It’s about me, isn’t it?
As a speaker and trainer, I used to think it was all about me. It was about how well I could craft the story, deliver the content, and make the audience laugh.
In fact, come on, lean in, I need to whisper this…
I used to think I was a failure if I wasn’t getting a standing ovation.
So I learnt how to work in an exercise that got the audience on their feet, clapping.
Now, for the last exercise, I would like you to stand and clap as loudly as you can for yourself.
You need to be your greatest fan.
And then I quietly snap a picture so that it could look like the audience was clapping for me, not themselves.
You can stop laughing now. I know, I know. Now you know and won’t fall for that.
But learning process facilitation changed that. And experiencing my first process facilitation for real, not in a classroom, helped me to see the essence of facilitation.
It’s about the others.
You might go,
Uh… duh?! I already knew that! Tell me something new, John!
There’s nothing new. Today, I wanted to share my personal experience of my first process facilitation I helped as the tech support. Fortunately, I wasn’t thrown into the deep end after attending FNS’ SPOT on Facilitation course. Instead, I was given the opportunity to observe and learn during this focus group discussion.
In this article, I will share about:
- What the root of process facilitation may be
- Why process facilitation is also about the small things, rather than the big things
The heart of process facilitation
For me, process facilitation has forced me to understand how I can step back, so that others can take a step forward.
It’s about helping others to come to their best answers. It’s about believing that you are the guide, not the hero. The other party is the hero.
You’re not Luke Skywalker. You’re Obi Wan!
It’s about relegating your ego, so that the ego of others can be made larger. It’s about bringing out the best of others.
For non-Star Wars fan, Luke Skywalker is a fictional character and the protagonist of the original film trilogy of the Star Wars franchise created by George Lucas. Obi-Wan is Star Wars movie character who is a legendary Jedi Master, a noble man and gifted in the ways of the Force. He trained Anakin Skywalker, served as a general in the Republic Army during the Clone Wars, and guided Luke Skywalker as a mentor.
As a process facilitator, this is difficult. For one, as someone who’s facilitated and experienced facilitation in the U.K. and Singapore, there are cultural differences.
As someone new to facilitation, I’ve observed one challenge in the Singaporean context. Once again, I may be wrong.
You may be more experienced. As someone more experienced, what are the challenges you’ve faced facilitating?
The hierarchy challenge
I’ve mentioned in the past how I sat on the board of directors in the University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union, a charity serving 35,000 students and having $14 million in turnover in 2019/20.
On the board, there were 4 students, 4 elected student representatives, and 4 members of alumni. These alumni members were distinguished graduates, accomplished in their various fields.
Despite being amongst the youngest there, I appreciated how the board respected our collective wisdom, rather than the chronological wisdom. In Singapore, there seems to be a deeper emphasis on how experience is determined by how long you’ve served in a particular place and how high you are in the hierarchy.
In Singapore, I was once at a company retreat when we were doing the year’s work-plan, it was strange how quiet the room was. The facilitator (in this case the assistant director, because they didn’t have the budget to bring in an external facilitator) asked a question to spur thought.
Whenever there was a response, the director would give a 3-minute spiel about all the things he had done in the past and what he thought about the idea.
Everyone would nod. Even though some of the comments from the director didn’t make much sense for me (and later I found out for others too), no one asked or questioned those comments.
As a facilitator, noting the different approach to hierarchy, and building the environment that adapts to this hierarchy, is vital. Rather than forcing the facilitation to fit your idea of what ‘best practice’ would be, acknowledging and adapting the environment may be more helpful.
For example, during this facilitation, I wondered why the lead facilitator had grouped older members together, and other younger members together. As an idealistic young man (or ‘boy boy’ as some would affectionately call me at work), wouldn’t it be better to mix the older and younger people?
Have cross pollination of ideas!
Marrying pragmatism and idealism isn’t about putting your daring nature to try new things to death. It’s about accepting that shifts happen little by little.
It’s inspired me to come up with this maxim: Design for comfort, craft for moments.
What I mean is this. You design the process so that participants come in comfortable with who they see, who they are with, rather than confronting their senses with a group of people they are unfamiliar with. Start with putting them at ease, building that psychological safety.
Here’s an analogy.
Imagine you’re building a tent.
What do you start with? You start with the scaffold. This frame must be strong and sturdy. The frame holds the tensions together. This frame is also called trust. Psychological safety. It’s when you walk into the room… despite seeing strangers, you feel at home. You don’t feel threatened. You feel safe.
When I was in Holland, I learnt that the Dutch have a word for it:
It loosely translates as,
homeliness, coziness, comfort.
Imagine it’s raining outside. You’re in a nice little room. Nursing a hot mug of Milo. Pressing it against your palms to push away the cold.
Ah… that’s the environment you want to create as a facilitator.
Facilitating change from anywhere
Then there’s the trusty Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) groundsheet. As a National Serviceman, I was issued this groundsheet. And it’s come in useful every time, everywhere.
With your groundsheet, you can now finish the tent with its covering.
The groundsheet was a reminder to me that even in the harshest environments, we can adapt it to suit our needs. Even in the most unlikely positions, change can be facilitated.
During this process facilitation, I initially thought that I was just going to be a tech support.
The person who renames participants on Zoom. Ensures the slides are up. Plays the background music. Small stuff.
I didn’t say a word during the focus group discussions. It was tempting to think that I didn’t contribute. But looking back, I saw how change was also facilitated through the holding of the safe space.
First, there’s the framing.
Now there’s the holding.
When virtual facilitations go wrong
There’s little to say when virtual facilitations do not go wrong.
The slides progress, the music plays, the video runs. We hear people, people can hear us.
But lots to say when something, anything, hitches up. We stare awkwardly. Think,
Here we go again.
It’s like having your groundsheet blow away on a rainy, windy day, and you’re left chasing after the groundsheet, spilling the Milo over yourself.
By the time we get into it, we trust the process less.
In virtual facilitation, it’s best to have a dedicated tech support person. It allows you to focus on the facilitation. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
If you are alone, what helps is a checklist to reduce error. Here’s a checklist you can use before your virtual facilitation.
- I hear the other person.
- The other person hears me.
- I can see the other person.
- The other person sees me.
- The other person can see my shared screen.
Facilitating change doesn’t need to come from the front. It can come from the back, the side… just maybe not the backside.
Maybe facilitation is about the small things.
Maybe facilitation isn’t about the big and fancy concepts and processes you will use.
Maybe it’s about the small things.
That’s where the second part of the maxim comes in.
Craft for moments.
Crafting suggests an intentionality.
It’s a recognition that your value-add as a facilitator can come from building a great day of facilitation. And yet seeing that transformation sometimes also occurs in the moment. Like a flash of insight. A bolt of enlightenment. Serendipity.
It calls for attention to the tiny moments of magic.
During my first process facilitation, I noticed how the facilitator simply said her name. That was all. No indication of her years of corporate experience, the degrees she had, her background… just her name.
And then it went swiftly to the others in the room.
Process facilitation can sometimes be painful to my ego. Especially in this day and age, where it’s easy to put all the titles you hold behind your name on Zoom.
Dr XYZ, PhD, CFA
It’s not about making yourself less. No, it’s not about having a faceless persona. Instead, it’s about having a persona that’s relatable. Who’s able to hold the tensions.
Who guides, without leading.
Who shares, without telling.
Who adapts, without losing his anchor.
All these come in small ways.
How? One way I saw was by conversing about the topics, without deliberately splitting it up into the questions involved.
Another was in taking away the clock, so that people could feel unhurried in their discussions. One facilitator I saw joked, and kept making fun of himself to reduce the tensions in the room. Even when the jokes fell completely flat (you could almost hear them go ‘PIAK’ on the virtual floor), he kept trying. It helped to make the conversation less serious.
Yes, we live in serious times.
Of change, challenge and confrontation to our long-held beliefs of what the world looks like.
But we also live in a time of connection, conversation, and consequence. Where we are made ever more aware that the choices we make today have consequences on the world we live in tomorrow.
Yes, I think that’s facilitation. It’s where you bring the ‘we’ to the ‘I’.
Individually, you may not.
But it’s seeing that collectively, we can change the world.
So, go go, let’s make that happen.
Contributor: John Lim
Do you desire to facilitate better? If you do, please check out our SPOT on Facilitation™ and Virtual Facilitation Workshop™ on how you can pick up the micro skills that others have found useful in helping them become a better facilitator. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.