Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why I Train

(Yes, I'm on Amtrak as I compose this blog, but that's not the kind of training I mean... )

Living in community is a social change act. It's a purposeful attempt to create a culture that's more cooperative than mainstream society (which is essentially, competitive, adversarial, and hierarchic).

Having devoted more 60% of my life to community living, I've thought deeply about three questions:

Question #1: What I kinds of change am I capable of effecting? What am I good at?

Question #2: What kinds of change activities am I motivated to engage in? What do I have a burning passion to do?

Question #3: What is the most effective way to focus my energy in the place where the answers to the previous two questions overlap? How can I have the most leverage as a social change agent?

While my answer to this set of questions has evolved over time (and may change yet again), currently it's by teaching an intensive course in Integrative Facilitation. Over a two-year period I work with a group of around 12-15 students who want to learn the skills of high-end facilitation.

The course model is that we meet eight times for concentrated three-day weekends spaced approximately three months apart--affording participants the chance to digest the cumulative experience of each weekend and to put the lessons into practice in their everyday life.

I've broken down the skill set into eight major chunks and each weekend has a teaching theme:
Working content
Power & leadership
Challenging personalities
Organizational structure

Each weekend is hosted by a group. That group provides room and board to the class in exchange for outside facilitation for 6-9 hours of meetings, tackling issues that the host selects. In addition, the host gets: a) a professional report from the trainer that includes observations and an assessment about how well they're doing from a process standpoint; b) the opportunity to have two members of their group participate in the weekend as auditors; and c) an hour of professional consultation with the trainer.

About a quarter of each weekend is devoted to questions, demonstrations, and practice with the theme. The remaining time is spent on preparing for, delivering, and debriefing afterwards the live work for the host group. As a teacher, I've learned that the students generally develop their skills much more rapidly when working with real meetings, rather than role plays.

As the trainer, I usually work with a partner (different eyes and different styles enhance the students' experience), though I've also delivered this training alone.

Over the two years the class learns a tremendous amount about one another and bonds closely. There is an authenticity and intensity about the experience that means participants are seeing each other in ways that are rare and precious.

Since launching this program in 2003, I've delivered this training four times, and there's a fifth now underway in the Mid-Atlantic States. In January I expect to start a training in northern California. In February I'll start one in Missouri (which is already fully subscribed).

So far, about 50 people have participated in the four trainings. About 10 of these graduates have gone beyond this to explore the possibility of being professional facilitators (or at least facilitating more professionally in their their professions).

The narrow objective of this training is to help people develop a deep understanding of and proficiency in the skill set needed to facilitate meetings of people trying to make collaborative and inclusive decisions. The baseline skills needed to accomplish this include:
o Hearing people accurately
o Knowing the limits of what you can do
o Knowing your own feelings
o Being able to cleanly and concisely articulate your experience
o Being able to see things from other people's perspectives
o Being able to work emotionally (not just rationally)
o Being able to see what agreements might bridge discordant positions
o Being able to work constructively with critical feedback

When you think for a moment about what you can do after developing this skill set, it's apparent that the broader objective of the training is how to be a more effective leader in the context of cooperative culture. These are not just skills needed in meetings, these are skills for every moment you're awake.

It's pretty exciting work.

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