Just Keep Going

On our second day with the global leadership team from ChildFund International, I watched as my facilitation design collapsed under its own weight.

This isn’t a new experience. Sarah and I often joke that we’re not doing our job if the agenda doesn’t get thrown in the trash by lunchtime.

For some reason, when the plan falls apart during an extended facilitation gigs – several days or more in a room with the same organization – it feels bigger.

I’ve found four important steps that help me bridge the chasm:

  • Name it. Better yet, let the participants name it. “How’s that experience work for you?” is an easy question to ask a room. The answers are not always the ones I want to hear, but they’re important to ask. The ChildFund team was pretty clear last week. When I asked, they answered. “Meh,” the said.
  • Share the ownership. We often tell clients that they own the room, and their own experience. It is in these broken moments that we all learn what exactly that means. I try to claim responsibility for the process and facilitation failures, but I also find value in asking the group how they might have engaged differently.
  • Keep moving. It’s easy to hit the brakes when a wheel falls off. Bad idea. Stubbornly charging ahead without adapting is an equally bad idea, but at the end of the day there is limited time to move the client group – wasted time typically not only wastes time, but it loses points with the client.
  • Be agile. The night the wheels came off, or started vibrating intensely, at ChildFund I was up past midnight redesigning the next day. The revised agenda looked dramatically different than the original agenda, and was built around the new needs of the group – which became more clear during a time of tension and frustration.

Believe me, I beat myself up all evening about the way the second day played out. It’s what I do. I felt anxious, frustrated and disappointed – primarily with myself. But I also know that I had a job to do for my client, and that I actually understood their needs fairly well – I just needed to let go of my own needs so the design could serve them well.