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Category Archives: Conferences & Workshops

Thinking on your feet when you’re the only one who doesn’t speak the lingo…

You know how it is when you really have to think on your feet? Well, this was one of those moments…

I was prepared (or so I thought). Before I left Australia for Taiwan I was told 17 people had registered for my pre-conference workshop, but to bring 22 booklets “just in case”. Based on previous experience I’d anticipated a mix of nationalities and language groups from across Asia e.g. Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India and maybe a couple from Europe or the Americas. I’d planned the day based on what I knew at the time.

I turned up at the 2016 International Facilitators Conference (IAF) – Asia Region, in beautiful Hualien, Taiwan and discovered:

  • More had registered for my pre-conference workshop while I was travelling and now there would be 28 participants
  • 28 people spoke Mandarin … and then there was me
  • some participants from China didn’t speak English at all

What to do?

Facilitators need to be flexible at the best of times. I’ve had some challenging “think fast on your feet” moments over the years. Facilitators running learning workshops for other facilitators at a facilitation conference also need to model “adapting processes to changing situations and the needs of the group” (IAF Competency D3).

I quickly discovered we had a great group of facilitators and a helluva lot of experience and wisdom in that room. People came from Taiwan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia. All were keen to explore a systems approach through my Holistic Framework for Facilitation (the link leads to a short promo video for the workshop). The framework was designed with Process Facilitation in mind but it also works well for Training Facilitation.

Although the workshop was advertised as being conducted in English, I knew I had to adapt and adapt quickly if everyone was to get the most from the day’s learning (and what everyone had paid for). This called for some fancy footwork.

My preparations included:

  1. A workshop booklet with diagrams and content for each segment summarised in simple dot-points
  2. Laminated cards with the framework on one side and questions/consideration on the flipside *
  3. Instructions for activities pre-prepared on flipcharts
  4. The Framework for Holistic Facilitation drawn as a huge model across a wall.

These types of things have helped in the past when working with culturally and linguistically diverse groups. In this instance, it meant most of the content was written or presented visually so people could access it without depending on what I was saying.

* Interestingly the card includes the following consideration “StructureWho is in the room? If you change the structure and make-up of the group then you change the pool of knowledge, perspectives, voices, behaviours, influence, types of contribution and ultimately the outcome”. Apt when one considers the structure of the group at hand compared to what I had anticipated.

I’d planned to intersperse short presentations on the framework with activities such as story-telling to explore participants’ facilitation dilemmas and difficulties. Activities would be followed by reflection on assumptions and actions in the context of the model so that participants could gain fresh insights into their experiences and develop new approaches. That is exactly what happened BUT – it mostly took place in Mandarin.

Here’s what happened …

Those who didn’t speak English sat next to people who acted as interpreters during the introductory session, but as soon as we moved to small groups I noticed that most conversations were happening in Chinese.

The first plenary started off haltingly while we waited for comments to be interpreted back and forth for my benefit. This was going to slow things down so two participants offered to help with simultaneous interpretation close by my side. Thanks to Laura Hsu from Taipei and William Wu from Shanghai for stepping into the role. It was effortless and unobtrusive.

Before long the group was doing its own learning. The atmosphere alternated from high energy to quiet and intense when people shared stories in small groups or reflected in pairs. I didn’t understand everything that was said or even reported back to the whole group, but I didn’t need to. I’d hoped that by the end of the day the big model on the wall would be peppered with sticky notes indicating participant’s insights and ah-ha moments. The workshop was never meant to be a presentation from me. It was designed as a collaborative learning experience. I could tell all was going to plan when the wall began to fill up with individual’s insights – interconnected like a web, as any good systems model.

When “thinking on my feet” I decided I had to “let go!” I didn’t need to understand everything that people were saying during plenary discussions. Nor did I need to know what was on all the sticky notes. I certainly was curious but intervening for the sake of my curiosity wouldn’t have served the needs of the group. This “letting go” meant I could sit quietly and observe what was happening within the group. It also meant I could respond individually if someone had a specific question.

What about your “own think on your feet” moments as a facilitator? How did you adapt your plans and processes to meet changing needs or circumstances? Comments welcome. If you liked this blog you may also be interested in Facilitation and All That Jazz about improvisation in facilitation.

After I returned to Australia I received an email from one of the participants regarding delivering facilitator training in China and consequently in February I ran my 4-day Holistic Facilitation workshop under the banner of Intents Consulting in Shanghai. The Director, John Jiang was my interpreter. It was a great 4 days … one thing led to another and we have now formed a partnership. See my next blog When you’re the only one that doesn’t speak the lingo Part 2 for more about this experience.

I’ll be back in China this year to deliver the program again. If you speak Mandarin and are interested in attending the 4-day “Holistic Facilitation” course, September 3 – 6 in Shanghai please contact me or access the flyer here.

Cartoon courtesy of Kaamran Hafeez.

Off to China – and no, I’m not going near “The Wall”

As East Asia takes vacation to celebrate Chinese New Year I’m preparing to run facilitator training in China.

After the IAF Asia Conference in Hualien, Taiwan last September I was invited to by INTENTS Management Consulting to run a public training workshop for facilitators in Shanghai.

Holistic Facilitation will be 4 days of training (25-28 February) that brings together two Illuma workshops: “The Essential Facilitator” and “Joining The Bits and Pieces: Illuma’s Holistic Framework of Facilitation”. I’ve never done 4 concurrent days with simultaneous translation, so that will be my personal challenge.

The fish reference is because my model of facilitation apparently looks like the infamous Takifugu. Though we promise there’s nothing toxic about the workshop – on the contrary aspects of the program look at how to prevent and deal with some damaging group dynamics.

If you are thinking Shanghai might be a great place to do some training with me (and indulge your inner tourist and foodie) than I’m afraid it’s too late as I believe the program is booked out already.

On February 28th in the evening I’ll be running a workshop for the broader facilitation community in Shanghai. “Unlocking the Diversity Within” looks at ways of maximizing diverse thinking and preventing Groupthink in homogeneous groups. I’ve run this workshop at IAF Conferences in Geneva and Adelaide.

My flight brings me home via Hong Kong, so I’m taking the opportunity to spend time with IAF facilitator colleagues for a couple of days. On Saturday March 4 I’m running a workshop for the IAF Hong Kong Chapter entitled What’s Your Position: Using Space to Explore Different Perspectives.

The trip is about building bridges within and between groups and cultures …not walls 🙂

Free Webinar

Briefing, scoping and contracting for successful facilitation outcomes

4 pm December 7, 2016 (AEDT)

Learn how to better engage with clients when taking briefings for facilitation assignments. The webinar is based on the “central spine” of Illuma’s Framework for Facilitation (see thumbnail below). Come with a case study in mind to connect with your own experiences.

We will also look at connections with core competencies with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).

Please book early as numbers are limited.

Register Here!

And the same webinar for Facilitators in China…

Rhonda will also be running the same webinar today (23 November) – hosted by the IAF Shanghai Chapter (for facilitators in China)

Next Essential Facilitator Workshops

The Essential Facilitator

Next workshops

  • Canberra – September 22 & 23 2016
  • Melbourne – October 19 & 20 2016
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How much time, energy and money is wasted in poorly conceived and ineptly conducted meetings in your workplace? A skilled group facilitator can help you achieve much better outcomes. That facilitator need not come from outside your organisation. You have a valuable untapped resource in your own staff.

The workshop is perfect for:

  • Leaders facilitating rather than chairing meetings a meeting; Consultants working with groups;
  • Trainers being trainers being called upon for process facilitation rather than presentations
  • SME’s Agile and Process Improvement Practitioners, Project Managers
  • Anyone needing to lead collaborative meetings with positive outcomes

Contact us to arrange in-house programs.

How to get more “hands up” in team meetings

You know the scenario … Someone (possibly the boss) asks “Who wants to take the lead on this?” and then … Crashing Silence! A wall of blank faces or to avoid eye contact people suddenly develop an intense fascination with their fingernails or an urge to rummage through documents OR ….

… The silence keeps up long enough for the boss to say “OK I’ll do it” and then the window of opportunity for development and shared responsibility is missed OR ….

… The usual person puts their hand up. This person is probably already overstretched but they volunteer through habit or an over-developed sense of responsibility. Over time they can become resentful about how much work they have. Meanwhile others become resentful that they didn’t get the opportunity (even if they were asked). There could be many underlying reasons for the above scenario. But let’s focus on the impact on the whole team when people are reluctant to step up and take responsibility for something.

When working on team development projects with clients I often use the KGI (Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams). The KGI explores people’s patterns of group behaviour along four critical dimensions – Leadership, Negotiation Orientation, Task Focus and Interpersonal Focus. There are 9 sub-scales within the 4 main scales. Exploring the dynamic interplay between these sub-scales is a valuable way to help teams understand what is hindering them and what they need to do to improve performance and relationships.

Initiative – The Leadership scale has 3 sub-scales: Assertiveness, Group Facilitation and Initiative. Initiative, in the context of the KGI is one’s ability to be the prime mover and spokesperson for the group. To take on a leadership role an individual must be willing to be in the spotlight. The trouble is most people don’t like the glare or the heat that is generated by the light. Putting your hand up means you are accountable and it also means you can be criticised, so it takes energy, commitment and fortitude. It can be scary stuff for some people.

What happens when no-one new steps up to the plate? What is the impact on the group and what happens if this is allowed to become a culture within an organisation? I tell you what happens … not very much. Work output becomes stagnant, innovation is stymied and those who do put their hands up inevitably get burnt out. And the sad thing is development opportunities are missed and people don’t reach their potential. Eventually a climate of apathy prevails. Not a healthy environment to work in.

It comes as no surprise that the Initiative sub-scale of the KGI is, for most people their lowest score. Here is a snapshot of page 12 of the KGI report: the same person 6 months apart. Let’s call her Cathy. She was a middle level manager in an organisation where I was running a Leadership Development Program. The red columns are Leadership. Initiative is the red column third from the left in the more detailed graphs. What’s interesting is the basic shape of Cathy’s graph didn’t change in the 6 months. Initiative is still her lowest but she has significantly increased on every element across the scale. (Sometimes with development and coaching the whole shape of the graph can change – but that’s another story to tell in another blog). Cathy was committed to develop herself as a leader and she was determined to emerge from the program having demonstrated stronger leadership – particularly lifting her Initiative and overcoming her reluctance to step up in public situations. She knew her problems in this area were getting in the way of her leadership. At first she really struggled to even talk in front of the group or put up her hand for “in the spotlight” situations. Through coaching, training, being open to feedback and development and sheer courage Cathy emerged as a star on the program and has continued to thrive. Senior management was very impressed and so were her team members and the rest of her colleagues on the leadership program. She is yet another KGI success story. 

Why are people reluctant to put their hand up and take the initiative? Dr Robert Klein, the developer of the KGI attributes this to two key factors: fear and lethargy. In a conversation Dr Klein told me…”It could be fear. Many people believe there will be bad consequences if they step up and take initiative within the group. One junior executive told me “If I put myself out on a limb by taking initiative, and the limb breaks, I don’t see anyone there to pick me up off the ground. Initiative is risky, and for many, too risky. Sometimes people had negative experiences taking initiative in the past, and those times haunt them in the present, holding them back. For others, they focus on the things that can go wrong: they won’t respond to everyone’s issues and concerns properly, causing resentments; everyone will be staring at them, looking for leadership, creating a harsh, withering glare. By focusing on the downside, they become inhibited and decide that it is better not to step up”.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

Or it could be lethargy that prevents them from taking initiative. Many people have simply become accustomed to “letting someone else do it.” Because of this attitude, they tend to sit back in a small group, content to simply follow along. Their own leadership muscle has atrophied. They often don’t recognise leadership opportunities, or feel confident about their ability to take them on, having become acclimated to a passive role that has deskilled them as leaders. The antidote to fear and lethargy is courage.”

In Cathy’s case fear and lack of confidence were getting in the way of reaching her potential as a leader. When I see people stepping up as a result of putting their KGI Individual and Group Development Plans into action I also see a huge difference in the dynamics of the team. It is a positive shift – a release of energy. More people are taking on new things, more gets done – but more importantly people are more engaged and work is more rewarding. This can only happen if the existing leaders and “high initiatives” make way and create space for new people to demonstrate initiative. People need to be encouraged and supported as they take on new responsibilities. They need to be nurtured and coached as they learn even if they initially make mistakes.

Next time someone asks “who will take the lead on this” and a spark of interest lights up within you – then go on! Put your hand up.

What’s your experience with a reluctance for someone to put their hand up and show initiative? How has it impacted you or your team? All comments and questions welcome.

Email me: rhonda@illumaconsulting.com.au or call +61 (0) 410510720) to discuss how Illuma Consulting can help you turn your teams around with the Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams. We have a range of Team Development and Coaching offers using the KGI – including our Team Tune Up. Coaching can be conducted virtually – we can come to you on-line. You can also download a KGI Brochure from our website

Dr Klein’s new book on the KGI will be published shortly. Rob and I have been friends and colleagues for a number of years and I brought him to Australia all the way from Massachusetts to launch Illuma Consulting in early 2009. We’re having another one of our regular catch up talks about life and the KGI tomorrow. That prompted me revisit this earlier blog and post it here again. (This article has originally appeared as a Ignite blog in 2011).

My Facilitation Aha Moment

Facilitation Aha Moment

Rhonda has another lightbulb / aha moment at an IAF Victoria Chapter professional development event – February 2015

It was so long ago my hair didn’t have one strand of grey, but I remember that moment as if it was yesterday.

I was working as the Training Manager in a large organisation. I already had extensive experience working in intensive experiential learning situations and was gaining confidence in being able to manage difficult group situations. The big boss asked me to run a residential planning retreat for a branch within the organisation. This branch was not functioning well and animosity between management and the union was growing. Problems were escalating and my brief included exploring some of these problems with the whole group. If I recall about 20-25 staff attended the residential retreat.

Things started off OK. As agreed, senior management opened the event and gave short presentations on future directions then left. I moved everyone into small groups to discuss the issues raised. In the plenary discussion the spokesman for one group (the union representative – let’s call him Steve) took the opportunity to wrest control by criticising management and suggesting an alternate purpose and agenda for the retreat. He then asked for a show of hands on who supported his proposed agenda.

Things quickly started to unravel. When middle managers attempted to speak Steve accused them of railroading staff. When I suggested we were here for a different purpose and a different type of meeting Steve then proposed a motion of no confidence in me as the facilitator. A few others joined him. However most people, including the middle managers in attendance, seemed afraid of Steve and his tactics.

In the end I played the role of a discussion moderator and (unqualified) mediator. We didn’t address most of the issues on the agenda and certainly didn’t get to do much planning on Day 2. Steve ended up alienating himself from all but a few of his diehard supporters.

It was awful. I was out of my depth, but I somehow I survived and lived to tell the tale.

When I got home and after I recovered I looked up the old Pfeiffer and Jones Handbooks for Group Facilitators. That was my aha moment! I realised that my role wasn’t to be chair of a procedural type of meeting where Robert’s / Renton’s Rules were appropriate. I wasn’t supposed to be a moderator or a trainer or a mediator or even a therapist. I was supposed to be there as a Process Facilitator. I realised that my meeting design wasn’t structured with the appropriate processes to manage the dynamic that emerged. That was when I first came across the term Process Facilitator. Ever since I have been interested in this special leadership role that works on a premise of collaboration rather than the adversarial approaches so common in many meeting situations.

This all happened way before the International Association of Facilitators was formed. I started to train others in meeting / process facilitation in 1994, using my own experience and limited readings and resources available at the time. I placed emphasis on understanding one’s role as a facilitator – knowing how it differs from a chairman or trainer or mediator and what elements of the roles are similar. This is still a core tenet of my facilitator training and mentoring today.

If only …. way back then … I had access to the body of knowledge, core competencies. professional development, community and support I found and joined the IAF in 2006. I wonder how I would have handled that situation with Steve? What would you have done? What would I do now? I am older and wiser but I’m still learning.

Nurturing the seeds of Facilitation – in Malaysia

au_seedpods3A while ago I was approached by facilitator colleagues in Kuala Lumpur to lead a plenary session at the forthcoming Malaysia Facilitators’ Conference (25 & 26 May). It’s all happening. They have organised a great line up of workshop leaders, so I’m delighted to be on the same program as them and I’m honoured to be allocated 3 hours and 45 minutes for this “all in” plenary workshop.

The conference theme is Nurturing the Seeds of Facilitation: Individual, Organisation, Community. My workshop title is From nurturing to fruition: developing capability and achieving productive outcomes for yourself, organisations and communities.

I’ll be introducing a framework for working with the complexities of facilitating in organisational and community settings. We will also will draw together the threads of the conference, create a shared meaning and develop a deeper understanding of the facilitator’s role as nurturer.

Here are some of the questions we’ll be exploring in the plenary workshop.

  • What does it mean for us to “nurture” through facilitating and who or what are we nurturing anyway – ourselves, the individuals, the group, the outcomes or the organisation?
  • How do we bring our facilitated events to a productive outcome? If our facilitated events were a garden how would we nurture it and so that seeds thrive and our events come successfully to fruition.
  • How do we help individuals, groups, organisations and communities flourish through our work as facilitators?

What are your thoughts on these questions?

It could be a very big group. I’ve promised that a range of facilitation methods and participatory techniques will be demonstrated, experienced and discussed. I’ve said participants will walk away with ideas and a practical plan to nurture their own seeds for development as a facilitator so that their groups reach more productive outcomes.

So now I just need to design a process and prepare so I deliver on that promise.

Back to work …

How to Get More Movement into Your Force Field Analysis

Participants on Illuma’s Foundations of Facilitation training workshop working up their dynamic version of a Force Field Analysis is a practise session (2014)

Participants on Illuma’s Foundations of Facilitation training workshop working up their dynamic version of a Force Field Analysis is a practise session (2014)

You’ve probably experienced a Force Field Analysis activity in a meeting. Someone draws a line down the whiteboard or flipchart and scribes as the group thinks through the issue. People sit and call out ideas while the scribe frantically tries to capture everything. After a little while the whiteboard looks like a dog’s breakfast – there’s no room for any more information, there are lines all over the place and people can’t make sense of it. As the diagram becomes messier participants start to disengage and before long even the scribe loses the plot … I’m actually describing an earlier version of myself here :-/

Force field analysis is a key process tool for many disciplines including project management, organisational development and change consulting. For years I struggled with a way to facilitate a group through the process so that it was engaging and people could visualise and understand the changing dynamic as we worked through the framework.

This is the model I hand out or show on a slide as a means of explanation.

This is the model I hand out or show on a slide as a means of explanation.

Over the years I’ve developed my own way of working with this essential tool for change. Often I start with a physical demonstration of how a Force Field Analysis is essentially about movement. Group members become the driving and restraining forces trying to budge the person representing the current state. This can be a bit of fun before we get down to the real work. Firstly we define the present /status quo (represented by the centre line), then define the desired state or success – what we want in the future. The next step is to identify restraining forces and driving forces and sometimes I include a ranking activity. Then we develop actions to remove or reduce the restraining forces, increase the driving forces or convert a restrainer into a driver (thus getting maximum acceleration for minimum effort).

But it was still me doing the scribing – and I found it difficult to maintain an overall sense when working up close and personal with the whiteboard or flipchart. As the facilitator I needed to be able to maintain the bigger picture.

When training facilitators I always include a Force Field Analysis as a process for a practise session. And when training facilitators I always have one or two sticky walls ready for a range of activities.
One day I started to use a sticky wall that allowed the group members themselves to create, move, rank, delete etc. They became much more engaged, the Force Field Analysis process became much more dynamic and I could stand back and better facilitate the process rather than being locked into scribe role.

Group members’ work during strategy development event I facilitated January 2015 (part way through the process)

Group members’ work during strategy development event I facilitated January 2015 (part way through the process)

I started to notice how much more creative and engaged people were. One day in one of my facilitator workshops a participant decided to make different sized arrows to represent different “strengths” of a force. The colour of the paper took on a new meaning. Scheduled action plan started to be built on an adjacent sticky wall. The act of removing a restraining force (aka written on A5 paper) was not just visual but physical and in some way this was more symbolic and satisfying.

So why not try getting a bit more real action next time you facilitate a group using Force Field Analysis. Contact us for more information about Illuma Consulting’s Foundations of Facilitation Training Workshops. Click here for flyer and dates of next programs.

Foundations of Facilitation

  • Canberra 11 & 12 May 2015
  • Melbourne 19 & 20 October 2015

Note: Kurt Lewin developed the principle of Force Field Analysis in the early half of the 20th Century. There’s a wealth of information on the net including scholarly articles on Lewin’s work and a myriad of images for different ways people use the model.

Facilitators in Tokyo

I’m back now from the annual face-to-face board meeting of the International Association of Facilitators which this year was held in Tokyo.

The Board meets virtually every month and as the by-laws require, once a year we meet in person.

I was the Regional Director for Oceania from June 2010 to December 2012 when I took on the brand new role of Marketing and Partnerships. Nelli Noakes has taken over as Regional Director for Oceania.

Facilitators-in-TokyoIt was a pleasure to be working again with my Board colleagues from all over the world. We are all volunteers and dedicate a lot of time to this professional membership organisation. It was a pretty intense meeting and some major decisions were made which we believe will take the IAF properly into this next decade. A broadening offer for certification and accrediting training programs are just some of the things IAF members will see happening in the near future as well as more professional development opportunities, embracing doing more of this virtually and doing more to attract younger members. More chapters are being formed around the world and more is being translated in Spanish and Mandarin.

One of the most exciting aspects of the meeting was the opportunity for us to meet with Board members of the Japan Association of Facilitators. We look forward to forging a closer alliance with FAJ, particularly as the IAF Asia Conference this year will be hosted in Yokohama in conjunction with FAJ (September). At this stage I’m planning to attend and I’m looking forward to meeting up with my Japanese facilitator colleagues and friends.

Rhonda Tranks (in the blue sweater with my budgerigar scarf)

IAF Conferences

I’m newly back from the fantastic IAF conference in Geneva.  There were lots of learnings for  me and it was great to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. And I’m pleased to say my workshop (Unlocking the Diversity Within), was very successful. I had 25 participants from 13 countries.

Now my attention goes to the next IAF Oceania conference being held in Adelaide in March 2013. The conference program has just been announced. See you there.

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