It’s About Adaptability

Facilitation SkillsI was excited to be part of the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) Heartland 2050 forum on June 11th.  I was invited to facilitate a conversation that hoped to move Omaha toward a vision of its future.  This invitation was a privilege and honor.  I thought we would work in pairs with all supplies provided.  We would meet one hour prior to the start time for training on the information they were hoping to elicit from the forum.

The facilitator trait of being adaptable was tested almost immediately.  We were briefed for 15 minutes on what would go on and what to do.  It was a very large group – too many for the four Omaha Public Library (OPL) team members at this session.  We then found out that MAPA also had facilitators.  The OPL group would help fill in any gaps.  It was soon clear that we would work alone, not in teams.  Although MAPA had told us there would be 8-10 in each group, my group had 12-14 people. This made it more difficult to hear and to get everyone to participate.

MAPA supplied easels, flip chart paper, and markers.  They were not the same quality as the ones in our facilitator kits.  The easels were tent-pole style and pretty flimsy.  The flip chart paper tore off the pad but the adhesive would not stick to the room’s divider wall.  The markers were Crayola Washable with no black and only a few dark colors.  Since the easel was 8-12 inches lower than others I’ve used, writing on the bottom of the page was difficult.  It was also hard for the attendees to see my handwritten notes.

After making quick adjustments, I folded the papers over the easel’s back so I wouldn’t have pages falling off the wall.  Unfortunately, there was no way to refer back to anything without flipping through pages.  After kneeling on the ground once to write, I realized my bad knee was sorer than I thought.  After that painful lesson, I leaned over the best I could for the rest of the session.

The chair setup was not conducive to equal involvement in the conversation.  I was on the end of three long tables.  My group gathered around as best they could but some were three people back on Adaptabilitythe long table. I lost one lady to her cell phone about half way through the conversation.  Since I couldn’t move within the group; couldn’t catch her attention; and couldn’t see her name, I felt helpless to draw her back into the conversation.

The outcome seemed a little mixed.  While we were told one thing in the pre-event briefing, the presenters’ PowerPoint at the meeting’s start gave a different approach.  When I asked about the attendees’ background, we were told they had attended numerous meetings and would be familiar with the process.  However, when we broke into our groups, at least three people in my group were new to the process.

Although we were supposed to discuss several different aspects of the category, it was obvious there was a lot more to discuss about one aspect.  One of the organizers became part of my group for part of the conversation.  This person brought up additional points that seemed to lead in a different direction than what they wanted for the outcome.

Despite all these adjustments, the conversation was lively, diverse, and very informative.  A lot of good points were brought up.  I was able to ask questions and involve some who seemed reluctant to join in.  Although there were a few dominators, I was able to ask to hear from others. Overall it was a really great discussion.  The goal of getting lots of new ideas and concerns was met.  The organizer that sat in my group complimented me on my facilitation skills.

The volunteer who presented the group’s thoughts to the whole room used the flip chart notes to summarize our group’s points.  It was a great experience to facilitate an outside group.  Although I couldn’t have done much more to prepare, my learned facilitation skills (especially how to adapt to different situations) were very useful.

Posted by Laurie Hajek-Jones, Facilitator-in-Training

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