Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

Archive for the ‘Extension and Adoption’ Category

Questions questions questions

2014-03-11 13.49.56How can we ask more effective questions?

Asking great questions is an important skill for a facilitator, coach and mentor. It’s something that takes practice and planning.

We all know the difference between an open and closed question … The answer to a closed question is yes or no…. and open questions begin with  -What Why, How, When, Where and Who. A very simple concept, however how often do we catch ourselves asking closed questions? Admittedly most people give more than yes or no as the answer, however the question is …how could we be even more effective with our questions?

What about the Why question? From a human communication perspective think for a minute about the impact of questions starting with Why? 

Why questions can make us justify and become defensive, they can shut down open communication rather than open it up.

If we have been trained to analyse Why will be a common question – and certainly have a place, however be aware of the impact when working with people.

Another way to think of Why is in terms of a time line Why questions take us back into the past and make us justify why we did something. 

In contrast a good What question will more us forward into the future and open up possibilities, create brainstorming and solutions.

  • What are the options?
  • What might be a solution?
  • What outcomes are you hoping for?

How is a great start to a question for action planning.

  • How might you start that project?

Tone in questioning is also very important as facilitators we are aiming for questions that are non judgemental, neural and genuine.

A few other tips

  • Keep the question short and succinct
  • Ask one question at a time – if we ask two we often only get an answer to the second one.
  • Be careful about leading questions … This is where we give a solution in the question.
  •  Ask the question and allow for the person to think …. There is nothing wrong with silence. Often the best questions are the ones that really make us think and we do need processing time. If the question was not understood trust the person will ask you to repeat and/or reframe, don’t assume silence means they have not understood.

I will leave you with a challenge …. Next time you catch yourself asking Why reframe the question to start with a What. Reflect on the impact it has on the conversation.

Grab attention with song!

IMG_0919What do we typically do in agriculture when we want to attract attention to a topic?

We data dump! We write a fact sheet or an article to publish and try to  deliver as much information as we can on the issue.

If we compare this to other industries …. when they want to grab our attention they use marketing and incorporate emotional hooks to really make us notice.

Its called advertising.

Look at the latest car advertisement. Where’s the data? Sure. it’s available but to grab your attention, the marketing team has hooked into some emotional link you have to the vehicle that will make you feel good about your decision to purchase.

My husband, Bill , a farm consultant and farmer has tried a similar approach to communicate the serious issue of herbicide resistance – by using a video parody of the Gotye hit “Somebody I used to know”.

Bill has combined two very basic elements that we all relate to and enjoy, being  humour and music , to alert people to an impending herbicide  resistant weed issue that is on the doorstep of every farmer who has wild radish on their property.

Follow the link below …..

We would love to have your feedback on the parody! Please post your comments on the blog or email me

Please share the parody with your networks. The video has been produced for the Ag Excellence Alliance Social Media project funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Landcare program.

This will be my last blog for 2013, thank you for your interest and feedback during the year. I will start posting again in late January.

All the best for a wonderful Christmas and start to 2014.

If you would like to follow my blog by email put your email address in the space on the top right hand side of the website. You will receive a confirmation email which you must acknowledge to receive the blog. 

Do we need Extension training?

2013-04-04 16.21.18Evaluation of projects is not always done well. Good quality feedback not only provides information for reporting it also shapes the future of programs.

As part of our GRDC Extension Adoption Training and Support Program we work with Jeff Coutts and conduct regular surveys to monitor progress as well as developing case studies with participants. The information collected has assisted us to modify the content of the program and improve relevance to our audience.

Mike Roberts has been preparing the case studies for us and has put together the following article as an overview of the outcomes from our program. I thought I would share this with you as an example of an evaluation method which can  then be used to promote a program and also because we are very proud of the outcomes that are being achieved.

Rave Reviews

Are you an experienced advisor or researcher interested in practical ways to turbo charge your effectiveness in adoption, extension, evaluation and communication processes? This GRDC funded course is about to open up its fourth intake and if the rave reviews from the first three years of operation are anything to go by then you’d better be quick to apply for one of the eight places available for 2014.

This program aims to reduce the time frame from research findings becoming available to actual changes in farmer practice. Successful applicants can expect the following:

  • A three day workshop in Canberra where participants develop a comprehensive understanding of GRDC and build skills and knowledge in personality types, adoption, evaluation and extension theory and frameworks.
  • A three day field tour providing exposure to new technology and research as well as an opportunity to apply the theory discussed in Canberra.
  • Webinars to further develop skills and discuss learning and outcomes.
  • Mentoring and coaching with the project team
  • Participants will develop an action plan and apply their learnings in the field as well as mentoring a younger member of the industry.
  • An ongoing network will provide the opportunity to continue sharing skills and knowledge amongst the group post training.

Here are some comments from participants who have already completed the program:

Brendan Green is the Technical Business Development officer for Roberts Ltd based in Hobart in Tasmania.

  • After learning about the role of Social Media in the course Brendan has been instrumental in setting up 12 Facebook pages for various branches across the state. “We are having an impact from the messages we are posting. Whatever the topic, we are now able to create more awareness than we could have previously. The message is getting through to a larger number of clients and they are finding out about things that they wouldn’t necessarily know about just because of social media.”
  • After learning about communication skills Brendan reflected thathe used to “give a lot of technical information. Now it is about trying to get staff to simplify the message so it will be easier for the farmer to understand.”
  • “Success in the relationships that you build is very important. People skills are the most important things.”
  • “It is a very good program well worth the time and involvement. You will get a lot of things out of it that are very beneficial for your business.”

Bob Ronald is an agronomist employed by Landmark in Albury, NSW. He deals mainly with broadacre clients on both dryland and irrigated farms.

  • It really helped my ability to deal with my growers one on one and then as a group.”
  • “The people skills offered in the program were a major attraction. This program hit a whole lot of triggers that I had been thinking about. It’s not just about killing weeds; it is dealing with humans.

Kent Wooding is the General Manager of Agrivision Consultants based in Swan Hill in Victoria. He manages a group of 15 agronomy consultants who assist farmers with farm and paddock planning, general agronomy, implementation of weed and pest control and precision agriculture.

  • “We have often been critical of people doing research and not effectively communicating results. The course taught me that we were falling into the same trap, as we did some great research but we weren’t always getting it all out to the people where it mattered the most. We are now addressing that.”
  • After learning that not everyone has the same preferential learning style, Kent now actively varies the elements in presentations. “So if I can deliver it in several different ways then parts of it will appeal to most people.”
  • “I have changed the way I mentor staff since doing this course. I think our agronomists are now developing skills at a faster rate as a result.”
  • “The EATS program has given me a better understanding of who I am and how I can deal with people. It has certainly given me a lot of motivation and invigorated me to go out and make changes in the business. I have made some good friends as well along the way, which is good!”
  • “I have successfully established a social media strategy for the business. This was something I have been thinking about for a long time but the course gave me the information and confidence to go ahead with it.”
  • “I would say that it is valuable and a must attend!”

Felicity Turner is a private agricultural consultant and the facilitator for the MacKillop Farm Management Group in the Upper SE of South Australia.

  • “The topic on personality types and extension methodology changed the whole way I think about delivering information.”
  • Prior to attending the course, Felicity says that surveys were ‘the bane of my existence and I hated them. Where I used to do surveys just to satisfy funding bodies, I now know how to actually extract the information I need to make changes to improve the project and get better outcomes.”
  • “As a whole it has really made me re-think the way that I extend information to people. I now know that I need to look at different methods to take into account different people to try to get the message across.”
  • “I think if I had done this ten years ago I would have changed so many things. Now I look back and think gosh, what was I doing? I could have been doing it so much better!”
  • “One of the most valuable parts of the course was the chance to spend three or four days interacting with other participants on the field trip to WA. The geographical and occupational mix of the participants really added value. That is where you really learn from others and it was fantastic.”

If you are interested in the GRDC Extension, Adoption, Training and Support program or know someone who could be please contact Ag Consulting Co for more information: 

Applications close 30 October 2013

Attracting farmers to events

2013-08-19 15.41.37A common topic of discussion in many workshops, and a concern of researchers, farming groups, RDE corporations and others  – How do we get farmers along to events?

Research carried out by Rod Strachan looking at farmer personality types found that rural industries attract people with a preference for Introversion. (Beef 62%; Cropping 58%; and Intensive Industries 63%) when compared with the Australian sample (55%). Rod goes on to say “The challenge facing rural extension is that persons expressing a preference for Introversion are not attracted to attending meetings. Moreover, if they do they may have difficulty becoming involved in the absence of a skilled facilitator.”

I have incorporated the Myers Briggs Type Indicator into many workshops with farmers and consultants over the years and asked the  following two questions “How can we attract and engage Introverts in events?” and “How does your personality type like to have  new information presented?”

Today I will share with you some of the thoughts of the many introverts who have attended these workshops to attempt to provide some insight into the first question.

  • Group size is important – Introverts have reported they prefer either a small group (under 12) where they feel comfortable to contribute or a large groups where they can hide in the crowd.
  • Introverts dislike being singled out without warning – if you are presenting  and would like a comment from an introvert – give them prior warning.
  • In small groups, make sure everyone speaks in the first 20 -30 minutes, Introverts are more likely to continue to contribute if they have spoken in a safe environment.
  • A direct invitation from someone they know encourages them to attend, particularly if they are able to attend with that person.
  • Many introverts have told me they hate bus trips. They would rather follow in their own vehicle for some time out and ability to leave when they like. Bus trips can create a “trapped feeling”.
  • Introverts like one-on-one time with advisers or a few trusted significant others in preference to large group activities.
  • Time for private reflection after an activity, to think about how it fits in with their system, and then follow up support to implement was important.
  • Allow time at field days for the Introverts to talk one-on-one with the speakers. Instead of rushing from one trial plot to the next allow a break between speakers for discussion and contemplation.
  • Introverts like to know what is expect when they arrive at the event – clear expectations and agenda.

I would love to hear some comments and experiences from farmers and advisers about how they attract and engage farmers in events. Please post some thoughts in the comments.

Some findings from the second question “How does your personality type like to have new information presented?” will be in a future blog.

Rod Strachen, Myers Briggs Type Indicator Preferences by Industry and Implications for extension. Published in “Shaping Change – Natural Resource Management and the Role of Extension.” (2011) edited by Dr Jess Jennings, Dr Roger Packham and Dr Dedee Woodside, (APEN)

Top tips for running training workshops & facilitated groups

2013-04-04 16.21.18Thanks to the GRDC Extension, Adoption Training and Support Group for their top tips on how to run effective training workshops and facilitated groups. The group met in Canberra last week where we reviewed farmer decision making, personality types, extension, adoption and evaluation.

The top tips are not prioritised – they were developed during a facilitated brainstorming exercise.

Training workshops

  1. Plan the event early
  2. Clear training packages and outcomes
  3. Topical and relevant dealing with current issues
  4. Accommodate different learning styles
  5. Evaluate the process
  6. Follow up after the workshop – ensure learning put into practice
  7. Interactive sessions – not all chalk and talk
  8. Recognise the knowledge in the room and draw this into the discussion
  9. Good presenters / facilitators
  10. Introduce the agenda and stick to it
  11. Practicality,think about – Relative advantage, trialabilty, observabilty, simplicity, compatibility
  12. Good take home resources
  13. Logical progression throughout the workshop
  14. Venue that works

Facilitated groups

  1. Establish the ground rules in an inclusive way
  2. Establish the group – take the time to do this properly and build ownership in the process
  3. Good facilitation skills to engage participants – ownership on driving the agenda of the group
  4. Good process and skill
  5. Group has purpose and expectations
  6. Understand the desired overview and stick to it
  7. Include everyone
  8. Stick to agreed timeframes
  9. Manage  the group and individuals energy
  10. Review and reflect effectively
  11. Evaluate
  12. Good planning
  13. Use a range of methods to accommodate learning styles

The challenge of change

Working through change can be challenging – this includes changing a practice and/or taking on a new technologies with new skills. A framework I am finding useful is the stages of attitudinal change.

This simple model is highlighted in the photo in this blog.

When think about a new technology we are initially Ignorant of it, next we become Aware, followed by Intent to do something about it. We then reach a critical point where a decision is made to step over the line and Perform or not. Finally we maintain – continue to use or reject the technology.

The key to this model for me is how we present information at each stage of the model.

Ignorance – At ignorance people are not aware; we need to capture their attention. This is not a time to bombard them with fact sheets and information, these will most likely end up in the bin. We need to be thinking about the emotional hooks, what can we do to create attention to create the awareness.

Awareness – This becomes a time for information and fact sheets. However provide people with what they REALLY need to know, not every piece of information you have on the topic. Keep the information succinct, easy to follow and neatly packaged. Provide links to more information so the data hungry person can research themselves.

Intent – At this stage the thinking will be “how will this work for me?” , “How would I integrate this into my current system?” Provide coaching to assist with the decision making process so the ownership lies with the decision maker rather than the facilitator or coach.

Perform – Once the decision to take on the change has been made people move  to the “doing”. Support through mentoring is an ideal way to ensure the new skill is maintained. Further information and research may be required and the change may need to be “tweaked” to fit in with current systems or thinking.

Maintain – It is now necessary to evaluate the change, and modify or reject if required. In this fast paced world evaluation is a step that is often overlooked, a coaching or mentoring approach works well here. Further support to maintain the change may also be required.

This framework has been modified from by Bruce Howie whom I co- facilitated with in his workshop “How to drive adoption of technology.”

If you would like to follow my blog enter your email address in the space on the right hand side of the page and click confirm in the email you will receive. Please feel free to share my blog with other interested people … comments are also welcome. 

The Pioneers get the arrows – the Settlers get the land

Guest Blog by  Bill Long 

Do you feel like no one is listening to you sometimes?

Understanding personality types will improve your understanding of the way people gather and process information and ultimately make decisions.

Understanding basic human behaviour and factors that influence decision making processes helps us assist the farm businesses we support to achieve their goals more effectively. There are many reasons why people choose to operate farms, some far more powerful than money. While advisors tend to deliver lots of data and information in order to persuade growers to think about a change in practice, intuitive decision making processes are preferred by farmers and are fed by a range of factors including formative years and adult learning experiences, family values, beliefs, emotions, gender, genetics and needs during the various stages of life we go through.

This article discusses just one of these factors – personality type and its influence on farmer (and human) decision-making process.

Creating frameworks to describe human behavioural patterns can be a useful way to anticipate individuals’ responses to situations. Understanding personality ‘types’ can help our understanding of likely behaviour and assist us in understanding our own and others’ abilities and preferences to perform tasks. Once some of these behavioural patterns are understood, we can tailor our approach to supplying and using information with individuals.

Strachan (2011), reports on one of the few attempts in Australia to define the rural culture using the Myers Briggs type indicator. The data source of this study came from 3000 farm managers and employees working in six major agricultural industries across Australia over a 15 year period.

The profiles of people working across a range of agricultural industries were compared with the Australian standard sample.

Table 1. Distribution of “temperaments” in selected rural industries. Strachan (2011)

Beef 57% 25% 13% 5%
Cropping 52% 25% 17% 6%
Intensive 57% 22% 15% 5%
Australian sample 42% 13% 26% 18%

The” SJ” temperament (52%) describes a culture that is less likely to adopt new ideas and will resist change. Decision makers within “SJ” temperament need to be convinced of the need to change. As a group, “SJ” adults tend to define themselves by their experience and they have a deeper investment in its value. Unless there is a clear and desperate need to change, “SJ” types prefer to stick to set procedures, established routines and historic precedents to guide them and prefer practical, concrete problems rather than theoretical or abstract concepts involved in adoption of new ideas. The ideas need to be complete, packaged well, have the relative advantage for change clearly evident, need to be compatible with current practices and thinking (not too way there), simple to adopt with a short term return on investment obvious. They are the most risk adverse type.

The “SP” types (25%)are impatient with abstraction and theories, often have a “do it now and fix the details later” approach to problems and take a flexible and adaptable approach to organising their time. They don’t mind taking risks and like the “SJ’s” like concrete problems and prefer guidelines and take a step by step approach to problem solving and learning.

The “NT” (17%) type strengths include problem solving and understanding complex systems. They enjoy pioneering almost anything and like to start new projects and may have trouble sustaining interest after the design phase. They value logic and knowledge. Intuitive (N) types are more likely to tackle new ideas –they are willing to “have a try” at new technology without having the fine detail “packaged “for them. Often the detail simply isn’t there. This may not be the most successful approach to long term business success as the “cost” of new learning in farming can be extremely high. Being the “first” to try new technology often results in mistakes being made along the journey resulting in crop damage and lower yields.  This type is the obvious type to approach to try the latest technology.

The “NF” (6%) types value authenticity, integrity and harmony – may see their life as one long search for meaning. They are great participatory decision makers – focussing on the people in the organisation. They have energy and enthusiasm for the things they believe in and can have a tendency to ignore problems in the hope they will go away. These types could be approached to organise group events and collaboration on new ideas. They engage well with others.

Although these frameworks tend to categorise individuals as having certain behavioural traits, it is important to recognise that these traits or types are really ‘preferences’ to type. It does not mean that individuals can’t behave differently. By creating awareness of one’s preference to automatically react or behave in a particular way, we can train ourselves to deliver and respond in a different manner if desirable.

Recognising that we don’t all think the same way is the first important step in delivery of information. Just because we might like information presented one way, that doesn’t mean others have the same preference. We can modify our message delivery techniques to include all personality types and get our message across more quickly and effectively.

With approximately 80% of the farming population being “S” types, it is of little surprise that new and innovative technology that might excite an “N” type may take a while to be adopted.   Think about the way your information is packaged and presented. And after that is done, consider some of the personal reasons (values, beliefs etc.) that might influence decision making process.

Now they’ll listen!

Tag Cloud