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.

Evidencing facilitation competencies – four years on

CPF pinThis is the essay I wrote and submitted for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) re-certification in October, which has just now been approved. The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your original certification date to the IAF Core Competences, demonstrating changes in your facilitation style / behaviour, and indicating what growth you have experienced as a facilitator during the period since your last certification”.


In my 2012 recertification essay Evidencing facilitation competencies – reflecting on lessons learned I wrote “I have learned that I need to become more methodical in maintaining a record of my professional development in order to more easily and effectively renew my CPF in four years from now!”  Soon after that I established a spreadsheet to track contracts and events delivered and bid for, and clients and other relationships maintained, and I began a blog to publish and archive recommendations, case studies and other writing. As a result, I can now write with some confidence that, in four years since recertifying and going freelance in October 2012, I have delivered 62 contracts to 41 clients in 16 countries, involving 77 face-to-face and 13 virtual events and 52 facilitated processes and 38 facilitation training courses.

I shall use the IAF competencies again as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience, learnings and development in these past four years.

A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships

Beirut seafront 525x296I have continued to design and deliver longer and more complex processes with increasingly diverse and international clients groups. Increasingly these have involved virtual as well as face-to-face facilitation. Examples include a 9-month programme of member engagement and strategic planning with the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (see UUA blog); a ‘One Country Strategy process’ with Oxfam in Lebanon (see case study) engaging around 150 stakeholders and multiple Oxfam affiliates; and an online conference “Economics of Climate Change Mitigation Options in the Forest Sector” with FAO for over 1,600 international experts (see case study).

Increasingly I find I am contracting remotely with overseas clients for multi-event processes that enable a launch event to include an element of co-design for later phases, for example in strategic planning with the Nansen Centre for Peace & Dialogue in Norway and with SSCL in Lebanon. Increasingly also I find that I am undertaking more complex contracting processes with more complex configurations of stakeholders. For example, collaborative design of a team retreat with the 60 staff of the Amnesty International Europe & Central Asia Regional Office this year engaged a fluid and semi-virtual working group of from 6-12 self-selecting group members over several meetings over several weeks. John Dalhuisen, my client for that retreat, wrote in a recommendation “Martin… will help you structure a meeting and think carefully about what you want from it.  Then he will get it for you.”

case study: Celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation in Turin – #ETF20I continue to work solo with my clients very often, but also as appropriate with a co-facilitator, as with Our ETF, a Journey Together in Turin, or with a larger team. I was one of 6 international and 14 Ukrainian facilitators to co-design and facilitate the Ukraine PEACE Summit with ICA Ukraine in 2014, for 250 delegates from local government, business and civil society from the 27 regions of Ukraine to “dialogue on ways to solve issues locally, restore goodwill among all peoples of Ukraine and establish greater regional and city control while strengthening the country of Ukraine”. With Initiatives of Change I provided design and facilitation support to the international conference team of around 8 for the Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business conference at Caux, Switzerland (see recommendations).

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes

I think the size as well as the diversity of my clients and groups has grown in the last four years. One of my aspirations for going freelance was to work more internationally, and now in fact most of my work is international. My clients have begun to include larger international NGOs, UN & EU agencies and global corporations as well small charities, social enterprises and consulting firms. I have worked much less with the UK public sector than before, perhaps in part as a result of public spending cuts in recent years.

My clients tell me that they appreciate my capacity work effectively with diverse groups. Eve Geddie wrote in a recommendation  “As a diverse, transnational, multilingual membership network, successful meetings are key to our internal and external successes. Many of our staff mentioned Martin’s [facilitation] training as a highlight in their end of year reviews – several said it was the most useful training they had ever attended”.

This week for the first time I facilitated with an international group of nine Health Ministers and ministerial representatives plus key advisors, in a one-day, closed and off-the-record Ministerial Forum as part of the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health. In preparing the processes, time and space to be appropriate to this group and its needs I found myself departing significantly from my more typical facilitation practice. The meeting was not documented, and involved no writing or visuals except one wall poster and copies of the aims, agenda & delegate list.  The room layout and process allowed half of those present to attend as observers and advisers to individual participants, rather than as participants themselves, and protocol was carefully observed in the seating arrangement and speaking order.  The process involved several series of brief presentations followed by questions and discussion and interspersed with short breaks and opportunities for country delegations to confer among themselves. Participants remarked afterwards on the high level of interaction, hard work and accomplishment they had achieved together.

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment

Case study: How engaging can a large facilitated online session be?In a blog post titled How engaging can a large facilitated online session be? I reflected on that question relative to my experience of an online conference designed and facilitated with FAO, involving over 1,000 participants in six 2-hour sessions over a  four week period. This turned out to be a steep learning curve for all of us in many respects, but the conclusion was largely very positive. My FAO clients joined me in sharing something of our experience in one of my free facilitation webinars.

I have found myself working more and more confidently with conflict in the past four years. This had been an explicit goal for myself in the previous four since my initial CPF assessment in 2008. The Ukraine PEACE Summit is an obvious and extreme example where conflict was front and centre in context and design, but many strategic planning and other processes I have facilitated in recent years have involved a more or less explicit element of conflict to be addressed. Several others have also involved conflict very directly in the context and content of the facilitation, for example working on strategic planning with Oxfam and SSCL in Lebanon in the context of the Syria crisis, with the Nansen Centre for Peace & Dialogue in Norway and with the Initiatives of Change Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business conference at Caux, Switzerland.

Working with interpretation in multi-lingual groups in recent years has stretched my communication & listening skills and my capacity for developing rapport with groups. I have found working with consecutive interpretation in Russia and Ukraine to be less of an obstacle to understanding and rapport than working with simultaneous translation between multiple languages, such as at IofC’s Caux conferences in Switzerland.

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes

ORIDICA’s Technology of Participation methodology continues to serve me well as the foundation of my facilitation approach, to the extent that I have blogged and presented on the ORID model of ToP in Is there a Single, Universal Principle of Facilitation?  The presentation, shared at several IAF conferences & meetups, includes examples of how I have applied ORID in session design to produce a naturally flowing, focused and productive process, often in conjunction with other methods & tools of ToP and other approaches including World Café, Open Space and twitter chats.

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge

Since 2012 I have attended 14 international conferences & regional gatherings of IAF, ICA & other Associations. In 2014 I led a six-month collaborative process, online and face-to-face at IAF conferences, to develop a collective story of facilitation as IAF celebrated its 20th anniversary –  Celebrating the development of facilitation – world-wide and history long. I have tweeted for International Facilitation Week @FacWeek since its inception in 2013.

What does it take for people to align behind change?I have organised IAF England & Wales free facilitation meetups since 2015, and I have attended, hosted and facilitated at dozens of IAF E&W free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere since 2013.  I have pursued and promoted interdisciplinary learning and collaboration among facilitation, communications and change management professionals, and between members of their Associations IAF, IABC & CMI – see What does it take for people to align behind change? and Power to the People, and the power of facilitation and communications in partnership.

Cast Study: IAF Facilitation Impact AwardI was awarded ICA Certified ToP Facilitator status in 2016 after an extensive process of reflection, documentation and assessment to evidence my ToP methods competencies in addition to core facilitation competencies. I won an IAF Facilitation Impact Award in 2015 for Our ETF, a Journey Together. I was inducted into the IAF Hall of Fame in 2014.

F. Model Positive Professional Attitude

I have practiced self-assessment and self-awareness through my blogging and through my CTF certification, as for example in Facilitation ethics and values – where do you draw a line?  In that blog post I gave examples of when I have declined opportunities to facilitate where I felt my integrity required it.

On my website and routinely in proposals I declare that “As a Certified Professional Facilitator, my clients are assured that I uphold the IAF Code of Ethics and that I demonstrate the full range of core Facilitator Competencies.”


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.

Getting started as a facilitator, a social entrepeneur and a freelancer

This interview was conducted by iGenius as part of their Getting Started interview series, and it is republished today to mark National Freelancers Day 2014. See also My first 416 days as a freelance facilitator, published this day last year.


 

As a facilitator, trainer and consultant, Martin Gilbraith help groups, teams and partnerships work more effectively together to bring about lasting change. What drives Martin is his passion and commitment to make a positive difference in the world, and to support and enable others to do so as well. Through his freelance work, Martin Gilbraith believes that facilitation and facilitative leadership will be key to achieving a just and sustainable world for all. The great reward of his work today is to see people awaken to their own power to make a difference, and to their capacity to join and align with others to achieve common goals for the greater good – to awaken to the power of their participation and their leadership. We spoke with i-genius member Martin Gilbraith to find out more.

i-genius: Why did you decide to go freelance?
Martin Gilbraith: I had been working with clients for years in my previous employed role, so when I stepped down from that I thought I’d carry on with whatever client work came to me while I considered my next move.  I pretty soon decided that I had found my next move, so I registered my own company and never looked back.  After years in management roles, it is a treat to be responsible for and accountable only to myself.

i-genius: What a good ingredient for a freelance consultant?
Martin: A friend and fellow freelancer once suggested to me that anyone who could be comfortable without a regular pay cheque every month could do no better than be their own boss and work freelance, and I think she has a point.

i-genius: Who’s/what’s been your continued source of inspiration?
Martin: For my whole career I have been involved in various ways with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), a global community of non-profit organisations and groups ‘advancing human development worldwide’. Many of the people I have met and worked with through ICA have been a source of inspiration for me, but most of all the practical methods ICA has pioneered by which ordinary people can and do change the world

i-genius: In what way is the work you do related to social enterprise?
Martin: Just as when I was employed as a charity Chief Executive, my income from client work enables me to volunteer and offer reduced rates and pro bono services to those causes that can’t pay higher rates. My most substantial volunteer commitment is as President of ICA International, supporting member ICAs in around 40 countries to support each other in their work. Many ICAs operate primarily through social enterprise, and most are actively seeking to to expand their social enterprise work.

i-genius: What difficulties did you experience setting up your freelance work?

Martin: I think I had it relatively easy because I had worked freelance before, and because I came back to freelance work after 15+ years working with clients and building my networks through that and various volunteer roles.  So I had my first freelance contract within weeks, and I was able to hit the ground running. The hardest part was stepping down from my previous role after so many years!

i-genius: What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your client list?
Martin: I have relied primarily on social media, especially LinkedIn to stay in touch with people I know and meet and twitter to reach out to new people. WordPress has been great for a simple but effective website and blog.

i-genius: Whilst freelancing do you find it hard to balance free time?
Martin: Yes, but it helps that my partner has a regular job so when he gets home I know it is time to stop work! Scheduling and booking holidays can be tricky, especially if clients are proving slow to commit to dates

i-genius: How does facilitating play an important role in today’s society?
Martin: People increasingly expect and demand to have a say and an influence in matters that affect them, and increasingly organisations are expected to engage with people to enable that – and increasingly they recognise the value of doing so for themselves and their own goals.  Fortunately, facilitation skills and tools are available and can be learned, and the facilitation community is growing to help people to participate effectively and to enable others do so as well.  I can’t think of any more important work to be involved in, than to support and enable others to bring about positive change

i-genius: What is your favourite motto in life?
Martin: “The past is approved, the future is open and the present is a gift”


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.

My facilitation stories, tips and advice on Meeting Tips Radio

Meeting Tips RadioMeeting Tips Radio is an online podcast that pledges “to share stories, tips and advice from the best meeting facilitators in the world, so you can improve your meetings, improve your career, and improve your life“.

The site is published by Meeting Tips Radio host and interviewer Reine Kassulker, based in Minneapolis USA. Many of the world-class facilitators he has interviewed before me are among those who developed ICA’s Technology of Participation facilitation methodology in the 1970-80s, and who founded the International Association of Facilitators in the early 1990s. So I feel honoured indeed to be included now in this distinguished company, and to be the first guest interviewed outside of North America as well.

To hear my own stories, tips and advice, click on the image above and then click play – or download to listen later. In the 43 minute interview, I share something of my experience of the recent ICA Ukraine PEACE Summit in Kiev, some of the challenges I have experienced in virtual facilitation, my own ‘universal principle facilitation‘ ORID, my approach to meeting preparation, and how I use social media in my facilitation and in my facilitation business. I also share some tips and advice for fellow facilitators just starting out in social media, and for people just starting out as faciliators. Also, not least, I share how to get in touch if you are ready to offer me a six-figure facilitation contract…

Do also check out the archive of fascinating previous interviews at Meeting Tips Radio – listen to Marilyn Oyler on the invention of the sticky wall, Sunny Walker on virtual facilitation, Catherine Tornbom on conflict resolution, Mirja Hanson on lessons from her book Clues to Achieving Consensus, Nathaniel Cadwell on Agile meetings and innovation games, Rebecca Gilgen on ‘stealth facilitation’, Deb Burnight on strategic planning, Irina Fursman on her work in Ukraine, Linda Alton on the origins of ORID and the ToP Focused Conversation method – and much more!

And on that six-figure contract… just contact me!

Evidencing facilitation competencies – reflecting on lessons learned

Building a future together: Broadening ownership in corporate planningThis ‘from the archive’ post is the essay I wrote for my IAF Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) re-certification in 2012. I was reminded of it as I am now preparing a portfolio for my ICA Certified ToP Facilitator (CTF) assessment. This requires up-to-date evidence of all the IAF core competencies (broadly speaking), as well as of mastery in applying the core facilitation methods of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP). The requirement of the essay was to “link lessons learned since your original certification date to the IAF Core Competences, demonstrating changes in your facilitation style / behaviour, and indicating what growth you have experienced as a facilitator during the period since your last certification”.


I shall use the IAF competencies as a framework by which to reflect on and illustrate some of my professional experience and development since my CPF assessment in 2008.

A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships
Since my 2008 CPF assessment I have had the opportunity to lead the contracting and design of my largest client project to date, a 12 month process of facilitation capacity building and facilitated strategic planning delivered by myself and two colleagues [Jonathan Dudding and Ann Lukens] over 60 person days.  The project involved 90 manager trainees and around 400 staff and 1,000 members and other stakeholders of a community-based housing association in South Wales. It was later written up in an article Building a future together: Broadening ownership in corporate planning for the joint AMED & IAF Europe issue of the AMED Journal last year, and presented at the joint AMED & IAF Europe workshop in London in March 2012.

The contracting & design process itself comprised multiple meetings and project drafts over several months, but the investment in developing clarity and trust in advance proved invaluable to later success.  This whole process served to stretch and develop greatly my capacity for creating collaborative relationships with clients, and also with co-facilitators and partners. One key insight was the importance of frequent, regular face-to-face meetings between ICA:UK’s local Associate and the client’s internal project team as well as between myself and the client’s leadership.  Another related insight was to recognize that our intervention was but a small component of a much larger transformation process for the client, to which we could and did make a significant contribution but which we could not and need not fully understand or influence.

B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes
Since 2008 I have facilitated a second ‘Big Meeting’ for a user-led organisation of people with learning difficulties, the first of which served as the focus of my essay for my CPF assessment then (Evidencing facilitation competencies: planning with people with learning difficulties). This second event was conceived by the client as a ‘planning party’, in order to better engage participants than would a straightforward facilitated planning session, so atmosphere and drama were key to success.  This was achieved with the aid of plenty of games, balloons, cakes and craft materials, through a process designed collaboratively with the client.

In working with 60 academic researchers more recently in May of this year, the key was to allow plenty of time and space for participants to engage in lengthy, free-ranging and in-depth discussion in small groups. I was able to achieve this by giving them free reign of the beautiful and sunny botanical gardens adjacent to the venue for their small group sessions.  In spite of some resistance to what some perceived as over-simplification and dumbing down of complex issues, I was also able finally to bring the group to a collective conclusion in order to meet the needs of the client.

C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
I made a point of developing experience and skills in virtual facilitation since my CPF in 2008, by selecting relevant sessions at each IAF conference attended and also by attending an 8-week virtual training course in ToP facilitation (Virtual Facilitation Online).  I have also had plenty of opportunity to practice virtual collaboration through my roles with the global IAF Board, and through participating in increasingly regular and sophisticated online global gatherings of members of ICA International (eg: ICAI online regional gatherings facilitate peer to peer support and collaboration). As a result I am increasingly proficient in the use of a variety of virtual tools myself, and my raised awareness of what is now possible encouraged me to lead the Board in scheduling IAF’s first online Annual Members Meeting later this year and procuring technical support through an open and competitive tendering process.

I have also made a point since 2008 of further exploring approaches to conflict, including by selecting conference sessions accordingly, by reading on conflict resolution and by some involvement in ICA:UK’s partnership work developing the Kumi method for social transformation in conflict situations on which I presented at the IAF Istanbul conference.  I am not aware that my facilitation practice has changed significantly as a result, but I certainly feel more confident in relation to conflict.

D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes
I have experimented with a number of new tools and techniques since 2008.  In addition to virtual approaches mentioned above, these have included the suite tools of ICA’s Organisational Transformation course, which was new to me when I supported Bill Staples of ICA Associates to deliver it as a pre-conference course at the IAF Oxford conference in 2009. I have subsequently been able to apply some of these with success within ICA:UK and with ICA:UK clients as well.

I have adapted and applied multiple approaches in combination, including for example ToP, Open Space and Solutions Focus with the South Wales Housing Association mentioned above; and ToP and world café with a number or clients. I adapted a well-known ice-breaker to create on the hoof “Just one lie” for use at the IAF Board meeting in London in 2011, and subsequently wrote it up and contributed it to the IAF Methods Database and Global Flipchart Method of the Month [see Creativity in facilitation, and Just One Lie].

E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge
Since applying to join the IAF Board and take my CPF assessment in 2008 I have read through all the back issues of the IAF Journal and the IAF Handbooks and a number of other facilitation titles as well.  I have attended two IAF conferences each year.

My IAF Board roles have helped me to expand my professional network and relationships greatly, which has been enormously valuable for my learning and professional development.  This has also been aided by my increased use of social media in the last few years, particularly LinkedIn and twitter, which I find invaluable sources of new material of interest as well as new personal and professional connections.

In drafting this essay I have learned that I need to become more methodical in maintaining a record of my professional development in order to more easily and effectively renew my CPF in four years from now!  I have plans to start blogging regularly so I hope that will help greatly [Welcome to my new website and blog!].

In my forthcoming freelance career I am looking forward to focusing my professional practice more on the international development and humanitarian sector, and to the opportunities for learning and development that that will afford me.

F. Model Positive Professional Attitude
Since I have begun inviting professional recommendations via LinkedIn, I am proud that values professionalism and integrity have been referred to repeatedly.

I am excited as well as somewhat apprehensive to have given notice to step down from my role as Chief Executive from the end of September, after 16 years with ICA:UK [A new transition for ICA:UK – and for me], with a view to working freelance as a professional facilitator and facilitation trainer for at least some time.  With my IAF Chair role ending soon as well, in December [Reflections on a term as IAF Chair], I am relishing the prospect that my reduced responsibilities might allow more time for reflection and learning, and exploration of new opportunities and new avenues for professional development and service.

My first 416 days as a freelance facilitator

National Freelancers DayToday is National Freelancers Day here in the UK, and so a good day I think to reflect on my own first year and a bit as a freelancer.  I did think that twice before, but on my anniversary on October 1st I was too busy with client work, and during International Facilitation Week (October 21-27) I was too busy with International Facilitation Week.  At 7am this morning I was working with Orla Cronin to facilitate an online workshop for worldwide contributors to a collaborative writing process taking place in South Africa this week, ‘Exploring the Real Work of Social Change‘, but apart from that I am happy to be having a relatively quiet week. So here goes. I have even updated my profile photo to mark the occasion – a new look for a new year.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is quoted as saying in support for National Freelancers Day that “taking the plunge as a freelancer is an immense decision that in many ways can appear daunting but it’s also a choice that’s brave, ambitious, fulfilling and rewarding“. My own decision initially was to work freelance to earn an income and keep my options open for a while, while deciding what to do next after stepping down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK after 16 years. I thought of it more as a sabbatical at first than as a new career, and after delivering facilitation, training and consulting services to ICA:UK clients all those years it did not seem particularly brave or ambitious. The immense part had been deciding to step down from my previous role. It was indeed rewarding and fulfilling, however, and soon enough I had decided that this was how I wanted to continue to work.

In that sense the process has been a little like the way my career as a whole began and then continued. I took a ‘year out’ after my undergraduate degree to volunteer with ICA in India in 1986, and 27 years later I am still with ICA and serving as volunteer President of ICA International. Working freelance is enabling me to do that now, and whatever other paid or unpaid work I want to take on, with maximum flexibility and minimum administration and overheads.  What’s not to like?

In my first year as a freelancer I have had the opportunity to deliver facilitation and facilitation training contracts in Dublin, Geneva, Moscow, Ramallah, Zurich and online, as well as around the UK and even within walking distance from my home base in London. The groups I have worked with have ranged from local community-based organisations to UN-mandated international agencies, and from global corporations to small consultancies and social enterprise start-ups (see also who I work with and how I work). This diversity is a major attraction for me – always stimulating, mostly challenging and never dull.

Having worked for years as well with public sector clients in the UK, these have been notable for me by their absence this past year. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s enthusiasm for freelancers (and entrepreneurs) ‘as the engine of our economy and economic revival’, it has certainly been a good year not to be reliant on UK clients, and especially not on UK public sector clients. Many years of international involvement and Board service with my professional association the International Association of Facilitators has been very helpful there, as well as long-standing relationships with ICA colleagues worldwide. I have Brussels, Geneva and New York to look forward to in December & January, and a number of mostly European prospects in the pipeline for after that, so I am happy to say an over-reliance on UK work does not seem to be a problem as yet. I would welcome more gigs that I can walk to as well though!

On deciding to establish myself in business as a freelancer I also joined PCG: the Freelancers Association (the people behind National Freelancers Day), and have found this invaluable.  I have experience of non-profit management and governance, including registering and preparing SORP-compliant accounts for a UK charitable company, but it has been a relief to be able to learn quickly and easily the particularities of company and tax law etc. as they apply to me now as a freelancer – and to discover just how less onerous it is to establish and run a private company with one shareholder, one Director and one employee.  For someone whose stock in trade is participatory decision making, it’s nothing short of revolutionary for me that I get to decide everything by myself, without consultation, and within much lesser constraints than I am used to.  I am proud to say that Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd is now well and truly in business, and even has its new cloud-based Crunch accounting system up to date (quote ‘mg15641m’ if you join too, and we both get free vouchers).

Throughout this past year I have particularly enjoyed and appreciated the extra time I have been able to find for professional development, reflection, reading and writing.  I am pleased to have accumulated over 40 posts and 6,000 site views on this blog, and to have read many books (and many more than each of the previous years) and attended numerous events with IAF, at the RSA and elsewhere. I still aspire to make more connection between the professional development, reflection and reading and the writing, but happy for that to be a goal.

In the meantime, I enjoyed so much the opportunity to use my Arabic again on my recent trips to Palestine that I have joined an Arabic conversation meet-up group in London. That experience has also got me wondering more about the reality and prospects for participation and facilitative leadership in the Arab world generally, almost 20 years on from my own six years with ICA Egypt and my masters research on civil society and democtratisation, and with the revolutions of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ continuing to unfold.

Thank you for following, and please feel free to share your own reflections and comments as well.


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.

Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd

Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-longPlease join me in welcoming to the world Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd, incorporated on 25 June 2013 – almost exactly nine months since I left employment and went freelance at the end of last September.

I wrote last December in Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-long of what a treat it felt for me to be embarking something of a sabbatical.  I hope I shall continue to have plenty of time for exploration, reflection and learning (and blogging) even as I am getting ever busier with clients and with my volunteer roles. Suffice it to say, however, that I am not yet missing my former management responsibilties, and I have decided to commit myself to pursuing my next big thing – and this is it.

I hope you’ll continue to share the journey with me by means of this blog, and that you’ll contact me if you have any ideas for working with me and my new company!