illuminating pathways to change

Have you ever been seduced by a bacon sandwich?

pigOh Dear. This sounds like so many “off-sites” I hear about or have attended and sometimes I’ve been asked to facilitate / engage in this sort of event. I suspect I have been deceived by piggies in my time in an attempt to bring home the bacon. Have you ever been seduced by a bacon sandwich?

Comments welcome.

10 steps for getting more people to like your pig…

  1. Invite all the people in charge of your pig to an off-site meeting.
  2. Start by stating what most people in the room already know: potential customers are not as enamored with your pig as they used to be. Then passionately demand that…

After the Groan Zone

A recent workshop run by me (Rhonda) – final stretch on Day 3 of a project conducted over a month. It was a joy to see how it all fell into place so quickly at the end. Here the group is working in pairs generating specific tasks for a timeline – converting the strategy they had been developing into a plan. It took a lot of argy-bargy to get to this point. I think what helped was reasonably healthy work relationships AND inserting team development with the Klein Group Instrument as part of my overall intervention. So there was very intentional focus on both task and relationship and encouraging of initiative from those in the group who scored lower on this scale. The group has high Positive Group Affiliation that stood them in good stead when in “The Groan Zone“. I used an interesting range of process methods and fortunately had different work stations in the room which helped with the shift of thinking for different phases.?Combining strategy development and team development in the one intervention is an excellent way to get traction for delivering on strategy and plans.

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.

When the wisdom isn’t in the room

in favourOrganisations can invest tremendous amounts of money, energy and time trying to build “cohesive” teams. Team development is one of our core offerings at Illuma. But when it comes to teams at Illuma we don’t necessarily equate cohesive with effective. When sticking together means not challenging each other’s thinking cohesiveness is dysfunctional. We look to strengthen the team’s capacity to challenge each other’s thinking and surface underlying conflict and differences.

A couple of weeks ago when running facilitation training Rhonda mentioned that one of the key roles for a facilitator is to “protect” the outliers and work with processes that encourage diversity of thinking.

Who has experienced what is shown in this cartoon?

You may often hear facilitators say “the wisdom is in the room” but that is not necessarily the case as this article suggests* I’d like to think that a good facilitator works to mitigate the amplifying errors effect mentioned in the article.

Professional facilitators have a range of processes to encourage diverse thinking and challenging of perspectives. A facilitator should be working to develop group relationships that can withstand conflict and robust dialogue and should help the group hold the discomfort of ambiguity rather than leap to solutions.

The article resonates with me as a facilitator and I’m sure I’ve fallen prey to just about all the traps in the many years I have facilitated meetings.

Your comments are welcome – the link to the article is also on our Facebook Page where you can leave a comment or a question. You may need to scroll down to 10 February 2015. And of course you need to “like” the page to leave a comment … a not so subtle way to drive you to Illuma’s Social Media  

* Illuma subscribes to Harvard Business Review. You may or may not be able to access this article. But well worth the $8.95 investment to purchase the article.

Neutrality: a crucial discussion between facilitators and clients

yellow-neutral-faceMost facilitators I know – myself included – strive to minimise our influence on the outcome of the groups we facilitate. But why do we do this and why is it considered important?

It’s one matter for facilitators to maintain a neutral stance by containing their own opinions but it’s another altogether when the client asks to ensure a particular outcome from a meeting – when success is defined by getting agreement on a pre-determined outcome. It presents a dilemma that facilitators and clients need to discuss before we launch into working with the group.

Nowadays my clients generally understand the role and one reason they contract a professional facilitator is because they seek impartiality. If not then I explain how engaging a facilitator to drive through a decision could backfire spectacularly. We have a conversation about my role and how I work with a group helping people reach an outcome that is genuinely up for exploration. If you have ever been invited to a meeting advertised as seeking different perspectives, then find the outcome is predetermined you will know about the damage done. Trust is compromised and it impacts your behaviour in future meetings (if you decide to attend).

Wised-up leaders understand the value of a collaborative approach to problem solving and decision making, and they know the best way to demonstrate that value is to model it. Contracting an independent “neutral” facilitator gives leaders the freedom to engage in the “what” of a meeting rather than how it is done. They can influence others without it being seen as just the boss pushing through an agenda. They know a good facilitator can draw out different perspectives in a way a line manager cannot and there’s a difference when the facilitator tells people to shut up (in the nicest possible way of course). The leader is also freed-up from the burden of managing the process and the dynamic and can concentrate on the content as a participant.

But just what does it mean to be neutral? I once got myself into trouble when someone took exception to my intervention regarding unhelpful behaviours in the group “You told us you were neutral” he interjected “but by asking me to let others have their say you are not being completely neutral”. I had in fact introduced myself as being “substantively neutral” a term borrowed from Roger Schwarz (The Skilled Facilitator, 2002) but I’d failed to explain what I meant by that term. From this man’s perspective neutral meant completely hands-off. Neutral is not a neutral word.

Over the years my position on facilitator neutrality has moved as I’ve become more conscious of why I am doing what I am doing as a facilitator. I sort of drifted into group facilitation and initially didn’t have a framework that informed my practice. In my early days – back in the 80’s and 90’s, I no doubt got involved in content and influenced outcomes without really being aware how this tainted the legitimacy of my role. By the time I joined the International Association of Facilitators in 2006 I had changed to become a strong advocate of neutrality. The concept is enshrined in the preamble to the IAF’s Code of Ethics which states “Facilitators are called upon to fill an impartial role in helping groups become more effective.” As an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator I’m required to model the core competencies including F.3.c “Is vigilant to minimize influence on group outcomes”.

But I’m not a purist. Boxing themselves in by strict adherence to rules can stifle facilitator’s flexibility – which is crucial for them to properly do their job. By occasionally suggesting an alternative or opening up a new line of thinking the facilitator can help the group move beyond being stuck or “group think”. This is better done through questioning of course but sometimes even a good question reaps no response. The deciding factor is the motive of the facilitator – are they doing this to serve the group or to feed their own ego. This needs to be the topic of discussion between a facilitator and their client as they are discussing the project. What does the client think about this, where do they stand on the neutrality issue and what do they expect of a facilitator for the meeting? What does the group think? (Pardon the cliché).

Apart from the fact that complete neutrality is impossible, to describe a facilitator’s role as neutral reduces it to nothing but a cipher. Yes, they should aim to be impartial in relation to the content of a meeting but not impartial when it comes to process. Being able to design an appropriate process and guide the group with methods and processes requires a special leadership role. Process expertise is what a professional facilitator brings. It’s what they are paid to do (whether they are an internal or external facilitator) and it certainly doesn’t mean being hands-off.

Nowadays I take more time ensuring there is clear and shared understanding about the impartial aspect of my role. When explaining my role with the group I say I don’t have a vested interest in the actual outcome of the meeting, other than it is considered successful and sustainable.

Unless facilitators and their clients discuss this issue early on they leave themselves open to problems. Facilitators need to express their position on “neutrality” or impartiality, why they believe it is important and how it adds value to the meeting. Clients need to be clear about their expectations. A shared understanding of what is meant by facilitator impartiality and an agreement about what happens when the boundaries are blurred will serve everyone well.

* Facilitator Neutrality: Does It Matter? Does the Client Care? Is it Possible? Is the subject of a professional development session I’m leading at the IAF Victoria Chapter AGM on 10 October. If you’re in Melbourne then please join us. I’m sure there will be some lively discussion.

A Workout for your Resilience Muscles

Part 1:
Have you allowed your resilience muscles to become flabby? 

Resilience is about our ability to cope with stress and adversity. Some people seem to be naturally resilient. It may well be a personality trait, but it is also something we are all capable of developing. We can strengthen our resilience and start that with preparation and flexibility training.
He appears to have lost all of his resilience.No one can predict the future, however many things that take people by surprise are really things we should have expected and been prepared for. Bushfires in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand, economic downturns, industry collapses and organisational restructures are all regular occurrences in our environment, yet too often people are devastated by a change that was bound to happen sooner or later.
Resilience is about our emotional strength and ability to bounce back. It is also about being prepared for life’s “surprises” by looking ahead and having foresight. It also requires being flexible enough to adapt so that we’re not aggressive or passive victims of the inevitable changes in life.
People who can’t adapt to their changing environment become increasingly vulnerable to future stresses and changes. Many public sector organisations have traditionally been more stable than some other industries but this is changing and we can expect major and more restructures in the future. Maintaining a sense of entitlement to an unchanging work environment or job security does not serve people well. Helping yourself and your staff develop resilience will serve everyone well.
  • If there was a major upheaval at your work tomorrow how would you cope and do you have anything resembling a Plan B?
  • How quickly could you change Plan B to Plan C?
In Illuma’s Navigating the Rapids of Change workshop we help employees develop their resilience and increase their sense of self-determination through current and future changes. We stress the importance of foresight and flexibility, explore reactions to challenges in the past and the consequences of not adapting appropriately to events. Individuals develop new insights and strategies to cope with the unexpected.
As with physical exercise, developing your resilience muscle requires effort and no one but you can do the work but it’s worth it to maintain emotional health and a sense of agency over your own life.
Part 2 of this article will look at managing during the crisis itself and bouncing back afterwards, but in the meantime here’s a little workout to develop the foresight and flexibility aspects of resilience.
  • Keep abreast of trends in your industry and profession (successive repetitions)
  • Develop your agility and capacity to respond quickly in different situations
  • Step up for opportunities to broaden your range of skills
  • Strengthen your tolerance for ambiguity
  • Always begin and end with a stretch
In The Resiliency Advantage, Al Siebert writes that “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most important, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will. They have a knack for creating good luck out of circumstances that many others see as bad luck.”
And here’s a story to illustrate that. My 89 year old mother recently moved into a residential aged care home. It’s been inspiring to see her resilience in the face of distressing rapid health change, loss of independence and moving from her home of over 60 years. But she had been secretly preparing for some time, so when the opportunity came at short notice she grabbed it, enabling her to remain in charge of her own life choices. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve watched her stretch herself and quickly adapt to this monumental change so that she can enjoy living in her new community. A remarkable achievement for someone of her age and life history. Mum’s physical muscles may be deteriorating but her resilience muscle has been getting a real workout.
What are you doing to keep your resilience muscles in shape?
  • Thanks to Bob Dick and his Resilience Framework (Foresight, Flexibility, Robustness and Resilience), Frederic Flache’s Law of Disruption and Integration and Al Seibert’s Resiliency Advantage. These approaches inform our Navigating the Rapids of Change Workshop. Future blogs will explore some of these in more depth.
  • Contact us for more information on how we can help your staff develop resilience to cope better with ongoing organisational change.

Is Virtual the new Reality … Are you making the most of the opportunity?

How much of your life do you now live “virtually?”
Apart from allowing us to stay in contact with family and friends in distant locations, platforms such as skype are increasingly becoming “business as usual” in the world of work. Working virtually allows us to collaborate on projects and conduct webinars with people on the other side of the world. It allows me to mentor a group of facilitators based in 7 different countries, host on-line book discussions, and facilitate groups on-line. I can coach someone in New Zealand without getting on a plane.
I deliberately make a distinction between coaching, mentoring, chairing, training, moderating, hosting and facilitating – and the latter is the most challenging to do well on-line.

i only exist onlin_presentationlicense

In an on-line discussion group a colleague recently asked “Virtual facilitation, when it works well and why does it work well?”

I posted that critical ingredients for success from my perspective are: clarity about purpose; people knowing how to work within the platform; adherence to etiquette and plenty of planning, preparation and communication before the event. Having someone manage the technical aspects of the meeting behind the scenes is a real bonus – managing the shared screen, alerting the facilitator to chat comments, handling calls / emails from people trying to join the event when it’s already started etc. ?Well it’s a bonus for smaller meetings but a necessity for larger meetings.

And be prepared for anything. Earlier this week my modem dropped out just prior to starting a group session on Webex. So the meeting cancelled itself – and I had to set up another meeting right on start time … a helpful participant sent an email to the rest of the group to be on standby for new instructions 🙂

Don’t assume it will be easier, faster, cheaper (for you to do properly) because you are sitting on your behind in your office. In my experience to do it well requires a tremendous amount of preparation, specialist knowledge about how to use different platforms and how to get people engaged virtually – and often a lot of on-line follow up work.

Getting people engaged virtually is another thing – the dynamic of a virtual meeting is very different from a face-to-face meeting (that’s [email protected] is virtual speak). Unless we have everyone on video (which is impossible for larger meetings and also uses a heap of bandwidth), we can’t see facial expressions or body movement, sub vocals are not available because people are often on “mute”. We can’t see how people are reacting towards each other. People speak only in turn (and their turn is often “controlled” by the facilitator). Many other natural patterns of communication that forge the dynamic of a group are not available. So there are interpersonal as well as technical challenges – and the facilitator needs to concentrate intensely to engage participants in meaningful interaction with each other.

For this reason virtual facilitation has its limitations and challenges. I would be very wary of facilitating a virtual meeting convened to address interpersonal relationship problems and conflict within a team. I was asked once and declined the gig.

And more and more we are in 50/50 meetings with some participants attending virtually while others are there in person – in face I am facilitating in this situation next week.

Virtual is not limited to on-line meetings. There is a huge range of tools nowadays and you need to think about what is the best fit for purpose, budget and accessiblity. Private discussion groups and portals allow asynchronous interaction – great when people are in different times zones and/or need to give considered viewpoints and ideas.

There are applications that allow us to collaborate on documents in real time. Polling and survey tools to gauge reactions to options,

Just like the “good old days” we still send around an agenda and documentation; people read comment on documents individually and collaboratively; there are still informal small group “corridor” meetings; people still caucus by “phone”; have side conversations

How are you maximising the opportunities virtual meetings and interactions present for you and your organisation? There’s more to it than meets the eye and we can show you how.

At Illuma we’re in the process of designing an on-line training program on process design called The Architecture of Facilitation. The course will utilise podcasts, webinars, on-line discussion groups, skype, email, document sharing and more. Participants can work synchronously and asynchronously and we’re scheduling it to fit across a 10 hour time zone. If you are interested email us for more details.

And if you’re interested in facilitation and want to join this group – follow this link


The Elephant in the Team

By Rhonda Tranks, Director – Illuma Consulting

This article was previously published in our Ignite Newsletter – October 2011

After facilitating a team development meeting one of the team (let’s call her Jane) came up to me at the end to say it was a great day because at last the elephant in the room had been named. I felt quite pleased with myself then asked Jane “And what was the elephant?”  “It’s John of course and the way he micro-manages”. My fleeting sense of self-satisfaction evaporated and I spent that evening frustrated at how little had been achieved. The next morning John emailed to thank me for the day. “At last we named the elephant in the room: finally poor performance in the team has been discussed openly and I think Jane got the message”.

elephant and psychiatrist - presentation licence

I often encounter cynicism when called in to do team development because of past team building events where people invested much of themselves and then not much changed afterwards. So of course I was very concerned that this intervention wouldn’t fall into that category. Fortunately the meeting was part of a more comprehensive team intervention and we were able to “explore more of the elephant” so that performance and relationships were discussed openly and issues began to be addressed. It was a complex and difficult assignment as multiple layers of dynamics and problems dating back years began to emerge – many of which were beyond the scope of team development.

We’ve probably all been involved in team-building activities where the group worked together extraordinarily well to deliver on a task at hand during the team building activity itself when the activity had nothing whatsoever to do with their daily work and/or the stakes were suddenly much higher. There are many psycho/sociological explanations for this phenomenon and the group soon slips back into old patterns of behaviour and cynicism gets another boost.

Despite the consultancy and diagnostic work that I do beforehand and the processes I design for the agenda, it’s only when I’m with the team and see people relating as a team that the patterns and dynamics within the team begin to emerge.

I’ve learned that traditional “feel-good” team building activities just don’t achieve lasting change. So, many years ago I stopped using anything that could be described as structured “games” in team development assignments. In my experience what does work is to “lean into the discomfort” with the team and work with the real issues people are having around the real work they do. It is then that the patterns of behaviour and group dynamics reveal themselves and we have “real data” to work with. This draws upon all my skills as a facilitator (and often my own courage) as we create a space for the team to learn how to have the difficult conversations and work together to address the issues.

For me a starting point with the team is often a psychometric or diagnostic tool as it provides a way to open up the conversation within a framework. One reason why I chose to work with the KGI™ (Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams) is that it is contextual. It looks at the dynamic interplay of how the members of a particular team relate as they work on the task at hand. It goes to the core of the tensions in teams around task and relationship. We can then open up discussions around perceptions of what the job is, how it is performed and the inevitable differences and blind-spots that occur when people are required to work together. A turning point is when people stop blaming each other and outsiders and start looking at how their own behaviour has contributed to the problem.

Most people have unconscious selective blindness about the elephant in the room. I’m often reminded of the ancient Indian parable about the six blind men and the elephant. Each feels a different part and each has a different understand of what is before them: a spear, a snake, a fan, a wall, a tree and a rope. And I use the word “feel” intentionally because it is the feelings and emotions connected with different perceptions that create the greatest challenges when working with work teams not performing at their best.

This is why people are blind to the elephant in the room – because what they re seeing is only their perception of the elephant or the real issues. And the added irony is if I tell the fable of the blind men and the elephant people often still disagree about what the story means.

What does it mean for you and your team at work?


Facilitation? Pffft! How easy is that!

Some time ago I was having coffee with someone who said “I don’t understand why you put so much attention on facilitation. What could be so hard in getting a bunch of people to sit around the table to talk”. She then said: “Mind you most of the facilitated meetings where I work are useless, just people talking around in circles and nothing ever comes of it”. I could have choked on my coffee there and then. I’m pleased to add this person has never been involved in a meeting I’ve facilitated.

Anyone who has been at an effective group facilitation at work knows there is much more involved than getting people to sit around and talk. Facilitation is much more purposeful, in fact the nature of the purpose is what distinguishes a facilitated group event from other types of group gatherings.

Although there are some cross-overs, there are important differences between the role of a meeting chair, a moderator and a meeting facilitator, because their purpose is different. The terms are often used interchangeably, which causes confusion. I’ve sometimes been asked to facilitate a meeting when what the prospective client really wanted was someone to act as a moderator. My role would be to ask questions of a panel, field questions from the floor and manage the discussion. I was happy to undertake that role but asked the client to refer to me in this instance as the moderator not facilitator.

Sometimes as a facilitator I move into moderator role – but overall I’m there to do much more than lead a discussion. The groups I work with have been convened for a specific purpose, for example to:
• Better understand a complex issue when different people hold different parts of the puzzle or have different expertise
• Solve a problem where more than one perspective is needed
• Explore possibilities or options and make a decision
• Plan something together and commit to implement that plan
• Decide and agree a course of action
They have a task to do and a timeframe to achieve it within and they seek the support of a skilled “process guide” to do that.

The whole point is for people to work collaboratively which requires a focus on both the task and the relationships of people in the room. You might need to clarify the former and develop the latter. The higher the stakes for the people involved the trickier this becomes. The facilitator needs to be able to work within a process specifically designed for the task or outcome yet know when and how to be flexible around that design. A process that works well for one context may be disastrous for another.

Highly engaged participants at one of my workshops

Highly engaged participants at one of my workshops

Most of my facilitation work is within organisational settings. Someone – usually a leader but not always – suggests an independent facilitator be contracted. They understand the value of having someone who is a specialist at meetings who can incorporate different methods at the right time to help the group achieve its task. They also appreciate having someone “substantively neutral” (Roger Schwarz, The Skilled Facilitator, Jossey-Bass 2002) who can manage the overt or covert relationship dynamics that can derail a meeting, particularly when the stakes are high. Pffft! How easy could it be? Well perhaps a little trickier than my coffee friend thinks. Check out the IAF’s Core Competencies for Process Facilitation It’s more than a bunch of people talking around in circles  – although talking in a circle may be involved!

Sandy Schuman ups the ante and refers to group facilitation as a superlative task  (Sandor Schuman, The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation, Jossey-Bass 2005).

I believe though that all leaders and managers need at least basic facilitation capabilities to support their staff as they collaborate to solve problems and make decisions. And the need grows as organisations become more complex and specialised. It is a useful ability for just about anyone working in group settings that require collaboration to achieve a task.

Increasingly large organisations are training staff in facilitation – they see it as a core skill for their leaders, managers and specialists. How much value could you add if you could break the meeting pattern of a one way flow of information or “people just talking around a table and nothing ever coming of it” and help the group achieve an outcome.

Illuma Consulting conducts training workshops in Process Facilitation. Our Foundations of Facilitation workshop is conducted as a public program or can be run in-house.


Rhonda Tranks is a member of the International Association of Facilitators, the profession’s peak international body. 

In January 2007 Rhonda Tranks became a Certified Professional Facilitator with the IAF. This meant she needed to demonstrate all of the IAF’s Core Competencies for process facilitation through: a rigorous application process, a series of interviews, demonstrations and an assessment by an international panel. CPF’s are required to be re-accredited every 3 years.
Rhonda has facilitated hundreds of meetings and off-sites ranging from board retreats to large stakeholder engagement events, planning meetings and team development events. She has trained hundreds of facilitators and has presented at IAF Conferences in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan, Korea, India and Switzerland and consistently receives very high levels of positive feedback. She regularly mentors experienced facilitators some of whom have attained CPF status. In addition she has over 30 years experience in training, experiential learning, instructional design and training facilitative trainers.
Rhonda has served in a leadership capacity with the IAF since 2008: firstly on the regional leadership team. She served on the global board as Regional Director, Oceania from June 2010 to December 2012 when she took over the post of Director Marketing and Partnerships. She resigned from this role in March because of professional and family pressures. She remains active at a local level and is currently helping establish an IAF Chapter in her home state. Rhonda was the convener of the successful IAF Melbourne Conference in March 2012.


How is a Facilitator like an Architect?

Melbourne Singers of Gospel

You can just see the top of my silver hair tucked behind other second sopranos on the left. There were 3 more rows behind me.

Ever found yourself stuck in a building or venue completely unsuitable to your purpose? How did it get in the way of optimum performance?

I’m fortunate to be a member of the Melbourne Singers of Gospel (a 90 member choir) and we recently performed at the fabulous Famous Spiegeltent.

The Famous Spiegeltent is a magnificent hand-made travelling pavilion built in 1920 initially designed for cabaret and circus burlesque performers (Marlene Dietrich sang “Falling In Love Again” in the mirrored tent in the 1930’s). Every March it’s assembled in the forecourt of the Arts Centre in Melbourne. I’ve seen some wonderful performances there over the years. However it was not designed for 60 singers and 3 musicians in the middle of a crackling heat-wave.

Despite the thrill at performing at this iconic venue it was a struggle to deliver an optimal performance for our audience. Soloists had to be at ground level, our carefully rehearsed choreography got lost, soloists couldn’t be seen and most of us could not see our Director (rather important). All the preparation for voice placement was wasted as we squeezed in anywhere we could fit. Apparently we still sounded fabulous thanks to the quick thinking of our Director and our capacity to be flexible.

So what has this got to do with facilitation – and with architecture? Think about it – facilitated events are designed and “built” for a discrete purpose and with a particular group and a specific context. One-size-fits-all solutions result in squeezing your client’s needs into something designed for someone else. Like squashing 60 singers onto a stage designed for about 10 people.

The process design element of successful facilitation is frequently underestimated. I liken it to the work of an architect who consults with a client and develops a customised design.

How do you design and construct your facilitation events so that they really work for the people they are designed for?

Our latest facilitator training program is all about process design…

The Architecture of Facilitation

  • It covers: consulting with your clients to identify and agree specific outcomes; analysis of the environment and context; how to design and construct a facilitated event so that it works for the people and the purpose. Participants learn how to frame an appropriate agenda and select the best methods and tools for a particular issue or stage. We also explore how to handle the unexpected when you may need to change your plan mid event.
  • This is a virtual course conducted over 8 weeks using on-line technologies. It involves webinars, individual and group assignments, a learning project and individual coaching. Most of the webinars and on-line workshops will be scheduled outside normal working hours. No travel, no time off work, no
  • The first courses will start in June 2013 and will include one program specifically for facilitators based in India and Africa.

For more information or to be on our mailing list for updates:

Email us at

Or Call +61 (0) 3 9682 0441

Architecture of Facilitation Flyer



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)

Put Your Hand Up To Lead

hand up photoYou 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 no eye contact people develop a sudden urge to rummage through documents or an intense fascination with their fingernails 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 KGITM (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 subscales 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.

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.

But 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.

Why are people reluctant to put their hand up and take the initiative?

It comes as no surprise that the Initiative sub-scale of the KGI is, for most people their lowest score.
Dr Robert Klein the developer of the KGI attributes this to two key factors: fear and lethargy. In a recent conversation Dr Klein told me…

It could be fear. 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.

Or it could be lethargy that prevents them from taking initiative. Many people have simply gotten 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. Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

When I see people stepping up as a result of putting their KGI Development Plans into action I see a huge difference in the dynamics of the group. 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 is lit – then go on! Put your hand up.

‘Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is’. H. Jackson Browne

Contact us to discuss how we can help you turn your teams around with the KGI.

For more general information on the KGI visit the website

Dr Klein is currently writing a new KGI Facilitator’s Guide which will be published shortly.

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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