Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Facilitation Uncovered

On Tuesday 20th March, I attended my first SLA Europe event - Facilitation Uncovered. We were told this was SLA Europe's first attempt at arranging smaller, more intimate training events alongside larger conference style ones and, I have to say, I really liked the format.

The root of facilitation, according to the blurb we were given, comes from the Latin word facile or without difficulty (it didn't just mean superficial which is how I'd always thought of the word). The training event was intended to give us guidance on how to make ideas flow and actions happen within meetings. I have led several staff development events in the past where I had to give lots of information, for example, feedback statistics, and encourage the team to come up with ideas on how to best respond in order to improve the service. As I'm a firm believer in continual improvement and had been meaning to get more out of my SLA membership I decided to go along.

The speaker, Linda Cockburn, started the session by promising to give us tips which would definitely work. This sounded promising. The first tip was to say a person's name three times (to yourself so you don't look too weird) in order to remember it. She did this as we introduced ourselves and she did get everyone's name right so maybe there is something to it. This is one I will have to try as I'm not very good at remembering names..

We were asked in small groups to come up problems we all had with facilitation and then discussed then. Some common problems were:
  • how to bring session to a close
  • how to encourage quiet people to contribute
  • how to get overbearing people not to dominate
  • how to stop talking to fill quiet spaces
  • how to record and contribute at the same time
Possible solutions were:
  • plan - planning is crucial
  • get people to write something down so even the quiet ones can contribute and aren't stuck for words
  • small groups help conversation and water down dominant people
  • counting to 5 before filling quiet space - otherwise others will not feel the need to speak if you're doing it all
  • set rules - there's then something to go back to if you lose track
  • tell people whether you really want their ideas or whether you just want them to agree to your plan - very important to get this one right
  • it is not possible to record and participate - the facilitator must stay out of it as they should remain neutral
  • get people speaking as soon as possible otherwise there's the risk they won't participate at all
  • treat all ideas equally and check that you are capturing all the information - have I got everything?
We then went on to discuss how to ensure actions occur. This I think is where lots of meetings go awry - people get so excited talking about the issues but don't come out with anything constructive. To get round this problem, Linda told us that a meeting should be split into three sections; divergent thinking (where everything that needs to be said is said), convergent thinking (where what's really important is looked at in more detail) and the end point (where the application is considered).

Further tips related to this were:

  • the sections should be given equal amounts of time, e.g. if a meeting is an hour then each part will last 20 minutes
  • if people are stuck on a slot then the facilitator should remind participants of the endpoint
  • keep things fresh during long sessions by using pair and group work, setting challenges etc
I'm glad I attended this event. Linda applied all her tips and tricks within our session and it flowed well. I won't be doing much facilitating at work for a while but I think it is a good skill to learn and one which I may be able to utilise within the ARLG LASEC, both in the committee meetings themselves and the events we hold.

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