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Silence, respect and slow ritual: some observations on facilitation in Japan

Silence, respect and slow ritual: some observations on facilitation in Japan

In my short visit to Japan, I was privileged to be able to meet with three groups of facilitators: in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Huge thanks to everyone who helped make this possible! These were evenings of surprising connections, open-hearted curiosity, tolerance of misunderstanding, and delicious food.

This blog post reflects on some observations and conversations about three (and a half) aspects of culture which may trip up an outsider coming to facilitate in Japan.

Magic whiteboard - you never forget your first time

So first of all I have to get this off my chest: a big GRRRRR! to venues which don't let you post up paper using blu-tack or white tack. Especially those which don’t have alternatives like exhibition boards freely available.  You are making it much harder for me to provide a service. 

Too often, as facilitators, we don't get the choice to avoid using venues like this because the client hasn't involved us early enough in conversations about what kind of venue is suitable.  There's more on venues here.

But, a couple of weeks ago, this annoying situation meant that I got to use magic whiteboard for the first time.

Magic!

In case you're not familiar with magic whiteboard... it is thin, flexible sheets of plastic - think 'plastic paper' - that come on a perforated roll like giant, unabsorbent loo paper.  You tear off a sheet and place it against a flat, smooth wall.  And it stays there, adhering through the magic (physics) of static electricity.  You can write on it with whiteboard pens, and wipe them off to reuse the sheets. You can also stick paper on, again using the power of static.

Practicing and preparing

This was a big, important workshop for a high-profile client, so I wanted everything to go without a hitch.  So I practiced ahead of time in my office. 

I wanted to find out how long the sheets would stay up. The answer is, two weeks and counting.  Will it also stay up reliably with paper clinging on?  Yes for A4 sheets and post-its, not with flip chart paper. 

I wondered how well the ink would show up.  I practiced with a couple of types of whiteboard pen, and found Pilot's Wyteboard Board Master are bright and dark enough. (Added bonus - you can get refills for the ink. See here for other adventures in refilling pens.) Other kinds of pen were clearly too pale to be of any use.

I wondered if I could prepare complex graphics and instructions ahead of time, and bring them with me.  I do this regularly for workshops, to save time on the day. But no, the ink smudges when the sheets are rolled or folder. Unsurprising, as part of the point of whiteboard pens is that they can be cleaned off the surface.  I may test this again with permanent markers, if the need arises.

How did it work?

In short, very well! 

The magic whiteboard was used for a large 'wall' for the open space space / time grid. We had three time slots and thirteen spaces.  Two rows of seven sheets were hung portrait style, with session times and space labels written on paper and stuck on.  Over the course of the organising plenary, proposals for sessions, written on A4 paper, were added.  Then people came and signed up to sessions, and the paper and magic whiteboard sheets clung to the wall without any hint of falling down. 

 

So yes, I'm hanging on to the rest of the roll, and will be using it again if I need to.