Sunday, April 26, 2009

What Were Your Bad Habits: GTD Video Link

At the recent GTD Summit I attended, David Spark interviewed a number of people asking them about the bad habits that GTD (Getting Things Done) helped them kick. The video is just over 5 minutes, and linked here: GTD Summit - What Were Your Bad Habits?

I was happy to be one of the interviewees, and to have kicked that particular habit of the Life List. And I'm still talking about it. I spent this morning exchanging with my friend Alan AtKisson about GTD and applications for the sustainability community, and this afternoon showing my home system, which I am pretty proud of now, to one of my neighbours, who was complaining about losing things. There is just no end to the bad habits one can break...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Facilitators Demo Day: Learning from Good Practice

When do you get the opportunity to watch and participate in the work of 10 different facilitators in one day? We did yesterday by hosting a Facilitators' Demonstration and Learning Day (see previous blog post: Facilitators Demonstration Day - Bringing Together Supply and Demand).

We had professional facilitators coming from the Geneva area, neighbouring France, and even the UK. We also had a number of facilitators and trainers participate as observers. These practitioners joined 18 of our colleagues in this learning day.

Because it is unusual to get to see so many facilitators in a row, I couldn't help noting down a number of good and interesting practices that I observed, and wanted to put them on the blog for sharing and future reference (not in any particular order, and obviously from my personal perspective):

  • Labelling: Get stickers or address labels with your name/company on them, and put them on your markers, cables and materials. Then they don't get confused with those provided in the venue. And if other people help you clear up, they'll be able to tell what's what.
  • Branding: Two groups had printed large post-it notes that they used for brainstorming cards etc. with their company names on the bottom.
  • Signage: One team had a flipchart sized sign printed with their organization's name/logo which they put up in the room.
  • Colour: I definitely noticed when teams used colour - things like markers (more than the standard red/green/blue/black), cards, ppts, and believe it or not, even what they wore. I was surprised how bright colours on people's clothing positively affected my disposition to the task.
  • Job Aids: There seems to be a line between job aids that are too hand-done and "cottagy" and too slick and somehow "industrial". I think a combination works well, perhaps hand written flip charts, and printed hand outs? Or something in between. Printed things seemed to tidy up tasks.
  • Table Settings: Home magazines put a lot of effort into giving people ideas of how to lay tables for special dinners. When this happens in a workshop setting, people notice and appreciate it (like an open box of new markers, post-its in the middle, a creativity toy, etc. nicely laid out in the middle of the table for the group). I once heard about a Disney creativity meeting set up, with a placemat for each person, drink, playdough, pens, etc.
  • Economizing Supplies: I appreciate it when people use a whole flipchart for notes as they speak, and not write one or two big words and then turn over the page. Maybe it is my environmental background. Actually, that drives me crazy.
  • Handwriting: I think that facilitators either do, or should, take courses in handwriting. It makes a huge difference when you see great handwriting on a flipchart. People can also practice writing legibly fast - there could be a competition on this at a Facilitators Convention. Of course this also goes for participants. One Facilitator yesterday said he used the "Heineken Rule" when asking participants to write on cards. If he couldn't read it, they had to buy him a beer.
  • Letting People Read: If you use cards, I like it when facilitators ask people to write large enough on cards so that people can read them on their own from a distance. It saves time.
  • The Power of Nice: I think I am very sensitive to what I perceive as "nice" behaviour from the facilitator, that is genuinely caring for the participants, wanting to be helpful, guiding and supporting. I personally respond very well when I see that.
  • Innovation: It is great to see people innovating on current practice, a little surprise dynamic, way to organize a group, new rules for a familiar game, etc. That keeps it fresh.
  • Working Towards Congruence: It was interesting to see people demonsrate facilitation and then in a short debriefing bring out the methodology and rationale. I realised that it is very hard to talk about Facilitation. I guess this could also be called "Actions Speak Louder Than Words", a principle that can be applied to nearly anything.

This was a full 8 hour day of on-your-feet activity, and at the same time presented great opportunity for observation. People came away with a great overview of approaches, styles and techniques and some excellent local contacts. Thanks to the generous spirit of exchange and learning, we had an incredibly rich experience with our Facilitators Demonstration and Learning Day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Facilitators Demonstration Day: Bringing Together Supply and Demand

When engaging a facilitator to contribute to a critical process you're developing, you want to have one of the following: 1) A very strong recommendation from someone you completely trust, or 2) To have participated in/witnessed/appreciated that facilitator's work personally.

Well, our unit is able to give strong recommendations for people we know well, but even we are limited in the number of people we are able to recommend. Because we normally work together, Lizzie and I, we don't often get to work directly with many other facilitators. We may know people who belong to our local or international networks, but don't often get to fully experience people's work in order to be able to give a nuanced impression of it. So how can we increase our own, and our colleagues, exposure to great facilitation and the many styles and forms that that takes all in one go? We bring the facilitators to us!

Next week we are organizing a Facilitation Demonstration and Learning Day in our office.

This is a full day session, featuring 8 local facilitators, each of whom have 45 minutes to show us their personalised approach, tools and style. There are no wrong answers here; within a rubrique of 5 broad categories, we have asked them to facilitate a group of us (20+) through a short process, so we can get to know them better as potential facilitators. To help guide the day, we gave the facilitators 5 categories from which to choose: strategic planning and review, multi-stakeholder dialogue, partnership building, leveraging networks, and team development. This will help them get to know us better - we picked processes that are common for our organization, the substance and texture of which our audience will provide, giving good insight to our visiting facilitators into the kinds of issues and challenges we deal with every day in our organization (and that they would be dealing with when working with us).

The audience is us - we are the market, the demand, that is smart future buyers of good facilitation expertise. We invited our colleagues to participate so that they can see these facilitators work themselves. And they can then also recommend them to other absent colleagues, or at least help them triangulate opinions.

We had a great response to our invitation within the facilitation "supply" in the Geneva area. So much that we had to choose, and then were able to invite the others and a few guests to participate as observers. In this case, each of the 8 facilitators gets to decide how they would like the observers to participate - actively or silently. We will make a "fourth wall" behind which a gallery of observers can sit, or they can break through it and actively participate, if the facilitator has an approach that works with a larger group of diverse people and so chooses.

We will also be making a list of local talent, so that facilitators who could not attend can still be featured as potential providers of this service in the future. We have already had requests for that list.

We did not have a budget for this and didn't want to ask people to pay to participate, but we did not want that to stop us. So we are running this event at nearly zero cost, well, our unit is sponsoring coffee breaks for the group. We are using one of our institution's onsite meeting rooms, will use our self-service cafeteria for lunch, and both our colleagues and our facilitators are donating their time to this joint learning day.

We'll learn more about them, they'll learn more about us, and hopefully this day will herald some interesting collaboration in the future from matches between the local supply and demand that might not have otherwise occurred.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More Learning Through Reporting: Using Reporting for Teambuilding

We wrote a blog post recently called Don't Outsource It! Learning from Reporting, which talked about why the facilitation design team should NOT take on the reporting role in a workshop. Keeping the role in the contracting team helps internalise rather than externalise the learning from the event and process. We wanted to follow up with a practical design on how to do that. Below is a description of a sequence that we used recently at a retreat, which was designed also as a team activity to further support the group development objective of our event. Reporting was not an add-on, but a session in our workshop.

The 2-day retreat had 20 people from a distributed team (people located in 3 geographical locations), that had not worked together as a Group before. So practice doing that, in a way that promoted good intra-Group communication, sharing roles, and co-creation would be a great way to model the desired behaviour of the Group in the future. This reporting task could help do that if we structured it with this outcome in mind. The process design would be important: We needed a way to distribute the roles so that it was equitable, showed the contribution of everyone to the final group product, and produced a useful and internally-owned synthesis of the discussions and outputs generated during the retreat. Here is a description of the sequence designed:

First, identify the key outputs/report sections: Our first step was to take the agenda and identify the sessions which would have outputs that would need to be collected (think quality, not quantity). We lettered these (A-Z) and wrote them up on a flipchart matrix, with the Session numbers and titles of the topics upon which the lucky person would report, and leaving a space for a name. The reason we used letters for the outputs was so it would not get confused with the sessions numbers. Some sessions had multiple outputs, so to share the load, these sessions would have more than one rapporteur for different identified pieces.

Second, prepare your materials and space: Next we created a set of cards with A-P (in our case, as we had 16 inputs to the report) written on them. We prepared our flipchart matrix(as above), and we cleared an open space in our room where the group could make a circle. Finally, in our set up, we picked a number from 1-21 (the number of participants), and wrote it on a small card which we put in our pocket.

Third, brief and set up the reporting exercise: We told people that we would practice creating a group product by sharing the rapporteuring role among the team to create a product from our meeting that would be useful for the Group's future work together.

Fourth, run the activity: Then we went into our activity sequence, described below...

  1. To begin, we asked people to join us in the open space, and then to self-organize themselves into a circle chronologically by their Birthday (months and days, not years). We found the person with the birthday closest to 1 January, and we asked them to start there and go clockwise to make a circle. Once the group self-organized, we checked the order by sharing the birthdays to see if we had it right. Some interesting and amusing patterns always seem to emerge.

  2. Once the circle was complete, starting with that first January person again, we asked each person in order to say a number between 1-21, noting that we had already picked a number and it was in our pocket, and that we would stop once the number was picked. We went around the circle until someone guessed that number (people could not duplicate numbers already said, and the group kindly helped people to remember what was already picked). We showed them the number in our pocket to verify the winner.

  3. At this point, we showed the group the flipchart matrix with the reporting tasks lettered from A-P, and said that now we would be drawing role cards. That lucky guesser was then the first person to draw from the A-P lettered set of cards, each of which corresponded to a reporting task, which were turned to their blank back so the selection was random. People continued to pick a card around the circle until each of the A-P cards had been selected. Now the 16 reporting roles were distributed completely randomly. And there were 5 people left. Those people were asked to get together in a corner and decide who amongst them (or which two people) would be the Report Compiler(s). That is, the person(s) who would receive all the inputs from the 16 rapporteurs and create the final report for the group. This group went off for a few minutes to decide on this.

  4. Just before breaking up the circle, we wrote the names of the people who had drawn the A-P cards on the "roles" flipchart, so that the Compiler had a record of who was doing what. We all agreed on a date to get the inputs in, and then the process was set, and simply ran by itself.
Throughout the event, we wrote the names of the rapporteurs at the top of any flipcharts or artifacts that the group created. At the end of the event, people took their materials from the sessions for which they were responsable (so room clean-up was extra easy!), and we reminded people of the deadline in the final session. A week later, the report was finished (probably much faster than if one poor person had to write up all those flipcharts).

A great group product was created, and many more people got to think about and put their fingerprints on the different outputs and ideas that the team retreat created. Rather than a report that sits on a shelf, a learning output and process was designed that lets the group practice working and creating together, just like they will be doing from that point on. (Nice design Lizzie!)