Rethinking Facilitation

Nov 13 G100It was a recent talent development workshop co-facilitated by me.   In short, in a few occasions I thought that we were about to hit the brick wall.   But it did not turn out to be the case.   In fact, there were a few participants whom I had anticipated to be upset with our arrangement.   Yet, they turned out to be among those who appreciated the workshop the most (according to our 1-on-1 conversations)

It forces me to challenge some of my assumptions on my facilitation work.   My current assumptions are:

•    Facilitators (to be specific the learning facilitators) should ALWAYS support AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE the participants to the extent that the latter are pleased.
•    Facilitators (again for learning) should NEVER trick the participants to failure, even for the good intention of experiential learning

I have thought very hard on point 2.  I think I will still hold point 2 though it seems that the learners did not really mind.  In the language of ‘Immunity to Change’, point 1 is probably a BIG ASSUMPTION. And I would like to assume differently now:

•    Facilitators should ALWAYS support the participants.  The purpose however is to achieve the contracted learning objective but NOT to please them.   In fact, in order to achieve the objectives, the participants may get upset during the process.

The question for myself – What else can I do to shift my BIG ASSUMPTION?

Half-way Feedback

It is not a new idea.   It is more whether one really does it or not.   The KNOWING-DOING gap.

On day 3 morning of a 4-day workshop in Shanghai, I asked the learners to do a ‘plus-delta’ figure.   Put ‘plus’ on a post-it and ‘delta’ on another one.  They then put on a flipchart so that it was transparent to all.   More importantly, it is not just feedback on the facilitators but also on the learners themselves.   Specifically, it is also about how we had behaved regarding the ‘participation agreement’ we sat up on day 1.

It serves various purposes effectively.   It gathered feedback to improve the workshop.   It demonstrated the facilitators’ sincerity.   But above all, it gives the responsibility back to the learners to keep up to the ‘participation agreement’


‘How to get the maximum value from the class?’

I attended an experiential training class on self leadership recently. There were quite a few of learning on facilitation skills, especially because it was a rare opportunity for me in being a participant. Let me share a very specific learning point here.

In the beginning, the facilitator said, ‘Let’s explore how to get maximum value out of this training.’    He first asked the group ‘raise your hand if you want to get the maximum value out of these 2 days.’   He then gave time for the response.   This is a very good question to make the group demonstrate collectively and visually the positive learning attitude. No one would argue not to.

He then threw to the group ‘so, how to get the maximum value?’   He then recorded on a flipchart the massive quantity of input from the group e.g. listen, participate, speak up…..

In short, the process and resulting flipchart effectively enable the group with positive learning environment.

Learning Enemy

Other than coaching skills, I picked up some great facilitation / training techniques in Chennai.  In fact, the 2 facilitators are wonderful!   Among all, they were great in using analogies, stories and their own experience to illustrate the concepts.   It is not easy to present and explain what each of the 34 talent themes mean.   It could be very boring.   But they did it in a vividly way!!

Let me share something new to me which I learnt.   The first thing is the idea of ‘Learning Enemy’    It could be the mindset of ‘I already knew it’ or ‘It does not work’.

When I apply it, I would probably say something like the following to the learners:

‘You probably want to maximize your learning since we are here already.   One thing that we get in our way is the ‘Learning Enemy’   They are those little voices in our mind which prohibit us to learn new things.   They block us from seeing things from new perspective.   An example is the idea of ‘I already knew it’     What is your own ‘Learning Enemy’?  [Pause.  No need to really take in response.  Just let the concept to sink in.]    I invite you to identify what it is and let it go.   Doing this can free you up to learn new things.’

It is a great concept since it separates the learners from the ‘bad’ thing.   It helps learner admit the undesirable mindsets more easily.  It is like saying ‘You are OK.  Just that there is something affecting you.  So, take this away.’

Taiwan Experience

I am writing this on my way from Taipei to Hong Kong, after I just completed the SPIN class in Taipei today.

Well, I have not done the ‘Right After Class (RAC)’ sharing for quite some time.   I however want to write this experience since I do like it.  In particular, I like how I maintained the discipline and atmosphere in the class.  For example, on day 2 and 3, all 22 learners arrived before the start time at 0900!!   It is amazing to see that all seats    have been taken when the class starts!!

In short, the key to maintain discipline is that you got to agree a ‘consequence’ (e.g. sing, dance) with them and more importantly execute it, repeat, execute!   If you ‘let go’ one single ‘offender’, it is like telling the rest that it is OK not to follow the ground rules.  On the other hand, learners will follow the ground rules better if you can carry out the consequence to the most senior person (if he / she violates any of the ground rules)   Of course, you do not act like a hardcore policeman.   You got to strike a balance between being strict and approachable.

Another observation is that the Taiwan learners were reasonably engaged in the class.   There were smiles and nodding….  Anyway, I plan to send them a follow up email to solicit their more detailed feedback on the class.   I hope that I can run the Africa class as good as this one.


我已经有好一段时间没有为每一课程写东西了(即‘Right After Class (RAC)’系列),但我真的想写写这次台北的经验。其中我特别想纪录的是我挺成功建立的课堂纪律和良好学习气氛,例如,在课程的第2和第3天所有的学员准时在课程9点钟开始前就到达!能够在课程开始的时候看到所有座位也有人坐真是让我很有成就感!


另外,从这班学员在课上的微笑和点头等,我能留意到这班学员挺投入上课…. 无论如何,我计划写一个电邮给他们征纳他们比较详细的意见,让我可以提高课堂技巧。


RAC – An Ineffective Class

  • Course: SPIN
  • Date: 11-13 June 08
  • Location: Beijing, China
  • # of Learners: 23
  • I am feeling: Puzzled

I am writing this on my flight from Beijing back to Shanghai, after I just concluded the class around 3 hours ago. It rains heavily both in Beijing and Shanghai, and thus caused serious flight delay. I hope that I could arrive home before midnight….

I do not feel right about this class. The learners were not engaged enough in general as compared my previous SPIN class. I can see people doing sms with their mobile phones, going in and out answering phone calls…. What’s the worst is that they performed badly during those quiz-type recap session. They did not learn as well as I expected (or as my previous classes).

I am not sure why this is the case. Some possible reasons coming to my mind:

Continue reading “RAC – An Ineffective Class”