Real Life Learning

Category: facilitation (page 1 of 2)

Adult Learners and Choice – the Snow Question

Any trainer will tell you that when snow starts to fall in the UK your training plans are likely to get put under strain.
Initially there are the messages checking that the course is still running or telling you about delays expected to journeys. Once having got people to the session the next challenge is to keep people focused on the content and not on the snow outside.
One of the things that constantly amuses my European colleagues, particularly in places like Austria and Ukraine, is how a few centimetres of snow can put the entire country into a severe state of emergency. Holding a training session in this context can be a real challenge.
I was faced with this situation in two sessions recently during the January Big Snow event. My client had left it up to me to decide on whether to continue or not as the snow continued to fall outside. I decided to give my groups choices. I explained that I was able to stay until the scheduled close time and was happy to do so but that I knew some of the group would be worried about getting home. I explained what we were going to cover in the course and how they might catch up on this content in other ways. I then simply handed them the choice. They could check in on the transport advice on their phones at breaks and make their own decisions about when they wanted to leave.
I was really conscious that if you are stressing about your journey home you are unlikely to be learning so I explained to the group that I did not want them to feel stressed but equally I did not want them to miss out on the learning from this session. I made it clear that it would be ok if they needed to leave and that this was a choice that they could make for themselves at any point during the day.
On both days the sessions finished at the normal time with the whole group present. Our groups left the building in eerie silence as it seems we were the only groups who took this choice to stay. In other sessions in this period the various organisers made the decision for the group and announced an early finish. This could have been of course because the organisers needed to get home but I wondered how much of it is because we feel we need to “look after” our learners and forget that the principles of adult learning is about giving the learner responsibility for their decisions. Our role is to support, encourage but not to take over. The snow example showed me that learners can often surprise you when you pass over responsibility to them. I really didn’t expect that all the learners would choose to stay. That they choose to stay reinforced how valuable these group sessions are to the learners.

Bradley Wiggins and the Power of the Why Question

Over the Christmas break I have been reading the autobiography of Bradley Wiggins “My Time” which charts his year of winning the Tour de France and the Olympic Time Trial. This has been a brilliant read for me as I love following road and track cycling but I as I reflect on the book I realise there are some great insights for my organisation work.

One of the powerful influences within British Cycling has been the sports scientist Tim Kerrison. He joined the cycling team from a background in performance swimming and had “revolutionised training in Australian swimming” (p.35) As a newcomer to the sport Tim spent a year just observing the cyclists as they went about their training and their racing. Only at the end of the year did he start to set out his training programmes. To create these programmes he asked a lot of Why questions. A big question was why road cyclists do not “cool down” at the end of their races, like other professional sports people would normally do. What became apparent is that there was no real reason apart from no one did it! The Sky team started to introduce “cool downs” and the other professional racing teams have started to follow their lead.

A Year to Observe

What got me thinking was how in organisations I have never known someone to have a year to observe, see the patterns and trends, and ask questions before they start to be expected to deliver the goods. When I have worked with some organisations on developing their induction and have explored how to support senior managers joining I have often shared the useful “Your First 90 Days”  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1591391105 with senior teams and the reaction is often that 90 days of observation is too long! So imagine how a year of observation would go down! Yet without that year some of his observations would not be rooted in discernible patterns and trends, it could just be randomly observed events.

Asking Why

It was by asking why that Tim Kerrison was able to find out which of the observations he had made had a valid reason that perhaps he had not fully grasped and which observations were just because “that’s how we have always done it”. How often do we sit back in organisations and observe our normal processes and rituals and ask why we do that particular task in that particular way? I often use the 5 Why’s Technique http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm when I facilitate team events on innovation. It is a technique that people really seem to struggle with and can often get really frustrated about the process. This tells me that we are not that experienced in asking why enough. If only we did what might we uncover.

Being Open to Change

The final aspect that needed to happen was that Bradley Wiggins himself needed to be open to change. He was candid enough to acknowledge that in the past when given a training programme he would adapt it to his own needs based on the belief that he knew better than others what would work. This time he said to Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison that he would trust them to get his body ready for the challenge ahead “get this machine working for next July”. Often when I work with managers they get frustrated because their efforts to support an employee to improve their performance does not result in the desired end point. This insight shows us that without both parties actively engaged change is not going to happen because individuals can so easily sabotage their own chances of success, often without even realising what they doing. The critical change was that there was trust between both partners and this made it possible to make the type of incremental small changes which are the critical path to the overall success of the British cycling team.

So my learning to take into 2013 for my next management development sessions is:

  • Take Time to Observe
  • Ask Why and challenge the “way we always do things round here” attitude
  • Create a climate of trust so that your employees know that you are acting in their best interests and work with you in partnership.

Making and Influencing Change: Beyond the Shiny Things Approach

One of the disappointing aspects of my profession as a trainer is how so many in our profession (and I include myself at times) get excited by new shiny techniques that promise us to fix one of the big problems in organisations…how do you get people to change behaviour? We seek out techniques that will work quickly and fix the problem so that our organisations can run more smoothly. From an initial pilot study a project can quickly be picked up and implemented across a whole organisation and then a few years later it is forgotten about as the desired change in behaviour has not happened.

It was in this context that I picked up Timothy Wilson’s book “Redirect. The surprising new science of psychological change” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redirect-Surprising-Science-Psychological-Change/dp/1846142296

The book is a really detailed but readable overview of some of the latest research on various group and individual interventions designed to create positive change. Wilson outlines why many of these interventions have failed, even though they seem at first to make perfect sense.

An example which stood out for me was the “Free Book” project. The idea is that children get rewarded for reading by having a prize that they will get once they have read a certain number of books. For children who were not keen on reading this had a desired effect. Whilst the reward was in place they did read more. But once the reward system stopped their reading went back down to previous levels. The really scary thing was that for children who already did plenty of reading the scheme did not increase their rate of reading but when the scheme was over their level of reading dropped right off! By putting a reward system in place the children had started seeing reading as something that they had to be motivated to do by external rewards and no longer something that they valued themselves.

I reflected on this in terms of the myriad of performance bonus systems that I have seen implemented in the various organisations I have worked in. Many managers I work with love these incentive schemes as they feel that they are able to reward good behaviour with a positive outcome. If you scratch the surface then you quickly realise that all these schemes are doing is introducing a mechanical way of getting us to “do the right thing”. Once the reward changes (and how many incentive schemes are ever that good in a recession?) then the motivation to do the right thing is no longer there.

The key solution that was recommended from the research was something that individuals could easily implement themselves – the story editing techniques. These are defined by Wilson as “a set of techniques designed to redirect people’s narrative about themselves and the social world in a way that leads to lasting changes in behaviour” (p.11, 2011).

You can read more about the story editing technique in this interview with Timothy Wilson

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-improve-your-life-with-story-editing

If you are a trainer or change consultant who is bored of the shiny things you might find the book as useful as I did in promoting a more reflective and research based approach to intervening to influence change in organisations.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redirect-Surprising-Science-Psychological-Change/dp/1846142296

Customer Journey Mapping: a large group intervention

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is a method of identifying the main processes that a customer meets when they have an interaction with an organisation. By spending time mapping the journey a customer actually takes organisations can make changes to their processes which are based on real customer requirements.

Completed map

Customer Journey Map Sample

There has been a lot of work done in the UK about mapping customer journeys and the Cabinet Office website is a great place to explore different types of journey from the physical journey of customers using Eurostar through to the virtual journey of someone apply to enter the UK as a worker from outside the EU. http://www.cse.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/getDynamicContentAreaSection.do?id=9

My project involved the careers team from a large University in the UK who wanted to know more about what customer journey mapping was about before they could decide whether to use it in practice or not.

The activity I designed was based on some fictional student profiles. These were designed so that the team could explore the journeys of those students who were not current users of the careers service so that they could identify if there were opportunities that were being missed by the service.

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Steps in Facilitation 2 – Images and Metaphors

Preeti distributing image cardsFor the second of my mentoring sessions with Preeti I decided to keep with the subject of data collection and explore a more sophisticated technique to the standard Post It sort we had used in the previous session.

The brain dump onto Post It notes works really well when everyone can easily articulate their thoughts but sometimes you want something deeper to be explored and the conventional brain dump can end up being a mass of slightly meaningless unconnected words.

We explored using visual imagery as a trigger to an initial dialogue and looked at how you might use this in different settings. I used a set of visual cards from St Lukes Resources. http://tiny.cc/stlukescards

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Steps in Facilitation – Collecting Data

I am mentoring a graduate from the Leeds MBA course who wants to learn about facilitation before she returns to India, so I have 2 months to guide her the skills and tactics of facilitation.
 
 

Brainstorming Facilitation

Our initial thoughts

Our first session was about how to use Post It® notes to generate a range individual responses to a question concerning a team/organisation for example: What causes our meetings to overrun? What is helping employees to feel engaged with the business? What do consumers want from our business?

 

 

Once the answers have been recorded and grouped into categories the next task is to clarify the meaning of each item and ensure that they are in the right category. If the meanings of each note is clarified it then become possible to remove any items which are clear duplicates. This discussion is really important because it will start to define what the key priorities are for the group.Having agreed the categories it is often useful to have a reflective dialogue. A dialogue is a listening space where each individual can choose to share their insights so far and any themes that are starting to emerge from the conversations so far. Inexperienced facilitators often miss this stage and move straight onto voting on the issues and this can mean that some of the more complex grey areas remain unexplored.

The next option might be to prioritise the issues and one very simple way of identifying which are the most important issues for the group is by using a technique called Multi Voting. I have tended to use multi coloured dots so that each person can record their vote on each item at the same time and not have to see their score recorded on a chart.

The number of dots can be allocated by taking the total number of categories eg 6 and allocating 6 points to the top choice, 5 to the next point…., this requires 16 dots per person. However if there are more categories than this and lots of people, then this can become very messy in which case it is often recommended that the number of items are divided by 3 and then dots allocated so there is enough to put one dot on 2/3rds of the items. I often propose that a maximum of 3 dots can be placed on each item.

 

Using multi voting and coloured dots

Our attempt at multi voting

I wondered what other facilitators were doing on the topic and I discovered lots of different methods. One other method I liked was from an organisation called Dotmocracy and they have printed sheets you could use. I can see how these could be combined with the post it notes to really gain some insights from larger groups on the issues: http://www.dotmocracy.org/sheets

 

Then I came across this blog discussion on the use of dots and I realised that this was a really big area of debate amongst facilitators. http://www.albany.edu/cpr/gf/resources/Voting_with_dots.html

My conclusions are to stick with a process that makes pragmatic sense at the time and the facilitator will need to make a judgement call. All the attempts to make a science out of the number of dots looked flawed in practice and I am drawn back to the title of Tony Mann’s book: “Facilitation: an art, a science or skill or all three” and would conclude that this is a great example of “all three”

Facilitation Book

Facilitation – an Art, Science, Skill – or all three? Build your expertise in facilitation


Facts, Myths and Misunderstandings in Facilitation and Training

One of the most depressing elements of being involved in the facilitation and training profession is the tendency to over focus on great design skills, making things fun and interactive and a lack of really disciplined critical thinking.

 There is a heavy reliance on “pop” research and this is used without thinking by trainers and facilitators when they are working with groups and when they are training others in their professional area. I have come across a number of facilitators who based their designs on accommodating the four different learning styles identified by Honey and Mumford. Their designs include activities which will appeal to the four different styles. What is concerning about this is that this was not the intention of the learning styles approach in the first place and secondly there is very little researched evidence into the validity of this tool or others that are similar. To read more check out the Learning Skills Network site and download their document:

https://crm.lsnlearning.org.uk/user/order.aspx?code=041540

 Another good site I have come across is Roger Greenaway’s site which is packed with research on facilitation and learning topics. I came across this page when I was preparing some materials for a workshop where we are going to critique the issues of learning styles. This page gives a summary of Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle and then explores critiques of Kolb.

http://reviewing.co.uk/research/experiential.learning.htm

 One of the really exciting elements of my new project to develop an academic pathway in facilitation is the need to do a literature review in the field of facilitation and start to separate out some of the myths from the well researched and documented data. I know this is going to make my practice stronger and I hope will influence others.

Learning from Observations

This week I have been preparing for my new role as a tutor on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s programmes. It has got me really thinking about how people learn to do particular jobs and how formal programmes like this combine with less structured learning experiences that you have on the job. An example of this is how as a trainer you learn how to move from the expert deliverer of set materials to become more of a facilitative trainer who can handle uncertainty in the learning activities like discussions where there is no clear outcome or correct answer. I was exploring this in more depth with a friend of mine who is also working in the field and we were sharing the different elements that had encouraged us to move away from the scripted form of training. For me one important element was having the opportunity very early in my career to watch and to work alongside others.

 

It was the value of observational learning that linked with another conversation I had earlier in the month. A friend of mine works for a health authority and had done some observation and facilitation work with the team who were setting up the incident room for Swine Flu for the authority. They were facing a tough job in challenging circumstances and were in many cases following a set of emergency procedures already laid down. One observation struck me, when they were setting up the incident room they installed a large plasma screen TV. When asked what this was for the managers replied that it was so that they could play BBC News 24 continuously so that the team would be updated about what was happening with swine flu. The fact that they would be supplying the news to the BBC did not seem to strike them as negated the need for a massive TV. Further probing discovered that the managers believed that all incident centres need massive TVs.

 

This learning was not from any real incident centres in the health authority (this was their first one), probing questions established that the team were unconsciously using as their models incident rooms they had seen on TV and in films, all of which featured large scale screens. What is scary about this story is how believable it is, how much of our learning is from watching fictional examples and taking this in without any further critical analysis and then implementing strategies and approaches based on our observations of a ficitionalised situation.

 

It made me realise that valuable as observations are of both real situation and from other sources they are only part of the picture. The discussions that I had with my colleagues after the event, the reading that I did for my professional qualification and my own reflections on the observations all of these lead to the development of what I consider to be my good practice in facilitative training.

 

www.bellthompson.co.uk

Facilitation is More Than Having Fun with Post Its

Yesterday I worked with a group of facilitators. We are working on a project to create a high level accredited pathway in facilitation. The first activity we worked on as a team was to share all the different tools, techniques and models that we each use within our own facilitation practices. The photo below demonstrates the wealth of experience that we shared.

 

Tools Techniques and Models for Facilitation

Tools Techniques and Models for Facilitation

What was great about the experience was that we had created an atmosphere of trust between us so that we could ask each other to explain tools which we were not sure of. This is a significant step amongst professional groups; I have often observed a tendency for people to cover up their lack of knowledge because they don’t want to be seen as lacking by their peers. This creation of trust meant that we were willing to explore the ideas put onto the board and to test if they were models, tools or techniques or should we define it as a theoretical underpinning.

 The chart that emerged of the theory we were using as facilitators to inform our practice grew as the activity went on. We all shared stories of “bad facilitation” where an individual used a tool without the underpinning knowledge. This often happens when an inexperienced facilitator sees a tool in use or reads about it and quickly jumps to implementation stage without a deeper consideration of whether this is the right tool for the desired outcome and for the group they are working with.

 Sometimes it is easy to dismiss facilitation as “messing about with Post It notes” and “having fun with groups” and it is this approach to facilitation which we are setting out to challenge. This means facilitators having a deeper understanding of the different models but also being willing to spend time understanding more complex theoretical underpinnings to our work.

 One of the topics we talked about was Appreciative Inquiry. This is another example of a technique which can be used inappropriately and can lead to a frustration when it fails to deliver the promise. I came across a great blog:

http://aiconsult.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/appreciative-inquiry-better-ways-of-doing-the-design-stage/#comment-29

What I really liked about this blog is the attention that is given to what happens with all the data collected in the first stages of a facilitated event. This is one of the areas that I want to study as part of my quest for qualification. I can see lots of techniques for generating data and the way we do this is often creative, engaging and inspiring but then I watch people get lost as the data is reduced to something more manageable for an action plan. It is great to see some practical examples of how this stage is tackled for one specific method.

 Christine Bell – Bellthompson Ltd

Appreciating the Good Things

One of the complaints I get from managers is how their own managers only notice the bad stuff that they do. At the same time as saying this they will talk about all the bad things that their employees do and list the problems in the organisation.  I often wonder why we do this, and I know that I am not perfect myself, so my learning challenge is how to get out of the “isn’t it awful” and “if only” type of conversation into something that gives more potential for moving forward.

I use a couple of different tools and techniques to help move the conversation on. The first is a model used by colleague Ian Cunningham(http://www.stratdevint.com) called the 3 P Model. The Ps referred to are puzzles (there is a solution) problems (there may be a solution but not currently known) and predicaments (the only solution would require massive change in government/organisational policy). In my experience lots of energy is spent in organisations trying to work on challenging the predicaments. The nature of predicaments means that they are difficult to change.  For more junior managers predicaments might be the inflexible nature of the pay structure which makes it difficult for them to give the financial rewards that they would like to. As a facilitator I might suggest that they accept the nature of the predicament and look at what they can influence instead.

The next tool I use is Appreciative Inquiry. This is a model developed by David Cooperider and others and there is a good website which gives a detailed overview. http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/

My work is mainly with Northern Europeans who can be very cynical about anything which they perceive as too Californian, referring to it as “happy, clappy stuff”. So whilst I have yet to convince an organisation to adopt the whole approach advocated by the Appreciative Inquiry movement I have used it to change the way that we review and plan. Instead of starting with “what are the problems in this team” I encourage managers to ask the questions about what is going well, what can I build on in this team? It just helps to shift away from a negative viewpoint to something that gives some needed energy and boast to the team and the manager.

The final technique I use is the Strength Based approach. One of the advocates of this is the Gallup Organisation and their book “Strength Finder 2.0” is one I recommend to managers who want to take a different approach to appraisal, recruitment, talent management. I also use a set of card which I ordered from St Luke’s Innovative Resources www.innovativeresources.org. There are 54 cards each of which describe a strength. I encourage individuals to select strengths that they think they have or their team have and explore why this will help the team develop further.

These tools start to help a shift to seeing the world through a slightly different lens. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t still problems and that everything in the world is lovely but it does help to look at how we can move forward from the “isn’t it awful” coffee talk into something that might help contribute to better organisations and governments.

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