Facilitation Friday #30: Making the Most of the In Between

Great figure skaters and great facilitators have something in common: they understand and honor the importance of the in between.

Figure skating judges assign skaters two marks to form their overall score, one for technical merit and one for artistic impression. The novice, naïve, or nascent skaters treats those two separate marks separately in how they are pursued in the actual skating program itself. They skate round and round the rink, primarily building speed to blast a technical element, more often than not, a triple jump.

Every so often they remember they are evaluated by two marks. So they pay lip service to artistic impression for 20-30 seconds, flailing their arms in various combinations while gliding more slowly around the ice.

For these skaters the in between is unexplored territory. Their programs feel a bit like this: skate, skate, skate, jump. Repeat. The “in between” exists only because something has to come between the jumps. It has a distinctly utilitarian value: to get the skater to the next jump.

The same can be said of novice workshop presenters in longer learning time blocks.  Instead of individual content segments in a half-day or full-day program being seamlessly woven together into a coherent learning experience, participants feel as if they have been treated do a disjointed collection of separate and not necessarily related bundles of ideas and insights.

Watch a decorated skating champion like Michelle Kwan, however, and you see that the in between is a place for artistic and technical work in and of itself. It exists not only as a space between more visible technical elements, but also as a forum where artistry and technical capability can be further showcased. Jumps seem to flow seamlessly in and out of the “in between” as that space becomes the precursor for, and subsequent expression of, the more distinctive technical elements.

Leaders, facilitators, learning experience designers, and meeting planners need to pay more attention to the in betweens in organizational life, treating them as significant entrances to, and exits from, equally significant moments. Effective facilitation helps manage and make the most of the in betweens, intervening in ways that help weave together greater meaning and connection.

Instead of thinking of a workshop as an isolated learning experience, a committee meeting as a freestanding discussion, or a strategy session as a distinct and separate event, we need to design and facilitate them as a part of a longer chain of events, conversations, and meaning.  Instead of the in between being an aftethought, it must be an intentional intervention crafted to keep the work moving forward, the ideas and insights forthcoming, the learning and application happening, and the relationships deepening and developing.

Since the figure skating metaphor might not resonate with everyone, try this track and field analogy instead.  The work of leadership and learning in groups is like a relay race with the individual workshops, planning sessions, and meetings being a single leg of the race.  The leg (workshop, meeting, etc.) just finishing has to lean forward to pass the baton and set the foundation for what will happen next just as the next event has to reach back and connect to what has transpired previously.

If our facilitation doesn't design for the smooth handoff from one component of the process to another instead of running a smooth relay team, we end up with a mere collection of individual performances that don't get us to the finish line.


Every Friday in 2012, I post information and insights about effective facilitation, sharing some of the content and thinking I provide in the one-day and half-day facilitation workshops that groups often engage me to present.  You can find previous posts by searching for the tag: facilitationfriday.

I'm current scheduling 2013 opportunities to lead half-day or full-day workshops on The Art of Facilitation: Maximizing Results and Individuals' Contributions.  Sessions feature content customized to meet the needs of your participants and are highly interactive in nature.  I often present them at volunteer leadership conferences, as staff or board training sessions, at conventions as a pre-conference or as part of the main program, or as open registration programs that one or more groups sponsor for members. They can be complemented by pre- or post-workshop webinars.  If you'd like to discuss the possibilities for your group, please complete this simple form.

And you can join the 30+ association professional already registered to attend a full-day facilitation skills program (6 CAE hours) on August 21 being sponsored by the American Society of Associaiton Executives.  Learn more and register here.