Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What does a facilitator do?

In my last post, I mentioned some of the benefits of facilitation. In this post, I will offer a brief "inside look" at what kinds of things that a facilitator should be thinking about and paying attention to while they are working for you.

When designing an agenda, a facilitator considers:
  • Issues, conflicts, feelings in the community.
  • What the group has tried before.
  • Skill level of the group. Sometimes the group can benefit from sharpening their skills.
  • Methods that the group is used to using. Sometimes the group can benefit from learning new methods.
  • Where the group is in their overall process. Are they a new group? Experience?
  • What the group needs to accomplish.
  • How much time they have to meet.
  • The ebb and flow of energy levels throughout the meeting.
  • The ebb and flow of “divergence” and “convergence” throughout the meeting. Ideally, you want to end on convergence.
  • The ebb and flow of “process” and “action.” Each meeting has its own ideal balance.
  • Accounting for all of the learning styles—feelers, observers, thinkers, and doers.
  • Planning to make space for all voices are heard—especially minority voices.
Just to give you an idea of the variety of meeting formats that can be used, I will mention a few below. The facilitator should be competent in using a variety of styles:
  • Go-rounds
  • Large group processes
  • Small group processes
  • Dyad processes
  • Brainstorming
  • Card storming
  • Prioritizing
  • Voting (there are many kinds of voting)
  • Consensus (there are different versions of this as well)
  • Problem solving processes (again, there a several)
  • Sharing circles
  • Fishbowls
  • Kinetic mapping
  • Guided meditation
  • Role play
  • And also a variety of openings, transfer-ins, “light and livelies,” closings
Before the meeting, the facilitator needs to attend to the physical space:
  • Privacy, interruptions, noise
  • Set up, furniture, energetics, sight lines, wall space
  • Easels, flip charts, tape, pens, any props or supplies needed for exercises
  • Writing up agenda, groundrules, instructions, etc. on flip charts and hand outs
  • Make sure that the notetaker, scribe, greeter, timekeeper, coffeemaker, presenter, heart-keeper, etc. roles are filled
  • Make sure the comfort factors are handled (food, drink, bathrooms, temperature, accessibility)
During the meeting, the facilitator needs to:
  • Lead the opening
  • Lead the transfer-in
  • Review the agenda
  • Explain the activities
  • Provide instruction (training is a whole other skill set, but one that the facilitator should have)
And then the meat and potatoes of the facilitation itself:
  • Contact statements (“getting” where each person is at, so that they know they are heard, and the group gets it too)
  • Summaries
  • Weaving (connecting individual statements to each other)
  • Groping (if it is not clear what is being said)
  • Delegating
  • Conflict management
While keeping the following mindsets:
  • Invite the whole person (including intuition, emotion, heat, body—not just mind)
  • Be “content neutral”—not have a stake in the particular outcome
  • Find the common ground
  • Be everyone’s ally
  • Remember: it’s not about you
  • Know what you don’t know
  • Model an eagerness for new information, be curious
  • Admit your mistakes and be open to feedback and where you are at your own learning edge
  • Service—always be in the question: “what does the group most need in this moment?” and then do that
Of course the whole time the facilitator should be tracking:
  • Where are we in the agenda?
  • How much time do we have left?
  • What is going on with each person?
  • What is going on with the whole group?
  • How can this increase the groups capacity to work together?
  • What is coming “around the bend”—what is this interaction going to lead to?
  • Is everyone participating equally?
  • Are the minority voices being heard?
  • Are all the learning styles getting their needs met at some point?
  • Are both the “process” and the “action” people getting their needs met?
Scribing is also a very important component of meetings:
  • agendas
  • brainstorming
  • note-taking
  • parking lots
  • graphics to highlight, weave, etc.
  • non-verbal representation
  • group recording and reporting back
And finally, the facilitator should be holding three levels of the group's process:
  • the current interaction
  • the ebb and flow of the meeting
  • the place of the meeting in the greater process--especially, what skills can the group be learning now, that will help it down the line?
Hopefully these lists will give you some idea of the kinds of things that go on inside a facilitator's head, and what you are paying for.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Benefits of Facilitation

I had the opportunity to write this up for a forming community that was wondering why they should spend $1,000 per day for a facilitator:

Here’s what to expect before the meeting:
· The facilitator interviews community members to find out what the issues are from various perspectives. If there is conflict, they need to speak with the people involved. They should also find out how meetings are usually run, what the groundrules are, etc.
· The facilitator make recommendations on what the agenda should be and confirms this with the community.
· The facilitator design the agenda and meeting formats. Whole group discussion is the typical fall back, but this is not the only form that a meeting can take. In fact, it’s good to mix it up. The facilitator should match the activities with the purpose.
· The facilitator set up the meeting space for maximum comfort and productivity.
· The facilitator makes sure all of the roles (notekeeper etc) are filled.

Here’s what to expect during the meeting:
· Opening, transfer in, agenda preview, closing
· Time, energy, and break management
· Make sure all of the voices and perspectives are heard
· Different learning styles and both “process” and “action” people get their needs met
· Help people find common ground, come to agreements, make decisions
· Help the group surface the individual and collective undercurrents
· Help the group process conflicts and come to at least some resolution
· Summarize frequently and help the group understand what they have accomplished so far
· Make sure that the next actions are clear and that all understand what needs to happen in the future

Here’s some of the expertise that you are getting:
· Most facilitators have a good understanding of the common issues that are a part of community life. They have seen these issues raised over and over again in the communities that they have worked with. So they can spot them quickly, when they are coming up for the community, and help the community understand what they are dealing with.
· They have also seen a variety of solutions that their clients have come up with to deal with these universal problems. They will not usually make “content recommendations” to the community about what solution to use, but they can give examples. The main thing is that they know that, no matter how bleak it looks, resolution is possible!
· They also know the methods that the communities used to come up with the solutions, and can build this into the meeting agenda.
· In addition, some facilitators also offer a separate service as a “process consultant.” This is where they do make “content recommendations” about the processes and structures that communities create and use to get things done. They can provide options, maps, and help you understand how your processes and structures influence people’s behavior, for good or ill. A lot of what seems to be interpersonal conflict is actually sourced at the structural level.

Here are some of the benefits of good facilitation:
· Meeting time is used efficiently. Meeting time is extremely expensive, when you consider all of the person-hours, travel, etc., so this is a high priority.
· Everyone feels heard. This increases “buy in” to whatever decisions the group makes, which increases the likelihood that everyone will do their part in the future.
· The group learns more about itself. This increase in consciousness enables the group to work together more easily.
· The group members deepen their connections with each other. They become more cohesive.
· The group learns new ways of working together. This is especially useful for new groups.
· The group gets closer to its goals. Information is shared, agreements are developed, decisions are made, next actions are clarified.
· The group develops its own capacity. It moves through the stages of “forming, storming, norming and performing.”
· The group learns about facilitation by seeing a different person model it.
· The group gains confidence in how they can run meetings that work well. People are more willing to meet when they believe it will be fun and productive.

In contrast, here are some of the costs of poorly run meetings:
· Time is wasted.
· People don’t feel heard and sabotage the decisions.
· People feel alienated.
· People withdraw and withhold vital information.
· People get frustrated and have unproductive conflict.
· People get hurt and the community is wounded.
· The group stalls in its process.
· People stop showing up, drop out, the project falls apart.

In my next entry, I will post from the facilitator's point of view.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Post Carbon Institute joins Transition United States

In their recent newsletter, the Post Carbon Institute said:
We are excited to announce that Post Carbon Institute has launched a partnership with Transition United States to continue to inspire and support communities as they shift quickly away from dependence on fossil fuels. The challenges we now face as a result of peak oil and climate change require all the collaboration and coordination we can muster. Rather than have two similar but distinct efforts to aid citizens as they prepare for a post carbon world, we are pleased to work together with the Transition movement, which has been hugely successful in establishing relocalization projects around the world.
I have been hoping that this would happen! Because this means that folks won't have to choose between and Meetup groups and Transition Towns. We'll be able to coordinate our work.

Speaking of which, I have joined Transition Georgia on the social network site. My understanding is that Les Squires set up a Transition website for each of the 50 states. It's a great place to connect, so go sign up!