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.

, , ,

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.

, , , , , , ,

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?



Say yes in response to an invitation to spend the day walking and talking.

Show up at the appointed time and place.

Try something new to remember people’s names.

Spend a day without a plan.  Start anywhere.

Make mistakes. Laugh off the signs you miss.

Keep moving. Change your vantage point and refresh your mind.

Pay attention - to names, to stories, to landscapes and weather.

Take care of each other - the small gift of a spoon may mean the difference between breakfast or no breakfast for someone.

Look for ways to play together (and notice the joy it brings to those who may be watching).

Welcome newcomers who drop in.

Be committed – finish what you start and do it with style.

Be average – don’t even think about it.

Wake up to the gifts - of art, of conversation, of each other.

Go home a new way.

With thanks to Matt Moore and Johnnie Moore who made the offer and to everyone who showed up to share the ride.

HT to Patricia Ryan Madson for excerpts from her book Improv Wisdom – Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up.

, , , , ,

Craig Freshly from the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (USA) posted this on expectations.  What struck me particularly in this note was  “expectations are planned resentments”.

The Urban Dictionary‘s take on expectations is “a guaranteed way to make sure that people will consistently disappoint you”.  We hear people say “That didn’t go the way that I expected it would” or “That was disappointing”.

Expectations are funny things.  We all have them.  We bring them to our families, to our work, to society in general.  We are told, or we tell ourselves to raise them, lower them, manage them, be realistic with them. Expectations can be a way to ‘prevent’ disappointment or to motivate us.

As facilitators, we bring our own expectations into a group setting.  Participants do the same.  More often than not, they are unspoken.  I like the idea of naming these elephants in the room and then putting them aside.

Seth Godin talks about opening the door.

“Give people a platform, not a ceiling. Set expectations, not to manipulate but to encourage. And then get out of the way, helping when asked but not yelling from the back of the bus.”

Or is having no expectations the way to go?  Letting them go.  Seeing what happens.  Trusting that we won’t be disappointed.

, ,

Further to yesterday’s Perfection sucks, I have found some older and recent posts about failure that I’d saved.

Tom Fishburne  nails fail fear with his Wall of Failure post (and cartoon).  Tom’s blog is routinely one of my go-to reads.  Here’s his post on blame-storming too.

William Hall suggests ways to recover from failure at Improv Notebook.  The conversation thread on this post is worth a read too.

Johnnie Moore is planning to get together for a discussion to explore what failure means in an upcoming barcamp in London.  I’d really like to teleport myself across the seas to be there for this one.  So much to chew on.

, , , , , ,

Some years ago, I was working with a group of managers in a manufacturing company.  One day, I asked  “how comfortable are you about saying  “I don’t know” around here?”

They weren’t.  At all.  Saying “I don’t know” was a symptom of a fear of failure that was endemic in their culture.  That fear paralysed some very talented individuals and was getting in their way big time.  They had lost the ability to summons the courage to have a go, to fall over and get back up again.

I remembered this interaction this morning when I read Garr Reynolds’ post – Before success comes the courage to fail.  “An old Japanese proverb says “Even monkeys fall from trees.” (Saru mo ki kara ochiru — 猿も木から落ちる.) Somehow knowing this allows us to push past fear and to participate more fully as we embrace or own imperfections, even as we work to improve.”

I wonder how much we contribute to the fear of failure in others and paralyse them from acting – looking for the mistakes, ‘helpfully’ pointing out what they could have done better and building error rates into performance management (eg targets).  Perfection sucks.  Really it does.  It’s not achievable.  It is not real.  It is not human.

Last year Alexander Kjerulf posted his Top 5 Reasons to Celebrate Mistakes.  It includes this photograph of a poster in the offices of Menlo Innovations, an IT company in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

Make mistakes faster

Alexander says “Yep, it says “Make mistakes faster”. They know that mistakes are an integral part of doing anything cool and interesting and the sooner you can screw up, the sooner you can learn and move on.”

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia

, , , , ,

The gems from my reader this morning -

from Johnnie Moore via David Gurteen via Esto Kilpi -(I love how we pass it on)  Confusion is not ignorance.

from Chris Corrigan – Simple instructions for building a question – via Anecdote Circles.

from Seth Godin - “As soon as you work hard to please everyone, you have no choice but to sand off the edges, pleasing some people less in order to please others a bit more.” Could someone please pass this one on to politicians generally?

, , ,

I often dip in and out of my library resources for inspiration – thoughts that might add a spark or element to a workshop that may or may not be useful on the day.  This morning I opened  Margaret Wheatley’s Turning to One Another and found an extract from a poem.

don’t establish the



the squares, triangles


of preconceievd


and then


life into them, trimming

off left-over edges,

ending potential:

A facilitation application?  Of course.  I started thinking about templates as boundaries.  I have found and do find templates can be useful at times** - particularly in large scale – empty and open – waiting to be filled as thinking develops in the room.  These short lines prompted some ‘cautious thinking’ about their future application – a need to understand what one might be preventing by introducing boundaries, however apparently slight.

I went on the hunt for more information about A R Ammons.  Among other sources was a 2006 Poetry Daily item.

David Lehman edited A R Ammons: Selected Poems in which he noted that the long poem –  Tape for the Turn of a Year – was “a diary in skinny lines which he typed on a roll of adding-machine tape, the width of the tape serving as the arbitrary but fixed restraint determining the shape of the poem.”   He apparently stopped writing this daily chronicle when he got to the end of the tape.  Hmmm.  “abitrary but fixed restraint”……

My take?  Boundaries are everywhere.  Notice if  I am applying them and understand their potential impacts and / or benefits.

**  I am reminded of the oft repeated words of Sam Kaner in one of his workshops – “It depends”.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia


I really like this post from Chris Corrigan on giving instructions to groups, and finding that balance between clarity and getting out of the way.

Giving instructions poorly leads to confusion and chaos and can quickly erode the trust of a group.  Being too direct can shut people down and create a sterile meeting.  The art is finding the space between the two.

Chris outlines seven practices for giving instructions.  Here is a taste.

Shut up sooner than you think you have to. …. When I have given the instructions, my role is to get out of the way, cleanly, clearly and fast.

People are more capable to be in confusion than you think they are. ….. Let people be a little confused and they will discover that they can get the clarity they need from each other, and they can get to work on the real sources of fear and confusion in the group.

I find it very useful to unpack how we do what we do.  Sometimes  apparently simple things happen instinctively without us really considering the impacts of our smallest actions.

As Viv McWaters wrote in December, “I’m reading Bill Isaac’s book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together.  He writes: “We need to become conscious of what we are doing so that we can refine and share it. This does not mean that we must make a theory of dialogue formal and explicit, but that we in some fashion make it understandable and usable to others.”

Thanks Chris for doing just that.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia

Related Posts with Thumbnails
, ,