Monday, October 19, 2015

Facilitator, Do You Have a Plan C?

Plan A and B crossed, Plan C take over
In June I had the opportunity to work in Sweden at a wonderful event on the seaside. I got the job because a friend of mine who usually worked with this group was unavailable.

Unfortunately I had another event scheduled until 6pm the day before in Switzerland which meant that I needed to leave my event promptly, drive the 30 minutes in rush hour traffic to the Geneva airport, take a flight to Copenhagen, and there make a 35 minute transfer onto the last flight of the day to my Swedish destination. I would arrive at midnight, and my event started at 8am (outside the city).

What could go wrong? My Swedish counterpart there asked a good question, what if… What was my plan B, she asked? Well, effectively I was already their Plan B as their regular facilitator couldn’t make it, so what was my Plan C, in case any of those many moving parts to get me to the event in time, didn’t actually move.

That is a great question that we should always ask ourselves as facilitators (or trainers, or any person on whose participation an event may hinge). What if we fall ill, miss that flight, get taken to the wrong venue in a city we don’t know?

Now, I have in the past run a plenary session with a dizzyingly high fever, covered in sweat and practically swooning in the blurry spotlights  in front of me (this was at a UN conference in Damascus many years ago – with organizers with a “show must go on” attitude. It was nothing that a huge dose of antibiotics and 2 days in my hotel bed afterwards couldn’t “cure”.) But I have also gotten a call at 05:30am on a weekday from my colleague who was desperately ill, and then found myself standing in a workshop room a couple of hours later picking up with a surprised group where she left off. (That was the source of another couple of blog posts – Facilitators: To Your Health! and Managing Exceptions – The Resilient Facilitator. I also wrote a blog post from the perspective of the stand in - Flu Season! Facilitators Prepare to Step In!)

So sometimes the Grin-and-Bear-It approach can work, or if not, calling a colleague with whom you have a good working relationship and a shared approach. It’s definitely worth contacting your network and making some reciprocal agreements in advance that can help in such emergencies – both local and international.

What else can you put into place as a Plan B or C? One thing that we always do is we develop a “Facilitation Agenda” which is a very detailed description of the process that we will use for the workshop. It includes the sequence of items and speakers, their titles and the titles of their presentations (for introducing them). It includes the group work and activities sequence, the timing and any roles. It can also include mock ups of job aids, flipcharts that need to be created on site, and any other process considerations (how to run the quiz, how to set up the room, etc.). Our Facilitation Agenda documents are very complete, and very long, but they also provide any experienced facilitator all they need to pick up the process and go on with it. A materials and equipment list completes the process pack.

It is also good to make sure that this Facilitation Agenda is developed with your counterpart in the organization, so that they know exactly what the process is, the rationale behind it and the expected outcomes. This helps them better hand this over to a substitute facilitator if need be or even, if they are happy to do it, take on this role themselves, or find another internal person to do this as a last resort.  You can even anticipate this with your counterpart and identify another process person within the organization to have a talk with in advance, as your Plan B.

Thankfully, in my case, the winds were with me. My workshop in Geneva ended promptly on time, and as luck would have it, I shared a taxi to the airport with a Norwegian participant who knew all about the local transport system where I was going. He told me all the ways to get to my destination in case I missed my connecting flight - from renting a car and driving the 3 hours north, to crossing the bridge from Denmark to Sweden and taking the train after midnight. Both would get me there in time for my event. Armed with bountiful Plan B’s, and after a brisk run from gate-to-gate in Copenhagen, I made all my connections and showed up in good shape for my event, much to the relief of my Swedish counterpart who stayed up very late until she received my “I’m here!” text message.

It’s definitely worth coming up with contingencies before you really need them. I heard a TED talk recently by a Canadian neurologist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin (it was about the importance of pre-mortems, inviting us to plan ahead for stress), who reminded us that when you’re stressed, your brain releases the hormone cortisol which makes your thinking fuzzy.

You don’t want to be fuzzy-headed trying to develop your Plan B. Well in advance, when you are calm,

  • 1) Get your network of potential stand-in facilitators in place (local or otherwise);
  • 2) Make sure your process is well documented to the final detail (Facilitation Agenda);
  • 3) Brief your counterpart (so they are fully aware);
  • 4) Know all the alternatives (routes and all);
  • 5) Wear good shoes and travel light.
Chances are you won’t need these things, but if you do, you will be happy to have your Plan B, C, and D in place. It turned out to be a beautiful summer day for an event in Sweden!


Pablo Lumerman said...

Excelent piece, very usefull, particularly in conflicto prone áreas with a lot of uncertainty in regards of the Access and convening ! best Pablo

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Thanks for your comment Pablo, definitely in those contexts in particular it pays to have alternatives ready in case of the unexpected(which can almost be expected!) all the best, Gillian