education, local government and so on - needed to build their capacity to facilitate conversations with stakeholders and the public.  A solution which emerged - developed and championed by InterAct Networks - was to train facilitators from a number of different organisations which all covered the same geographical area.  So someone from a county council, a health authority and a community group might work together - with no money changing hands - to facilitate a workshop on behalf of an education authority.  And when the county council needed external facilitators, they could call on others in the network to help out.  This was one (cash-cheap) way to address the need for independent, neutral facilitation, where the facilitator does not have a stake in the outcome of the conversation.

At its height in 2004, there were between 15 and 20 such inter-organisational networks swapping facilitation resources and playing that neutral facilitator role for each other. Often, the in-house facilitators would would alongside professional independent facilitators who would lead on process design while the network members played support roles, for example facilitating table groups in larger workshops.

When I went looking for these kinds of networks again in 2017, I couldn't find any of the original networks still operating.  (I did find a different inter-organisation facilitator network, trained by Dawn Williams of Sage Gateshead, informally swapping facilitation services between museums in the North East of England.)

More in-house networks

After my work for SALAR was completed, I found out about some other in-house networks.  This was at a fascinating panel discussion as part of the (IAF) International Association of Facilitators conference in Paris, in October 2017.  We heard from four organisations about their internal networks: DHL Express Russia, Airbus, Decathlon and ENGIE Global Energy Management.  DHL Express Russia has trained 200 in-house facilitators!

Peer-learning networks

As well as networks where the purpose is to build an organisation's capacity to design and run better meetings, there are networks which are essentially there to facilitate peer learning between people who want to improve their facilitation skills.  There are loads of these, and they fall into two categories: alumni of a particular training course, e.g. Art of Hosting or TOP; and 'all-comers' peer learning, like the learning meet-ups organised by the IAF in the UK.  These are much more likely to include 'all comers' than to be confined to a single organisation.

What makes them work?

There are six key lessons that I took from talking to people who run successful networks and also to those with insights into networks that haven't continued:

  • Management support for network members - people need support from their managers to do the training, and then use their new skills for the benefit of colleagues and the wider organisation.
  • Coordination doesn't happen by magic. Networks are never 'self-sustaining'. Coordination, leadership, administration takes real people real time. It can be 'hidden' within someone's day job, or done on top of the day job, but it still needs doing.
  • The network must have a clear purpose (peer learning; advocating for the use of facilitative approaches; swapping of facilitator resources), and that purpose must meet a real organisational need (otherwise management support will not happen).
  • For peer learning networks, people need to think about four things: whether there is an 'entry level' of minimum knowledge, skill or training; how to support members in actively using their skills; encouraging reflective practice and peer or 'client' feedback; and building in face-to-face refreshers where people share skills, learn new ones, and problem solve for each other.
  • For 'swapping' networks, whether intra- or inter-organisational, even stronger organisational support is needed. There need to be guidelines for quality control, a protocol for receiving appropriate requests for facilitation support, and time for coordination.

What do you need to think about?

When setting up a facilitator network, the initiators need to think about:

  • its purpose - is it about facilitation skills which may be used in any situation, or about promoting public engagement or participative decision-making? is it primarily there to enable continued learning and skills development, or to provide (semi) independent facilitation for each other's teams (swapping facilitator resource)?
  • its boundaries - do all the members need to be from the same organisation? or to have gone through the same training?  Is there a minimum level of skill or training that they need, to be able to offer themselves to facilitate for others in the name of the network?   If there is 'swapping' of facilitators, there are some additional questions: how will 'clients' know about the resource, and how to use it well? How will requests for facilitation be filtered and allocated?  How will facilitators get feedback?  Does it matter if some members never make themselves available to facilitate in this way?
  • the organisational context - consider and explore things like: senior level sponsorship; the learning and development or professional development aspects, and how to get support from this team; making it part of people's 'day job'; if it's about promoting and enabling public and stakeholder engagement, consider how the organisation can integrate public engagement into the decision-making or policy-making cycle; whether or not the organisation has access to external professional facilitation support, in addition to its in-house network, and how this may dovetail with the network.
  • its coordination and management - how will the network get the resources to do the coordination and management; how will the coordinator(s) / manager(s) have a mandate from the network members, or from the organisation; who 'owns' the network, and can make decisions about its future?

Find out more

My presentation to SALAR is available here.  It's a powerpoint slide show, .ppsx.  This page should help if you are having trouble viewing it. The presentation is in three parts, and the participants had a chance to discuss the questions between each section. (For process geeks: we then had Q&A via skype, and doing it this way enabled me to stick to my no flying experiment.)

Get support

If you'd like to talk about setting up or revitalising an in-house facilitation network, do get in touch.

*Along with colleagues from InterAct Networks and 3KQ, I have trained in-house facilitators at the Environment Agency, and worked with them to facilitate workshops involving stakeholders and the public.

Advice for the newly freelance

I have found myself having a lot of coffees with people who are on the path to self-employment. As someone who embraced this particular type of freedom over 16 years ago, I have a thing or two to say! Some of these neophytes have taken voluntary redundancy amidst organisational shake-ups. Others are responding to new caring responsibilities. Some have just tired of trying to change organisations from within.

I just love these conversations.  It's great to be asked for advice on a subject dear to your heart and about which you think you have something useful to say. And it appeals to the coach in me: asking questions to draw out what they really want from the change: their dreams and ideals; boundaries and fixed points.

Advice from experienced freelancers

So I asked around on twitter and some linked in groups, and got some great responses.

Most were about networking for support and leads:

"It takes a long while to build consultancy relationships, so start early, and keep feeding in new possible clients to your portfolio so that you have always got an eye on one year from now as well as the now." Christine Garner

"I would suggest that your first piece of paid work (and your second...) will come from your network rather than any 'advertising' or external marketing you might do. The people who know you will be the ones to trust you first - and to tell others about you." Mark McKergow

"I was advised (many years ago) to have a great, but short, answer to the question, 'What do you do?' My answer was 'I'm a developer, I develop people!' That often prompted a deeper discussion led by the other person, that occasionally led to work. So much easier than a long ramble about what I actually did." David Shepherd, AMED member

"Start with the people you know, and build from there." Edward Kellow

"Reach out to friends and acquaintances in consultancies/agencies, become their associate. This will multiply ways you get work." Adam Garfunkel

"After 25 years in the field, I became self-employed 5 years ago. If I can summarize in one word, it is Contacts. Maintain and expand your list of contacts. Stay in touch with them, such as with a newsletter. Let them know you have your own firm and will give them the same level of service you have in the past (with perhaps, lower overhead). Get out there." Marc Karell, Climate Change & Environmental Services, LLC

"It could fill a book! But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that going independent should not and does not mean going it alone! If the work does not involve other people, find other people to interact with around the work. Get a coach to help step outside the work and think. Join an association. Get associates. These things helped me not to be isolated and continue to help me infuse my work with new, creative ideas and insights, and to not spend all my time in my own head!"  Chris Grieve

Some were about the kind of work you do, and how:

"Stay true to your own values [so you] project that you feel good about what you do" Christine Tuson

And some were very practical:

"Remember to invoice them and make sure they pay." Christine Garner.

"Work out what income you need and how much work (in paid days per year at different rates) you need to do to achieve it, and use that as a personal KPI." Christine Tuson

"Especially for women, don't charge too little." Julian Walker

And I can't resist linking to Sarah Holloway's blog post on the same topic, with her deeply practical "when you see a loo, use it".

Glass half full?

Some freelancers think their diary can never be too full, but I'd offer some contrasting advice on that point. I know I have a weakness in saying 'yes' too readily, so I have practised saying no and enjoying the downtime. It's time to spend with family, on community activity, or just clearing out the cupboard of mystery (everyone has one).

I'd agree more with these comments:

"Downshift. Make your home earn money. When you have gap days you don't need to panic, it may be better to take that as a reboot yourself day. Oh yes, and enjoy the freedom it gives you. Good luck." Nicola Baird

"Learn how to say no. when I first went freelance, I was terrified of ever saying no for fear of never getting work again, so found I over committed and worked silly hours. Took me years to have the confidence to say no."  Pippa Hyam.

My advice

These are my top tips:

  • Network, use your contacts, tell people you are available, ask them for help and ask them what help they need.
  • Spend a little time daydreaming about your perfect, ideal work and then tell people that's what you do / what you're looking for.
  • Trust your own judgement - if you don't seem to have the whole picture, keep asking questions; if the client seems to have missed something, mention it.
  • Don't be scared of the money conversation - clients expect to have to talk about it!
  • Know your own limits, be it term dates and sports day, or the sectors / kinds of creepy people you don't want to work with and stick to them - you are the boss!
  • Do things that challenge you and get support from fellow independents.
  • Find great places to have client or networking meetings for free - in London I like Kings Place and the Royal Festival Hall.

Networks

Over the years, I've got great support from a few organisations which are great for networking, both online and face-to-face: AMED; IAF; IEMA.  I have also started to check out meet-ups - an online way to find and set up networking events. For example, I've gone along to collaboration meet-ups in London [update 5/5/16] and these facilitation meet-ups organised by the IAF.  Check out what’s available in your area.

More advice, your advice?

Please do add your own experiences, questions or tips, in the comments below.

 

Looking for work?

Well done for finding this page!  You have already shown tenacity, imagination and great googling skills. This practice doesn't offer work experience, apprenticeships or internships.  We're not hiring at the moment. You need to find a slightly bigger organisation for that sort of thing.

Here's some advice and links, which I hope are helpful.

  • Use your contacts - people you met while studying, both students and staff. Let them know what kind of work you are looking for and what you can offer.
  • Join a relevant professional body and network like crazy: for environmentalists, IEMA is great. If you have found these pages because you're interested in facilitating then check out the IAF.  And if you want to spread your wings into coaching, organisational consultancy and change management check out AMED.
  • Linked-In is good too - look for active discussion groups related to your interests and location.

If you can afford it, look for volunteering or internship opportunities with organisations relevant to the kind of work you are interested in.

The field of change for sustainable development is one I have found exciting, challenging and satisfying. I hope you find a place here too.

Good luck!

The Accompanist

Much food for thought at the joint AMED / IAF Europe 'building bridges' facilitation day last week. I find myself day dreaming and speculating about a particular kind of helping role: the accompanist.

Vicky Cosstick mentioned this in passing, when setting up her session on the glimpses of the future of facilitation.  Early in her career, Vicky played this role as part of her training.   The role apparently has its origins in spiritual practice, although I'd not come across the term used in this way before.

What does an accompanist do?

The role involves minimal intervention.  You attend the work of the group and listen.  You write up to a maximum of one page of observations.  You pose two or three open questions as part of that.  The group can choose to do something with these, or not.

It reminded me of the practice that Edgar Schein describes in Organisational Culture and Leadership, where he too spends much of his time observing.

What a wonderful way to work with a client / self.

What's the minimum we can do, to help?

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.

 

Avoiding the ‘groan fest’

Ever been in a meeting where everyone is sure they've tried everything, and nothing works? And nothing will ever work?

And it's everyone else's fault?

Sure you have!

Tempered radicals and other internal change agents face this kind of situation alot.  So do external consultants, activists and coach / facilitators.

"The eco-champions meetings I go to are a real groan fest!"

When I was faced with this heartfelt description in a training workshop, we spent a bit of time coming up with ideas.  But I was sure there must be some even better approaches than the ones we suggested.

So I posted a question on two great forums: AMED (the Association of Management Education and Development) and IAF (the International Association of Facilitators).

The useful suggestions from fellow facilitators, coaches and OD (organisational development) professionals gave me a lot of chew on, and the result is this article.  It was first published in the environmentalist, and has also been reproduced in the IAF Europe newsletter.

Your own experiences and suggestions are very welcome!

Not groaning,

Penny