The Value of a Professional Facilitator: Why Would You Hire One?

The Value of a Professional Facilitator: Why Would You Hire One?

Creating a new project? Building a new partnership? Embarking on a strategic planning process? Building collaboration between multiple stakeholders or between one or more teams in an organization? All of these scenarios benefit from the skills of an experienced and skilled facilitator.

What is a professional facilitator?

A professional facilitator is someone who has been trained by a recognized organization and/or academic institution. In Canada, several recognized organizations that train facilitators are: the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution at St. Paul’s University – https://www.cicr-icrc.ca/en/ [1] ,

the Justice Institute – https://www.jibc.ca/ , and the Institute of Cultural Affairs – which also has an international/parent organization – http://www.ica-international.org/. A facilitator may also be certified by the International Association of Facilitators – https://www.iaf-world.org/site/. [2]

Role of a Facilitator

A facilitator’s role is to guide a group; to make it easier for a group to do its work. A facilitator takes the words and thoughts of participants and records them on a flipchart or laptop with projection. Facilitators are trained in processes to build consensus, prevent conflict and encourage creativity.

A facilitator has a strong process function versus being a content expert. Thus the role of a facilitator is not to contribute content, but rather to encourage the active participation of all group members and to ensure that their ideas are recorded as they stated them. In fact, people tend to get annoyed if you change the words they give you to your own.

It is helpful when facilitating groups to understand their “language” and the sector to which they belong. This enables you to know when groups are “getting off track” and to more easily summarize the ideas raised. It is also useful to encourage people to speak in “bullets” or “headlines” and there are various processes to assist participants to do this.

An effective facilitator is able to:

  • Create a safe environment
  • Listen
  • Observe
  • Paraphrase
  • Summarize main points
  • Use eye contact
  • Identify and interpret non-verbal messages; e.g. frowns and body language
  • Speak clearly
  • Write legibly
  • Ascertain if and when a group is “getting off track” and “bring them back on track”

Additional characteristics that are helpful to have as a facilitator are:

  • A good sense of humor
  • Flexibility
  • Openness
  • An interest in and sensitivity to people from diverse backgrounds
  • Lots of energy.

There are many styles of facilitation and each facilitator develops their own unique approach.

Benefits of an Outside Neutral Facilitator

You may be a leader, project manager or changemaker who has some facilitation expertise. If so, that is valuable. That said, it is useful to hire an outside facilitator for the following reasons:

  • They are a neutral third party and don’t have any biases or strong affiliations with any of the involved stakeholders
  • They can free you up as a leader to observe the group and team dynamics
  • They can enable you to contribute your ideas as a group member
  • They can provide a valuable “outsider” perspective on the group and its dynamics.

The Power of Facilitated Processes

I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of a well-designed and facilitated process. An example is while leading the design team of an international development project in Nigeria that was to be implemented in 2 states – one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian South. With the support of my team, I facilitated a process whereby the key stakeholders in each state had the opportunity to identify their current situation, vision a desired future (after 5 years of project support), identify the gaps between NOW and THEN and what support they needed to move toward their vision. The participants in each state identified someone to present their key findings to a national workshop held a week later in the capital city. My team supported each representative to prepare a PowerPoint of the key workshop outputs to present at the national workshop.

Partway through the national workshop, the head of Policy and Planning in the Muslim state stood up and said “Brothers and sisters, I thought we were so different from you. I believed we were not as advanced as you educationally and that our challenges and visions would be totally different. Hearing you present today I now realize that we are essentially the same; you face the same challenges as we do and have a similar vision. I am so looking forward to working together with you to turn our vision into reality!”

Another participant stood up and exclaimed, “This is the first conference I’ve been to in this country where students have been together with representatives of different levels of government, health providers and academia. Students should be here as THEY are the leaders of tomorrow!”

Such peak experiences are highlights of this work. They make me passionate about the opportunity to design and facilitate processes that bring diverse groups of people together, change beliefs, foster collaboration, and create initiatives that make a difference.

In Summary

Well-designed and facilitated processes have the power to:

  • Foster increased understanding (e.g. among different cultural and religious groups)
  • Model and promote collaboration within an organization
  • Create new partnerships
  • Build ownership; and
  • Foster creativity and innovation.

If you have a new project you’re designing, a multistakeholder initiative you’re working on, need some visioning or a new strategic plan, I’d love to speak with you. Please visit https://pamela-thompson.com/process-design-facilitation/ to book a Discovery Session.


[1] Where I received my initial training in facilitation, mediation and conflict resolution

[2] I was a member of the first group of facilitators who were certified in Canada by the International Association of Facilitators.

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

As a changemaker, you are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. You may have chosen a career as a helping professional, work for a non-profit or an international development agency. You may be an academic doing research focusing on improving the health of women and children or you may be CEO of a socially-responsible company. Whatever line of work you’re in, you feel “called” to it.

One of the challenges of being a changemaker is that we experience much joy from giving and sometimes may overextend ourselves by sitting on a number of volunteer boards, or by continually pushing through fatigue to finish that one last thing, rather than taking a break and listening to our bodies. Do you relate?

I understand. I’ve almost burnt out several times in my life. When we continually push ourselves without listening to our bodies, we run the risk of experiencing adrenal fatigue or burnout. Dr. James Wilson in his book Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome notes that:

“adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress [physical, psychological, emotional, infectious, environmental or a combination of these] overextends the capacity of the body (mediated by the adrenal [glands]) to compensate and recover from that stress or the combined stresses. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue occurs. “ (p. 11)

While working in Afghanistan with the Ministry of Public Health, supporting them to develop their first strategic plan and building the capacity of internal teams to do planning, I got pneumonia twice within the first 6 months of living there. I recall being at the front of the room facilitating a national multi-stakeholder workshop with my team and feeling an incredible burning in my chest as I wrote on the flipchart. It wasn’t until I arrived home for a short break a week or so later and I felt really low in energy and on my husband’s suggestion I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia the first time.

So how can you as a changemaker stay healthy, happy and grounded while making a positive difference in the world?

  • Connect with and learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. Our bodies are amazing receivers and transmitters of information. They always let us know if something is wrong. Body scanning is an excellent tool when we wish to increase awareness of our body and the messages it sends us. Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of Buddha, walks you through a detailed body scan and explains its power.
  • Spend regular time in nature. Go for a short walk at lunch or walk in the park after work. Go for a hike with a partner, friend or family member. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce (e.g. strengthens our immune system).
  • Set strong boundaries. If someone asks you to participate in a new community activity (e.g. fundraise for a local charity) or add an extra project to your already “full plate” at work, learn to say “no”. As givers we often say “yes” without thinking about what we already have on our “to-do” lists. I encourage you when asked to do something new, to take several deep breaths, go inside your body and ask yourself the question: Will this bring me joy? Do I really want to do this? Do I have time for this? And if the answer is “no” practice saying “no” without feeling guilty.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep heals and replenishes our bodies.
  • Unplug from digital devices for 60 to 90 minutes before going to sleep. Artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood. [1]

If you’d like to learn more proven strategies for preventing burnout and staying healthy, happy and grounded while living your passion I invite you to check out my #1 best selling book on Amazon Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women. FYI, men find it useful as well J.  In the book I share 7 keys to what I call Creative Living. 7 keys to “consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” Each key has powerful strategies and proven practices backed up by research from neuroscience, Eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found useful to prevent burnout and reduce the stress in your life. I welcome your comments and suggestions below.


[1] http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

How to Feel the Fear & Take the Leap

How to Feel the Fear & Take the Leap

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase: Just do it! OR Feel the fear and do it anyway. Sometimes these words are easier said than done.

I’m someone who has experienced a lot of changes throughout my life and taken my share of leaps. That said right now I feel some resistance to fully taking the leap into my new business focus and direction.  So I asked myself: What’s holding me back?

This is what came to me:

  • I will be so passionate that I will work night and day and burn out. I have a deep-seated belief (that I thought I had let go of) that If I throw myself passionately into something that I will lose my work-life balance and it will ultimately affect my health, relationships … Do you relate?
  • My fear of not giving enough
  • Fear of not spending enough time with family and friends.

Have you noticed any resistance or fears surfacing as you move toward your dreams for the New Year and a new chapter? If so, I encourage you to take some time to “go inside” and ask yourself: Why am I resisting moving forward? Notice what thoughts and emotions come up for you and where they are in your body. I invite you to journal about those thoughts and feelings.

If you notice a strong emotion coming up, identify where it is in your body. Notice what color it is and if there is a texture associated with it (e.g. dense, heavy, sharp). Breathe into it and say “Thanks for protecting me all of these years. I now choose to release and let go of you.” Then imagine that emotion in a bubble in front of you and thankfully release and let go of it. See it floating off into the sky or breaking into a million pieces. Then go back into your body. Imagine there is soft, golden healing light coming into your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Go to the place where you let go of the intense emotion and imagine an opposite emotion (e.g. happiness and fulfillment) and visualize what that looks like for you. It could be a glowing golden ball of light. Imagine that glowing golden ball of light on awakening each day and if/when the fear or resistance shows up. Know that you are loved, safe and protected.

If you’re still feeling the presence of a strong resistance or fear in your body I invite you to ask the question: For example; Why am I resisting creating a plan? For me, my logical left-brain says: “You know what to do. You teach people how to plan and facilitate strategic and operational planning sessions for organizations.” When I ask the question again and go into my body, what comes up is that at this point in my life I’m balking structure. Can you relate? I’ve spent so much of my life dreaming new dreams and starting new businesses and initiatives that part of me is tired and wants more ease and spontaneity.

Here are a few lessons that have supported me to “take my next leap” and that came to me when I asked: How can I move forward and have the healthy, happy, balanced and abundant life that I want in 2019?

  • Carve time out each day to nurture yourself whether it be a walk in nature, a yoga class or coffee with a friend.
  • Create a vision board and every morning look at it and say aloud: I’m so happy and grateful I’m living a life that includes … (and at the end say) this and MORE!” (tip from Mary Morrissey)
  • Put activities into your agenda to support you to do what you need to feel healthy, happy and fulfilled plus run a profitable business that you enjoy (or do work you love) that makes a positive difference in the world.
  • Plan to meet with one or more friends once a week or more for coffee and/or a walk
  • Listen to your body and if you feel you need a nature “hit” go for a walk through the park and/or by the ocean and take in all of the beauty that surrounds you
  • Reach out to one or more potential new clients each week day
  • Make time to do something creative several times a week. It could be writing a new blog or LinkedIn article, painting, dancing …
  • Remind yourself of your essence for this year (mine is “playfulness”), feel in your body how it feels to be playful and ask How can I be playful today?
  • Include at least one stretch (i.e. one thing that puts you out of your comfort zone) at least once a week.

I welcome your thoughts and experiences you’ve had when starting something new below. “What beliefs and emotions have come up for you? What strategies have you found helpful/that have enabled you to take the leap; to feel the fear and do it anyway?”

Leading in Uncertain Times: The Power of Perception

Leading in Uncertain Times: The Power of Perception

It is an understatement to say that we live in uncertain times. In this challenging period, characterized by worldwide conflict, sharp political divisions, and racism, you may feel uncertain about your future, the future of your family, your organization, and the planet. You may think there is little you can do in your day-to-day life and work to make a significant difference. You are a natural leader, yet in the current climate you may be wondering how you can lead with greater compassion, understanding, clarity and confidence.

What I know to be true is that HOW you perceive uncertainty has a powerful influence on your effectiveness and your ability to lead.

A number of years ago I read in Freedom to Love, Freedom to Heal[1], a phrase that stuck with me, and that I pondered for some time:

“Uncertainty is the path to freedom”

When we are in a sea of change or chaos, and much of what we know is being questioned, disassembled or is foreign, it is difficult to believe this is true. How CAN uncertainty be the path to freedom?

When I’ve worked in conflict zones and foreign countries where I didn’t speak the language, every day was uncertain. In Afghanistan on the way to work, my vehicle with its armed Afghan driver could be pulled over by police at any time, and we could be questioned at length or commanded to drive to the nearest police station for further questioning. At any moment, a suicide bomb attack could occur nearby.

To work effectively in these environments, I couldn’t be fearful and focus on the negative possibilities. To do so would result in stress hormones constantly pumping through my body, and an inability to function effectively. I had to focus on the positive difference I was making on the people and within the organizations whose capacity I was building. Many times I had to be creative about the processes and solutions I chose, and trust that they would work. One example was when I met with the Minister of the Department who I was working with to develop their first strategic plan. Within that first meeting she asked me for a report based on what I thought of the policy development and planning processes within her Ministry. She wanted this report within a month, and I had just arrived in a country that I’d never before worked in whose language I did not speak! The first thing I did was ask an Afghan colleague if he had or knew where to obtain an organizational chart in English. He said he didn’t think one existed so I asked him for one in local language. Then I pointed to the 15 highest-level “boxes” on the org chart and asked what departments they were and the names of each Director. Shortly after, I approached my colleague to take me in person and introduce me to each Director. At each introduction, I would ask for an hour or so of their time to be interviewed and stated that I would follow up with some questions prior to each interview. All those approached were happy to accommodate me. The result was, I met the top 15 key decision-makers in the Ministry within the first month. I asked them how they developed policy and did planning, what was working, what wasn’t and what suggestions they would offer to improve policy development and planning processes within their Ministry. I “rolled up” their data, teasing out the key strengths, weaknesses and their suggestions for improvement, and added my own observations and recommendations. In about a month I submitted my report to the Minister. Months later when I was in meetings with many of those I’d interviewed and they asked why a certain action had been taken, I was able to refer to those interviews and the fact that a particular action had been taken to address an issue they had raised with me months before.

Perhaps the reason I enjoy working in foreign countries and cultures is because many processes I’ve used have never before been tested in a particular culture or language, OR I am challenged to come up with creative solutions for situations I’ve never before encountered.

So how can we lead effectively in times of uncertainty?

Key Beliefs for Effective Leadership in Uncertain Times

1) It is important to believe that uncertain times provide opportunities for creativity, and new and innovative approaches versus playing it safe and doing things “like we’ve always done”. Belief and what we believe is powerful! Did you know that you CAN change your life by changing your beliefs? Bruce Lipton, an internationally recognized stem cell biologist, demonstrated in his research that “the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals that propel life.”[2] Epigenetics “… the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off”[3] further supports Lipton’s work, as it reveals that our perceptions influence our biology.

As leaders we have an incredible opportunity to influence the beliefs of those around us. What if we truly believed that uncertain times provide opportunities for creativity and new and innovative approaches? Imagine leading from a place of hope, rather than fear and uncertainty.

2) You have the power to change the world.

The butterfly effect[4] demonstrates that powerful outcomes are extremely sensitive to initial conditions; such that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can result in a tornado over Kansas 2 years later. Another example is how the black woman, Rosa Parks, refusing to go to the back of the bus, resulted in the birth of the civil rights movement in the United States. If you believe that you have the power to change the world, the values you emanate and the courageous actions you take influence those around you.

3) The Power of Collaboration and Synergy – When I was young, I believed that I could get things done better if I did them all myself, based on my experiences working with groups in elementary and high school. You may relate. It wasn’t until I was chairing a national strategy in my 30s with representatives from a number of organizations, facilitated by a skilled facilitator, when I realized that a group of diverse individuals when focused around a common and powerful vision CAN make an incredible difference. It was then that I understood the power of synergy; the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

4) Understanding and Compassion is the way forward – One of the lessons I’ve learned from living and working in a number of diverse cultures, is that if we seek to understand why someone does or says something, rather than judge them based on our own perspective, our life and work is much more interesting and fulfilling. Rather than becoming angry, judgmental and imposing our beliefs on others, coming from a place of curiosity and compassion builds connection and enables people to do their best work. … What I’ve learned is that people always do things for a reason that makes sense to them.

Our perceptions have a powerful influence on our effectiveness as leaders in uncertain times. I welcome your comments and invite you to share your experiences below. Feel free to share this post with others.

Together we CAN change the world!

[1] A book by Dr. David Simon, neurologist, and internationally renowned expert in mind-body medicine.

[2] The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles, xiv

[3] http://www.whatisepigenetics.com/what-is-epigenetics/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

 

How You Can Integrate Work/Life Balance & Model it for Others

How You Can Integrate Work/Life Balance & Model it for Others

In a previous post I shared the attributes of a Balanced and Mindful Leader, one being “Understands the importance of work/life balance and models it for others http://creativelivingcommunity.com/balanced-and-mindful-leadership-what-do-you-think/. So how can you integrate work-life balance into your own life and model it for others in the workplace?

Here are some suggestions:

Personally:

  • Count up the number of hours you typically work in a week. Is it more than 50? (Obviously sometimes)
  • Make a commitment to reduce the number of hours you typically work weekly (choose a realistic number to begin with)
  • Experiment with a work week when you reduce your hours. Then notice how you feel. You may wish to journal about it.
  • Begin incorporating mindfulness practices into your personal life; e.g.
    • on awakening while lying in bed do a body scan from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet noticing any tension, discomfort, heaviness. Breathe into those areas of tension, discomfort or heaviness and set the intention to release and let go of them.
    • Start doing mindfulness walking meditations 3 times/week for 30 minutes each time. [1] Some of my clients do this at lunch hour. Others after work. Notice how you feel before, during and after. Is there a cumulative effect?
  • Unplug at least 90 minutes before retiring and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Organizationally:

  • At work, encourage people to take breaks
  • Set clear expectations with your direct reports and colleagues related to NOT checking emails and answering texts on evenings and weekends. Share with them the importance of them taking time for themselves and their families
  • Have short meetings (up to 60 minutes max) with clearly defined agendas, and expectations so people know why they’re there, how to prepare and the expected results.
  • Encourage people to take lunch breaks
  • Support people to take regular vacations and to NOT check their emails while on vacation (set up a buddy system so staff and managers can feel that the key aspects of their positions are being covered while they are away)
  • Have yoga classes and/or a gym on site and participate in the classes/use the facilities yourself.

What two actions will you begin integrating into your life tomorrow? Please share those actions and any related comments below. Feel free to share this post with a friend, colleague or family member.

[1] A tool from Easter psychology that I have found extremely useful for getting “out of my head” and into my body is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. Mindfulness practices focus on the senses and feeling sensations and emotions in our bodies. When we do a mindfulness walking meditation we feel the ground beneath our feet, we feel the breeze against our face, we feel the cool air going from our nostrils down into our lungs. We smell the scent of salt or the aroma of lavender in the air and observe the scenery in front of us. We try to stay out of our minds and experience our senses. Rather than spend a walk in nature constantly thinking and processing all the things we have to do, instead we stay present and experience nature and all of its beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.