Cooked and Eaten: Growing as Facilitators from the Inside Out
By Hector Rodriguez

Posted May 04, 2009

Facilitate Proceedings asked me to report back on my experience at the North America International Association of Facilitator’s Conference in Vancouver BC.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009. Today I had the opportunity to enjoy Kimberly Bain´s session in which I became more aware of my default styles of handling conflict and how it pervades different social scenarios in which I participate. As facilitators we must be sure that group decisions result not so much from our personal style but rather from a careful and well managed process.

In this vein, participants in this session repeatedly referred to the importance of learning how to make a better use of our “self” when dealing with conflict. We accentuated the idea of learning how to harmonize our mind, heart and body in order to make a better impact with our presence. For example, reminding ourselves to breathe deeply and detach momentarily from the process to take in a systemic perspective of what is occurring in the group and within ourselves.

We recognized that as facilitators we tend to gravitate too quickly to collaborative ways of building agreement. As for me, I discovered that I have the tendency to avoid conflict or accommodate myself to it. My challenge is to learn how to stay calm in the eye of the hurricane, witnessing how the dynamics of the group dance until they get to the point of joint energy that creates a positive change.

Tuesday, April 22, 2009. Those who frequently attend conferences know that by the second day of the program you start to wind down a little bit. But the IAF conference has some features that distinguish it from others. Facilitators when together create a fraternal atmosphere that you don’t find in other conferences or social gatherings. Soon you start building networks of support that motivate you to be more interested in offering than obtaining something back. My hope is that what we create in this conference escalates to more impactful contributions that create the change we want to see in our mother earth.

Adiano Pianesi ended his session called “Learning Construction Site: Strategies to Facilitate Workplace Adult Learning” with the statement: “At the end of your session always give a present to the attendees”. Adriano reminded me of how important it is to access a state of enthusiasm and passion when we work with groups. He skillfully demonstrated several methods that kept the group engaged in discussing principles that provoke learning. One of the key components of Adriano´s model is the management of chaos. As facilitators, no matter how much planning we do or how sophisticated the agendas we develop, we need to remain flexible, willing and able to dance with the flow of a group process. Thank you for your modeling Adriano.

The second session that I attended today was “Creating Team Charter Plans”, facilitated by Rebecca Dalton and Micheline Flannery. They helped us to distinguish between charters for new teams and charters to address issues that occur in existing teams.

I loved how they both matched and complement each other at the same time. They both were enthusiastic about their role as facilitators but Rebecca used more an evocative stance that allowed her to stay calm when reading and responding to the questions of the group. In a way, Micheline was more provocative and energetic when explaining the use of team charters for practical and concrete needs. They reminded me of those two characteristics or ways of being in front of a group (evocative and provocative).

They both emphasize in the important of the preparation phase which allow the facilitator to negotiate expectations with key stakeholders and to feed back important pre diagnostic information. In the same way, how key it is to coach formal leaders in the kind of participation they need to have when sponsoring a team charter process. At the same time they emphasized the importance of building as best we can the follow up stage, which sometimes is compromised because our clients might see facilitation more like an event than a process.

Thursday, April 23, 2009. Facilitation has to do with knowing how to observe and intervene in group processes, using an array of models, techniques and tools but mostly knowing how to better use ourselves. I love sessions in which I learn new tools, but I mostly enjoy sessions that help me to realize my developmental edge as a facilitator.

For me today´s sessions were the cherry on the cake. I was fortunate to attend two great sessions: Dawna Jones’ session named “Cooked and Eaten: How to Transform and Grow from the Experience” and Larry Dressler’s session titled “Standing in the Fire: Facilitating Self when Things Heat Up”.

Dawna started her session posting the following questions:
“What does being cooked /eaten mean to you? After a bad experience what do you do to process it, look after it, learn from it? What are you tempted to do? What do you actually do?” “Good facilitation” she says, “is not about being perfect, but about learning to flow with events as they arise, and to learn in every step of the way”.

Dawna invited us to recover our capacity to recognize the sensory information our body registers before, when or after we work with a group. She suggests that if we learn how to better use our electro-magnetic field, we can sense what is happening with a group beforehand or even better, we can create the conditions in which we hope the group will operate. The key, for Dawna, is to learn to center ourselves (before, during, and after our meetings) and to learn how we can break patterns in the way we feel, think and act so we can become more aware of the available options to proceed and create a better impact.

In “Standing in the Fire”, Larry defines a group fire as “a state in which things feel uncomfortable, emotionally intense, and at times personal. Fire is as pervasive and necessary in groups as it is in nature”. We explored with him how we burn ourselves through our habitual ways of thinking and seeing, our emotional hot buttons and ego identity. He says that we have a lot of choice about our own thermostat.

We modeled several exercises that we can do before, while or after our group sessions. These exercises when practiced with discipline can increase our capacity to become truly effective instruments of change. Some of these exercises consisted in drawing our personal demons and dialoguing with those demons, standing in front of the mirror, standing in the here and now, dancing with surprises, physical centering, ground in core intention, reframing and affirming ourselves. Larry is writing a new book called “Standing in the Fire: Leading High-heat Meetings with Calm, Clarity and Courage” which will be available in 2010.

Posted by Hector Rodriguez