Sunday, September 9, 2012

Facilitation & Flexibility

I train facilitators and one of the key attributes I try to develop in students is their ability to commit one's weight forward without knowing where the floor is—trusting that it will show up when their foot needs it so they won't trip. 

Another way to express this is that you cannot just work from a script or a set pattern; sometimes you have to work extemporaneously, because that's what the situation calls for. While it's all well and good to study the terrain and have a road map (which I also teach); sometimes you have to go off-roading, following your instincts.

In short, a good facilitator needs to know productive patterns (and which ones apply under the conditions in play) and have developed strong enough instincts to know when something different is called for in the moment. You need to have a script, yet not be a slave to it.

Interestingly (I'm sure there's an astrological explanation for this, but it eludes me) this week I got a double opportunity to practice what I preach about being able to wing it. First let me set the stage...
Nine years ago I developed a two-year facilitation training program where I meet with the same group of students (12-14 is the ideal number) eight times in a series of intense three-day weekends that are spaced approximately three months apart. The training is centered near where the students live, so that it's relatively easy for them to get to the training site (which rotates within the region). I've now delivered this training five times in its entirety (once each in CO, MI, and NC, plus twice in the Mid-Atlantic States) with two other versions part way completed (there is one weekend remaining to a Midwest training, and four to go in northern CA). Later this month I'll be launching one centered in NC, and I'm gearing up to start another this January in New England.

Although I conducted the inaugural version of this program solo, it was obvious that working with a partner would be an enhancement for the students. The partner would offer a contrast of styles (the point of the training being to learn good facilitation principles; not to become a Laird clone), would catch things I'd miss, would be able to offer the same teaching points from a different angle, and would allow the flexibility to split the group up on occasion to do different things simultaneously.

Thus, for every version of the training since the first one, I've worked with a partner (there have been two over the years, and I'm about to start pairing with a third), and there's no doubt that this approach is superior to my working alone. That said, it's inadvertently turned out to be a damn good thing that I did the first round solo because there have now been five occasions (out of the 51 training weekends I've conducted to date) when my partner cancelled out at the last minute—generally for health reasons—and I needed to be able to conduct the weekend as the sole trainer. More than once, the cancellation was so last minute that I didn't get the memo until I arrived on site for the training. Ufda.

While not ideal, I know how to hit the curve ball and can take this pretty well in stride (in part because I've had a lot of practice at it!). It's a good example of the flexibility principle I illuminated at the start of this essay, which applies to facilitation trainers every bit as much as to facilitators.
• • •
Now back to current time. The first shoe dropped on Monday when Ma'ikwe, slated to be my partner for the new NC training, decided she wasn't recovering quickly enough from the debilitation effects of chronic Lyme to join me for the opening weekend in Pittsboro, Sept 27. Scrambling, we were happily able to secure Alyson Ewald (our good friend and quality facilitator, who used to live at Dancing Rabbit and now lives at neighboring Red Earth Farms) to pinch hit.

Yesterday, the second shoe dropped. I'm scheduled to conduct the fifth weekend in a northern California training starting Thursday, and my partner in that training just informed me that she cannot make it—only three days before we were going to rendezvous in Sacramento for the drive up to the training site at Emerald Earth in Boonville. Yikes! 

While I was able to figure out an adjustment for the NC training given three weeks advanced notice, it's too late to pull an ex-Rabbit out of the hat for the CA training, and that means that either God or nobody will be my co-pilot again this weekend. It appears that the universe is giving me the hint that I need to do some teaching about flexibility this month. 

At least I don't have laryngitis. Yet.

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