Facilitation Work as a Cover-Up

img_5403I was shown in a facilitation learning event a short video clip.   It is about a retreat for 50+ people in an organisation design and facilitated by a facilitator   It is the kind of upbeat video with delightful music which showed the smiling faces, colourful wall-charts, fun activities, etc.   There were captions indicating how much the participants happily connected, enjoyed the event, praised about the organisation, etc.

A big question mark came to my mind after I watched the clip – “What really did the event do to the organisation?”    I asked for the objective statements and have to say that the event seemed to meet the objectives e.g. ‘to have a fun, engaging, high energy day’    There were probably also ‘practical outputs’ contributing to the organisation’s strategy and purpose.

But from the clip (and in particular its mood), I questioned whether the event is actually a cover-up to any organisational issue.   Is it actually a dis-services to the organisation?

This post is not a critics to this piece of work.  In fact, if it is a critics, it is a critics to myself.    I have done similar events producing lot of fun and energy, and lot of flipcharts with long list of bullet points.   Well, those events produced what the sponsor wanted…  sometimes perhaps exactly a layer of cover-up.   But is it what the organisation needed?   How much I should and can push the sponsor to spend the resources on addressing the issues under the cover-up?

Well, this is very much related to my last post re my reflection on collusion.

 

 

 

Intended Messiness – Part 3

The 2nd question to reflect on is ‘What are ‘good’ odd moments and what are those ‘bad’ ones to avoid?’    By ‘bad’, I mean those odd moments which are not conductive to the learning objectives.   As such, the answer to this question is really ‘it depends’.   On one extreme, if the learning intervention is about topic like group dynamics or self-awareness, I think all odd moments are learning-friendly.   In fact, the odder, the better.   A classic example is the Group Relations Conference which basically provides white space for assumptions to be surfaced.   See my earlier posts – Tavistock Experience and Tavistock Experience – Learning Design.

How about the workshop I mentioned in the beginning i.e. learning objective around collective wisdom?   Most odd moments are still good for learning so long as the learning transfer mechanism is in place.   See my thought on question 1.

On the other hand, though messiness can help learn collective wisdom, it is probably not a good idea to start a workshop by saying ‘Welcome to the workshop!   We the facilitators have prepared nothing and let’s see what we can learn together in the coming 3 days.   By the way, we only booked this room till 10am.  [silence]’    It probably forces people out of the Learning Zone into the Panic Zone.

Your thought?

 

Intended Messiness – Part 2

Following from the argument from the last post, there are 2 questions

  1. How to assist the participants to learn from the odd moments instead of just staying in the ‘complaint’ mode in those moments?
  2. What are ‘good’ odd moments and what are those ‘bad’ ones to avoid?

Capitalizing Messiness – To the first question, the first and foremost thing is how centered the facilitator is.   It is about how well he / she can rise above the emotion – to observe self, pause and then use rather than be consumed by the moments.  Practicing EQ helps here.   Without such consciousness, the first question is not relevant at all.

Assuming the facilitator is able to find space to consider this question, there are different ways to approach it depending on the situation.   In the scenario described above, I would probably hold a fish bowl i.e. facilitator team in the inner circle and participants in the outer circle.  The facilitators basically hold a design team meeting in response to the participants’ feedback.    The benefits are that:

  • It makes the participants feel heard
  • It transits the energy in the room from ‘I do not like that….’ to ‘what can we do about it?’
  • It allows space for the facilitator team to work on the feedback
  • It demonstrates how to tap into collective wisdom (among the facilitators)

After some 20-30 mins in fish bowl, all go back to one big circle and work on the question ‘What can we ALL do together to make the remaining 2 days a good experience?’ with the input from the design team meeting.    Lastly, I would leave some 10 mins to jointly reflect on the question ‘What can we learn from the experience this morning so far?’

My thought on the 2nd question to follow…..

The Art of Enrolment – Topic

Here is what I see as the third key reason why enrolment is difficult.   It is the nature of some topic.

For some topics, its name is confusing to start with.   ‘Leadership’ (or ‘Leadership Development’) is one of these.    You pick any 2 people in the workplace and ask them what leadership is.   They probably have very different answer.     In addition, there is one understanding of the term ‘Leadership Development’ which particularly confuses the communication i.e.

Leadership Development = Any developmental intervention for those in the leadership position.

This could really mean anything, even how to ensure policy compliance in China.   See my earlier post on ‘Leadership Development’.

With such a diverse understanding on what the topic it is, no wonder we would have ‘wrong’ participants in workshops / interventions.

Jumping ahead a bit into the ‘So What’, perhaps we should do away the term ‘Leadership’ and ‘Leadership Development’ in describing intervention.   Specifically, we should avoid workshop names like ‘The Essence of Leadership’, ‘Advanced Leadership Skills’.   Instead, we can consider to be more specific in naming them and use terms like ‘Transition’, ‘Influencing’, ‘Feedback’, ‘Visioning’.   If we are mindful to keep the name short, we can add a 4-5 words 1 liner to describe.

(Yes, most organisations have course factsheets already in place. But in my experience, people tend to judge by names rather than the content of the factsheets)

 

The Art of Enrolment

‘Magic happens before and after’ – What a great quote I learnt from the others.   The same applies to the business of developmental work. For example, whether a learning workshop succeeds or not is at least 50% ‘determined already’ before it really starts.   And one of the key pre-workshop work is to get the right participants into the workshop.

I was once in a workshop in Hong Kong with quite a few challenging participants.   They were either:

  • Not knowing why they were put into this particular program (one asked me whether he has done something wrong and thus got sent to this program!!)
  • Not having time for the workshop.   Some were actively working on deals
  • Not seeing the need to develop their leadership at all
  • Not even supported by their boss to spend time in the program

The workshop turned out to be very challenging as we had quite a few of the above and their dysfunctional behaviours influenced others a lot e.g. late-coming, working on mobile devices during sessions.   Having said, there were often 1 or 2 of these ‘prisoners’, ‘tourists’ or even ‘terrorists’ in the workshops I experienced.

Well, that is why I always prefer to work on Just-in-Time learning with intact teams.   See previous posts like this.   Since the intervention itself is real work, the participants will naturally have the will and time for it.   Unfortunately, we got to work on Just-in-Case learning as well and the risk of having ‘wrong’ participants is there.

Let me first reflect on why ‘wrong’ participants will end up in a learning program.   Organisationally, I think the root causes are size, time and topic nature.   First, when there are too many people in an organisation, there will be very different views on what a talent should develop on.     The talent development team in the headquarter believes an individual (let’s say John) should develop on networking skills but John and his boss see hard skills like credit analysis to be more important.   The situation becomes more complex when there are more parties in the picture e.g. local HR, business HR, local talent development, business head.

Ideally, such difference in view can be reconciled if there is time.   Specifically, John comes up his own individual development plan.   He discusses and agrees with his boss.   They then further discuss and agree with their HR partner.   And that HR partner ideally should have liaised with the other various HR specialists and business heads, and thus understands perfectly well the top down agenda on talent development i.e. what competency is needed for the organisation or a particular business.   John can then adjust his individual development plan which by then takes care of his own aspiration, the immediate business and the overall organisational need.   Yet, how often does an organizations have time for such alignment work?    Especially for the listed ones which need to respond to short-term-ism!

Let me elaborate on the third factor – topic nature – in the next post.

Tavistock Experience – Learning Design

Further reflection on the Tavistock experience – As said, it is a very uncommon learning experience. To the extreme, for some parts, I could not help comment them as “bad learning design”.    On the surface of it, there were things looking like ‘shallow debrief’, ‘loose instruction’, etc.    On the other hand, I questioned myself on ‘What am I missing?’.   In sharing these thoughts with others, I was challenged with a question ‘So, what does good learning design mean to you?’

I think this is a good question to ponder on.   Given how unusual the Tavistock experience is, the question can really uncover and challenge my assumption on learning design.    I think there are a few elements which a good learning experience should consist of (not meant to be a prescriptive answer to good learning design).

A good design should create an environment which generates more learning around the topic as agreed with the learners than environments otherwise experienced by the learners.   What such intended environment should look like thus depends on what the topic is.    By environment, it includes the process, facilitators, the physical set up, the material, the learners mix, etc.

In order to achieve the above, a good design should take into account the Adult Learning Principles.   To me, the key ones are WIIFM, variety in learning styles, repetition, a balance of realness and unfamiliarity, learning transfer, effective use of pre and post experience.

In particular, a good design should enhance learning transfer as much as possible so long as it does not crowd out learners’ own responsibility and compromise learning depending on the nature of the intended learning topic.   To be more specific on experiential learning, a good design should provide space for learners to make sense out of the experience individually and collectively with fellow learners.

In that sense, my Tavistock definitely create an unique environment to learn about group relations which the participants would not experience otherwise.  In particular, it is very successful to create the learners’ mix – the size, the willingness to learn and the variety.   Re the Adult Learning Principles, being an open program, the Tavistock conference has limitation on repetition and ‘pre & post’.   I think it did well on variety in learning styles and realness.   Yet, i think there is missed opportunity in WIIFM and learning transfer.

For those who have been to Tavistock experience, what good learning design means to you and what do you think of Tavistock from the learning design perspective?

Lucky Me

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This post is a bit dated.   But I still want to post it here since it is rather significant to me.    The photos were taken in Gazipur, Bangladesh – the outskirt of Dhaka.   I conducted a team development workshop there for 2 days.    The event is significant to me in a number of ways:

 

  • The workshop went very well.   The sponsor and the participants were apparently satisfied and more importantly their relationship seemed to start changing.   In the final 1-word check-out, one participant said ‘change’.   He further elaborated that he now saw people differently.  In addition, we arrived with very concrete Requests and Offers between leader and the team, with specific person and date for follow-up.
  • It was the last workshop with my previous employer.    It nicely marked the end.    I am particularly happy that I end it with a piece of ‘real’ work.   As I mentioned before here, I believe more and more that learning happens much more effectively when we get the learners do real stuff.
  • Most importantly, I felt very grateful during the event.    I was absorbed with what I did there.   I felt like time just passed by so quickly.  I was in the flow.   People say everyone is borne for reasons.   If that is the case, I really feel like I am borne to facilitate group work.    Not that I am very good at it.   Just that I like to do it so much.

 

 

 

I guess I am lucky.

Be careful about L3 and L4

A great piece of learning I got in talking to a learning / training veteran – It goes like this:

Business leader: ‘I am sending people to your programs. Can you guarantee that they will do what they learn (i.e. L3) and perform better (i.e. L4)? Oh, and how are you going to prove such to me?’

Learning consultant: ‘You tell me. You have your reasons in why sending people to programs. And you are the one who control the environment in how they transfer the learning into the workplace.’

The above may be a bit extreme. But there is some truth in it. Conversely speaking, problem will arise if as a passionate learning consultant, one promises to produce and measure L3 and L4 result. He takes away the business leader’s responsibility in clarifying what specific result he tries to improve and providing the necessary support for learning transfer. It is like a stationery store selling a pen to a dad for his kid. And the store keeper is trying to promise to the dad that the kid will use the pen and will win the caligraphy award. It is tempting to be so helpful but it could actually be…… not helpful….

I experienced it before. Lesson learnt.

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