Presenting, facilitation and learning

Recently I’ve embarked on ‘recruiting’ internal people who want to become skilled in facilitation. My budget is limited, our learning needs varied, and my time is spread across projects.

For me, it’s about making the best of what we already have. Why do I need to select an external consultant to deliver our learning needs, when we have people fully capable and willing to do it themselves?

Before Christmas, I asked Sheridan Webb to help produce a complete set of bespoke learning materials that could be used for this purpose. When I say she did a stellar job, this is not me just being kind. We had everything designed from workbooks to games and exercises to facilitator notes to the slide pack and all formatted brilliantly. This saved me a lot of time and was well worth the investment. We’ll be using these materials many times over, and more importantly they’re accessible for anyone to pick up and run with the material if they so desire.

That was the first step. The second was working with the group in developing their facilitation skills which we spent two days doing. I love doing train the trainer learning sessions as they really allow you to see the potential of what could be.

Recently we’ve been co-facilitating these learning sessions, and I’m reminded of some core things which I forget.

As much as delivering a training session is about the learning achieved by the people attending, it’s very much dependent on the skills of the facilitator.

One of these skills is about presenting. Regardless the length of the learning session, there is always an element of presenting. You have to talk to the group about something to help them stir their brains. What I’ve been reminded of is that it’s not enough to just be able to present, you have to know the topic enough to have the confidence to present. I’ve been caught out on this many a time, and it’s my own undoing. I believe that because I can facilitate a discussion well enough, I can get away with not presenting the information well enough. This is, of course, nonsense. How can I expect to facilitate a discussion based on bare facts and little substance? More fool me.

When I know what I have to present, I am clear, I have purpose, and I create discussion. When I don’t know, I skirt over the important stuff, rely on the group to carry out an exercise, and try to get out of it by entrusting the group with the power to discuss.

Then comes the art of facilitation. Oh man I am still such a novice in this, as much as I love it. One of the earliest pieces of feedback I had when I started in this game was how I engaged the group and built rapport with them all. That’s stuck with me ever since. When reflecting on it, it’s because I really enjoy being able to capture a mood, and shift it progressively. It’s pretty special when it happens, and I enjoy learning more about this skill to do that. In the early days it was about how to invite a discussion from a group. That progressed to seeking input from a group about what they want to achieve. At the same time I was learning about how to design a development workshop to bring people together. Then I started to learn models and theories that help build teams and build self awareness. Until I started to learn about facilitation techniques such as Open Space, World Cafe and Unconferences, I thought I was doing pretty good at inviting response. Then I learned a whole new dimension of discussion and dialogue and how potent it can be.

I pride myself on being a facilitator. What I enjoy is being part of the group. For me, by being part of the group, they see that I am sharing my power with them. I may be the one initiating the discussion or exercise, but I’m by no means the leader. That’s a power I share with the people present. I do that by being in their space. The only space I may choose to exercise as my own is when I use a flipchart or other aid or prop of some kind. Otherwise, I’m in with the group. I’m standing around people, behind people, sitting away from them, talking out of the circle, calling people out, moving between them – I don’t follow rules. I break them. And by doing that I’m showing that everyone has just as much valued input as whatever I may bring to the party.

How do I know it’s working? When they’re doing all the hard work of dialogue themselves. I just step in when I get the sense that something isn’t as it should be and requires some facilitation.

This form of internal learning is fab. It’s not a new engagement technique, and I’m certainly not unique in doing so. It’s offering some top moments of reflection and learning. If that continues for me, then I’m fairly sure it will help me keep on top of the learning I help enable in my organisation.

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One comment

  1. Firstly, thanks very much for the kind comments about my design work Sukh. It’s very much appreciated! Secondly, I’m with you on the benefits of facilitation. It’s my preferred approach BUT as an external provider I have to be careful not to go too much down that route. When you are hired by an organisation to do a job, there is an expectation that the value you add will be clearly visible…and that means ensuring that your delegates can describe what you did to help them to learn. A good facilitator is almost invisible as they carefully steer the group to learn things ‘all by themselves’. As an external provider if you are too good at this, it may be called into question exactly what you did for your money! I guess that’s why I tend towards an activity-based session: At least people can explain those to stakeholders in the business!

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