At the age of 67, after returning from a meditation retreat, I started running daily for the first time in my life. And I soon learned that the first hill is the hardest.
It was summer, and I had no idea what I could do. So I began by exploring without expectations. I dressed in my regular sneakers, some shorts, and a tee shirt. I live in a rural town with 60 miles of dirt roads, so I ran out of my home and down the 600′ driveway. Wanting exercise, I turned left on the town road and started up the hill. Way before the top I was out of breath, so I slowed to a walk until I got to the top. I ran down some of the other side, decided that was enough for the first day, and turned around and retraced my path. I had to walk up most of my driveway.
The total run and walk was a mere mile.
I wondered if I’d ever be able to do better than that.
I’ve been facilitating The Solution Room, a popular plenary session, for 10 years. It’s a 90 – 120 minute session that engages and connects attendees, and provides peer-supported advice and support for a current professional challenge chosen by each participant. Participants routinely evaluate the session as a highly helpful and valuable experience.
Over the years I have made numerous small improvements to The Solution Room. Here’s the process I use, developed intuitively over time, illustrated with a recent tweak.
Obviously, if you’re going to improve what you do you need to practice. Each time I run The Solution Room is an opportunity to implement any new ideas gleaned from the previous time I ran it. Even if I don’t have any changes to make, practice typically makes my delivery and the consequent session a little better.
During The Solution Room, each participant has a turn facilitating exploration and support of another participant at their table. While preparing everyone for this phase, I verbally share a set of directions on how to do this. Here they are:
Read the challenge that is in front of you out loud.
Start asking questions of the person whose challenge it is to clarify the issue. If necessary, encourage everyone at the table to join in to ask clarifying questions and give advice and support.
Take notes of the ensuing discussion on the paper in front of you.
While running recent Solution Rooms I noticed that table facilitators had no problem implementing #1 and #2, but #3, the note taking, was sometimes skipped during the intense discussion that followed each challenge presentation.
Now I’ve noticed something that could be improved, it’s time to respond. “Respond” means think about what I might be able to do to make my process better.
Typically, for me, this involves musing over a period of time on what I noticed. (I typically run five or six Solution Rooms a year, so there’s no big time pressure to implement a change.) I’ve found this works best when I don’t immediately fixate on the first idea I get. Coming up with three or more options seems to lead to the best outcomes.
I considered rephrasing my instructions, emphasizing the importance of the note taking in some way beforehand or during the “rounds” of peer consulting. Finally I had the idea of creating a laminated card with the instructions on each table, and asking table members to pass the card around to each consultation facilitator in turn.
The next step then is to implement my potential improvement. For The Solution Room, I need to create the instruction cards and modify my instructions to participants so they remember to pass the card to the next facilitator.
At the next opportunity, I test my change, by implementing it and noticing what happens.
Continual improvement needs an action loop. We go back to practicing, noticing…
Conclusion: Improve your facilitation practice!
I hope this continual improvement practice I’ve shared helps you improve the quality and effectiveness of your facilitation. Do you have your own approach to improving what you do? Share your ideas in the comments below!
For three months now, I’ve meditated for twenty minutes every day.
Personally this is a big deal, as I’ve struggled to maintain a regular meditation practice for decades. I’ve resolved countless times to meditate daily, and fallen off the mindfulness wagon over and over again.
Ask attendees why they go to meetings and their top two responses are to learn and connect. Remember kids that ask a question, and when you answer it they say “why?”
“Why can’t we go outside?” “Because it’s raining.” “Why?” “Well, water’s coming out of the sky.” “Why?”
So be that annoying kid for a moment and ask: “Why do you want to learn and connect?”
If you play enough rounds of the why game, and ignore the unprofessional but possibly truthful answers — for example: “I’m hoping to get to know an attractive colleague better”; “My boss said I had to and I need a pay raise”; “It’s been too long since I ate fresh Maine lobster” — you will find that the core motivation to go to meetings is to change in some useful way. Change how you see things, and, most important, change how you do things: i.e. behavior change.
So now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s review what Harold Jarche, a veteran educator in the Canadian Armed Forces and now a leading consultant on workplace learning, has to say about the value of public speaking [emphasis added]:
“I do a fair bit of public speaking. But I doubt that much of it has changed anyone’s behaviour. I may have presented some new ideas and sparked some thinking. With a one-hour lecture, you cannot expect more. Yet a lot of our training programs consist of an expert presenting to ‘learners’. Do we really expect behaviour change from this? That would be rather wishful thinking. Learning is a process, not an event.”
“To learn a skill or get better at one you have to practice. Deliberate practice with constructive feedback is the key for long-term success.“
“I conduct face-to-face workshops as well as online ones. For my on-site sessions, usually 1/2 or a full day, I try to cover the basics and the key concepts. We do a few exercises to get people thinking differently. But I don’t expect significant changes in performance as a result of one day together.” —Harold Jarche, no time, no learning
Like Harold, after years of running meetings and workshops I’ve learned that the likelihood creating permanent valuable behavior change increases as a power of the time spent together. By “together” I don’t mean listening passively to an expert talk. I mean working together as a group to learn new skills and approaches and ways of thinking and practicing with constructive group and expert feedback.
We’ve all heard we should be doing these things to maximize the value of our valuable time together — but very, very few of today’s meetings involve even a smattering of facilitated deliberate practice with constructive feedback.
When you think of all the expensive time we continue to waste doing things we’ve been doing for hundreds of years which we now know don’t work — well, I think tragedy is an accurate description of what routinely passes as a “meeting”.
Change is hard. We now know that social production is the way to maximize learning that leads to significant, valuable, long-term change. At meetings, the instantiations of social production are facilitated workshops run by and/or with content experts. That’s what we should be doing.
Not lectures from experts. Stop wasting valuable time at meetings doing that!
Practice what you teach. When I’m presenting and sharing my conviction that experiential learning is far superior to broadcast learning, it would be pretty hypocritical for me to lecture. It would also be pretty ineffective. As Stephen Jenkinson says:
“…when expressed properly, teachings don’t function as symbols or metaphors…they are an incarnation of what they are advocating.” —Stephen Jenkinson, On How We Deny Our Mortality, The Sun Magazine
“What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?”
When this question came up on Quora.com, lots of good and useful answers were given, but they all seemed to be external answers. For me, with more than 60 years of programming experience, the one thing that made me a better programmer than most was my ability and willingness to examine myself critically and do something about my shortcomings. And, after 60 years, I’m still doing that.” —Jerry Weinberg, What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?
Being continually willing and able to notice our shortcomings and concentrate on working on them may be the most effective strategy we can use to get better at doing anything.
Image by Jonathunder (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons