Practical ideas for facilitating workshops & people development

SharonGuest Blog by Sharon Honner

Am I the right person for the job? This question is always at front of mind when accepting a facilitation role.

It can be a little more complicated when asked to facilitate a group you are part of as a volunteer. The complication or conflict occurs because a facilitator should be clearly differentiated from a participant.

When being asked to facilitate as a volunteer I ask myself the following questions:

  • What is more beneficial – for me to facilitate or participate?
    • It is really important to spend the time to assess the impact of being removed from the group as a facilitator.
  • Do I have the right facilitation skills to be an asset to the process?
    • There are many facilitation methods and processes, do I have what is required to meet the groups outcomes in a timely and professional manner.
  • If I do facilitate, can I leave my personal agenda’s at the door?
    • When I am part of a group, I am there because I am passionate and have points of view I may wish to share.

It is not only being able to leave my personal agenda’s at the doors, there may be other concerns within the group to make it difficult to facilitate, for example:

  • Is there an air of distrust or bias exists within the group? When this exists individuals will be more concerned with having their point of view heard rather than understanding others
  • Do some members of the group feel intimidated and as a consequence will not participate?
  • Are there any personal rivalries?
  • Do set decision making processes are in pl, when a group has been together for a while they may already have processes that work well for them
  • What are the time restraints on the outcome
  • Some of the group believe coming together is often a waste of time as the meetings are unproductive

Filling the role with the right person will make decision making and problem solving go smoothly. If any of the above sound familiar, it is often preferable to use a facilitator who is not a group member.

Happy facilitating

Managing Change

changeChange is hard… we resist change and whether you like it or not change brings an emotional cycle, the grief cycle. Sometimes we can move through this very quickly and not even be aware that it is happening, at other times we will get stuck in the process somewhere along the way.

It takes time to adapt or accept a new situation or circumstance. From an agricultural or natural resources management perspective when we present farmers with new data, new information and new ways of doing things we are asking them to undergo change. We are often excited by the opportunity and wonder why they don’t jump on board and get excited too.

We need to particularly careful when the change is forced as this tends to cause immediate resistance – it’s not wanted or expected.

However, if you’re the one making the change, this emotional cycle is much simpler because of acceptance.

Reactions to change are often unconscious and there are three basic elements.

  • The head element, the thoughts or logic that apply to the situation
  • The heart element, the beliefs and emotions you feel toward the change
  • The gut element: the reaction to the change

Depending on the scope of the change, people may feel their basic needs are being attacked:

  • Distortions of perception: “Did he say what I think he said?”
  • Previous experience: “Do you remember the last time they did this?”
  • Fear of the unknown: “How will this affect me
  •  Need for knowledge: “Must I relearn everything again?”

These factors form the core of resistance to change. Change won’t be accepted until a good deal of effort has been expended on providing both information and dealing with the emotional reaction. Until this is dealt with people who resist change will expend a great deal of effort resisting.

Involving people from the outset of any change process is the best way to create lasting change and early acceptance. More ideas about managing change to come in a later bog.

Welcome to 2015! I hope you have had a good start to the year. I look forward to sharing more blog posts with you throughout the year.

The “Carbon Resolution”

Twelve months ago Bill released “The Wild Radish Song” to raise awareness of herbicide resistance. This week he has released his next song “Carbon Resolution”.

The song aims to encourage advisers and farmers to have a conversation about how farmers can reduce green house emissions and slow global warming. The lyrics address the small changes farmers can all make, that accumulatively as an industry, could have a big impact on emissions.

This song has been a family affair in our house with son Will playing the lead guitar, daughter Alice putting the video together and Bill writing the lyrics, playing acoustic guitar and singing. It was inspired by John Butlers Revolution.

We have also embarked on a social media campaign to promote the song with Alice running a Facebook page, tweeting and releasing videos of Bill talking about the video in the two week lead up to the release.

The Facebook page reach over 300 likes in the first week. As a social media extension experiment we are looking forward to seeing how far and wide the song will go. After nearly 12 months the Wild Radish Song has reached over 24000 with Bill receiving emails from across the world.

The song has been produced as part of a Carbon Extension and Outreach program to raise awareness about the agricultural sectors impact on climate change funded by the Australian Government. The Building Farmer and Advisor Knowledge in Carbon Farming Project aims to train farm advisers and improve their understanding of carbon farming.

Please share this with your friends and industry colleagues to raise awareness of carbon farming and to see how powerful social media and song can be as an extension tool! Send us your thought too.

What is extension?

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.38.13 amI have recently taken on the role of President of the Australasia Pacific Extension Network (APEN) and I am often asked what does extension mean. Extension is a word commonly used in agriculture and natural resources management but not often used elsewhere.

APEN defines extension as working with people in a community to facilitate change in an environment that has social, economic and technical complexity. This is achieved by helping people gain  knowledge and confidence so they see the need for change and provide support to ensure it is implemented effectively. APEN goes on to say that an important part of extension is capacity building.

A recent paper published by the Australian Farm Institute defines Extension as – activities by both the public and private sector to transfer knowledge to and between farmers about ways to improve farm productivity and sustainability. The knowledge may be transferred either directly to farmers, or indirectly through farm service providers.

Traditionally extension was seen as a transfer of knowledge, what I like about the APEN definition is it highlights the importance of people and capacity building. People make change and adopt new practices based on the information they receive and how well that data fits with their personal values, beliefs and attitudes. Without a good understanding of people, decision making processes and the impact of change data alone can pile up on the desk.

As the model suggests the extension process is about people and technical information. To ensure the research and development carried out on farmers behalf is adopted farmers it is best to engaged them in the process. This enables ownership and understanding to be developed throughout the research rather than data being provided at the end.

If the data has been generated in relative isolation from a farmer audience then the people working in extension need to think about how they can engage farmers with the data to help them develop that ownership. Let’s become more creative in our methods – add some marketing and basic psychology skills to our extension practices.

The facilitators tool kit

2014-10-04 10.14.09I was asked recently what a facilitator should have in their toolkit. Hence today I thought I would go back to basics.. what does the facilitator/trainer need in their tool box?

The basics

  • Permanent markers – I like Mr Sketch coloured markers
  • White board markers & eraser
  • Blu tack to put up flip charts around the room
  • Flip charts, or as I call it butchers paper
  • Masking tape – great for name tags, it stays on rather than falling off!
  • Post it notes
  • Highlighter pens
  • Coloured markers for participants
  • Spare pens for participants who forget to bring their own
  • Scissors
  • Data projector, power board and extension cord if required
  • A whiteboard that doubles as a flip chart stand

For the facilitation sessions

  • Cheap plastic table cloth
  • 3M repositional glue
  • A5 paper
  • Black markers – enough for every member of the group
  • Coloured dots, helpful for prioritising and voting
  • Large post it notes can be very useful too

And the extra bits

  • Pipe cleaners for the kinaesthetic learners to play with
  • Balls and toys
  • A clear clock to put on the desk so its easy to keep track of the time without looking constantly at our watch!
  • A bell can be handy when working with large groups to get their attention or change tasks – be aware not to over use it
  • Timer for short activities
  • Note books/paper for participants if required
  • Camera/phone to capture some piccs or take photos of the information generated by the group
  • A speaker to play music in the breaks or sound for videos

And to easily move all of this about, a box on wheels is very useful.What else do people have in their toolkit?

The impact of energy

IMG_6968In the last two weeks I have attended two very contrasting workshops. Both were delivered  by internationally recognised speakers, both with very different energy impacts and outcomes for me, as the participant.

The first was delivered by a motivational keynote speaker. It was high energy and high impact, I left each day with my head buzzing, excited by what I had learned and looking forward to the following day. I even had trouble sleeping at night as the concepts were rolling around in my head keeping me awake. Since leaving the workshop (now nearly two weeks ago) I am still thinking about what I learnt and how I can apply into my work.

I left the second workshop feeling grounded and rather tired. The presenter didn’t provide energy from the front of the room and wasn’t able to extract the energy from the participants either. I’m sorry to say I would be unable to recall some of the main points from this workshop and it was more recent that the first.

There were some similarities between the speakers – both were passionate about their topic, both delivered a similar number of points in the same timeframe, both used stories and both asked us to discuss their key points with the person beside us. A similar workshop framework being used and yet such a different impact on me as the participant.

What did I take away from this experience – it was an important reminder that we learn and remember more when the learning is attached to emotion. Emotion for me is connected to the energy and enthusiasm of the presenter.

I’m not suggesting we should all go over the top and be “cheerleaders”. However we do need to think about our own energy levels and  the impact we are having on our participants. What works for us will not work for everyone.

Experiment with your own energy level at the front of the room, watch and monitor the group reactions.

From now on when I develop my session plans I will include a new column “energy” and determine for each section the energy level I believe is required and how this can be achieved for the group. Varying the energy level throughout the day to maximise learning, I will also include this in my personal workshop review.

I would be interested in your comments about the energy levels of presenters – when does it become exhausting? what is too much or too little? How do you change your energy for groups?



The power of mentoring

sharon mentoringGuest blog by Sharon Honner

How many of you have been to Bali? Yes I have been to Bali too!

I was there a couple of weeks ago with my four beautiful children. While we were there my oldest daughter and I visited a butterfly farm and in the nursery we were able to witness butterflies emerging from their Chrysalis, it was an amazing experience.

What does a butterfly farm have to do with Mentoring? As I pondered on what I gained from being a mentor it hit me that one of the most rewarding aspects for me is watching my mentee transform as does a butterfly.

So how did I end up being a mentor? In 2004 I was fortunate to win a bursary to attend the Rural Congress for Women in Spain and as part of that experience I set myself a goal to give back to industry that had supported me to attend.

The first step was, as a volunteer, to join a National Reference Group. At one of the first meetings in Melbourne we had a guest presenter on Mentoring.

My eyes lit up, what a wonderful way to give back to industry; however what I wanted to know was what underpinned being a great mentor?

The lady who presented at the meeting shared that for her it was the art of coaching, so full of enthusiasm, I promptly did some research and enrolled to complete coaching training, from that day forward the coach approach has underpinned the way I facilitate, deliver workshops and mentor.

There are several significant people in my life who have believed in me and given me the confidence to give something new a go. They also have challenged my thinking. On reflection this would have been what I refer to as INFORMAL mentoring.

The downside for me of informal mentoring is that often the relationship is not declared as a mentor/mentee relationship. In fact sometimes INFORMAL mentoring may simply be that I have chosen some-one that I admire to role model myself on or I may choose to support some-one who I can see potential in.

This year I was a Mentor for the YWCA SHE Leads Program. What excited me about the YWCA program is that it’s a FORMAL Mentoring Program. As a volunteer I appreciated that it gave me a start and a finish point.

  • Our relationship was declared and I was very privileged and honoured to be partnered with Dr. Lisa Bailey, Programs Manager, RiAus.
  • This gave us the opportunity to discuss how we were going to work together giving our relationship the best opportunity to be beneficial to Lisa.
  • For example we discussed: what were Lisa’s goals, what motivated her, what were her current challenges, where we were going to meet, when we were going to meet, how we were were going to communicate.
  • Also for Lisa how will she know our relationship has been of value?
  • For me also because Lisa was sponsored by her workplace it was important Lisa, her Manager and myself met to discuss what his expectations were and also the importance of confidentiality in our relationship.

It is my understanding if someone attends a workshop and then returns home or to the workplace if they do not implement their learnings 80% of that knowledge is lost in 3 months. When you are looking at Return on Investment that is a scary statistic.

Adding coaching or in YWCA’s instance mentoring to a program enables participants to retain up to 90% of their learnings.

Speaking of learnings, I enjoy bringing my own learnings to Mentoring, whether they are good or bad.

As Mentor I bring wisdom, however it is important the Mentee learns by finding their own solutions. An example is that as we support our mentees in reaching for the stars, ask them to take a moment to think about what if things don’t pan out how they had planned. What are their contingency plans?

When I first met Lisa I thought wow I know nothing about science and I have been paired with someone from a pure science background. This brings me to something else I value about mentoring. The skills and strengths I bring to a mentoring relationship doesn’t have to be within my industry, it can be across any industry, and by doing this, it keeps me fresh because the way I think is being constantly challenged.

In summing up what Mentoring gives to me – It is much more than the transfer of knowledge and insights.

I am passionate about women developing their leadership skills and if I can support some-one to reach their goals then I will beam from ear to ear.

Mentoring gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own goals, practices and learnings and deepens my personal leadership and coaching style, it challenges my thinking and keeps me fresh.

To all the prospective Mentors and Mentees may you do as a butterfly does …. emerge and spread your wings.


Tag Cloud