The heart of virtual facilitation why your heartware matters more than the hardware

The heart of virtual facilitation why your heartware matters more than the hardware

Can I be honest?

I’m 26. Yes, maybe I’m your son’s age. Before you quickly click away, wait. I’m not here to sell you the latest app to use for your virtual facilitation. I’m not even sure how to use the latest apps. I’m not here to tell you how you should be using your technology better. I’m here to talk about how maybe, just maybe, in a ‘new’ normal, ‘next’ normal, whatever normal they call it now, there are certain unchangeable principles that still hold. This article is about the principles that still remain, and how certain tweaks can adjust your work to a new environment.

Even though I’m 26, and grew up as a digital native, it has been exhausting collaborating virtually. Almost every other month, there is a new-fangled app that’s being introduced. First there was Zoom. Then Miro. Then Mural.

I don’t want to go on. Are you tired just hearing about it?

Many have talked about how this is the future of virtual facilitation. First, there’s the talk about how we will be facilitating in hybrid meeting environments, where people will be tuning in virtually whilst others are physically in the same room as you. Secondly, there’s the talk about how apps can make things more efficient.

Whilst there have been changes in how we meet, why we meet still largely remains the same. How to facilitate the alignment of our why-s in a different working environment is what I wanted to focus on today.

You may not know everything, but you still know the important things

But if we are honest, what are the unchangeables in a virtual process facilitation? How can we adapt it for a different environment? Here are two ways.

Firstly, you need to be clear that you, the process facilitator, still has much value to add to the meeting. I remember the time I went away for a strategic retreat with my company. We didn’t get a process facilitator to guide the process. Instead, our director led it. What happened?

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Half of the time meant for gathering ideas became a platform for him to share his ideas.

Why do you need to be clear about the value you provide?

Because in today’s virtual environment, there can be the feeling that process facilitators or someone external is no longer needed to guide the meeting.

After all, when you’re so familiar with how to use Zoom, do you really need someone else to be there in your Zoom room? One’s familiarity with the meeting technology can give people the mistaken sense of control over the meeting outcome.

Why do I say this?

Because I’m guilty of it. I’ve asserted my confidence over the virtual technology we use, making it seem like we do not need someone else to guide the meetings we do.

In today’s world of virtual meetings, the younger generation who grew up with technology have the upper hand when it comes to technology. There’s no question that the hierarchy of power has been flipped. Today, senior executives who have been accustomed to exerting their influence in person may find themselves struggling to exercise that same influence virtually. You and I know that it only takes a single time for someone to speak whilst muted, to seed the doubt in your head that,

Hey, this person isn’t very familiar with this technology.

As a result, the younger people may make the case that a facilitator may not be needed, because after all, they can handle the meeting technology.

Therefore, before you look at how you can adjust yourself to today’s meeting environment, you need to be clear that you still can bring value.

Because you do. Throughout the last six months spent learning about facilitation and facilitating, I’ve seen many of my senior process facilitators take great efforts to learn about the technology used. They are so brave.

Unlike me, they didn’t grow up with a phone by their side. Nor did they ever have a video call until 2020. Nor did they have to rapidly learn how to use 5, 10, 20 apps in a single month.

Can I say something to you?

You’re really brave.

It can be scary to go into a room filled with other digital natives, and wonder if you really do know how to use that app. Or to wonder why something is not working. Things just don’t seem to come as easily to you.

If you’re reading this today, you’re courageous for still trying your best to learn about the technologies in front of us. You could have thrown your hands up in the air and said, ‘This is too hard. I give up.’

But you didn’t.

You still have great value to offer. The first step is for you to own it.

Build in movement

Virtual environments don’t have one thing.

Movement.

Remember the physical meetings where you could move around and stick things on the wall? Virtual meetings don’t have that. In fact, virtual environments are built with the assumption that you will be sitting, with your screen in front of you, with your attention entirely on it.

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But you’ve probably experienced the countless times when you have come up with a great idea whilst walking in a park. Or the times when you facilitated an off-site in a beautiful nature reserve and found the participants coming up with amazing ideas.

The idea behind this is simple. When you move into nature, you give your mind space to rest. You slowly restore your reserves of ‘directed attention’. The theory of attention restoration, introduced in a Psychological Science paper in 2008 by Marc Berman and John Jonides, found that spending time in nature can improve your capacity to concentrate.

How can you build that into your facilitations?  Build in space for movement.

For example, in your next virtual facilitation, why not build in a space for a ‘virtual pantry’? Encourage your participants to take their device to their kitchen and then share the drink they are making, and why they like it. This builds motion into the session, and encourages greater intimacy.This is done at the likes of youth agency Halogen, where during the height of COVID, to replicate the sense of camaraderie they enjoyed, they held virtual pantry sessions.

Conclusion

As a process facilitator, you hold a superpower. Do you know what that is?

It’s called meekness.

Meekness is power under control.

And I will be the first to admit that I don’t have that.

In my previous organisation, if people didn’t listen to my ideas, or didn’t take them on board, I would sulk and end up sour-faced for the rest of the meeting. Using my powers of persuasiveness, I would cut up people’s arguments and put forward my own.

It was not until I learnt facilitation that I learnt how to step back. How to realise that you may not be the best in the room, but you can bring out the best in the room.

In a virtual environment, you may not be the best in all the fancy apps. You may not have a flashy showreel or even a website. But you have one thing that matters.

You have meekness. Power under control.

You know how to bring out the best of others, and how to bring out the best of the environments they are in. You know how to use the power as a facilitator, but also when not to use it.

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And it’s when you do not use it, that you realise that many things change. For example, whilst waiting for responses to a question that has yet to have replies, you could use your power as a facilitator to invite someone to share or you could choose to maintain the silence to provide the opportunity for participants to use the silence for listening and making sense of what is happening.

Some things too, have not changed.

That with great power comes great responsibility. That despite the digital powers that has greatly enhanced our individual capabilities, what remains at the heart of our work as a facilitator, is the belief that we are better, when we come together.

By line

John is excited about facilitating workplaces where young people can work with purpose and passion and writes at liveyoungandwell.com.

If you desire to learn the heart of virtual facilitation, check out our Virtual Facilitation WorkshopTM and contact us at admin@fns.sg for more information.