Tag Archives: communication

Enhance your facilitation effectiveness

Avoid holding a pen

I received a number of comments about my article Why I don’t hold a pen: the perils of pen holding.  In the original article, I explored what I believe to be a crucial issue –facilitators are likely to be more effective if they do not carry a pen.

Some people felt I was being strangely brave while others expressed disbelief and bewilderment: how can you run a group session if you don’t use a pen?

As a result of these comments, I have had further thoughtsharpie-flip-chart-blues on what I believe to be an essential approach.

Before you continue reading – I hope – let’s be absolutely clear: I do not write anything, all recorded discussion is written by the participants and by the participants alone.

Organisational culture

Let’s take a step back and start with organisational culture.  The organisation, or organisations, that you work for – what is the prevailing culture?  Is it a culture in which information and knowledge are openly released, judgment and expertise freely shared, feedback encouraged?

Or, are these matters largely suppressed?

You will have experienced this suppression in most meetings.  The majority of meetings are chaired by the boss.  The boss frequently hogs the flipchart, holds a pen and dominates the airwaves.  The unspoken objective is control rather than release.  The end result: acquiescence triumphs over participation.

The facilitator who uses a pen, is likely to introduce these major blockages to group communication – perpetuating the elements of negative culture and hierarchical domination.

Consequently, the risk of a facilitated session run by a person who writes up contributions is that it will be no better than a normal meeting.

“What motivates you?”

Let me tell you of an experience of mine which helped me develop my approach to facilitation.

I was running a series of training courses for the managers of an IT company.

I gained the impression that one group of managers was disengaged at work and ineffective in their roles – they were certainly unresponsive in the training sessions.  In an attempt to stimulate their brains and generate discussion, I asked what motivated them.

There I was, gripping the flip and poised with pen.

“Getting a car,” was the first response.  I wrote ‘car’ on the flip chart.  “Yes,” said the second, “a posh car.”  I inserted ‘posh’.

“A BMW….”

“..or a Jag.”  (Laughter.)

They were getting silly.  It was too much for me.  I was frustrated that I could not fit ‘posh car’ into any motivational theory that I knew.  It was time to take control and explain what motivation really meant and how it applied to them.

“Right.  What you are really saying is ‘money’.  Because you can’t get an expensive car unless you have the money.”  So I wrote ‘money’ on the flip chart.

I think their contributions dried up a bit after that.

Lessons learned

Looking back, I feel ashamed of my behaviour.  But, as I moved from training into facilitation, this experience taught me four vital and related concepts in my approach.

First, you have to work within the culture of the organisation.  If you hold a pen, you are more likely to judge contributions, edit them, push the conversation the way you think it should be going.  Start where they areHBS team 2 at.  Remember: the participants are the experts, not you.

Second, avoid control and interference.  If you, as a facilitator, ask a question, you have to accept all the individual answers in their original form, not change the words nor interfere with the content.

Third, if I do not hold a pen, ownership remains firmly with the participants.  They then own every contribution and they own the output.

Fourth, it is a characteristic of many interventions by consultants, trainers and facilitators that they parachute in and then gallop off into the distance leaving the client unsupported and in a state of chaos.

This is less likely to happen if the client owns the contributions and the output – output to which all have contributed and to which all are committed.

Next week I will post a follow up: how I  generate  and manage contributions.  There – something to look forward to.

Where does the “only” go

Only be able to pick

In the past week, the rugby correspondent of the Guardian newspaper in England has written in two separate articles:

From next season the Welsh rugby coach will only be able to pick three wild card players.

Clear, isn’t it?  Well – no, it’s not.

What is clear is that the Welsh rugby coach is going have an inactive existence for the coming twelve months.

The sentence is saying that he will not be able attend training sessions and coach his team.  Nor will he be able to eat breakfast, go bungee jumping or run naked through the streets of Cardiff with a fried egg on his head.  This, plainly, will limit his effectiveness as an international rugby coach and his general enjoyment of life.

As written, “only” qualifies “be able to pick” which means that, in his position as coach, the only activity he will be allowed to engage in is to pick three wild card players – and nothing else.

I suspect “only” should be qualifying “three wild card players.”  Here is the original sentence followed by what I believe to be a more precise wording and clearer meaning:

From next season the Welsh rugby coach will only be able to pick three wild card players.

From next season the Welsh rugby coach will be able to pick only three wild card players.

Only started work

Another example for you to consider.  A friend of mine complained:

My brother only started work with the new company one week ago and now he’s got the sack.

I am sorry that his brother got the sack but I am not at all surprised if, after one week he had not done any work.

The utterance claims that he turned up, completed all the forms, sat at a desk and thereby fulfilled all the actions of starting work – but that’s all.  He did not do any actual work itself.

As written, “only” qualifies “started work” when it probably should be qualifying “one week ago”.  Again, here is the original sentence followed by what I believe to be a more precise wording and clearer meaning:

My brother only started work with the new company one week ago and now he’s got the sack.

My brother started work with the new company only one week ago and now he’s got the sack.

Only surgery or only relieve

A potentially more serious and more confusing situation is if a surgeon tells you:

The form of cancer you have can only be relieved by surgery.

What does the surgeon mean?

Is the surgeon saying that it is only surgery that can relieve this form of cancer – that no other medical action will be effective?

Or, is the surgeon saying that surgery can only relieve this form of cancer – but it cannot cure it.

There is a substantial difference in the two pronouncements, the meaning for those receiving the news and the subsequent actions.  What if you were the patient, or a relative, and were asked to give informed consent to proceed with treatment?  What would you be agreeing to?

As a guideline, adverbs such as “only” are better placed in a sentence next to the word or phrase they qualify so that there is no doubt which word or phrase they are meant to affect.

Otherwise, you might be inactive for a whole year or be agreeing to surgical procedures without knowing why.

“Small soldier’s latrine”

St Mawes Castle in Cornwall, UK is among the best-preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery fortresses.  It is worth a visit to see the architecture and decoration, and to learn about a time when England faced invasion by Spain.

Among its many well preserved features is a “small soldier’s latrine.”

I asked the guide where the latrine was for the big soldiers.  She didn’t know.  Average sized soldiers?  No, just the one latrine.

Maybe all the soldiers came in one size in 1540.