My Recent Rookie Mistake

The lesson to be learned is that no matter how much experience you have, you can still make a rookie mistake.  And I recently did.

The facilitation skills workshops I present usually run either a half-day or a full-day.  In either format, participants first apply the facilitation skills we've explored to common or "generic" group dynamics situations. A more in-depth application of the skills to their own challenges or situations follows.

Recently I was asked to lead a two-hour program for association CEOs.  Because of the limited time, I replaced the generic group dynamics situations with four challenges that the CEOs had shared in an advance survey I conducted.

All sounds good, right?

That's what I thought.  But what I forgot to consider is that the half-day workshop allows 10 minutes of exploration for the generic situations while providing 20 minutes (or sometimes more) for the situations participants provide themselves.  People always want more in-depth discussion of a situation directly drawn from their own experience.  And since this workshop consisted of association CEOs, they were even more interested identifying possible solutions to the challenges posed.

So at the end of the 10 minutes, I asked the small groups to reconvene and share their ideas for their situation only to learn that they really had just begun to get into their discussions when I halted them.

#facepalm.  D'oh.  Big-time rookie mistake. Lessons (re)learned:
  • When swapping content in a case study section of a workshop, you have to recalibrate the time allotted for small group work based on how much interest in/attachment to the situations participants will have.
  • The amount of time small groups will want for their discussions is always difficult to predict.  Consider posing a timeframe to the groups after they've scanned their cases to see if they believe it will be sufficient. Now that you've taken a look at your situations, does 10 minutes still seem reasonable or would you benefit from more time?
  • Create some sort of mechanism for groups to push back or ask for additional time when the initial allotment is expired (and account for a little extra time in your outline).
So what did we do given that my small groups didn't have any possible solutions to report out?  We did what any experienced facilitator knows to do: use what actually is happening as the learning moment.  Collectively we talked about what had just transpired, how it could have been avoided, and how the attendees might manage similar situations in their own future facilitation efforts.

And to ensure that the group did receive some possible ideas for how to manage the four situations they had proposed, I promised (and have acted on the promise) to share my thoughts in writing within 48 hours of the event.