The FNS Volunteer Facilitator (VF) programme was fully engaged in June, with two facilitated meetings for the Rainbow Centre, Singapore’s leading school for special needs children. Lead facilitator Simone Vaz presents a view from the floor.

Half an hour before the staff engagement event was due to start, the room began filling up. At first, there didn’t seem to be that many people there – I wondered if we would have a full hall. But about five minutes to start time, the hall filled out rapidly. People took their seats, there was no fumbling around. All 200 people seemed to know where to go. The buzz of anticipation was palpable.

And so began the first event we facilitated for the Rainbow Centre (RC). The brief for the two facilitations was to first engage 200 staff for their views and perspectives of the Rainbow Centre’s work, and how it was working for them, both on a professional and personal level. It was and employee audit with a difference – where employees were asked to dream, imagine and envision their Rainbow Centre of the future. The second part would be to take the leadership team through the same exercise.

How does one facilitate a large group and live to tell the tale…without egg on one’s face? The answer is…’prepare, prepare, prepare’.

While there were many takeaways from the experience, here are just three:

  • Even seasoned facilitators need to be briefed thoroughly – this may be obvious, but when I first had to brief the four VFs I was to lead for this session, I was not prepared at all! Being facilitators, they were relentless in drilling for details, which I had not yet thought about, having only had the meeting confirmed a scant two days prior. I had had to plan eight different conversations in a very short space of time, and there I was being grilled! Bottom line – all facilitators – experienced or not – need to feel comfortable with the process, and confident of being able to support it. It’s not rocket science, of course, but sometimes even the most obvious of facts escape you when under pressure – and this is how processes go awry.
  • Know your audience, yet be prepared to be surprised by them – again, not rocket science. The process we used, Appreciative Inquiry (AI), resonated very well with the staff, who were therapists and teachers. I had thought that the organisation was ready because they were at an inflexion point in their evolution but I was not prepared for the enthusiasm, passion and sheer positivity that the staff put into the process. AI was particularly apt for this group because they are a highly creative, dealing as they do with very young children to adolescents with special needs. All of this came out during the visioning phase and groups even created poetry, art and performed songs! What a joyful process this was…
  • Challenge the group, take a left turn if need be – during the final AI process, which was the leadership retreat, I had to halt the process and take a left turn. The RC leadership team had received a hefty report of the findings from the staff engagement exercise and, during the first day of brainstorming, I had felt that the ideas were sound but they took too much from the report. They were not ground-breaking. So, I wanted to see if they could be challenged to really break the mould when they ideated on the second day. I challenged each group to be tough on their group mates and to not accept any vision that did not quicken their heartbeats, or excite them. Boy, did the group deliver! The vision they ended up with was so big, so bold, that when it was presented, you could literally hear a pin drop. And when I highlighted the different themes that had come up, they realised that they might even have the beginnings of a new corporate strategy in place…

This is the stuff we facilitators live for…to know that somehow, we have had an impact, and made a difference.

Simone Vaz is a facilitator who believes in the magical power of group-dream to break the mould and elevate realities.