Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Lesson #1: There's (Almost) Nothing Like Being There

We are here at the World Conservation Congress Forum, which started officially yesterday, One of our activities is coordinating a facilitation team of six who are working on 38 different sessions with session organizers. As this is the first time that we have done this, I thought we would capture some lessons along the way.

The first lesson came through loud and clear in our pre-conference meeting of the Facilitation Team: Design work, education (about different facilitation styles and interactivity tools), and trust building (to try those tools) is a challenge to do virtually.

Our facilitation team and their session leads were all over the world with very little if no chance to meet. So we needed to work differently. We didn't take as a lesson not to do the prep work virtually, but the fact is that no one had ever done that before -on either side. Normally when you bring in external facilitation help you meet first and do the creation work jointly and use that process to build rapport (at least at the beginning of any partnership).

We found that email was creating long time lags between question and response, it was too either too sparse (missing the info that one side or the other needed) or too long. Many started to pick up the phone or skype and found that a time saver and voice2voice helped with some of the trust-building. I guess video conferencing would have helped even more although we did not try that. As would have a small video library of facilitation techniques that people could see first so not everything would be left to their imagination. If I would have thought ahead about this I would have brought a video to record those activities at this Congress and had them on hand for the next one!

We were onsite early, so have set up F2F meetings with everyone here prior to the events. That is helping, although in a few cases it is coming late for this important interpersonal side. For facilitation collaboration, we need to think about how to use a virtual preparation stage most powerfully. As our teams become more and more distributed, actively seek the intercultural benefits of working with colleagues in other places, we work more from our homes, and try to limit our travel carbon footprint, all these things provide an opportunity to think more in-depth about what it means to take facilitation (at least the prep stage) virtual.