Wednesday, June 25, 2014

3 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Designing a Thorough and Detailed Facilitation Agenda that is Structured AND Flexible

This set of suggested strategies aims to help you in designing a thorough and detailed agenda that is (a) structured, logical and outcome-driven; and at the same time (b) flexible, allowing for flow and emergence. Here are some things to consider:

(1) Make sure you are really tuned in to the detail of ALL of the desired outcomes for the event.  Often clients have a notion of these.  However, rarely are these articulated in a sufficiently nuanced fashion.  For example, rarely is due attention given to both to the desired outputs (such as a written vision statement, an action plan, a letter to policy makers), the ‘hard outcomes’ (such as consensus going forward, decisions taken, items prioritized) and the ‘soft outcomes’ (such as sense of ownership, enthusiasm and energy for going forward, improved relationships between group participants).  Prepare yourself well, ensuring clarity around these objectives AND how they are prioritized by your client and participants.  

(2) Share the desired outcomes with the group at the start.  Then keep checking in with the group on progress towards these achieving these.  If you are making good progress, great.  If you are not, assess (perhaps with input from the group) whether or not what you had planned is going to get you there, and then determine whether you proceed as plan or adapt accordingly.

(3) Check your design is sufficiently structured by asking yourself (and possibly others) what you would expect to get out of each session, giving some examples of how the diversity of participants would answer the questions posed.  If this isn’t crystal clear, think further about the questions and sequencing of sessions.

(4) Plan an iterative process that is – by design - both structured and highly emergent - where the outcomes from one session naturally flow into the next, and determine the focus of conversation.   For example, you may have a tightly timed-agenda with sessions progressing from plenary presentations to table discussions to reflections in plenary to voting on the most important points to small group work on those points.  Highly structured?  Yes.  And at the same time what the group prioritizes to focus conversation on is entirely up to them. For this to work, just remember that it is imperative to be very clear about the logic of the structure and the questions you use to guide the thinking of the group in the early sessions.  Note also that transitions between activities takes time.

(5) Schedule a session where participants determine the agenda - for example, how about incorporating a session in the agenda drawing inspiration from Open Space Technology?  Participants can openly propose table discussions and then other participants choose from this marketplace of offerings which conversations they join. This can be very valuable when people come with something they desperately want to share or discuss with others, but which doesn’t fit perfectly in the logic of the agenda and achieving the desired outcomes.

Related blog posts / links:

2 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Building Confidence in Yourself, and Others in You, as the Facilitator

This set of suggested strategies is focused on building (a) your stature and confidence as facilitator; and (b) building the confidence of others in you as facilitator. Here are some things you can try:

(1) Model good facilitation practice from your earliest conversations with clients, building confidence from the start.  Prepare for your conversations with clients, considering how you will facilitate the conversation(s) with them.  Be clear on the objectives for your preparatory conversations, as well as the outputs (e.g. physical products such as a design brief for the event) and outcomes (such as a decision regarding the future collaboration).   Consider how much time is available and how you will use that time together.  In some cases you will be having this preparatory conversation with a client group, so you may also like to think about activities you can use to efficiently gather the information needed, as well as to build their confidence in your competencies.  

(2) Consider asking someone else (in authority) – the meeting Chair or host – to introduce you and your role as facilitator, vesting you with authority guiding the process.

(3) “Contracting” (agreeing what you will do and will not do) is key.  In the preparatory stages, you will have already had a contracting conversation with your client. Upon opening the event, re-contract with participants regarding your role as facilitator.  Have a conversation with participants to explain the role you have been invited to assume, what you will bring and what you expect from participants.  

(4) In order to help you with contracting with the group, prepare checklists for yourself and/or a script to be sure that you cover the key points you would like to make.  You may also like to put key points on a flipchart sheet that remains in the room as a reference document.  In the process, acknowledge any technical / content knowledge you have.  At the same time, explain that as a facilitator your role is to manage the process and not the content, and that (even if you have technical expertize) you will defer technical questions addressed to you to others in the room. 

(5) Highlight the content expertize of the participants (you may like to ask a few questions to the whole group to show this - such as asking them to add up all the hours of professional experience with the topic at their tables and then totalling this in plenary, or asking them the number of hours of engagement with the group project / initiative so far, and/or doing a quick mapping exercise to show representation of different stakeholders among participants.)  Honouring the expertize of participants and differentiating your role as a facilitator in this way will reassure them that you will continue to do this throughout your time together.  

(6) Share with participants select elements of the process design (at appropriate moments) and why these have been chosen, ensuring them that expert time and thinking has gone into this.  In doing so, explain why the process design element is in the interest of the group.  For example, if you have planned some small group work, provide the rationale for doing so (perhaps giving some figures about number of minutes each person can participate if each makes a statement in plenary) and how it is the responsible way of honouring the experience everyone can bring and maximizing the knowledge sharing and learning during your time together... after all time is money :)

(7) Build your confidence by practicing in safe environments

(8) Don’t give yourself too much to say in the opening moments.  Plan a methodology or an exercise that gets participant voices in the room whilst you relax into the role.  (For most facilitators, it's the first few sentences that are the hardest…)

Related blog posts:

By the Numbers: The Power of Math in Group Processes:

1 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies: Me, My Behavioural Preferences & My Facilitation Practice

There is no one perfect Facilitator profile. Whilst the International Association of Facilitators ( describes 6 Competencies of a Facilitator that we must all master, when it comes to our profiles we can be extrovert or introvert; we can be thinkers or feelers; we can be debaters or peace-keepers; and so on.  What is key is that we know who we are, and that we have strategies in place to ensure that who we are affects our facilitation practice… for the good.

In our “Facilitation by Design” training programme – run within organizations convening many stakeholder conversations - we expressly address how who we are affects our facilitation practice.  With reference to the diversity of diagnostic tools and assessments that participants have engaged with prior to the training, we consider behavioural preferences and explore what this might mean for our work as facilitators. 

Take, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that suggests psychological preferences in how we perceive the world and make decisions; the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation instrument (FIRO-B) measuring interpersonal needs and preferences with regards our interactions with others; and the StrengthsFinder personal assessment tool that identifies individuals’ top talent themes.  Reflecting on behavioural preferences - as illuminated by these tools and many others besides - we ask: “How are our preferences manifesting in our facilitation practice?” “How are they affecting how each of us works with groups in a facilitation role?” 

Building on these reflections, each participant then identifies three “Learning edges” or areas on which they would like to focus particular attention in order to strengthen their facilitation practice.  Possible strategies for doing so are suggested.  

In a series of 10 blog posts to follow, we will share insights into recurrent learning edges for facilitators and, for each, some suggested strategies for strengthening facilitation practice.  

Recurrent Learning Edges For Facilitators

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Need Impromptu Speaking Practice? Try Toastmasters Table Topics (Bonus Topic Idea: "Why Did You Get That Tattoo?")

I recently took over the role of Table Topics Master at our Nyon Toastmasters Club, a role I had not taken before (Note: If you don't know about Toastmasters, I would highly recommend this wonderful  learning community focused entirely on public speaking.)

Table Topics are a regular feature of our Club, and I think of all Toastmasters Clubs. They give people the opportunity to stand up and deliver a 1-2 minute speech, completely impromptu, about some topic that they are given on the spot. These are in contrast to the prepared speeches at each Toastmaster meeting (which are longer, prepared in advance of the meeting and practiced, practiced, practiced.)

I wanted my Table Topics to give people the opportunity to tell a good story, and when I looked around, in early June, I noticed a lot of body art being displayed with the nice weather. So I decided to call my Table Topics:


When you see a really unusual tattoo, you know there must be a good story behind it. So I took 8 slips of paper and on each one of them I drew a tattoo (in some cases I made it on PowerPoint, or I typed it out if it was words/numbers, or I found a similar image on the internet).  Then I wrote on what part of the body the tattoo was positioned. I folded up the slips of paper and put them in an envelope. On the night I asked the volunteers to select a piece of paper and hand it to me, so I could describe the tattoo, where it was placed and ask them in a rather loud and demanding way, "Why Did You Get That Tattoo?" (of course you can vary the tone of your voice depending on the tattoo - you can sound like your mother or an envious friend.)

Here are the "tattoos" that I used (not all of them were selected - we had time for the first four):

  1. 55⁰01'N 82⁰56'E - The map coordinates of Novosibirsk are tattooed on your left foot - Why did you get that tattoo??
  2. A small Chinese character that looks nice but translates into "Noodles" on the nape of your neck
  3. "Jane Forever" tattooed across your back
  4. An outline of the State of Texas on your calf  (pick any state/country)
  5. "Only Judy Knows" tattooed on your right bicep 
  6. Lampyridae (the scientific name of a firefly) on your ankle
  7. A bar code on your lower back 
  8. Half a Tweety Bird on your thigh - Why did you get that tattoo??

You can really use your imagination on this as the Table Topics Master, and obviously it demands the same on the part of the speech makers!

We had some wonderful stories about a well-lubricated project site visit in wintery Siberia, indelible life-changing field work with Jane Goodall, some translation difficulties in a tattoo parlour in Shanghai, and a Dallas University Professor who really made a lasting impression on his student.  The Table Topic speakers were so creative and rather courageous I would say - congratulations to the four Toastmasters women who jumped at this opportunity before we ran out of time.

Delivering good Table Topics is also one of my personal learning edges. I feel comfortable (appropriately nervous of course) preparing and giving a 5-6 minute prepared Toastmasters speech. But the idea of having to talk off the cuff, sensibly, about a topic I am given 2 seconds before is still something that makes my brain race, legs shake and voice quiver. And although I thought about it in advance, I am still not sure how I would justify that half a Tweety Bird tattooed on my thigh.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I’m Working! Mobile Working Can Be Highly Effective, From Anywhere…


Believe it or not, one of my most productive work days this week was here.

At the risk of no one taking me seriously again, I wanted to write briefly about mobile working… from a water park.

Sometimes your kids have a day off, beg you to take them to Aqua Park because it is practically empty (they have a teacher's in-service day and other schools/classes do not), but your husband is travelling and you still have work obligations.

Does this, or something like this, ever happen to you?

Well, I have actually (after an obligatory 1 hour of water slides to begin with) done several very productive hours of work. How? I carried my mobile office with me, including the following:

Aquapark mobile office 1

1) One Smart phone with internet;

2) One set of headphones with microphone for making discreet calls (I'm sure the lady sunbathing next to me never even noticed);

3) A Bluetooth keyboard that folds up into a small square. (This is amazing technology and allows for long, serious emails to be written on your phone instead of a computer or iPad - I wrote this entire blog post comfortably on my phone using this nearly fully-size keyboard.)

4) My GTD A4 mesh pouch, filled with Action and Project files, highlighter, pen, post-its etc.

5) The GTD files themselves - these are labeled folders with: In, Read/Review, Action Support, Waiting For, Filing, Expenses, and Trash (and a couple of blank ones). I needed this as I hurriedly emptied my in-box into another GTD A4 mesh pouch to organize on site;

6) My paper calendar (because I build in redundancy with both a paper and e-calendar, or just call me old fashioned);

7) My own GTD folder (below) with my lists (Next Action, Waiting For, Projects, Agendas, Someday/Maybe) to help me optimize my time - no wasting time trying to figure out what to do next;

GTD folder

This all packs into a small tote bag, that I then should have put into a plastic bag (being a water park and all) but so far so good.

It's good to have this mobile system thought through and ready to go, especially when plans change and you find yourself working away from your office in some unusual place (e.g. café waiting for judo lesson to finish, car park at rainy football game, restaurant because hammering in house, airplane…I could go on).

I guess this means I can really work anywhere, anytime (Health Warning: Not that working everywhere, all the time is good! I promised and will enjoy going back to the water slides and wave pool again before we go, with a much freer and clearer conscience!)

Aquapark 2

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Workshops in Geneva? Here’s My List of Workshop/Conference Venues

Having worked for the last 20 years in and around the Geneva area in the training and facilitation field, after a while you get to know the good places to hold workshops and meetings.

I wanted to put these all in one place for easy use for myself, and for others, as I get asked frequently for recommendations for good venues in the area. This list includes Geneva, as well as the La Cote area – the lovely band of French-speaking Switzerland between Geneva and Lausanne, along the lake.

I focused below on the rooms, food, accommodation availability and access.

If you know of any others, please let me know, I am always delighted to find a new place that is conducive to groups working together in workshop formats!

  • Chateau de Penthes  - This workshop space is near the United Nations in Geneva, but just outside of town in a quiet environment. I have used several times the refurbished attic space (called the “Grenier” on the website for groups up to 50 or so around round tables. They have a nice kitchen that can serve lunch on the spot downstairs or across the park. There is a convenient bus stop and parking. The website appears to only be in French, but I would be surprised if the management did not speak English – try the info practique (practical information)
  • CICG (Centre International de Conferences Genève)– This is a large scale conference venue just in the middle of the United Nations complex. I have held mostly larger events here (100 – 175) in both rooms with fixed seats, and also a nice open space where you can put 18 round tables or more. They are fully set up for simultaneous translation and are also accessible by bus or parking.
  • Le Cenacle – This venue I only discovered in the last couple of years as it is across the lake from me and well hidden away from the busy city of Geneva in a quiet park in the  Malagnou area of town. I have used it for smaller groups – 10 – 30. An additional benefit is the accommodation space, where people can stay. I have used the downstairs “basement” rooms which are very serviceable, if a little dark on winter days – both have natural light and exits to outdoors for group work outside in the park. Good parking and bus access.
  • John Knox Centre – I haven’t been here for a few years, but for a period was frequently using this Centre, located within walking distance from the UN. Like Le Cenacle, it has accommodation, meeting space and a simple cafeteria. It often houses students, so has a very informal feel to it.  I have always used the Meeting Room Flory, an interesting circular room, for my groups which tend to be around 30 – 35 people.
  • International Environment House – There are rooms available in the International Environment House, which is in the Chatelaine area of Geneva near the airport. There are a number of resident organizations here (from UNEP and UNITAR, to the Ecological Footprint Network, etc.) who have access and I have worked here through these partners, but there also seems to be possible access to external users, through GEN – the Geneva Environment Network.
As you start to leave Geneva you have:
  • Ecogia (Versoix)  - I wrote a whole blog post about this wonderful, purpose-built training and workshop facility located about 15 minutes outside of Geneva – If Trainers Designed Training Centres. Of note, is that it is the training centre for the International Committee of the Red Cross and they get calendar preference.
  • Chateau de Bossey (Celigny) -  Still a little further from Geneva (about 20 minutes out by car) is this gem of a chateau which has a wide range of workshop and meeting rooms in the old building (chateau) as well as a newly developed building that holds much larger groups. I have used this venue for small meetings from 10 people, up to groups of 75 in the new building. It has ample accommodation space as well, which is good as it is located in a more rural and quiet setting. It has a wonderful terrace with a view of the lake and mountains, and a very nice cafeteria that can easily serve large numbers (there are often multiple groups there).
  • Best Western Hotel in Chavannes-de Bogis - This hotel is 15-20 minutes outside Geneva on the main motorway to Lausanne (they have an airport and train shuttle to connect people coming from Geneva). The conference facilities are varied, with a big room (we recently have 70+ people around round tables comfortably) and other rooms that can be combined or used as smaller spaces. The hotel staff is very helpful and flexible, and can change room set ups during the day as needed (for our workshop we had drumming in orchestra format in the morning then the round tables and they did this quickly at coffee break). The staff is bilingual and happy to meet and work with organizers and are happy for groups to use the whole hotel - from the rooms, coffee break area (all day coffee break), outside spaces and restaurant for activities. They do nice receptions outside in good weather, with a beautiful view on lake  Geneva from their terrace. 
And further out you have
  • IUCN (Gland)  - In the small town of Gland, about 30 minutes outside of Geneva, sits IUCN’s Conservation Centre, the headquarters of this international conservation community. The Centre also has meeting facilities which I have used extensively throughout the years (as I used to be the Head of Learning there). From small groups to up to 200, in the main conference room, IUCN has nicely appointed rooms of all sizes.  I often use the Holcom Think Tank, which has a beautiful view of the mountains. The photos of the rooms all have rather formal set ups, I mostly use small rectangular tables with 8 people around them (the equivalent to round tables). Access is by road or the Gland train station (just a short 8 minute walk away) and there is an excellent cafeteria which can serve and cater in other parts of the building as needed.
  • Le Courtil (Rolle) – Right on Lake Geneva, Le Courtil is a conference centre with both meeting rooms (many with a remarkable view) and accommodation. Rolle is about 40 minutes outside Geneva and Le Courtil has parking and can be reached by train with a little walk. I have not used the train for access but I know many people do. Others hire small buses from the local taxi companies for access. The restaurant here is very well regarded with family-style buffets with many interesting choices (let’s face it, nice meals at workshops are important!) The rooms are in the chateau or annex and are mostly for smaller groups up to 30 - 40 or so I would say. The website seems to only be in French, but I know that the management are fully bilingual, so write or call their contact number for more information.
Well, that’s my list of Geneva-area workshop and meeting venues - if you have anything to add, let me know!