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.

Leading the Big Conversation at #IAFEMENA17 in Paris

Join Mike Pounsford and me for our session at the upcoming 2017 IAF EMENA conference Boosting positive change – the power of facilitation, October 13-15 in Paris! Our session Leading the Big Conversation will be on the Saturday afternoon from 2pm.

This facilitated workshop will illustrate the Big Conversation process, and help you to explore your future using visuals and conversations. The Big Conversation supports the implementation of change by enabling teams to understand strategic goals and translate them to local actions. It uses visual approaches that are memorable, accessible and relevant. The workshop will be experiential, and illustrate this approach using insights and ideas generated by participants thinking about their own futures.

Like me, Mike is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator and an enthusiastic user of ICA’s Technology of Participation. He is also President of IABC UK, the UK chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. For more on our efforts to promote mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators and partnership between IAF and IABC, and on my session at the recent IABC Europe MENA conference in London, see Facilitating transformation: reviewing the past to prepare for the future at #EuroComm17.

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

Register now to join us! I understand that IABC members are welcome to register for the conference at IAF member rates.


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

 

Free facilitation webinar – What do facilitators do, really?

Are you interested to learn more about facilitation, and ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology in particular – in a free, one-hour, interactive online session that offers an experience of virtual facilitation as well? Please join me for the next in my occasional series of free facilitation webinars!

Register now on Eventbrite for the next session on September 21 and register your interest on Surveymonkey for future topics to be scheduled. To review past session recordings and other outputs, and suggested topics, see free facilitation webinars.


What do facilitators do, really?

Thursday 21 September, 15.00 UK time 

In this session we shall explore the various dimensions of the role of the facilitator.

As our starting point we will refer to the 4-minute video “What do facilitators do, really?“, which describes three dimensions of the role in terms of the metaphors of architect, pilot and guide.  We will refer also to the Core Facilitator Competencies of the International Association of Facilitators, the foundation of the IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) accreditation, and to the IAF Statement of Values & Code of Ethics.  See also my own blog post What is facilitation, and how it can add value?

I shall be joined for this session by Beatrice Briggs CPF of the International Institute of Facilitation and Change (IIFAC) in Mexico, creator of the video; and again by Sunny Walker CPF of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative in the USA.

We will invite you to share some of your own experience and insights on the facilitator role, and to respond with us to questions that are raised. We will apply the 4-level ‘ORID’ model of ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method to structure the session, and we will share resources on that.


Each session in this occasional series of free facilitation webinars is hosted in Adobe Connect for a highly interactive learning experience.

Each topic is addressed by a short case study or presentation, supplemented by links to further online material for later reference. Sessions apply tools and techniques of virtual facilitation to help participants to engage with the material and the presenter, and with their own and each other’s experience on the topic. A short technical orientation directly before the session will introduce the features of the virtual meeting room and the tools to be used. A brief closing reflection at the end of the session will invite reflection and learning on the facilitation process and virtual tools as well as on the content of the session.

For full voice participation in the session for a more conversational experience, microphone rights are available to up to 15 participants who are first to login and set up their audio. Others are able to listen and interact via their keyboard alone.


Register now on Eventbrite, and register your interests on Surveymonkey.

For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

ToP facilitation courses, taster sessions & webinars – what difference do they make?

While enjoying a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, I have taken (quite) some time to review what ToP facilitation training courses, taster sessions and webinars I have delivered in recent years, and what I can learn from feedback shared by participants at the time.

Full results are shared in the slides above. This draws on the experience of 47 training courses, 13 conference & meetup taster sessions and 7 webinars in the past 5 years, reaching a total of 1,089 participants. This is in addition to tailored facilitation processes that I have delivered – 24 in the past year and 52 in my first four years of freelance practice.  See also ToP facilitation training – what’s it like, and is it worthwhile?

Feedback for ToP training courses in particular is largely very high, as it has been for the 20 years I have been delivering them – the average of participant ratings for design & delivery, of all the 37 courses over the past 5 years for which data is available, is 9.1 out of 10. Included in the slides are some conclusions of my own on what is most appreciated and what suggestions for improvement I should consider, and how I have already begun to act on some suggestions.

But… what difference do they make?  

What do participants remember and apply of what they have learned, months and years later? With whom do they apply what they have learned, and what (greater) difference are they now able to make with them? What supports or hinders them from applying what they have learned? What additional recommendations can they make for the courses, sessions & webinars, with the benefit of hindsight? What additional training or support might they find helpful – from me or from others?

If you have participated with me in courses, taster sessions or webinars within the past 5 years, or within the past 20 years, please respond now to a short survey to help me to assess and improve what difference they make – at surveymonkey. This survey is in partnership with ICA:UK, with whom I have been delivering ToP facilitation training since 1996 – for the past 5 years as a licensed Associate, and before that as employed staff. If you have received a link by email, please follow the link in the email to respond.

I plan to analyse and share the results in the autumn, based on what responses I have received by mid-September.  After that I plan to leave the survey open indefinitely for further responses, and systematically request responses of future participants by email 6-12 months after each event.

As a token of appreciation for your feedback, three of those responding before the mid-September deadline (tbc) will be randomly selected to receive a free gift of an ICA:UK sticky wall or book of their choice (subject to availability).

Finally, if you have participated or not, join me!


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Four hands on the steering wheel? Co-facilitation in action

Thank you to all who attended yesterdays’ facilitation webinar for IAF India, and especially to Preetha Raghav and the IAF India team for their invitation and support and to my co-hosts Martin Farrell of get2thepoint and Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative. It was a rich and engaging session for us, so I hope also for others. Thanks also to those who live tweeted on the #FacInd hashtag – a couple of their tweets are below.

Martin Farrell wrote “As we see some world leaders promoting division and hatred, facilitators’ skills of collaboration are ever more essential. Yes we practice listening deeply to our client’s needs, and engaging participants. To challenge ourselves, let’s also take our skills to the next level by practicing co-facilitation. There are great benefits and also great dangers.”

This highly interactive 90-minute session was hosted in Adobe Connect to offer an experience of co-facilitation in a virtual environment. We offered a framework and some tips and tools for co-facilitation, illustrated by a case study.

Session materials & additional resources shared include:


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

A welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer

This June completed my fourth year in business as Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd, and in October it will be 5 years since I went freelance from ICA:UK. Following what has been a bumper year for client work, for the first time in probably 15 months I am looking forward to several consecutive weeks of desk time, free of delivering client contracts – and a holiday in August after that!

In the last 12 months, it turns out, I have delivered 26 contracts for 18 clients in 9 countries, involving 32 face-to-face and 3 virtual events and 24 facilitated processes and 11 facilitation training courses. That has involved 73 nights away from home, 18 in the UK and 55 abroad. No wonder it felt like a bumper year – that represents an increase of around 70% in client work compared to my first four years of freelance practice, and the contracts on average were larger too.

I have been fortunate and grateful to enjoy a diverse and stimulating, often inspiring, range of groups and contexts to work with this past year. Recent client contracts for facilitation have included large and multi-event, multi-stakeholder strategic planning processes with international NGO networks such as ICUU, Girls Not Brides and Eurochild (above), and smaller, relatively simpler strategy and planning retreats such as with CENTR, Wells For India, Lorensbergs and the Peel Institute. Also large and relatively complex and challenging international team meetings such as with Amnesty International and Oxfam OPTI, and a small but complex and challenging closed Ministerial Forum with the International Union on Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Also a conference of activists on refugee and migration issues with Amnesty UK, and facilitated leadership development labs, face-to-face & virtual, for managers of Astra Zeneca. Facilitation training has included courses with civil servants of Ofgem and the Care Quality Commission, for agile finance software project managers of Santander and bereavement counselors of the Dove Service, and for diverse groups on public courses in London, Brussels, Geneva and Moscow. I lost some bids for work, and had to turn down some opportunities as well, but I wouldn’t have wished for any other workload.

It is no wonder then that I have spent less time on other things. My volunteer time has reduced since I completed my four year term as ICAI President in December, although since then I have somewhat increased my time growing IAF England & Wales‘ activity and leadership team and partnership with IABC.

Readers may have noticed that I have managed fewer blog posts (only 20 this past year from an average of 32 the past four), and only one of my “bi-monthly” free facilitation webinars – plus in May What does it take for people to align behind change? with Michael Ambjorn, published today by MILE Madinah on YouTube.

So, what do I hope to make of this opportunity to pause and reflect?

Mostly, I hope to take the opportunity to reflect and learn from this recent experience, and share some insights here on my blog – so watch this space!

I hope to review my recent years’ ToP facilitation training end-of-course participant evaluations, and launch an online survey to invite past participants to share something of what they have applied of their learning and how, and what difference their training has made to them and the groups they work with. I hope to draft and begin to post some more facilitation case studies from my facilitation work of this last year, and request further client feedback.

I hope to schedule one or two more free facilitation webinars for the autumn, and share a recording of one already scheduled for this month with IAF India – with Martin Farrell of IAF England & Wales, on the topic of co-facilitation (below).

I hope to catch upon some reading – next up after Penny Pullan CPF’s Virtual Leadership, Responsible Facilitation by Jim Campbell formerly of ICA Belgium.

Also, I have some advance preparation to do for delivery work in the autumn, including for my new IAF-endorsed Meetings That Work courses in London & Brussels in September, with Bill Staples of ICA Associates (book here). And I hope that my calendar for the autumn will continue to fill itself – so do feel free to contact me if you’d like to help with that!

In the meantime, I am hoping also to enjoy some more summery good weather, and all that goes with it – at home in London, at the WOMAD music festival later this month and in Sitges in August.

Wishing you an opportunity to pause and reflect as well when you can…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Join a free facilitation meetup near you!

Are you interested in connecting, networking & learning with other facilitators and with others with an interest in facilitation in England & Wales?

Join us online, and at one of our free facilitation meetups near you!

The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is a participatory organisation with around 1,600 members in over 65 countries, and 40 local groups including IAF England & Wales (IAF E&W). As a professional association we set internationally accepted industry standards, provide accreditation, support a community of practice, advocate and educate on the power of facilitation and embrace the diversity of those who facilitate. To connect with others elsewhere in the world see IAF worldwide.

We are now over 400 ‘IAF facilitators & friends’ in three regional meetup groups, including over 65 members of IAF and 15 IAF Certified Professional Facilitators (CPFs), spread throughout England.

Everyone with an interest in group process facilitation is welcome, including facilitators and others who use or commission facilitation, and IAF members and non-members alike.

Please RSVP now for one of our regular free facilitation meetups near you:

RSVP now also for a special one-off meetup on June 15 in London with Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge introducing Cynefin and implications for ‘complex’­ facilitation.

All three regional groups will join together again for an all-day, all-England & Wales meetup for International Facilitation Week, in Birmingham on Saturday 21 October.  Join & RSVP in whichever group is more convenient to you – London & SE, North or South West.

We are working with IAF to schedule an additional Certified Professional Facilitator assessment event in the UK in November or December – for more information and to express an interest with IAF, please follow the link.

Please take a few minutes to complete our online survey, if you haven’t already, to help to make IAF England & Wales and our free facilitation meetups more valuable to you in the future. A new IAF E&W leadership team of nine will meet face-to-face in late May, to review your responses and to plan ahead to grow and develop our network and activities further, so please let us know your feedback and ideas now.

Please connect with us online also, by joining over 140 IAF England & Wales facilitators & friends in our facebook group, and by following and tweeting with IAF England & Wales on twitter. Join us also in the UK Facilitation Network group on LinkedIn.

For further information or with any questions, please contact me.