“Very practical and applicable in a range of contexts” – ToP facilitation training


“How can we have more purposeful & productive conversations, develop creative solutions and build group consensus?”

These are among the questions addressed by Group Facilitation Methods, the most popular course of ICA’s Technology of Participation ‘ToP’ facilitation training.

Are you looking for facilitation training or learning opportunities?

Read on for what recent participants have to say about their experience of ToP training, and check out my online and in-person ToP facilitation training courses, free facilitation coaching and occasional free facilitation webinars.

For public training courses, please register with ICA:UK or another ICA worldwide. To arrange in-house training for your group, please contact me.


Participants on my most recent ToP training in October last year rated the course on average 4.8 out 5, and shared comments including:

  • A very interesting course, very practical and applicable in a range of contexts – there was also a useful reference book which I can continue to refer to for a refresher as needed
  • Martin is a very good trainer, with a feel for pace and content based on the group he is dealing with. The training was relevant and well delivered.
  • Very relevant content, excellent delivery. Pace was good. Trainer was very good
  • The training focused on practical facilitation frameworks and skills and how to apply these in real situations – I found this a good way to learn
  • Martin was a brilliant trainer, gave practical tips, was very engaging: I learned a lot
  • The event was well paced and very informative – it gave me confidence that I could facilitate an event – success!
  • Excellent delivery by the trainer – I learnt from his facilitation skills
  • I found the content really useful and the delivery was excellent
  • The pace, content, relevance and delivery were all excellent

That was in-person Focused Conversation training, comprising day one of the 2-day Group Facilitation Methods course – both available also online.

On an earlier 2.5-hour Introduction to Facilitation Online session, Louise Reeve, Policy and Communications Business Partner at Newcastle City Council, wrote:

“Some training to recommend from Martin Gilbraith! I attended his Introduction to Facilitation Online course. Whatever your experience level, you should find something in this training which can make your online sessions just that bit better and more enjoyable”


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Feminist Facilitation – free facilitation webinar

Online FC series - feminist facilitationMonday, 16 January 2023, 13:00-14:00 UK time


What does feminism bring to facilitation, and what does feminist facilitation look like? How can I ensure that my own practice as a professional facilitator is more effectively and explicitly feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive?

Exploring feminist facilitationThese are the questions that have guided my own exploration of feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive facilitation this past couple of years.

For more on that, see Exploring feminist facilitation.


Are you practicing or exploring feminist facilitation yourself, or are you interested to do so?

Join us to connect, share & learn on Monday, 16 January 2023, 13:00-14:00 UK time, for this next monthly session in the ICA:UK Online Focused Conversation Series – facilitated by fellow ICA:UK Associate Julia Makin and myself, and produced by ICA:UK ToP Training Co-ordinator Alice Blackwell.

These sessions are free and open for anyone to attend. The session will last 60 minutes and consist of a facilitated conversation using the ToP Focused Conversation (ORID) method, followed by a brief run through of the method used. The sessions are run by different members of the ICA:UK facilitation community, including lead trainers, trainee trainers, and past participants of our courses in their own style, around topics they have chosen.

In addition to participants learning from each other about the topic, the sessions will serve as an introduction to the method for those new to ToP and will be a useful reminder of the method for those who have already attended our popular Group Facilitation Methods course. Participants may opt to go on and take further training (either online or face to face) and/or continue to learn and share as part of a community of people using facilitation.

The session will be recorded, with the recording being publicly available after the session is over. If you do not wish to be identifiable, we will give you the option before we start the recording to turn off your camera and change your screen name.

Join us to connect, share & learn – register now at ICA:UK.


For recordings and other outputs of my own previous online Focused Conversation sessions and other free facilitation webinars, see free facilitation webinars.

See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Join us at the IAF Facilitation Summit, Facilitating Breakthrough and Scaling Up!

IAF Facilitation Summit 2021

I am excited to be offering two sessions at the IAF Facilitation Summit next month, one with Adam Kahane of Reos Partners and one with Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg – to join us, register now! #FacilitationSummit


Facilitating Breakthrough

Facilitating Breakthrough:

How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together, 7-8pm UK time

Adam Kahane has facilitated in more than fifty countries and in every part of the world, with executives, politicians, generals, guerrillas, civil servants, trade unionists, community activists, United Nations officials, clergy, and artists. His work with diverse teams of stakeholders trying to make progress on their most vital challenges has been praised by Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela and Juan Manuel Santos.

Facilitating Breakthrough, Adam Kahane

Kahane has just published a new book (his fifth) entitled ‘Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together’, which offers a new theory and practice of facilitation. He argues that it is becoming harder for people to move forward together, and that although facilitation is supposed to help, the two most common methodologies – subordinating everyone’s interests to the good of the whole, or enabling everyone to do their own thing – both block progress.

His book describes a new approach, transformative facilitation, which cycles back and forth between these two approaches, removing the obstacles that stand in the way of everyone contributing and connecting equitably.

“Facilitating Breakthrough is thoughtful, reflective, and inspiring. To achieve breakthrough results on high-stakes challenges, facilitators need to raise their game. This book explains how.” – see publications.

Join us for this 60-minute conversation to engage with Adam and each other on some of the ideas raised in the book, and how they relate to our own experience.


Scaling Up Engagement & Dialogue

Scaling Up Engagement & Dialogue

Exploring the ladder of engagement, and how we can climb it with those that we work with, 11-12.30pm UK time

Join us in exploring the ladder of engagement, and how we can climb it with those that we work with. Share your experience in changing the conversation, at scale, so we can all become better at it.

Power of Facilitation cover

In this 90-minute workshop we’ll explore together how the roles, skills and tools of the facilitation and communications professions can complement each other, and help us to scale up engagement and dialogue for positive social change. We’ll draw on some insights of previous work on the power of partnership between facilitation and communication, and we’ll apply some of the tools of the two professions to generate new insights together.

Michael and I are contributors to The Power of Facilitation, a collaborative book project by a team of facilitators and visual practitioners to showcase the power of facilitation.

“The book project is a labour of love for all contributors. Our mission is to promote the power of facilitation worldwide. We are making the book available for free in order to enable and encourage everyone to read it and to share it” – see publications.

Read our chapter The Power of Partnership Between Facilitation and Communication and download your free copy now. #FacPower


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

How engaging can a virtual meeting be? Join us to share and learn!

Our world and our client groups are increasingly moving online, so as facilitators we must be prepared move with them.  Virtual meetings can have advantages over face-to-face, but disadvantages too – not least, shorter attention spans and greater potential for distractions. How can we keep people engaged and focused when meeting online?

In this highly participatory, facilitated webinar hosted by IAF India, Martin Farrell & Martin Gilbraith of IAF England & Wales and Catherine Tornbom of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative share some top tips and practical examples from their own experience and that of other professional facilitators, and invite you to share your some of your own experience and create your own top tips together. We also seek to demonstrate in the webinar itself just how engaging a virtual meeting can be!

Martin Farrell CPF has been facilitating international gatherings since his first assignment with the UN in 2002. Now entering his 6th decade of engagement with civil society organisations in the UK and internationally, he is in demand worldwide as a facilitator and moderator of conferences, meetings and groups large and small. He established his own consultancy, Get2thepoint, in 1999. He continues to play an active part in the vibrant worldwide community of facilitators having been Regional Director (Europe, Middle East, North Africa) of the International Association of Facilitators for three years to 2015.

Martin Gilbraith CPF CTF is an independent facilitator, trainer and consultant based in London. He is an IAF ‘Hall of Famer” and former IAF Chair and IAF Europe Director. He is former President of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International (ICAI), and an Associate and former Chief Executive of ICA:UK. He has been facilitating, specializing in ICA’s ToP facilitation methodology, since he began his career as an international volunteer with ICA India in 1986-87.

Catherine Tornbom CTF is a seasoned consultant, mediator, and Mentor Trainer with ICA-USA. She has successfully resolved issues involving management team conflict, poor communication, productivity roadblocks and stress in her professional work with clients ranging from government, business, nonprofits, education, and community collaboration. She is a partner in the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative supporting virtual teams to achieve their goals through effective online collaboration.


Thank you to the IAF India team for their invitation and to my co-hosts Martin Farrell of get2thepoint and Catherine Tornbom and Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative. Thanks also to all those who participated, and live tweeted on the #FacInd hashtag.

Session materials & additional resources shared include:


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite for my free facilitation webinars, and for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.

Facilitation and Communication to lead ‘The Big Conversation’: Digital Transformation

This article, co-authored with Mike Pounsford of Couravel and IABC UK, is reprinted with permission from the IAF Global Flipchart #9, September 2017.


If you’re a facilitator or communicator who wants to help organisations engage people at all levels to align behind a common strategy, read on – this article’s for you.

Common challenges you’ve probably noticed

Digital development is demanding change in the way businesses are run and how they interact with their audiences and their employees. No matter what sector you’re in, you’re likely to be facing at least one of these challenges:

  • Teams have less face-time as people share, work and interact more remotely.
  • Employees and customers are enjoying new relationships with employers and brands as we move to self-serving models: this creates the need to rethink communication and engagement with employees and how we structure customer service roles.
  • Employees want more opportunities to work with their employers to give back to society and the communities they serve.
  • Organisations want more agile approaches with empowered employees who understand both company strategy and customer needs.

A solution starts with a conversation

Solving these issues requires processes that connect leaders, managers, project teams and front-line staff.

The traditional top down approach is hopelessly inadequate, especially in large organisations. A cascade approach is too slow when there are multiple levels of management and a complex organisational structure. “Top down” also contradicts the message that organisations need to empower their people to take more responsibility for the delivery of satisfaction and productivity.

Achieving that kind of collaboration across an organisation puts a premium on the need for quality conversations – conversations that help people work out how they can support strategic direction. The kind of conversation that encourages people to challenge, work out what they need to do to support change, and feel a high degree of ownership of the outcomes of the conversation.

Exploring the visualisation of strategy

Couravel has been using Big Pictures to help leaders define strategy and then to help teams engage with strategy. The power of visual representation of strategic and market issues is well proven. It was first written about in the Sears case study in the Harvard Business Review which introduced the Service-Profit Chain. At Sears, groups came to a better understanding of the marketplace and what they needed to do to support competitiveness by addressing questions posed by a visual representation of the High Street.

To explore its relevance today we asked 15 leaders from different businesses how developments in technology would affect their business in the next five years. Using ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) Consensus Workshop approach, they grouped their answers into seven main themes:

  • Collaborative working
  • Liberating structures
  • Empowered customers
  • Dynamic skill sets
  • Disruptive markets
  • New world of risks
  • Big data.

Transformation challenges to address

We then invited them to draw these themes and use their insights and imagination to create a synthesis picture in real time.

The textual list below presents information related to transformational challenges, while the picture conveys the same information visually.

Textual:

  • Always on and changing working patterns – timing and geography no longer blockages
  • Feedback is instant and we have to respond instantly
  • Enable paradigm shift in service design and operation – focus on understanding and improvement
  • Creating new skills to cope with technology change
  • Using data to inform decisions
  • Defining and mitigating new risks caused by over-reliance on technology
  • Identifying and responding to new competitive challenges

Visual:

What this gives the organisation is a visual representation of Digital Transformation and what it needs to do to navigate change.

To involve people in a conversation about how to respond to these challenges, the visual route represents an engaging starting point because it:

  • Invites people to interpret what is going on
  • Is easier to access (you do not need to understand jargon like “paradigm shift”)
  • Provides information more quickly
  • Leads to a less critical and more curious audience (lists invite a more critical, sceptical response).

Conversations around the visual

What is more important than the visual are the conversations around it; and they must be well facilitated. The visual becomes the focus for a conversation whereas questions draw people out.

For example, questions we used following the ORID framework of ICA’s ToP Focussed Conversation method include:

  • What can you see in the picture? What else? (Objective)
  • How do you feel about what you can see? Anything surprising, confusing? (Reflective)
  • Where do you see yourself fitting?  (Reflective)
  • What could this picture mean for how we work with each other and our colleagues in other teams? (Interpretative)
  • What risks do you think technology creates for us? (Interpretative)
  • How might we be able to mitigate these risks? (Interpretative)
  • How could we use new capabilities to provide better services for our customers? (Interpretative)
  • What does that mean we need to do differently? (Decisional)

In the meeting in which we developed this image, we asked the people in the room:

  • What strikes you (remember they had just co-authored this picture)? (Objective/Reflective)
  • Can you see yourselves in the picture? (Objective/Reflective)
  • What does this mean for how you work in future?  (Interpretive)
  • How does this affect your relationships with others in your business?  Outside your business? (Interpretive)
  • How will this affect how you manage change in the business? (Decisional)

Using pictures to lead the conversation around Digital Transformation

This led to some penny-dropping moments for people involved in the leadership of change. For example:

  • It is increasingly difficult to define and think in terms of “visions” as these rapidly become outdated in the face of global and disruptive competition.
  • Consultants working with clients are experiencing their own journey of change through the digital landscape and the relationship between client and consultant needs to shift from the expert to the consultative model (i.e. where facilitators operate most effectively)
  • This is also true of the relationship between customers and suppliers generally, but the changes are complex.  In some respects, the relationship becomes more transactional and customers interface with technology to get what they want.  This scenario sees people losing jobs as machines and robots take them over.  But in other respects, the roles become more demanding and complex as the relationship becomes more akin to partnering: when customers want help it is because the technology cannot address more complex challenges (notice the bridge between suppliers and clients that is itself on wheels and constantly changing)
  • The value of tangible, visual outcomes that can engage people more because they are visual, different and not prescriptive and that can convey some of the nuances and challenges of change (notice the trolls waiting to sabotage change work)
  • The widespread application for approaches like this (see below).

Rethinking how we think about change

We need to rethink the process of change. If we want people to let go of past practices we have to pay more attention to the way individuals respond to change. To encourage people to collaborate to define new practices, here are a few “must haves”:

  • Fun
  • Novelty
  • Laughter
  • Celebration of past achievements
  • Reflection time
  • Generating our own ideas
  • Feeling valued and connected

Using the Technology of Participation facilitation approach and visual thinking tools such as Big Pictures, we can create the kind of approach to collaboration needed to support transformation.

This approach is valuable in most change situations including:

  • Introduction of new technology
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • New strategy
  • New strategy communication
  • Brand evolution or launch/relaunch
  • Design of new organisational processes
  • Defining cultures, behaviours and values

Michael Pounsford CPF (author) is the founder of Couravel, which works with clients to clarify and communicate purpose, vision and strategy, to design and deliver engagement programmes, and to develop the communication capabilities of leaders and managers. He is accredited under the NTL International Organisation Development programme and is the President of the UK Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators IABC (2017 – 2018). He is also an IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator.

Martin Gilbraith CPF (co-author) is an independent facilitator, trainer and consultant based in London. He is a Certified Professional Facilitator of the International Association of Facilitators, an IAF ‘Hall of Famer’ and former IAF Chair and IAF Europe Director. He is a former President of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International (ICAI), and an Associate and former Chief Executive of ICA:UK, the participation and development charity. He has been facilitating and training, specialising in ICA’s ToP facilitation methodology, since 1986.

Michael and Martin will be running a session on the power of visuals and ToP facilitation to encourage open communication at the IAF EMENA Paris conference on Saturday 14 October – see Leading the Big Conversation at #IAFEMENA17 in Paris and register now to join us!

They are also planning a session for members of the IABC and the IAF to learn from each other and gain reduced cost entry to each other’s events. See also When communicators become facilitators at IABC EMENA.


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Register now on Eventbrite for my free facilitation webinars, and for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.