Real Life Learning

Tag: Leeds

Developing Team Leaders

When people move into their first management role it is big shift into a role where their expertise is no longer their technical skills but in their ability to work with others. Christine with Group final
I have observed that some team leaders just hope that the team will look after itself and get on with their technical work. This is often one of the causes of complaints from team members about their team leader not listening or caring.

Traditionally a short “Introduction to Team Leading” course might be offered but the difficulty was this was the although the course was enjoyable the learning was rarely reinforced. This is why it helps to create some blended learning options that will combine input of new skills and knowledge with practical work tasks.

Blended Learning OverviewThis simple diagram shows how three elements can sit together to provide a richness of learning. The final design is often a bit more complex than this because it can involve on-line elements, self assessment and peer assessment.

It is a real benefit to bring a group of team leaders together to work on a learning programme. By sharing their experiences with each other they discover that they are not alone in finding it a challenge to make the transition into management.

It is sad that so much more investment is provided for senior leadership development when the people who often have more day-to-day contact with employees get neglected!



When approaching team leader development these are some of the main areas you need to build into your development programmes:

  • opportunities to share the experiences of being a team leaders with peers
  • create honest and open feedback between the team leader, their manager and their peers
  • focus on the topics of current concern to your team leaders in your business – ask them what they want to cover, don’t just accept a standard menu of items.
  • different ways of learning will appeal to different people, create a richer mix of options including using your on-line resources
  • set expectations about implementing the learning by creating assessed work tasks
  • offer opportunities for reflections – both with peers and via a coach or mentor
  • make sure your senior management team are role modelling the behaviour they want from the team leaders!

You can follow-up this article by reading an outline proposal for a blended learning programme.



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:


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.

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

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:

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

World Cafe – Real Conversations

This week I have been exploring using The World Cafe method with a number of different groups. I love The World Cafe website, it is a great source of good practice examples. There are photographs so you can see how different groups have organized their cafes. There is even a group in Russia who are using a real café for a regular exchange. The site has resources you can download. It is all maintained by volunteers and through donations:

 I have used the method with a variety of different groups and in different situations. The biggest cafe event was in Rome for a group of 150 senior executives. The cafe format fundamentally changes the environment of the average conference room from the formal seating useful for listening to expert speakers to a more democratic, informal setting which is much more useful for listening to each other. In the ideal world there would be the perfectly formed small circular tables and comfortable, easily movable chairs so a group of 5 people can easily talk to each other across the table.  The group size is important, if you have more than 5 then it is less easy for most groups to self facilitate, this tends to mean that more dominate people get more air time and the less extrovert participants will not get a chance to input.

 Having established a cafe type of environment the next task is to get people talking and listening to each other by the use of a carefully worded question. An interesting open question is enough to start the process of dialogue. In a cafe environment the focus is on the quality of the conversation and not about coming to a set outcome. It is a model of facilitation where the emphasis is on people talking openly with each other about a topic which is important to them. If the question is good enough then the conversation will flow.

 Rotating the groups is one of the great assets of the cafe style, and the rotation is organised to ensure that everyone gets a change of people to talk with so that they can explore the question from some different perspectives.

 What is great about hosting a cafe session is that you can watch the changes in people. At the beginning everyone is a little hesitate and uncomfortable with the changes in their usual environment. There is a degree of discomfort in having to actively create conference content instead of passively listening to an expert speaker This is all evident in the tense body language in the room and then something happens as the process starts. During the first rotation I will notice people smiling, listening intently and starting to become more animated. By the second rotation the groups are leaning forward, animated conversation begins and the volume in the room increases. It is a very satisfying process as I know that real conversations start in these groups which follow on after the cafe has closed.

 The World Cafe format is a fantastic format to encourage networking and practice sharing. Far too often events have time set aside for “networking” but it is essentially free time and for the more introverted participants this can be a very nerve racking time where they dread being trapped in a corner by a talkative salesperson, with no chance to escape.

 I hope that one of my conversations this week will result in our team of facilitators being asked to run a cafe in my home town of Leeds. One thing we need more of right now are ways to help people to connect, to share and to find ways out of the mess that some of these great experts have got us into. We need to turn to each other to find our solutions.

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