I’m putting a menu together for a future workshop.  Lately I find myself using the word menu rather than agenda as it seems to assist me (the facilitator) and those in the room to approach the gathering in a position of choice.  Some parts of the menu are blank.  Carrying the metaphor a little further (and perhaps a little clumsily), it allows anyone or all to ask if there might be something else that might emerge from the kitchen.  Only in this kitchen, everyone is a chef.

In this case, the invitees are eager for information.  Many of them have already posed questions for which they want answers.  This presumes an expectation of the experts in the room.  It sets a scene that, without a big stir of the pot (sorry!), will too readily turn into a question and answer workshop.  And that is not what I’m after for them.

The experts (the client) are keen to share their knowledge.  Fortunately they are also keen to avoid setting up dependencies – both during the workshop and into the future.

I have some thoughts about how we might begin.  I’m wondering if anyone has any stories of workshops where experts shared their knowledge in a group without resorting to the pulpit.

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Some of these references are months and weeks old and some a little newer.  All are nuggets of the precious metal of your choice.

Jack Martin Leith says resistance to change is a myth.

“What appears to be resistance is simply an indicator that the value needs of the individual or stakeholder group concerned are not being met”

This exploration of sharing tacit knowledge or expertise from Nancy Dixon promotes the value of conversation rather than a one-size-fits-all explanation.  There are application lessons here for facilitators when helping clients look for more effective ways to ‘present’ expert knowledge segments.

It is in the back and forth of conversation, that is, both parties actively trying to understand the meaning the other is attempting to convey, that tacit knowledge is exchanged.

Here’s what we can learn from ants (and Dr Dan) about leaving a knowledge trail for those who come behind.

And last but definitely not least, this gem from Chris Mowles – a partipant’s advice on what useful facilitation is NOT. There is much more to this post than the excerpts I’ve chosen.  A must read.

Facilitated workshops are a very common feature of organisational life and are sometimes very good examples of the kind of thinking that assumes we need to design a process to have a process.    ……….   My own recent experience of a number of facilitated workshops has made me question whether they really are such positive and productive events, and whether they tend rather to suppress opportunities for learning rather than encourage them, the very opposite of what they intend.  [.....]

Additionally, in highly organised workshops there is often a pronounced anxiety about time, about achieving ‘outputs’ and about ‘capturing the learning’. The deliberate techniques to achieve all three can drive out all spontaneity and substitute mechanism for meaningful exchange.  [....]

If we were to take the more radical insights from the complexity sciences seriously, then there is no way of knowing in advance what is optimal in terms of different people with different experiences meeting together. Indeed, it would be the exploration of these differences which would be most likely to lead to surprising and perhaps innovative thinking, although there would be certainly no guarantee that this would be a comfortable process. Discovering what is ‘optimal’ for a particular group would probably involve quite a lot of negotiation, rather than blindly sticking to the agenda as pre-planned, and would emerge moment by moment. There could well be a role for the facilitator, but the fulfilling of it would partly be about encouraging others to take responsibility for the way that the workshop was running, the things we might choose to talk about and how we might talk about them.

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Last night I attended an event where the opportunity was offered at the end of the evening to converse with others who had just watched the same film.  I was invited by a friend to attend and will admit that catching up with her was my highest motivation.  If we’d been invited to connect with everyone in the room before the screening, I may well have been happily shaken out of that intention and into some new conversations and connections.  This post from Viv McWaters on ways of connecting individuals at a large gathering was a timely ‘nudge’ to be aware of my behaviours as a participant as well as a facilitator.  Here’s an excerpt.

I learnt from one of my facilitation mentors, Antony Williams, that individuals generally come to groups with the need to be seen as an individual within the group (everyone likes to be recognised for being themselves first, a member of the group second) and to understand the connections. One of the first things I like to do when attending an event is to see who else will be there, and who I know, or people I’d like to meet in person. I don’t think I’m alone. Antony helped me understand that individuals are making choices and connections in groups all the time, whether conscious or not: where to sit and with whom, who to talk to, what questions to ask.

And on the same note of connecting, here’s a great question about listening from Kevin at Anecdote.

What do you think is more important when you listen – your ability to listen, or your desire to listen?


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