Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Favorite Facilitation Quotes

"A facilitative leader brings discipline into maintaining and deepening their capacity—whatever that may be —to be engaged. Engagement is easy when there are no distractions, nothing else demanding your attention, and none of the internal anchors prevent us from committing. Of course, it is precisely in those moments of distraction and difficulty that the discipline is required."
The Nine Disciplines of a Facilitator by Jon C. Jenkins and Maureen R. Jenkins.

"The main aim of the facilitative leader is to leverage the resources of group members."
Facilitating to Lead! by Ingrid Bens

"The facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding, and cultivates shared responsibility."
Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner, et al

"When people who attend experience that their presence is truly wanted and valuable, and that their unique gifts is necessary for the best outcome of the gathering, the possibility for authentic engagement, leading to success, is greatly enhanced."

The Art of Convening, by Craig and Patricia Neal with Cynthia Wold

"But the essence of Humble Inquiry goes beyond just overt questioning. The kind of inquiry I am talking about derives from an attitude of interest and curiosity. It implies a desire to build a relationship that will lead to more open communication. It also implies that one makes oneself vulnerable and, thereby, arouses positive helping behavior in the other person."
Humble Inquiry by Edgar H. Schein

"Perhaps one of the most difficult things for a facilitator to do is to allow someone to struggle. To rescue people from the struggle immediately shuts off an opportunity for them to learn and grow. Supporting and encouraging them through the struggle is much more rewarding for everyone involved."
Facilitation by Trevor Bentley

"The more present we are as individuals and as organizations, the more choices we create. As awareness increases, we can engage with more possibilities. We are no longer held prisoner by habits, unexamined thoughts, or information we refuse to look at."
—a simpler way by Margaret Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers 

"It is a misuse of our power to take responsibility for solving problems that belong to others."
Stewardship by Peter Block 

"Any thoughts about the future that do not strengthen our capacity to be in service to the group are harmful. When we get ahead of ourselves, predicting what might occur, we take ourselves out of the present—the only place where we can have a positive influence."
Standing in the Fire by Larry Dressler 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Facilitation Friday #43: But We're Unique

Image Credit: Flickr User Kate Ter Haar • Creative Commons License
It may be in a workshop. Perhaps a town hall or house of delegates meeting. Sometimes it's a one-on-one discussion. 

But at some point every person who facilitates encounters this participant response:

But you don't understand.
We're different. 
We're unique. 
That won't work here.

Sigh. That's the internal facilitator response to something we've heard so many times before.  While this may be a natural human reaction, expressing impatience or exasperation with this participant comment isn't helpful, yet it too often occurs.

So let's dig a little deeper into the minds of the frustrated facilitators. They could be thinking any or all of the following:
  • You're not nearly as unique as you think you are.
  • Everyone thinks they are different, but you can still use this information if you adapt it a bit.
  • You may be unique, but that doesn't mean we are going to make an exception to the policy we are introducing.
  • "We're unique" is just a defensive response people use when they don't want to try something new or work at learning from an example that isn't 100% like them.
None of those will help advance the exchange … even if all of them might be true.  Remember the root definition of facilitation: actions that make it easier.  What are we trying to make easier?  For participants to thoughtfully entertain something that right now they are rejecting.

Only one response makes it easier to advance a discussion when a participant cries, "You don't understand.  We're different."  Accepting it as true and engaging in open-minded inquiry to learn more.
  • "You say your chapter is different and that what's being proposed won't work for you. I'd love to learn more about the differences you see here that are obstacles to implementation."
  • "You know, everyone and every situation is unique.  Tell me more about what makes that true for you."
  • "What do we most need to understand about you or your situation?"
In other words, we need to dig deeper and listen without judgment.  Doing anything else, particularly dismissing the proclaimed uniqueness, invites nothing but defensiveness.

Remember the ladder of inference:  "We're different and that won't work for us" is an inference, a judgment, based on a system of beliefs and possibly some tangible reasons. The facilitative response invites participants to step down to the base of the ladder and to share their observations, what they see as the differences that matter so much.

In doing so, we help surface the information that can help us determine (1) if the uniqueness of the individual and/or his organization really is relevant to what's being discussed, and (2) how we (or others in the conversation) might help them "try on" the proposed new thinking  to see where it might be a good fit with their environment.

Facilitation Friday is a weekly series exploring the work of effective facilitation. Your comments about this post are encouraged, as well as requests for future post's topics.  To find previous posts in this series, simply search for the label: facilitationfriday.  

If you'd like a custom facilitation skills workshop (90-minute, half-day, whole day) for your organization, please complete this form.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's TIme to Transform Transactions

I'm going to tell you a story.  While mine is about purchasing a painting, it really is about a transaction.  

Every organization has transactions waiting to be transformed (joining, registering for a conference, signing up to volunteer), so think about your equivalents to my painting purchase.

Like many cities, Indianapolis art galleries open new shows in a monthly First Fridays series. Braving the snow and winter cold on January 3, friends and I hit a popular Indy gallery that contains many working artist studios and was featuring several openings. 

I found the work showcased in one of the main galleries appealing and immediately decided to buy a painting.  The gallery was crowded and I could not spot anyone with whom to make the purchase.

Lesson One: it should be easy to complete the transaction and the process and the players should be obvious.

Eventually I got connected to one of the volunteers writing up purchases, a role I learned was signified by carrying a clipboard.

If the back of his clipboard was emblazoned with "I Sell the Art" in bold letters he would have
immediately been more visible.  If the artist had worn a name badge instead of blending in with the other patrons, I would have found him easily. We were given a printed sheet listing the different openings in the gallery upon arrival. It could also include a brief instruction on what to do if you want to buy art.

Lesson Two: View the transaction as the potential beginning of a relationship.

While the volunteer ran my credit card, I briefly chatted with the artist whose work I had bought.  I indicated that I buy a lot of local artists and that I thought he had undervalued and underpriced his work.  He thanked me for the advice and my purchase, asked my name (but didn't capture it), and then went on to talk to other onlookers.

I will probably never hear from this artist again ... which is a missed opportunity on his part.  He engaged well enough for the present purchase I made, but he did nothing to cultivate the future purchases I might make.
"Jeffrey, thanks so much for purchasing one of my paintings.  I'm flattered that you are going to add it to your collection of Indy artists.  I would love to invite you over to my studio in the future to see my next body of work. Might I get your phone number or email address so that I can do that?"
Do the key players in your organization feel competent and confident to extend the transaction if appropriate?

Lesson Three: Make your receipts/acknowledgement reflect the investment.

When the volunteer returned from running my credit card, he said I would receive an email receipt from Square (the app for processing the purchases).  I've paid for a lot of cab rides via Square and was hoping that the purchase receipt for art would be different than the purchase of transportation.  It wasn't.

I've written before about how the Indianapolis Museum of Art's website confirmed becoming a member as if I had just bought something from the gift shop.  Some transactions are about more than just the exchange of money and the documentation involved in the process should reflect that.

Lesson Four: Honor the excitement and make it easy to share.

Finally, I asked about the process for claiming the painting, something the volunteers should have explained to me automatically, but didn't.  I was told I would receive a call in about a month when the current shows were taken down for the new openings.  I could pick it up then. 

Makes total sense, but again this moment is a missed opportunity. I just bought a painting that I was excited about, and I won't be able to share that excitement in a tangible way for the next 30 days.

What if upon completing my purchase, the volunteer snapped a photo of me and the artist in front of my new painting?  It could have been sent along with my receipt and would be a placeholder for my purchase and an image easily shared via social media channels.

In this blog post on Indy arts site Sky Blue Window, local arts philanthropist and avid collector Jeremy Efroymson aptly notes that "The story of the art is more important than the actual piece."  Think about the transactions your organization processes and identify those whose story could (or should) be about much more than just the exchange of money.

Every transaction has the potential to be transformed. 
Which of yours would most benefit from a refresh?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Facilitation Friday #42: A More Powerful Pair Share

Turn to a partner and …

The Partner Share (or Pair Share) may be one of the simplest and most frequently used interaction formats in workshops.  It easily moves participants from passively listening to a presenter to active learners conversing with a peer.

So I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I only recently thought deeply about this technique in terms of how introverted or extroverted learners might value it. This rethinking happened because (1) I’ve been rereading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking; and, (2) my own experience as a workshop participant where the presenter asked us to share with a partner. Side note: I find Cain's book a bit excessive, but her TED talk quite helpful.

Very early in the workshop in which I participated, the presenter asked us to partner and for each person to take about three minutes to share his/her definition of effective workshop design.  My partner asked to share first and despite my strong effort to remain an active listener, I found a part of my brain kept shifting to thinking about my definition and what I was going to share during my turn.

Lightbulb. Face palm. D’oh.

A partner or pair share is most effective when both partners can be 100% present.  That can be facilitated, and the internal reflection process of introverts can better be honored, with a simple shift in the instructions:
  • Introduce the discussion question or sharing topic.
  • Ask people to take a minute or two to jot down their own thoughts.
  • Now invite them to pair up and take turns sharing.
When you capture your own thinking first, it becomes much easier to focus on what your partner is sharing and to potentially draw more insight from it.

To test my own experience, I used a recent facilitation skills workshop that I led. I divided the room into halves and explained I would be coming to each group individually with instructions. With one group, I used the typical “partner up and share” and with the other I used the modified process described above.

After the pair shares were completed, I asked individuals to assign a 1-5 ranking for each of the following areas (1 being lowest and 5 being highest):
  • I articulated my best thinking to my partner.
  • I remained engaged as an active listener for my partner.
Participants in the group that received the modified instructions consistently offered higher rankings for both questions.

While I may be late to this party, a Google search while preparing this post let me know that some educators have long called the technique: Think, Pair, Share.  Its value has been noted particularly for its equity in the learning process.

The lesson learned?  Even the simplest facilitation format benefits from examination through a different potential learning lens be it introversion-extroversion, generational, physical ability, amount of experience, native language, et al. Doing so often will highlight opportunities to make it more inclusive in its appeal and value.

Facilitation Friday is a weekly series exploring the work of effective facilitation. Your comments about this post are encouraged, as well as requests for future post's topics.  To find previous posts in this series, simply search for the label: facilitationfriday.  

If you'd like a custom facilitation skills workshop (90-minute, half-day, whole day) for your organization, please complete this form:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Your Permission Is Not Necessary

"We really need to have a launch party the day tickets to TEDxIndianapolis go on sale."

When I heard a fellow planning committee member make this suggestion, my first thought was, "Uh, I'm pretty sure we don't."

I mean, come on.  Have a launch party just because tickets are now available?  Who would think you should invest your limited time and resources in an event that really isn't necessary?

Apparently a good percentage of our planning committee members as I paid attention to their reactions to the idea.

Despite the additional enthusiasm, I remained skeptical: we didn't need a special event just to kick off the ticket sales.  People would be ready to snatch their seats the minute they became available online.

But I decided to keep my mouth shut and not express any of my reservations.  Because the bottom line was that my permission wasn't required.  Someone had passion for an idea.  Others also held interest.  And they were going to make it a reality.

A few weeks ago, much to my amazement, 100-200 people came out to our launch event.  They were entertained by local DJs and musicians, enjoyed some free food and drink, engaged in some creative exercises related to our TEDxIndianapolis theme, stood to have their pictures taken holding an X, and bought their tickets at computer terminals set up for that purpose.

So while I still hold on to my belief that we didn't need to have a launch party.  I can now appreciate and support why people may want to have one and the value that it can offer.

This experience again reminded me that not everything requires our explicit permission or outright support in order to move forward. Sometimes simply remaining on the sidelines, observing but not obstructing, is all that is required.

P.S.  In the Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, this idea of observing without obstructing is called stand aside.  It is one of several gradients of agreement, and I have found this scale to be a useful tool in my work with groups/

Monday, September 09, 2013

Are You a First-Rate Noticer?

A book review I recently read described the author as a "first rate noticer" because of the vivid detail displayed in his narrative descriptions of the characters and their surroundings. I liked that turn of phrase and have tried to be a first class noticer myself the past few months, particularly when in unfamiliar or international settings.

What does it take to be a first rate noticer? I've developed a short list of a few key characteristics.

Permeable boundaries in your range of attention. You can't be a first rate noticer if you diligently work out to block out stimuli. While we all periodically suffer from information overload, tuning out too much could eventually cause you to miss noticing something that would be personally or professionally valuable.

Intentionally being open to things you'd categorize merely as "Hmm … that's interesting." First rate noticing means keeping an eye out for things that may not provide an immediate answer to a situation you are trying to solve, but nonetheless strike you as being curious or interesting. In noticing these things, we might accidentally trigger some unanticipated connections that ultimately would be of value.

Patience to sit still. You can certainly be a decent noticer on the fly or while in motion, but some of the best connections may come from simply sitting still and absorbing all that is happening around you. Scientist Francesco Varela talked about this in terms of looking for versus letting come.

A willingness to be disturbed. Author Meg Wheatley has offered great commentary about the need to allow ourselves to be disturbed … by different perspectives, by diverse people, by unfamiliar situations. If we try to make everything fit into our pre-existing mental models versus allowing those models to be reshaped or completely reconfigured, we inhibit the learning we might otherwise enjoy.
Challenge yourself this week. Take 5 minutes each day to do nothing but sit still and notice your surroundings. You might be surprised at what interesting insights capture your attention. 

And because we each notice different things, be sure to make asking colleagues and customers about what are noticing a regular part of your conversation routine.  You'll be surprised at how much you can learn from such a simple question.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wish You Were Here

How do organizations address the ones who got away, the long-time members or customers no longer in their ranks?

That was the question on my mind last fall when I decided to engage in a little personal experimentation.  What did I do?  I did not renew my membership in three professional associations.  I had been a member of each group for more than 10 years.

So what happened?  Not a heck of a lot.  Each of the three associations continued to send me additional renewal invoices (second notice, third notice, final notice) without any cover letter or change in messaging.  Several months after my membership lapsed in one association, a membership staffer did send a more personal email inquiring about my decision and inviting me to rejoin.

So 1 out of 3 slightly acted in a manner consistent with organizations that profess to be about “community.”

But since then?  Crickets.  Silence.  Nada.

So here’s the thing. It shouldn’t be this way.

I recently checked into a DC hotel which I used to frequent more regularly and the desk agent greeted me by saying "Where have you been?  We haven’t seen you in months."  She astutely took the date of my last stay—that I assume was displayed on her computer screen—and turned it into a personal outreach opening line.  Well-played Grand Hyatt staffer.

I once belonged to a gym that would send you a postcard if you hadn’t worked out in the past month.  I belonged to another gym that went even more personal, sending you a postcard of your favorite piece of workout equipment (which the staff would have had to notice to know) emblazoned with “I miss you so much.”

An elliptical told me it missed me more than any of the three associations—to which I paid dues and was an active contributor—has since I failed to renew. 

Yeah, let that sink in for a second.  A fundraiser would never let this happen.  They’ve got assertive retention and outreach plans for individuals that fall into those special categories of LYBUNTs (last year but not this) or SYBUNTs (some years but not this).  They know that attracting attention and interest completely anew can be far more difficult than re-attracting attention and contributions yet to completely fade away (hopefully).

We miss you.  That’s the message a community would send to one of its former members. So many associations have "Member Get a Member" campaigns, but I haven't seen one that has a "Member Get a Member Back" Campaign.  We believe peer-peer outreach is good for recruitment, but not for retention.  Really?

In addition to tugging at the heartstrings of the community connection, the organization might let you know what you’ve been missing in more tangible terms.  When you let your membership lapse in a professional organization, when you quit visiting a store where you once shopped regularly, you no longer have familiarity with the new products, services, and value they offer.  So in a sense, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Wouldn’t a “Here’s What You’re Missing” communication be a campaign that organizations should attempt with lapsed customer or members?  Shouldn’t we be doing the same with individuals who are still members, but who are not attending programs or major conferences? 

Members and customers make decisions partially based on the perceived return on investment of an organization’s offerings.  If we don’t let people know the value that they’ve been missing, how can we ever expect to get them to reinvest as a member or customer? In the spirit of Jay Baer's excellent new book, Youtility, share info in these marketing communications that is helpful to the recipient, not hype about the sender.

And if absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder ...
and if a professional association indeed has cultivated a community ...

the campaign that might most easily renew the connection and contribution of a lapsed member is the simplest one of all: 

a photo of members around a table at an association event with an empty chair and a handwritten sign that says:

Wish you were here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Buried By Books

How does the saying go?  "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray ... "

I had such good intentions for making August a Readapalooza month, catching up on the stacks of books that have accumulated since the start of the year.  But after starting off strong the first week, here I am on Week Three without another completed themed set of books to report on because work and life kept me from completing them.

I doubt I am alone in struggling to keep up with all the content that is vying for my time and attention.  A couple of thoughts about this fairly new reality, and how I am going to try and manage it moving forward.  Maybe my approach will help you.

  1. A book I've purchased doesn't fight for my attention the same way as blogs posts that I receive via email or links I've bookmarked from Twitter.  Rightly or wrongly, the latter have a sense of urgency to them because they appear daily or more frequently.  That's a false sense of timing though.  I need to establish systems to organize that information as it comes in, but set it aside to read at a designated time.
  2.  Some books are better read in the company of others.  The insights others can share from their perspective, as well as the accountability that being in a reading group can create, are both something I need to actively pursue for a limited number of publications.
  3. In graduate school, study groups were an effective way to have different people take leadership positions for individual classes.  I need to try and assemble the same for work-related reading: a group of people in which each group member agrees to be the primary reader for a specific publication (i.e., Harvard Business Review).  On a monthly basis we connect and share highlights from our reading responsibility.
  4. One word: audiobooks.  I'm finding that I really don't enjoy reading on a Kindle or an iPad when I am at the gym.  Yet my time for cardio is also a good time for catching up on some reading.  Since I don't have a long commute when I can catch up on books, I am going to try audiobooks as a listening option while working out.
  5. Just buy fewer books.  I love books, and I love being exposed to new content, but I tend to buy a book when I first hear of its publication.  I need to resist that impulse because it only compounds my current challenge.  If a book is so good that I need to read it, I have to trust that I'll hear enough buzz from various sources once it has been around for awhile that it will again capture my interest.
So no readapalooza, but I do plan to share takeaways moving forward from the reading I do complete.

What strategies are you using for your own reading and content consumption?  Share them in the comments.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Advice on Giving Advice

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Vít ‘tasuki’ Brunner
"Here's what I would do ... "

Sounds like you are about to offer someone some advice.  Before you do, stop.

Stop and ask yourself if you're about to finish that sentence with advice based on your experiences, your interests, your values, your needs, and your aspirations.

If you are, it might be best if you say nothing.

The best advice isn't what would work for us.
The best advice is tied to the person being advised.

So proceed with caution unless you're about to start off your advice-giving with this:
If I understand you correctly, what matters most to you right now is ______________.  Based on that, it seems to me that you might want to ___________________.
Tie the content of your advice
to the context of the person being advised.

It's often easier said than done.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Serve. Give. Help. Three Keys to 21st Century Selling.

If your time is short and you want the executive summary, here it is:  

To sell is human and selling should serve others. (Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human)
We serve others best when we give more than we take. (Adam Grant, Give and Take)
We should give more help rather than offer just hype. (Jay Baer, Youtility). 

But now the rest of the story: 

I don’t like sales.
I don’t like selling.
I don’t like being sold.
I don’t like people trying to get my buy-in.
I could go on and on and on.

This is why I was so excited to read Dan Pink’s* most recent bestseller, To Sell Is Human.  With an array of interesting tales and a handful of compelling statistics, Pink correctly told me the brutal fact I need to accept: We are all in sales now.

So I initially sucked it up, accepted that he’s correct (really, would you argue against Dan Pink?), and gamely read on through chapter after chapter of engaging anecdotes, practical tools and tips, and interesting characters with stories to tell.

But when I got to the end of the book, the whole idea of sales still didn’t sit well with me.  So I waited a month or two and I read it again.

This time, the lightbulb went off.  Once you “get over it” and let go of all the negative attachments you may have to the ideas of sales and selling, Pink’s book is exactly the guidebook you need to become more effective at the business we all are in nowadays.

However, some of us have a lot of baggage to get over when it comes to thinking of ourselves in sales. This word cloud reflects the responses Pink received when he asked more than 900 people around the globe what adjectives they associate with sales or selling.  If you’re a salesperson, this is not a particularly appealing sense of how others see your profession.  And since we all are now in sales, we ALL get to be thought of as pushy, dishonest, sleazy, annoying, and manipulative.  Bet you can’t wait to get out of bed and go to work tomorrow.

But we need to get over it. The problem is that doing so isn’t necessarily easy.  Rightly or wrongly, Pink doesn’t spend too much time helping us work through our cognitive dissonance about sales (that’s graduate school speak for irrationally hanging on to an unhelpful belief).

That’s where the new books from Adam Grant (Give and Take) and Jay Baer (Youtility) are particularly of value.  Read in combination or succession with To Sell is Human, they form the three-legged stool for contemporary persuasion, marketing, sales, and service.  In fact if I was those three I’d box them together and sell them as a set along with a discussion guide and sample workshop outlines, perhaps written by someone like … say .. me?!  A few key takeaways from the works of Grant and Baer:

Give and Take
  •  "As the service sector continues to expand, more and more people are placing a premium on providers who have established relationships and reputations as givers" (p. 17).
  • "When we see a taker coming, we protect ourselves by closing the doors to our networks, withholding our trust and help" (p. 31).
  • Adam Rifkin's five-minute favor: "You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody" (p. 55).
  • We overestimate what we bring to partnerships and collaborations because of the responsibility bias (attributed to psychologists Michael Ross and Fiore Sicoly), "exaggerating our own contributions relative to others' inputs" (p. 81).
  • "Consumers' desire to consume inherently useful information has never been greater" (p. xiii).
  • Three approaches to Youtility: (1) self-serve information, (2) radical transparency, and (3) real-time relevancy (p. 44).
  • "Now, we must build loyalty with information" (p. 50).
  • "If you sell something, you make a customer today.  If you help someone, you may create a customer for life" (p. 187).
So after this trifecta of good reads, I not only accept that like you, I am now in sales, but I also can embrace the act of selling as one that is about generosity, service, and helpfulness.  Because as Pink aptly notes:  “At its best, moving people can achieve something greater and more enduring than merely an exchange of resources.” 


* Disclosure:  I received compensation for contributing some activities to the paperback edition of Pink's A Whole New Mind and was one of a group of volunteers who received galley copies and other additional items in exchange for early blogging and reviews of To Sell is Human.