Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Archive for June, 2012

Workshops …Smart phones?

In a recent workshop the group defined the group guidelines and decided phones should be on silent. OK I thought thats phones dealt with… No not so! Smart phones bring a whole new meaning to phones in workshops.

Not only did this some of the members of this group check their emails, send texts and share website they also took calls during the session –  in and out of the room during the workshop – yes they had their phones on silent – did that mean they participated? Certainly not as I would hope.

Smart phones bring a whole new level of discussion to the group guidelines about what is OK and what is not? We are focused on social media and e-communication and expect immediate responses, answers and information. This brings a whole new level of discussion about how we manage phones and calls in workshops and meetings.

In my world it’s OK to take emergency calls during a workshop, in the breaks check messages and make calls  – whats an emergency?

The impact on me as the facilitator was challenging, participants missed key messages, escaped when activities where planned and didn’t engage in the learning.

iPad’s in workshops is another topic … I have heard of them being banned in meetings because people were spending more time answering emails than focusing on the meeting. In this world where we are trying to reduce paper iPads provide a great tool for meeting papers and note taking – however it’s another discussion that needs to had at the start – whats OK and what’s not.

Next time when phones are discussed in group guidelines I will highlight the smart phone and what “phones on silent” really means to the group!


Love them or hate them icebreakers are a good way to build trust and used well create a positive group group atmosphere. There are lots of activities to use as icebreakers and if you google “Icebreakers” you will find lots of ideas available on the internet.

Why use them:

  • to help people relax and share their ideas
  • to break down social barriers and perceptions
  • to energise and motivate the participants
  • to help people think creatively
  • so participants get to know something about the others in the room
  • to get the introverts involved

Some tips

  • Make the icebreaker relevant to the workshop topic. For example in a leadership workshop I will often ask the participants to think of someone they admire as a leader and share some of the characteristics they observe in that person.
  • Picture cards are useful tools. St Lukes Innovative Resources in Bendigo Victoria have a great range of cards available. In our recent resilience workshop we asked the participants to choose a card that represented resilience to them and explain this to the group as part of their introduction. I have a great set of goddess cards which are fun to use with women’s groups.
  • In technical workshops make the icebreaker relevant to the topic of discussion. “What do you find exciting/challenging about X?” or  “What previous experience have you had with X?”
  • With groups of people who work together on a regular basis I ask them to share something the other members of the group wouldn’t know about them. This often leads to great discussion in the breaks and deepening of relationships through new connections.
  • When working with a group of farmers a simple question (if appropriate) might be …How much rain has everyone had in the last week?
  • If you are asking something that requires a bit of thinking time – provide the thinking time.
  • Some facilitators ask the group members to talk in pairs and then introduce each other. This can work well, my advice is to check in with the person being introduced to make sure what is said is accurate and if there is anything they would like to add. It can be embarrassing to be wrongly represented as a result of someone else’s perception.

What other fun icebreakers do people use in their workshops? Anyone game to share in the comments?

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Resilience Workshop

Jeanette Long and Sharon Honner from Ag Consulting Co facilitated “Building Resilience Workshop” at Bowhill last Friday as part of the Adaptive Management component of Grain and Graze 2.

This workshop has been designed by Jacky Dakin and Kathryn McEwen, Organisational Physiologists in Adelaide. It aims to build understanding in what makes us personally resilient – able to bounce back from difficult times. Participants gain an understanding in how to monitor and manage their own resilience as well as those around them.

The workshop provides practical strategies to assist in coping with the daily pressures many of us face on farms. It includes building emotional, physical and mental resilience.

Participants discussed strategies to cope with situations such as drought. Depression awareness was also discussed; warning signs in themselves and others, as well as the first steps in seeking assistance.

Co-facilitation with Wow

I often co-facilitate, sometime with someone I know really well and have well established rapport and understanding and sometime with someone new. It adds another dimension not only for the participants, I have the great opportunity to watch and learn from someone else.

Co-facilitation is great for groups and for the facilitators the benefits include:

  • Different approaches will appeal to different participants
  • Provides the ability for one person to be focused on the group process and participants while other facilitates
  • Facilitators can manage their energy – hopefully be less tired at the end of the session
  • A blend of skills, knowledge and experiences
  • Opportunity for one facilitator to work with individuals at times while the other works the room
  • Its particularly good to have more than one facilitator with large groups who are working as small teams during the day
  • Learning from each others way of operating

For co-facilitation to work really well spend time establishing the ground rules before you start

  • Have a well developed and agreed session plan
  • Be clear on each persons role. Who is doing what when and who is the lead when.
  • Be clear about sticking to time frames. Flexibility with time can work as long as this is discussed prior. Personally I put a lot of effort into preparation and to have my time cut significantly through poor process is very frustrating and compromises the ability to facilitate well.
  • Stay focused in each others sessions – determine what you might be watching for in the group, in each other and about the process.
  • Bouncing / value adding or interrupting …  determine what are your boundaries around this. Done well it can appear seam-less and be very effective, done poorly the participants will be frustrated and observe frustration in the facilitators. Set up some signals for engagement and withdrawal (or to shut each other up!). This can be a simple as a “I’ll throw a question your way if I need your input”. Be respectful of each other.
  •  Allow time for feedback afterwards. What worked well? What could be done differently? Be open and honest with each other – this is a great way to develop skills and learn from each others way of operating. Analyse the process and how the participants reacted to it, were the defined outcomes met?

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