When my daughter was three, the favourite game at home was called ‘Giddy Up’. I was the horse and she would clamber on to my back and shout ‘giddy-up’. I had to move ahead emitting neighs. Every time she wanted a bit more excitement, her magic word was ‘giddy up’ and I had to change pace. (a.k.a faster).

One horse that I would like to clamber on and ride into the future is a steed named Facilitation. And guess what, ‘Giddy Up’ would be the first thing that I would say. There are several reasons.

Facilitation is best poised to be a potent tool to build dialogue and bridges in a world that is mired in conflict and walls. There are several other reasons and I would urge you to give this a read.

For years now, the power of debate, dialogue and the strength of human connection pulled mankind through. Now stare at several abysses. The invasion of technology, the loss of connect, the generational gap, the resurrection of walls and much else. It is time to say ‘giddy up’ all over again and help the world experience the power of facilitation.

Giddy-Up for #Facweek

The week beginning 15th October is being celebrated as the International Facilitation Week. There are several events that are happening around the world for the same.

You could consider being part of a few or follow the hashtag #FacWeek on social channels. I intend writing here on some of my experiences and ideas on Facilitation. Do give me a shout if any resonates with you.

I have had the good fortune of facilitating conversations across cultures and continents. Whenever  I do this, there is one phrase that I play in my mind.  Every time I sit in silence before a session or emerge from the cacophony after it is the catchphrase ‘lightly-tightly’.

To be able to tell between ‘light’ and ‘tight’, and to be able to work it well is important. What would you hold light? Why? And at the other end of the spectrum, what would you hold tight? Why?

To be able to hold your own fleeting feelings and emotions lightly whilst getting the group to tightly own the agenda and work towards finding solutions makes much of a difference. When the group owns the problem and there is a space for solutions to emerge, much happens. Much of it is unseen and goes by the name of ‘facilitation’. When the facilitator is invisible and the groups declare that they did it by themselves, there is collective move forward.

The masters of the craft, I have noticed, hold themselves lightly and recede into the background. Emerging only to nudge the group to hold each other tightly if they find a need. With experience and success, the ability to cast oneself out of the frame is troublesome and tricky. But that often get the group to ‘Giddy Up’ and gallop away!

That’s my thought. Your turn now.

Lasting Impressions

There are facilitators and facilitators. Not just the ones that have gone on a podium and facilitated a workshop, but the numerous other bosses, leaders, colleagues, partners and such else. When I look back and think of people who have left a mark on me and the teams that I was a part of, a couple of their attributes becomes apparent. First, lasting impressions have nothing to do with ‘striving to impress’. In fact, it can be counter-productive.  The second is this : It is futile to think of ‘control’ of a group. Especially so, using a position of a ‘boss’ or even worse, as a ‘facilitator’.

It is International Facilitation Week and here are some reflections on lasting impressions that a few global facilitators have left. I view both of these, ‘striving to impress’ and ‘seeking to control’ as memes that can interfere with success.

IAF #FacWeek

To try and engage in flamboyant (and ‘new’ ) action catches attention. The clamour for new ‘processes’ explains it well. But facilitation is more than ‘process’ and is very often diminished by a striving to impress. Some facilitators are natural on the stage. Others wear a new jacket. Dropping their voice, playing with intonation etc, cracking jokes to fill the silence, throwing in new tools etc. These by themselves aren’t bad. Just that, they stand out when someone who is not a natural at all these, attempts to weave it as part of a routine! The routine of trying to impress. Groups easily spot the incongruity between who the person is and the act the person is putting on.

To be comfortable with who I am as a person, with my biases and predispositions, is important for a facilitator. It makes a huge difference. Self-awareness and constant working on the self is perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of building a practice around facilitation. When we are comfortable with who we are, we don’t strive to ‘impress’! Inauthenticity is transparent.

The other meme that I frequently encounter is that of ‘control’.

Control for a facilitator has many inviting dimensions. Control over the participants is a non-starter in most cases. Unless you are talking of kids of yesteryears! With adults in the room, the best that can be done is to invite and create opportunities for them to voluntarily co-create and stay engaged.  Right from framing collective norms that help the group set the rules to working on arriving at cogent solutions.

Control over every minute of what will happen in a facilitated session is stuff that I have attempted early in my career. To disastrous results.   As a facilitator of a meeting or a program, of course, a facilitator needs to have a broad plan of action of how the day will flow. But it is just a broad plan. To be present to the needs of the group, and to stay flexible and ready in the moment to change course is important. Taking into account the energy of the group and its participants.

Facilitation at its very core transcends both of these memes. At its very core facilitation is less about the facilitator and more about the group. Less about the process that is ‘done to’ the group and more about what the group does with whatever that comes their way.

For a facilitator, there is great merit in standing away from the limelight and holding the space for the group to figure out a few solutions.  Some facilitators view that as an abdication. To me, that is hardly the case. In fact, that reinforces belief in the full potential of the group. In any case,a facilitative leader doesn’t see his position as a ‘throne’ to abdicate from. He or she sees his/her role as just another constituent member of a community., shifts the onus to the group, while the facilitator is also present. More channelising the conversation and ‘holding the space’ for it to emerge from the dark ridges of random argument to the possibilities the meaningful dialogue present.

Going past these two memes helps a facilitator to shift the onus to the group. The facilitator takes on another role. A higher order one. The one for channelising the conversation and ‘holding the space’ for new insights to emerge from the dark ridges of random conversation.  The possibilities that meaningful dialogue presents are tremendous.

The most effective facilitators that I have worked with blend into the group, yet stand apart. They listen to the conversations in the group and have little of solutions to offer to the topic of discussion. Yet, at the end of the conversation, people walk out with far more that mere solutions. They have new energy, meaning and purpose. For the energies from each one of them stands well woven into the solution.

Facilitation is a lot like sailing. The ace sailor navigates by the stars but adjusts the sails to catch the wind.  To act decisively and engage in reflecting on all the action.  To stay curious yet quiet. To seek people and conversation by listening with active intent. All these creates the space for success showing up at opportune moments.

The next time you are called in to facilitate, relax. Look at the field and catch the wind. The answers are blowing in the wind. Catch it. Its in fashion these days. Besides, it leaves lasting impressions!