illuminating pathways to change

Facilitation and All That Jazz

One day many moons ago, while I was preparing to run a facilitator training workshop I was also listening to an old recording of Miles Davis playing Bye Bye Blackbird. As I listened it struck me how much jazz and facilitation are connected. Ever since, I’ve woven that connection into my facilitation training workshops.

Playing around with the idea of jazz SCAT singing we use the term as an acronym to further examine the Skills, Conceptual Frameworks, Attitudes and Tools required for facilitation and for jazz musicians working in a band. (This session comes after we have explored the role of a facilitator).

Workshop participants draw correlations with Skills that are developed through practice such as: listening, dexterity, agility, being able to work collaboratively and more. Facilitators and jazz musicians need a Conceptual Framework that underpins and informs their work. For the jazz musician it is musical theory. For facilitators the frameworks include things such as group dynamics, systems thinking, conflict resolution and participatory decision-making. When drawing the correlations on Attitude (aligning with our values, mindset and “way of being”) one workshop group developed the following list:

  • co-creating live and in the moment
  • high tolerance for ambiguity
  • a willingness to go with the flow – someone else’s flow – and not need to know exactly what will happen next
  • respect for the abilities and contributions of others
  • preparedness to depart from the “script” while staying in key and in tune
  • knowing when to step in and when to step back
  • suspension of the need to be in charge or always in the spotlight
  • team work and collaboration
  • curiosity, openness to new ideas
  • a mindset of serving the group and what the whole group can achieve
  • recognising others know things you don’t and do things you can’t!

Tools? For a musician it is their instrument – knowing how to play it, what it can do etc. Facilitator’s tools are the processes and methods they use to reach appropriate and useful outcomes. These include “tools” such as process improvement methods, dialogue, consensus methods etc.

Then you put together the Skills, Conceptual frameworks, Attitude and Tools and practice – just like a musician. Always learning, reflecting and practicing.

You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
John Coltrane

To continue the connections between jazz and facilitation …

Musicians in a jazz band co-create the music and it differs with each audience experience– just like facilitators who co-create the outcomes with the meeting participants.

Jazz musicians improvise within a framework. The music is spontaneous and not specifically prepared but it still follows musical form. Facilitators are always improvising. Facilitation agendas rarely go tightly to plan. Sometimes we may need to abandon the original plan altogether and take a different path to get the group where it needs to be – there’s more than one road to the destination. We work within dynamic situations and make in-the-moment judgements about what to do when, but we do this best when we have a solid foundation in group dynamics, process design and more.

When observing a really good facilitator in action with a group it may seem like they’re making it up as they go along – but if this was the case it would be chaos. They are being spontaneous within a context and a framework – just like jazz. Even free jazz that stretches the limits of improvisation within a form still works within a set of rules while breaking them.

Here’s an interesting article on the adage “You have to know the rules before you can break them”. This clearly articulates my views on improvisation in any field of endeavour, not just the creative arts. The same principles apply to facilitation e.g. knowing when to break the rule about ground rules and not have ground-rules 🙂
Here’s the Miles Davis recording of Bye Bye Blackbird I listened to many years ago and still play in facilitation training workshops. Set aside 8 minutes of your life and relax as you listen to 5 masters collaborate. Then think … what other connections can you make between a jazz musician and a facilitator? Enjoy. Miles Davis on trumpet. John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. Red Garland at the piano. Paul Chambers on bass. Philly Joe Jones on drums.

My facilitation training has evolved over 4 iterations in 20 years. The Foundations of Facilitation was run 18 times from 2012 to 2016. I’ve recently rebranded it as The Essential Facilitator. From this page you can also download a flyer, view a short video on YouTube and download a document “Our approach to facilitation and facilitation training”.

I’m a Certified Professional Facilitator and an Assessor with the International Association of Facilitators. Over the years I’ve trained hundreds of facilitators across many countries and from many backgrounds.

The next program for 2016 is in Melbourne December 1 & 2. Earlybird closes this Friday 19th and you can book online via our website and click on store. Canberra is scheduled for February 23 & 24 2017.

Contact me for more information or to organise a chat to discuss if the workshop is suitable for you. We also run the program in-house.

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