Friday, January 15, 2010

Go(ing) by Train(ing)

I do a lot of training. Some of that is travel (mostly via Amtrak), and some of that is teaching (mostly about group process). I also do a lot of word play (but then, you already knew that).

Apropos these proclivities, one of my favorite signs in the whole world sits at the top of Portland Union Station (Amtrak's Romanesque terminal in the Rose City). High up on one side of the campanile, right above the clock face, is the italicized neon admonition GO BY TRAIN. Such good advice!

Today I'll share some thoughts about how to go by train—in the teaching sense of the phrase.

• • •
I've been asked to conduct a one-day workshop on facilitation at our neighboring community, Dancing Rabbit. It will happen next month on a Wednesday, midway between back-to-back three-day weekends that will comprise their annual retreat. In the morning we'll be focusing on theory and practice; in the afternoon we'll switch gears and I'll coach the folks who will be the plenary facilitators for the second weekend, helping them prep. During the second weekend meetings I'll be in the audience, taking notes and on call for offering impromptu redirection if things get sticky. It should be fun.

I love teaching and this is a body of information I've thought a lot about.

In preparation for this, yesterday I crafted a questionnaire that I've distributed to the people
who've said they'd be attending. (There are 13 of them, and I couldn't help wondering if it was entirely coincidental that when we offered the opportunity to become initiated into the shamanistic art of facilitation that we manifested exactly enough acolytes to form a coven. It gives one pause.) After putting this together, it occurred to me that it was excellent material to share with my readers, illuminating what range of topics fall under the omnibus (I did not say ominous) heading of Facilitation, as well as what kind of information I want from students in order to make the most of our time together. Just as facilitators need to be able to work effectively with a variety of participants, teachers need to be able to adapt their material to a wide range of prior experience and preferred learning styles. It's a dance.

So here's what I asked:

Background Questionnaire for Facilitation Training
1. How would you rate your experience as a facilitator (pick one):

o Just fell of the turnip truck
o Some experience, yet not confident I grok the role fully
o Solid with basics, yet can get overwhelmed by complex or volatile topics
o Near wizard, yet want to hone my skills in specific aspects

2. Learning styles (pick all that work for you):

o Handouts and lecture with Q&A (you listen to me)
o Demonstration (you watch me)
o Practice (I watch you)

3. Which of the following aspects of facilitation are most important for you to receive help with? As there's undoubtedly way more stuff here than we can tackle in a half day—that's why I offer this as a two-year training—please limit your selections to the three that are most valuable to you right now:

o How to prep for a meeting (don't pick this one, as we'll necessarily have to cover this in the afternoon; I've included it here just to fill out the menu).
o Mind set of the facilitator (how to prepare for being up front and being a servant leader).
o Managing the Discussion phase—where the group identifies the factors that a good response to the topic needs to take into account.
o Managing the Proposal Generating phases—where the group figures out the best way to balance the output of the Discussion phase.
o The facilitator's tool kit (the basic set of techniques for keeping everyone on the same page and the conversation moving productively).
o Formats (an explanation and demonstration of basic choices in how to explore a topic, and why you'd choose each).
o Working with non-trivial emotional distress.
o Understanding the boundary between what to work in plenary and what to work outside.
o Room architecture (setting up the environment of the
meeting space to succeed).
o How and when to delegate effectively.
o Working with visuals in support of the conversation (the art of scribing in support of the meeting).
o Closing the deal (the art of finding common ground and what people can agree with).
o Off-roading (when to work off-script).
o Working as a team (there are a bundle of process roles that need to be filled in support of an excellent meeting; we'll lay them out and discuss which can be combined and how).
o When to get help (recognizing when you're in over your head).
o Challenging personalities (working constructively with your nightmares).
o Agenda development (the dance between Oversight and Process).
o When and how to incorporate ritual.
o Balancing thought and energy (both are in play all the time, yet are different lenses through which to see what's happening).
o Working with outliers (how to bring the strays into the fold).
o How to get useful meeting evaluations.
o The serious business of working well with humor (both yours and the participants').

I'll let you know how it turns out.

1 comment:

kateygirl said...

Thank you for such valuable information! Working with groups is never easy and you have mentioned some items I failed to think about.

I always look forward to reading your blogs and find the information in them very valuable and enlightening. It makes my day to see it in inbox.