From the Front of the Room

From the Front of the Room

Author
Dan Newman
Year
2023
image

Review

This book offers valuable insights from an experienced facilitator, so I'm glad I persevered through it, despite finding it burdensome to read. Facilitation is evidently more of an art than a science. It appears to be tacit knowledge, meaning that you need to practice it in order to learn it. I believe this is reflected in the author's lengthy and meandering descriptions of situations and techniques. Nevertheless, there are some excellent tips in this book, and hopefully, my summary captures most of them for you.

You Might Also Like:

image

Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Knowing the variables that make a successful event, and how to manage them, will give you the confidence you need as a facilitator
    • The Problem: pressing, well understood, shared in advance
    • The Solution: can exist, isn’t pre-determined,
    • The Participants: cross-functional, cut across hierarchy, sufficient knowledge
    • The Inputs: relevant information and analysis has been assembled
    • The Facilitation Team: have the right skills, character and camaraderie
    • The Environment: sufficient space, light, fresh air, sustenance, equipment redundancy, sustenance
  • Five elements required for a successful event
    • Facilitation: Creating a moment of great possibility.
    • Design: getting the right shape of event
    • Convening: getting the right people there
    • Content: a single version of the truth and supporting data and analysis
    • Ecosystem management: logistics, environment, technology, facilitation team etc
On event agenda design. The book doesn’t focus on it but references methodologies:
  • DesignShop by MGTaylors (link)
  • Open Space Technology by Owen Harrison (link)
  • The World Cafe Method by World Cafe (link)
  • Solution Workshops by Innovation Labs (link)
  • Graphic facilitation → translating conversation into visuals in realtime.
  • The facilitator has six jobs:
    1. Scoping - Clarifying client outcomes, the bigger picture, what’s come before, what won’t be covered.
    2. Working with sponsors - building trust, investing time to understand their issues.
    3. Preparation - assembling the elements: logistics and knowledge inputs. Learning about client issues and elements from which possible solutions will be constructed. Agenda design.
    4. Designing - building an agenda or journey across multiple events. Think in event modules and include the client in design.
    5. Delivery - Guiding the group toward the desired outcome. Designing in real time.
    6. Value capture - Helping sponsors employ event outcomes to achieve desired objectives. Helping the client achieve valuable results at and in the immediate aftermath of the event.
  • The primary facilitation skills are listening and storytelling
    • Listening is the key to successful facilitation. Making participants understand they’ve been heard is fundamental to successful facilitation.
    • Storytelling takes participants far from their problem, and gives them a new perspective.
      • Design the event so that participants are briefly lost, then provide the tools, ideas, and trust to help them make their way to a new place of safety and confidence.
  • Forget problem-solving. Be the last person in the room to see the answer.
    • Keep all plausible options open far longer than anybody else and feels real surprise and gratitude when the group finally settles on the ‘right’ answer
  • Facilitating is about constructive disruption. The more people in the room, the less likely the conversation is going anywhere. Facilitators fight that entropy by disrupting the conversation at the right moment and nudge it toward more fruitful directions.
    • Aim to successfully redirect conversations to areas of greater promise.
  • Four types of disruption to shape a group conversation:
    • Acknowledge and encourage participants and contributions
    • Find connections: find linkages or parallels that help the group understand that the conversation is part of something bigger.
    • Sensemaking: Step outside the conversation to find meaning. E.g. if the conversation loops around people meeting performance expectations, ask “How are these expectations negotiated and communicated?”
    • Escape to a higher or lower order: shift the scale of the conversation to insert energy.
  • Find the middle ground between being a conductor (having a score you need to stick to) and an explorer (searching for what’s out there). Shape the conversation moment-to-moment looking for the area of the greatest potential.

Constraints in Space & Time

  • Team by team report-outs can be soul-crushing. Each one cancels out the memory of the prior team. Instead, replace with larger mixed stable teams and have a joint up discussion.
👀
I didn’t know what a ‘report-out’ was, so here you go…. This is when break out groups are assigned, and then a facilitator asks each group to report back. Here’s why a Knowledge Cafe has no report-outs…
  1. A principle of Café philosophy is to “eliminate fear.” Some fear reporting back, they do not relax or fully take part in the conversation.
  2. Fearful or not, they’re thinking about what they are going to say than the conversation.
  3. Folks are better sharing insights from a position of passion, not necessity.
  4. They are of little value.
  5. They are boring
  • Large- group plenary discussions are where we discover and engineer alignment and convergence. Entering a flow state, where the group has ideas not individuals.
Working on-line, we do get insights, but no breakthroughs; alignment, but no belief; participation, but precious little collaboration; a shared experience, but no magic.
  • Overcoming time: Consider extending workshop over a few weeks. You can flatten the curve.

Scoping

  • The most important part of planning an event is understanding the objectives and desired outcomes
  • What are the priorities of the event sponsors? Do their objectives align? Ask your sponsors to validate it or challenge it. Refine it over time and even at the event.
  • What 6-7 precise questions is the event meant to answer? How will the answers be put to use after the event?
  • The objectives are the ultimate result that the work performed at the event contributes to. The objectives likely ladder up to a company goal like (cost reduction) which is the motivation for change. Months or years will pass before these are realised.
    • Sometimes there are hidden objectives (establish the credibility and authority of a leader)
  • The outcomes are the specific, tangible product of a workshop. E.g. a decision, a plan, a vision statement, a timeline, a job description, a specification.
  • Agree desired outcomes ahead of the event. Use them as a checklist to determine if the event was successful.
  • Deliverables are the physical manifestation of the workshop outcomes, the artefacts.
  • Sponsors usually have only a vague idea of what their objectives are. Tighten them up…
    • Ask what success would look like. Write their ideas where they can see them. Get your sponsors listening to each other and socialising their needs. Get all sponsors to write down their ideas first, so they don’t influence each other.
      1. Example Objectives and Outcomes
        • 3 days with 30 doctors to develop a long-term vision for care of people with spinal cord injuries (SCI)
        Objectives
        Outcomes
        Define and articulate the value driving the field of SCI
        High-level 2030 Vision statement, including medical, social, political/economic dimensions
        Identify, prepare for, and influence the future of SSCI over the next 25 years
        Detailed 2010 Vision, including measurable targets
        Inspire and mentor future leaders in SCI
        3-5 year action agenda for health care providers (clinicians, researchers)
        Articulated ‘problem statements’ and challenges for all key stakeholders, including those not represented here
      2. Why is this important?
      3. Why is it hard?
      4. What happens if we solve it?
      5. What are the stakes?
      6. What alternatives are there to full back on?
    • Limit objectives to two or three: any more dilutes the identity and efficacy of the event
  • As objectives emerge, get consensus on their relative importance from sponsors. Propose a small number of concrete outcomes. Ask sponsors to storyboard the final workshop report → write the table of contents that defines successful output. This provides a starting point for the event design/
  • Leave some room for a new objective and a couple of new outcomes to surface during the event
  • Sense check questions:
    • Will the outcomes genuinely contribute to the achievement of their objectives?
    • What outcomes are missing if the objectives are to be achieved?
    • How and when will we asses whether the objectives have indeed been achieved?
  • Collaboration vs Participation:
    • Participatory: validating work prepared beforehand, to build understanding and buy-in through presentation, engagement and critique
    • Collaborative: when people come together to create something new
  • When designing a workshop you need to make clear trade-offs and decide what not to do.
    • Don’t take on every outcome and objective from every sponsor. You need to be ruthless.
    • Outcomes need to make a direct and credible contribution to achieving the objectives
    • Clearly define what’s out of scope, sponsors should tell participants.
    • Scope-creep is responsible for more failed consulting assignments than any other identifiable cause
  • Scoping is about learning about the client. After a while complexity gives way to understanding. Your goal is to spot the problem in its simplest form.

Working with Sponsors

  • The committed involvement of a small group of credible sponsors is a good predictor of a successful event. You’ll have to negotiate with your client to get the right sponsorship team.
    • An ideal set of sponsors will
      • be 4-6 people allowing it to be diverse but manageable
      • include the boss (the person who pays the bill, takes the risk and gets the glory)
      • include a thoughtful skeptic to challenge what you propose
      • commit time and attention
  • The Sponsor Team has 6 jobs:
    1. Developing and sharing an understanding of the event’s purpose and scope.
    2. Co-designing the event with the facilitation team.
    3. Visibly owning the event and its outcomes from beginning to end.
    4. Serving as the facilitator’s eyes and ears during the event.
    5. Exemplifying collaborative behaviour for the other participants.
    6. Translating the results into a form that the organisation is able to digest.
  • When selecting who should participate, there are three types of participants:
    • People who decide, people who know and people who implement
  • Your sponsors need to be part of the process. If they get involved too late… you can’t simply share the design, you need to re-create the design process, the flow of ideas and inspiration, that went into its drafting
  • If the event takes a slight turn → pass the reins of control (or the illusion of control) to the sponsors visibly and openly…
    • Are you happy with where we are going?
    • Are you comfortable with the way the participants want to structure their work for the rest of the event?
    • Are you happy with how they’ve re-framed your questions?
  • As the event moves on:
    • The facilitator transforms into a simple moderator.
    • The participants do the work and take ownership of the outcomes.
    • The sponsors provide guidance and assurance that what’s being produced is what’s required.
  • Sponsors should also exemplify the behaviours they want all participants to exhibit

Preparation

  • 1-on-1 client interviews are key:
    • Start with sponsors.
    • Grow outwards, ask to speak with more people.
  • Take note of business issues and key actors, look for multiple perspectives on the same issues, make connections, mention anonymously what others have said and fish for reactions. Accumulate competing opinions.
  • Accumulate bits of knowledge until they coalesce into a coherent picture and you begin to understand.
  • Keep participants in the role of protagonist in their work. They should ‘receive’ as little as possible of other people’s knowledge:
    • Get them to discover things for themselves. Provide them with more material than they can digest, the abundance will force them to filter and decide what matters.
    • If you need to present something, the less material the better.
  • Avoid pre-reads. If you can’t categorise part as ‘must read’ and the rest as ‘also useful’.
  • Transform the space into a learning environment by surrounding participants with knowledge objects (facts and figures, photos and articles, diagrams and headlines)
  • Logistics make all the difference (space, light, sound, stuff, and food). The best-designed and best-facilitated event can be undermined by poor logistics.
    • Get enough space to keep everyone together in the same room. Avoid break-out rooms they sap energy. Lots of natural light. Good acoustics, If people can’t hear each other, they can’t collaborate.
    • Get a first-rate sound system for music.
    • Food is not a detail, eating together can reduce the tension.
  • Define roles so people know what they need to do. Remember, you don’t need to know how to do this, your team needs to know how to do this.

Designing

  • Meeting agendas are usually linear; workshop agendas must never be.
    • Iteration is trying to answer the same question in many different ways, from new vantage points. Create a different ‘lens’, it’s OK if each round has overlaps or conflicts. No single iteration needs to solve the problem, but at least one small insight might survive to the next round to be incorporated or adapted.
    • Recursion introduces the concept of scale. A recursive system is one whose micro features are found at different levels. For example: you might shift your point of view from the experience of your customer, to the impact your company will have
  • As a facilitator you need to diagnose what type of system you’re dealing with and how to bring about change.
    • Feedback distinguishes a set of actors and interactions from a system. Systems generate signals about their state and state of equilibrium or imbalance, inputs and outputs, direction and velocity. Systems detect and react to the signals of other systems and their own → forming the basis of feedback loops
    • Three diagnostic complex system mapping tools:
      • Peter Senge’s and Mette Miriam Böll’s Iceberg model
        • The Iceberg model serves to identify leverage points that might influence system change.
      • Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework
        • This sense making framework helps us distinguish between simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic systems.
      • Omidyar Network’s Systems Practice Workbook
        • Provides a systematic approach to identifying leverage points and developing coherent strategies to impact them.Helping you identify underlying forces and leverage points that might catalyse systems change.
  • If you can come up with a metaphor that fits the problem the event aims to solve → translate it into an overriding theme. Don’t explain your theme.
  • Examples:
    Energy company entering a new market without alerting competitors
    Ninja Technique and stealth
    Re-designing the web strategy of a new UN agency
    Maps and mapping pioneers
  • Metaphors provide a new perspective, a new language, a insight, or a surprise. They help your participants view the same problem from a new angle.her
  • Our job is not to teach them, our job is to facilitate their learning. A teacher rarely asks a question without knowing the answer. A facilitator shouldn’t ask a question they know the answer to.
  • We put knowledge in their way and let them stumble over it. We don’t teach.
  • Don’t get participants to fill out templates. The uniformity of structure rarely corresponds to the variety of issues and ideas that emerge from creative work. AND it robs participants of a sense of ownership over the outputs and the event
  • Emergence… when your most successful events reach a critical moment of creative energy and collaborative focus when things just happen.. ideas flow, participants listen, intimacy occurs, unexpected insights surface.
    • Emergence cannot be engineered. Our job is to create space for emergence, assemble the necessary ingredients, and increase the probability it comes.
    • Resist a linear, step-by-step format in the design process. A more recursive design can allow participants to discover unexpected linkages and insights.

Delivery

  • We help people have a new conversation about an old problem
  • We give people a chance to listen to each other and to feel that were listened to
  • Your job is to make it new. Many problems you’re asked to work on have lain unresolved for years. Create the conditions that allow participants to have a new conversation about an old topic.
  • How to make it new….
    • Listen to what people are saying, and try to rephrase it in more precise language
    • Write down that you’ve heard so people can see it
    • Leave open the possibility that what was said was true.
    • Tease out unspoken assumptions and challenge them
    • Take advantage of being an outside to ask questions others can’t
    • Interpret, mis-interpret and tell stories
    • A story provides new language and imagery that can help unstick a situation. Done well, participants will adopt language and imagery from your story to tell their own.
  • Fear, unequal power, lack of understanding, unwillingness or inability to listen are all barriers to collaboration. Give participants the tools to tell stories that might have been difficult otherwise
  • Creating a common language between participants is fundamental to the success of our work Imprecise language can lead to the illusion of consensus or acquiescence. Give participants tools and space to define terms and document precise meaning of language.
  • Introducing metaphors allows participants to mine them for new language to see their issues in new ways
  • Stories aren’t about going from A to B. They’re sequence of divergent paths. Through a series of scenes, the protagonist is faced with choices, the path the protagonist chooses reveals the nature of their character. Our job is to make use of each module, each transition and each conversation to help the participants discover the nature of their business.
    • You reveal a path that is made of choices, the are always at a crossroads, and create the freedom to choose which path to take
  • Minimise the friction that interferes with the conversation UNTIL the time comes to highlight an alternative path, and create a choice for the participants as to how they want to resolve the discussion.
  • Levels of recursion: Escaping to a higher (or lower) order
    • You need to identify the level of recursion at which it is taking place, and uncover alternative levels of recursion to which the conversation might shift
    • Do you let the conversation continue? Interrupt the flow? Re-direct it? Solicit input from others?
    • If conversation is high energy and constructive let it continue. When the apex is reached, and the marginal value of each comment begins to decline, and the energy begins to seep out of the room …. make an intervention.
    • An intervention can add value, create energy and help a group escape to a higher order
    • Always be listening for opportunities to shift the level of recursion → make sure you can see the different levels at any moment. Stand outside the conversation.
    • Occasional interventions are the single most effective tool for channeling energy of a group discussion
  • Keeping your distance and staying outside the system increase your powers of perception and influence
  • The most important behaviour to exhibit is to listen actively. Millions of hours are wasted by people that aren’t actually listening to each other. The only way to listen is to pay attention . The only way to pay attention is to care and develop real empathy.
  • Music is an underused tool in the corporate environment. I pity facilitators who don’t make use of music.
    • The right music creates a real beginning, a dividing point between whatever was happening before and what is happening now.
    • Music facilitates transitions, it helps you bridge from one activity to another.
    • Music can also provide a background or wallpaper for team work.
    • Can you find a song that will help participants from where they are from where you want them to be?
  • Take difficult participants seriously. Usually other participants harbour similar doubts, and now they feel relieved they don’t have to speak up too.
  • Difficult participants can be snipers or terrorists:
    • Snipers: have an agenda and an enemy who they want to pick off
    • Terrorists: want to bring down the group and the event
  • Remember you’re not being attacked. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Imagine they might be right. Aggression is often a sign they don’t feel listened to. So listen, and treat their comments with dignity. Write them down. If they condescend to you, absorb it, acknowledge what was said and don’t push back.
  • You don’t have to answer really difficult questions, turn them back to the room:
    • “How will we reconcile these views?”
    • Escape to a higher order “What happens if we don’t resolve this today?”
    • Side step the aggression and try to build it into the flow of discussion.
  • Integrate snipers and isolate terrorists. Bring snipers into the middle of the discussion. Put them in the most dynamic of breakout groups. Move close to them. Discourage contact with terrorists. They tend to sit away from participants. Use your own words to describe the terrorists issues, but avoid calling on them.Find an isolated but useful task for them to do.

Value Capture (after the event)

  • Much of the potential value created by the event is made real (or not) after the event. The best of intentions at the end of am event are no match for the inertia that participants face on the following Monday morning.
  • Position events as the first step in a journey. Design your event to think about what happens afterwards. Use participants to think about challenges of landing the change (create GANTTs, RACIs, transformation maps … whatever you’ll need).
  • The facilitators role in value capture is to separate signal from noise. What are the insights or actions that have long-term value. Help participants identify the signal during the event.
  • Create deliverables that focus on a few themes (signal) and ignore the test. Involve sponsors in a detailed discussion to identify the key insights and high impact actions.
  • When creating the work product, be mindful of…
    • Whom: who are the primary target audience of the work product
    • What: behaviours do you want the audience to exhibit as a result of having recieved the work product
    • How: What’s the best medium to achieve that? A document, video, playback or infographic?
  • Iteratively create your final work product
    • Start with a high level storyboard
    • First layout chapters and pages → capture key messages and check them with sponsors
    • Allocate sections to different people → come back together with frequent rounds of iterative drafting → keep running through the document end to end. Don’t go too long before coming back together (30 minutes)
    • Send a good draft to sponsors within 24 hours
    • Send the final deliverable within 72 hours
  • Follow up in the weeks that follow the event. Keep the sponsor team together and meeting for as long as it takes to recognise the value from the event. Ongoing light touch facilitation can maintain momentum.
image

Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Preface

  • Knowing the variables that make a successful event, and how to manage them, will give you confidence you need as a facilitator
    • The Problem: pressing, well understood, shared in advance
    • The Solution: can exist, isn’t pre-determined,
    • The Participants: cross-functional, cut across hierarchy, sufficient knowledge
    • The Inputs: relevant information and analysis has been assembled
    • The Facilitation Team: have the right skills, character and camaraderie
    • The Environment: sufficient space, light, fresh air, sustenance, equipment redundancy, sustenance

Facilitation, Design and the Rest

  • This book is largely about facilitation. Which is one of 5 elements required for a successful event
  • Five elements required for a successful event
    • Facilitation: Creating a moment of great possibility.
    • Design: getting the right shape of event
    • Convening: getting the right people there
    • Content: a single version of the truth and supporting data and analysis
    • Ecosystem management: logistics, environment, technology, facilitation team etc
  • Don’t focus only on content, keep in mind the big picture of the event
On design. The book doesn’t focus on it but references methodologies:
  • DesignShop by MGTaylors (link)
  • Open Space Technology by Owen Harrison (link)
  • The World Cafe Method by World Cafe (link)
  • Solution Workshops by Innovation Labs (link)
  • Graphic facilitation → translating conversation into visuals in realtime.
    • The real value of a scribe is to have a designated listener
    • Participants put more thought into what they say SEE they’re being listened to
    • The author recommends them, but the book doesn’t cover how to do it well

The Facilitator’s Role

  • The facilitator has 6 jobs:
    1. Scoping - Clarifying client outcomes, the bigger picture, what’s come before, what won’t be covered.
    2. Working with sponsors - building trust, investing time to understand their issues
    3. Preparation - Assembling the elements: logistics and knowledge inputs. Learning about client issues and elements from which possible solutions will be constructed. Agenda design
    4. Designing - building an agenda or journey across multiple events. Think in event modules and include the client in design
    5. Delivery - Guiding the group toward the desired outcome. Designing in real time
    6. Value capture - Helping sponsors employ event outcomes to achieve desired objectives. Helping the client achieve valuable results at and in the immediate aftermath of the event.
  • Facilitation skills:
    • Primary skills: Listening and storytelling
    • Secondary skills: clear handwriting, name memorisation, a sense of humour, drawing, numeracy, modelling skills etc
    • Each facilitator should also bring a wildcard skill
  • Listening: Listening is the key to successful facilitation.
    • Restating what a speaker although often advised can seem contrived and needlessly confrontational
    • Visibly taking notes on a flip chart is a powerful listening tool
    • Think of follow up questions to clarify each point and deepen understanding
    • Listening and caring reinforce each other. Listen and you’ll develop empathy and take on your clients challenges as your own
    • Talk to as many people as possible
    • Making participants understand they’ve been heard is fundamental to successful facilitation.
  • Storytelling: take participants far from their problem, give them a new perspective.
    • Look for a story with a metaphorical connection to the problem
    • Help participants find new language to address their issues
    • Design the event so that participants are briefly lost, then provide the tools, ideas, and trust to help them make their way to a new place of safety and confidence.
    • A successful story lends enormous power to the storyteller.
    • Earn trust by telling a story with no obvious relevance, make the participants doubt you, set off their bullshit detectors, take them far from their problem and bring them back
    • Refer back to and link stories through the event. Draw linkages between themes.
  • Tips for Zoom:
    • Be more obvious with listening... say ‘uh-huh’, repeat or re-phrase what people say
    • Back up and make sure your hands are visible when you speak
  • Forget problem-solving. Be the last person in the room to see the answer. Keep all plausible options open far longer than anybody else and feels real surprise and gratitude when the group finally settles on the ‘right’ answer
    • Sit on the outside. It’s outsider status that gives you command over the process. Don’t become just another participant.
  • Contextual listening: getting comfortable with the content of the discussion: the challenges, objectives, strategies, enablers, accountabilities, and resources → that participants debate to find a solution
  • Empathic listening: seeing body language, sub-text, understanding how people are feeling
  • Facilitating is about constructive disruption. The more people in the room, the less likely the conversation is going anywhere. Facilitators fight that entropy by disrupting the conversation at the right moment and nudge it toward more fruitful directions
    • disruptions can add energy, discover new perspectives and result in more constructive discussion
    • aim to successfully redirect conversations to areas of greater promise
  • Four types of disruption to shape a group conversation:
    • Acknowledge and encourage participants for contributions
    • Find connections: linkages or parallels or incongruities to previous conversations. Building linkages helps the group understand that the conversation is part of something bigger and more complex. Commenting on connections can contribute to the intellectual coherence of an event
    • Sensemaking: search for understanding outside the content of what is being said. Step outside the conversation to find meaning. E.g. if the conversation loops around people meeting performance expectations, ask “How are these expectations negotiated and communicated?”
    • Escape to a higher or lower order: shift the scale of the conversation to insert energy. Opening the possibility of re-framing a conversation by taking a different vantage point.
  • Constructive disruption can come through words and gestures but also our environment and our team.
    • A circle of chairs makes people more willing to talk about feelings and more defensive. A group discussion that that takes 30mins with chairs in an arc takes 60 minutes in a circle. Sometimes, that’s what we want. Turn the temperature up higher by surrounding a sitting circle with standing folks.
  • Find the middle ground between being a conductor (having a score you need to stick to) and an explorer (searching for what’s out there). Shape the conversation moment-to-moment looking for the area of the greatest potential

Constraints in Space & Time

  • Mostly you’re limited by space (a room) and time (hours or days)
  • Virtual facilitation overcame space, but despite the convenience of virtual events they are less engaging than working face-to-face. Observations about virtual events…
    • Virtual workshops are exhausting. It’s hard to do more than 3 hours.
    • Use music, meditation or silence to shift state at the start of the call.
    • Keep everyone’s video on.
    • Virtual engagement works best for ‘focus exercises’. Leave ‘scan’ and ‘act’ for in person.
    • Show the scribe for just 20-30 seconds at a time, so whoever is speaking isn’t distracted.
    • The written notes are more important at attention can wavers
    • Team by team report-outs can be soul-crushing. Each one cancels out the memory of the prior team. Instead, replace with larger mixed stable teams and have a joint up discussion.
    • 👀
      I didn’t know what a ‘report-out’ was, so here you go…. This is when break out groups are assigned, and then a facilitator asks each group to report back. Here’s why a Knowledge Cafe has no report-outs…
      1. A principle of Café philosophy is to “eliminate fear.” Some fear reporting back, they do not relax or fully take part in the conversation.
      2. Fearful or not, they’re thinking about what they are going to say than the conversation.
      3. Folks are better sharing insights from a position of passion, not necessity.
      4. They are of little value.
      5. They are boring
    • Large- group plenary discussions are where we discover and engineer alignment and convergence. Entering a flow state, where the group has ideas not individuals. They’re rare in person and nearly impossible online.
      • Online the facilitator needs to finds a narrative. Rather than a series of stand-a-lone comments
  • A direct quote on virtual meetings:
  • Working on-line, we do get insights, but no breakthroughs; alignment, but no belief; participation, but precious little collaboration; a shared experience, but no magic.
  • Overcoming time: Shifting from events to journeys
    • Consider extending workshop over a few weeks. You can flatten the curve.
      • Short intense in person events are intended to disrupt day-to-day flow
      • BUT you can also choose to spread out an engagement and integrate into schedules
      • You can design participant-specific pathways through a workshop calendar. Optional events and compulsory ones, different tracks / flavours
    • On hybrid events:
      • If some are hybrid, everyone will want to be hybrid
      • To include, those that are hybrid, you need to do a remote friendly format
      • You can send the same physical prompts to different events

Scoping

  • The most important part of planning an event is understanding the objectives and desired outcomes
  • Understanding
    • Document your understanding.
    • What are the priorities of the event sponsors?
      • Do their objectives align?
    • Ask everyone to validate it or challenge it
      • Refine it over time and even at the event
      • What terminology do they use? Speak their language.
    • What 6-7 precise questions is the event meant to answer?
      • How will the answers be put to use after the event?
  • Objectives
    • The objectives are the ultimate result that the work performed at the event contributes to
      • The objectives likely ladder up to a company goal like (cost reduction) which is the motivation for change.
      • But months or years will pass before these are realised
      • Most events will have different layers of objectives
      • Sometimes there are hidden objectives (establish the credibility and authority of a leader)
  • Outcomes
    • Outcomes are specific, tangible product of a workshop
      • E.g. a decision, plan, vision statement, timeline, job description, specification
    • Agree desired outcomes ahead of the event
    • Use them as a checklist to determine if the event was successful
    • Outcomes are usually nouns, where as objectives are described using verbs
  • Deliverables
    • Deliverables are the physical manifestation of the workshop outcomes, the artefact
  • Sponsors usually have only a vague idea of what their objectives are
    • Ask what success would look like
    • Write their ideas where they can see them
    • Get your sponsors listening to each other and socialising their needs
    • Get all sponsors to write down their ideas first, so they don’t influence each other
Example Objectives and Outcomes
  • 3 days with 30 doctors to develop a long-term vision for care of people with spinal cord injuries (SCI)
Objectives
Outcomes
Define and articulate the value driving the field of SCI
High-level 2030 Vision statement, including medical, social, political/economic dimensions
Identify, prepare for, and influence the future of SSCI over the next 25 years
Detailed 2010 Vision, including measurable targets
Inspire and mentor future leaders in SCI
3-5 year action agenda for health care providers (clinicians, researchers)
Articulated ‘problem statements’ and challenges for all key stakeholders, including those not represented here
  • Take-a-Panel {activity}
    • Give everyone 20 minutes with a 6 sided box, to answer 6 questions, one per 35cm slide
    • Gives everyone a chance to speak and listen
  • Even events with obvious objectives need to be refined… explore causes, consequences, motives, adjacencies.
    • Why is this important?
    • Why is it hard?
    • What happens if we solve it?
    • What are the stakes?
    • What alternatives are there to full back on?
  • Limit objectives to two or three: any more dilutes the identity and efficacy of the event
  • As objectives emerge, get consensus on their relative importance from sponsors
    • Propose a small number of concrete outcomes
    • Ask sponsors to storyboard the final workshop report → write the table of contents that defines successful output
    • This provides a starting point for the event design
  • You can handle more outcomes than objectives, but you don’t want to have more than 1 outcome per 6-7 people (as at the end of the workshop you’ll want small teams to work on each outcome).
  • Leave some room for a new objective and a couple of new outcomes to surface during the event
  • Sense check questions:
    • Will the outcomes genuinely contribute to the achievement of their objectives?
    • What outcomes are missing if the objectives are to be achieved?
    • How and when will we asses whether the objectives have indeed been achieved?
  • Collaboration vs Participation:
    • Participatory: validating work prepared beforehand, to build understanding and buy-in through presentation, engagement and critique
    • Collaborative: when people come together to create something new
  • Spectrum of Large Group Engagement:
  • Formal
    Speaker presents from a lectern or stage, participants are in passive listening mode. Use powerpoint. Focus on information transmission.
    Structured Dialogue
    On-stage panels, usually consecutive brief speeches followed by Q&A. Audience ‘voting’. Focus on information exchange.
    Interactive
    Breaks from plenary presentations for small group discussion ,and plenary feedback. Focus on consultation and soliciting feedback.
    Participatory
    Team activities interwoven with plenary sharing and discussion. Focus on learning and problem solving.
    Collaborative
    Interplay between stable and dynamic team activities. Plenary used only for discussion. Focus on innovation and solution design.
    Emergent
    Highly experiential, relying on multiple senses and sensibilities. Focus on transformation and phase-change breakthroughs.
  • Crossroads and borderlands
    • Crossroad events: are about how colleagues can work better together. Focusing on organisational design or operating model work.
      • Clients rarely like their operating structure. If matrix they say decision making is slow and complex, if functional they complain of silos and duplication.
      • For operating model design, you can simulate operating models over a couple of days. Highlighting where teams expect things from each other but have no expectation or supplying it.
      • 80% process 20% culture
    • Borderlands events are where the known meets the unknown. Events to support mergers, or urgent strategy challenges.
      • Big challenges often require unlearning → experience can be a barrier to success.
      • Innovation is a common theme → but you’ll need to define what it means in that company
        • We normally associate innovation with technology and product innovation, but process and business model innovation are just as important
      • Focus on play and serendipity avoids the that’s the way we do things around here ethos
      • If working with multiple parties find shared intent through exploring objectives together
  • Out-of-scope
    • When designing a workshop you need to make clear trade-offs and decide what not to do
    • Don’t take on every outcome and objective from every sponsor
    • You need to be ruthless
    • Objectives and outcomes should be MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) in the achievement of a goal.
    • Outcomes need to make a direct and credible contribution to achieving the objectives
    • Create a list of issues that are ‘out of scope’
    • Make sponsors call out what has been decided and what is out of scope for participants
    • Scope-creep is responsible for more failed consulting assignments than any other identifiable cause
      • Be vigilant, bring it to the attention of sponsors, make sure they’re clear on the impact
      • Don’t close off fully → a new focus area could be constructive
    • Clearly define and communicate what’s out of scope of the workshop
    • If scope is moving: ask: what do we need to achieve by the end of today? Share the responsibility.
  • Challenging your draft objectives, outcomes and key questions:
    • Is this why we are here?
    • Will the participants be engaged to achieve the results?
    • Will we make the difference we need to make?
    • Are these results achievable?
    • Are we being railroaded?
  • Scoping is about learning about the client. After a while complexity gives way to understanding. Your goal is to spot the problem in its simplest form.
  • Events of less than 25 people are harder to facilitate than larger ones
    • In smaller groups:
      • People feel compelled to contribute, which extends the length and reduces quality
      • It is harder to undertake parallel tasks
      • Run out of energy sooner.
    • Larger groups
      • Have more ideas
      • Have more energy
      • Find it easier to address complex problems with emergent solutions

Working with Sponsors

  • The committed involvement of a small group of credible sponsors is a good predictor of a successful event
  • An ideal set of sponsors will
    • be 4-6 people allowing it to be diverse but manageable
    • include the boss (the person who pays the bill, takes the risk and gets the glory)
    • include a thoughtful skeptic to challenge what you propose
    • commit time and attention
  • You’ll have to negotiate with your client to get the right sponsorship team
  • You want your sponsors to rely on the session to achieve their goals
  • A good facilitator always needs to be ready to accept the blame for anything
  • Sponsors can become infatuated with facilitators, this is especially true if they themselves have a strong vision but aren’t great at communication. The facilitators then become a kind of interpreter.
  • Sponsors need to trust you enough to put their career in your hands → you develop that trust through mutual understanding and respect.
  • The ideal sponsors…
    • make themselves and their people available with facts and perspective
    • don’t hide behind their boss, staff or the facilitators
    • are fun and want their people to have fun
    • respect our good ideas and challenge the weak ones
    • provide their own ideas
    • take the co-design process to heart
  • The Sponsor Team has 6 jobs:
    1. Developing and sharing an understanding of the event’s purpose and scope.
    2. Co-designing the event with the facilitation team.
    3. Visibly owning the event and its outcomes from beginning to end.
    4. Serving as the facilitator’s eyes and ears during the event.
    5. Exemplifying collaborative behavior for the other participants.
    6. Translating the results into a form that the organisation is able to digest.
  • When selecting who should participate, there are three types of participants:
    • People who decide, people who know and people who implement
  • Your sponsors need to be part of the process. If they get involved too late… you can’t simply share the design, you need to re-create the design process, the flow of ideas and inspiration, that went into its drafting
  • There are three very visible owners of an event: the sponsors, the facilitator, and the other participants.
  • The facilitator owns the process, the environment, the tools, and the tone of the event.
  • During the event, avoid treating sponsors differently from other participants
  • If the event takes a slight turn → pass the reins of control (or the illusion of control) to the sponsors visibly and openly…
    • Are you happy with where we are going?
    • Are you comfortable with the way the participants want to structure their work for the rest of the event?
    • Are you happy with how they’ve re-framed your questions?
  • As the event moves on:
    • The facilitator transforms into a simple moderator.
    • The participants do the work and take ownership of the outcomes
    • The sponsors provide guidance and assurance that what’s being produced is what’s required
  • Sponsors can serve as eyes and ears in team activities and plenary discussions
  • Sponsors should also exemplify the behaviours they want all participants to exhibit
  • Invest 2/3s of your time and energy working with sponsors

Preparation

  • Focus logistics and on assembling appropriate knowledge inputs.
    • Read everything the client gives you.
    • 1-on-1 client interviews are key:
      • Start with sponsors.
      • Grow outwards, ask to speak with more people.
    • Take note of business issues and key actors.
    • Look for multiple perspectives on the same issues.
    • Make connections, mention anonymously what others have said and fish for reactions.
      • Accumulate competing opinions
  • Map a client; power relationships, influence, and advocacy.
  • Accumulate bits of knowledge until they coalesce into a coherent picture and you begin to understand.
  • Keep participants in the role of protagonist in their work. They should ‘receive’ as little as possible of other people’s knowledge:
    • Get them to discover things for themselves. Provide them with more material than they can digest, the abundance will force them to filter and decide what matters.
    • If you need to present something, the less material the better.
  • Avoid pre-reads. If you can’t categorise part as ‘must read’ and the rest as ‘also useful’.
    • Sometimes, the best preparation is to do something rather than read something.
      • E.g. secret shopper
      • E.g. do a meta analysis of important work
      • E.g. bring some inspiration
  • Transform the space into a learning environment by surrounding participants with knowledge objects (facts and figures, photos and articles, diagrams and headlines)
  • Logistics
    • Logistics make all the difference (space, light, sound, stuff, and food).
    • The best-designed and best-facilitated event can be undermined by poor logistics
    • You need enough space to keep everyone together in the same room. Avoid break-out rooms they sap energy.
      • Lots of freedom, nothing bolted down, no incline, no stage, no dividing walls
    • Lots of natural light helps people feel good about their work and reduces fatigue
    • Good acoustics make an enormous difference. If people can’t hear each other, they can’t collaborate (carpeted floors and curtains)
    • Get a first-rate sound system for music
    • Don’t skimp on supplies, equipment, chairs (2 per person: one for plenary and one for break-outs), tables (for supplies and coffee cups, BUT never for participants to sit at), some technology (printers, big screens, wi-fi)
    • Food is not a detail, eating together can reduce the tension. Good, healthy food fuels your participants and should be chosen with care
  • Facilitation Team
    • Never go a client meeting or facilitate one alone
    • Team roles on the day:
      • Facilitator
      • Graphics
      • Production
      • Documentation / Scribe
      • Environment / Event Space
      • Music, Video, Photo, Research, as the names suggest
      • Process Facilitator, managing this team (including the facilitator) and the broader ecosystem
  • Define roles so people know what they need to do
  • Remember, you don’t need to know how to do this, your team needs to know how to do this

Designing

  • Iteration and Recursion
    • Meeting agendas are usually linear; workshop agendas must never be.
    • Iteration is trying to answer the same question in many different ways, from new vantage points
      • Often there are many dimensions to facilitate essentially the same question. You can design a workshop to unravel them, sometimes sequentially and sometime in parallel.
      • Create a different ‘lens’, it’s OK if each round has overlaps or conflicts
      • No single iteration needs to solve the problem, but at least one small insight might survive to the next round to be incorporated or adapted
    • Recursion introduces the concept of scale. A recursive system is one whose micro features are found at different levels
      • For example: you might shift your point of view from the experience of your customer, to the impact your company will have
      • OR in a workshop the author got folks to learn about prisons, orchestras and the church, and then visit them… to provide a new reference point for discussions about a university
  • Facilitating Complex Systems
    • Feedback distinguishes a set of actors and interactions from a system.
      • Systems generate signals about their…
        • state and state of equilibrium or imbalance
        • inputs and outputs
        • direction and velocity
      • Systems detect and react to the signals of other systems and their own → forming the basis of feedback loops
    • Three diagnostic complex system mapping tools:
      • Peter Senge’s and Mette Miriam Böll’s Iceberg model
        • The Iceberg model serves to identify leverage points that might influence system change.
      • Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework
        • This sense making framework helps us distinguish between simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic systems.
          • Simple systems can be understood intuitively.
          • Complicated systems are understandable experts (or experts of comparable systems)
          • Complex systems are when cause-and-effect can only be understood in hindsight. They can only be understood and tamed through iteration recursion, and emergence.
            • engage feedback loops to influencing change.
          • Chaotic systems can’t be analysed, so trial and error is the only mechanism that help
      • Omidyar Network’s Systems Practice Workbook
        • provides a systematic approach to identifying leverage points and developing coherent strategies to impact them
        • helping you identify underlying forces and leverage points that might catalyse systems change
    • As a facilitator you need to diagnose what type of system you’re dealing with and how to bring about change
  • Themes and metaphors
    • If you can come up with a metaphor that fits the problem the event aims to solve → translate it into an overriding theme
    • Don’t explain your theme, a few participants may string the clues together and draw their own conclusion about your intentions, but few will notice your references
    • Examples:
      Energy company entering a new market without alerting competitors
      Ninja Technique and stealth
      Re-designing the web strategy of a new UN agency
      Maps and mapping pioneers
    • Metaphors provide a new perspective, a new language, a insight, or a surprise. They help your participants view the same problem from a new angle.
  • Facilitating versus Teaching; Creating versus Learning
    • When a group spend time together, they learn from each other
    • To solve a problem or create something new participants need to learn new things
    • Our job to teach them, our job is to facilitate their learning
      • A teacher rarely asks a question without knowing the answer
      • A facilitator shouldn’t ask a question they know the answer to
      • The participants learn through the facilitator, what the real issues are
    • We put knowledge in their way and let them stumble over it. We don’t teach.
  • Don’t get participants to fill out templates.
    • Sponsors like templates because they ensure a minimum bar of engagement and information capture. The uniformity also makes write-ups easier.
    • BUT the uniformity of structure rarely corresponds to the variety of issues and ideas that emerge from creative work. AND it robs participants of a sense of ownership over the outputs and the event
    • Often, participants exploring the problem space, and looking for the right question is an important part of the event.
    • Get participants to design the templates themselves if you must use them
  • There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and design a workshop
  • Emergence
    • When highly-organised structures can result from extremely simple or even random components
    • Our most successful events reach a critical moment of creative energy and collaborative focus when things just happen
      • Ideas flow; participants listen; intimacy occurs, unexpected insights surface.
    • Emergence cannot be engineered. Our job is to create space for emergence, assemble the necessary ingredients, and increase the probability it comes
    • Resist a linear, step-by-step format in the design process. A more recursive design can allow participants to discover unexpected linkages and insights
    • Build in as much variety as possible, variety of topics and levels of recursion

Delivery

  • Delivery: how facilitators behave during the event
  • We can’t understand the how without exploring the why.
    • We help people have a new conversation about an old problem
    • We give people a chance to listen to each other and to feel that were listened to
  • Your job is to make it new
    • Many problems you’re asked to work on have lain unresolved for years
    • Your job is to create the conditions that allow participants to have a new conversation about an old topic
  • How to make it new….
    • Listen to what people are saying, and try to rephrase it in more precise langauge
    • Write down that you’ve heard so people can see it
    • Leave open the possibility that what was said was true.
    • Tease out unspoken assumptions and challenge them
    • Take advantage of being an outside to ask questions others can’t
    • Interpret, mis-interpret and tell stories
  • Storytelling to make the conversation new…
    • A story provides new language and imagery that can help unstick a situation
    • Stories need to work at multiple levels of recursion, they need to have meaning if observed through a microscope, telescope or with the naked eye
    • The possibility of finding multiple meanings at different levels of recursion keeps people’s interest, and provided a lens to find out something new about their situation
    • Done well, participants will adopt language and imagery from your story to tell their own.
  • Fear, unequal power, lack of understanding, unwillingness or inability to listen are all barriers to collaboration
    • Give participants the tools to tell stories that might have been difficult otherwise
  • Creating a common language between participants is fundamental to the success of our work
    • Imprecise language can lead to the illusion of consensus or acquiescence
    • Give participants tools and space to define terms and document precise meaning of language can unlock progress
    • Terms-of-Art exercise: misleading terms are crowd-defined and an agreed taxonomy is posted on a wall throughout the entire event for reference
  • Body language is the shared language. Body language can amplify what you say, or introduce the unspoken. Posture, tension, attitude and gesture.
    • One reason we set chairs in an arc or a circle is to create a more effective setting for body language
  • Introducing metaphors allows participants to mine them for new language to see their issues in new ways
  • Plot and energy:
    • Stories aren’t about going from A to B. They’re sequence of divergent paths.
      • Through a series of scenes, the protagonist is faced with choices, the path the protagonist chooses reveals the nature of their character
    • Our job is to make use of each module, each transition and each conversation to help the participants discover the nature of their business
      • You reveal a path that is made of choices, the are always at a crossroads, and create the freedom to choose which path to take
      • Use their own language, anecdotes and imagery to help them recognise the conversation they could be happening. Then remove yourself as much as possible, don’t appear to have a stake in the outcome
    • Minimise the friction that interferes with the conversation UNTIL the time comes to highlight an alternative path, and create a choice for the participants as to how they want to resolve the discussion.
  • Levels of recursion: Escaping to a higher (or lower) order
    • You need to identify the level of recursion at which it is taking place, and uncover alternative levels of recursion to which the conversation might shift
    • Do you let the conversation continue? Interrupt the flow? Re-direct it? Solicit input from others?
    • If conversation is high energy and constructive let it continue
    • When the apex is reached, and the marginal value of each comment begins to decline, and the energy begins to seep out of the room …. make an intervention
    • An intervention can add value, create energy and help a group escape to a higher order
    • You don’t have to change the subject, but you can change the fractal scale of the conversation.
    • Always be listening for opportunities to shift the level of recursion → make sure you can see the different levels at any moment
      • Stand outside the conversation
    • Occasional interventions are the single most effective tool for channeling energy of a group discussion
  • Keeping your distance and staying outside the system increase your powers of perception and influence
  • The most important behaviour to exhibit is to listen actively
    • Millions of hours are wasted by people that aren’t actually listening to each other
    • The only way to listen is to pay attention
    • The only way to pay attention is to care and develop real empathy
  • Robert Greenleaf coined Servant Leadership in 1970
    • In a collaborative space, everyone is there to serve
    • Quietly take away dishes and cups and tidy up the workspace
  • Music is an underused tool in the corporate environment
    • I pity facilitators who don’t make use of music
      • I watch them plead, hope and get frustrated. Let’s take a seat and get started doesn’t work.
      • The right music creates a real beginning, a dividing point between whatever was happening before and what is happening now
    • Music facilitates transitions, it helps you bridge from one activity to another.
      • An ‘In song’ signals to participants something important is going to happen
        • Play a warning song before the ‘In song’ and increase the volume until it’s hard to talk signals that time is running out
      • An ‘Out song’ will help them on their way
      • Shifting from team to team, or signing up for an activity are facilitated by other songs
    • Music can also provide a background or wallpaper for team work
      • It can help with break-outs, it camouflages voices from adjoining teams enabling teams to work together without interference
    • Can you find a song that will help participants from where they are from where you want them to be?
  • Difficult Participants:
    • Take difficult participants seriously. Usually other participants harbour similar doubts, and now they feel relieved they don’t have to speak up too.
    • Difficult participants can be snipers or terrorists
      • Snipers: have an agenda and an enemy who they want to pick off
      • Terrorists: want to bring down the group and the event
    • Remember you’re not being attacked.
    • Give them the benefit of the doubt. Imagine they might be right.
    • Aggression is often a sign they don’t feel listened to. So listen, and treat their comments with dignity. Write them down.
    • If they condescend to you, absorb it, acknowledge what was said and don’t push back
    • You don’t have to answer really difficult questions, turn them back to the room:
      • “How will we reconcile these views?”
      • Escape to a higher order “What happens if we don’t resolve this today?”
      • Side step the aggression and try to build it into the flow of discussion.
    • The facilitation process though is yours. Defend it. Forcefully describe the next step in the process, don’t ask, tell participants to engage.
    • Integrate snipers and isolate terrorists:
      • Bring snipers into the middle of the discussion. Put them in the most dynamic of breakout groups. Move close to them.
      • Discourage contact with terrorists. They tend to sit away from participants. Use your own words to describe the terrorists issues, but avoid calling on them
        • Find an isolated but useful task for them to do, keep them away from the real work

Value Capture (after the event)

  • Much of the potential value created by the event is made real (or not) after the event
  • A good event creates the potential for change, but it’s all to easy for that potential to evaporate in the days and weeks afterwards
  • Think about playing an ongoing role to convert the potential energy of an event into kinetic energy of implementation and transformation
  • The best of intentions at the end of am event are no match for the inertia that participants face on the following Monday morning.
  • Position events as the first step in a journey. Design your event to think about what happens afterwards. Use participants to think about challenges of landing the change (create GANTTs, RACIs, transformation maps … whatever you’ll need).
  • The facilitators role in value capture is to separate signal from noise. What are the insights or actions that have long-term value.
    • Help participants identify the signal during the event. Amplify constructive signals.
      • Use images, metaphors or stories to boost signals and make them memorable
  • Create deliverables that focus on a few themes (signal) and ignore the test
    • Involve sponsors in a detailed discussion to identify the key insights and high impact actions
    • Use the participants language, reference the metaphors used in the event, illustrate the points clearly in your summary document
    • When creating the work product, be mindful of…
      • Whom: who are the primary target audience of the work product
      • What: behaviours do you want the audience to exhibit as a result of having recieved the work product
      • How: What’s the best medium to achieve that? A document, video, playback or infographic?
    • Iteratively create your final work product
      • Start with a high level storyboard
      • First layout chapters and pages → capture key messages and check them with sponsors
      • Allocate sections to different people → come back together with frequent rounds of iterative drafting → keep running through the document end to end. Don’t go too long before coming back together (30 minutes)
      • Send a good draft to sponsors within 24 hours
      • Send the final deliverable within 72 hours
  • Follow up in the weeks that follow the event. Keep the sponsor team together and meeting for as long as it takes to recognise the value from the event.
    • Ongoing light touch facilitation can maintain momentum

Satisfaction

  • It’s hard to measure the success of an event, the happiness of the participants is not a strong signal
  • Achieving the outcomes is a good sign, but it’s their contribution to the objectives that are the real measure of success
  • Satisfying events tend to have a sense of roundness. A narrative arc that moves through crisis and lands firmly back in a safe place. Often they know the answer all along, but after a good event they’ll believe in it.