Monday, 28 January 2019

Wow that meeting was worthwhile!

You've probably noticed a lot of articles recently on ‘psychological safety’. It’s an in-topic, however it isn’t new.

Experienced facilitators have long known what it takes for people to voice their opinions, explore their concerns and doubts, be open to the different viewpoints of others. They need to feel safe - safe to speak and safe to think, safe to not follow the crowd, and safe to change their own perceptions.

Creating and holding that safe space is something that all effective facilitators do. Whether it is a meeting, a work session, a scrum event, or a development workshop, they create that space that is safe for every voice in the room. And that dramatically increases the potential to get results – honest exploration of the problems, solutions that everyone can buy into and genuine commitment to action or change. It dramatically increases the possibility that people will walk out saying “Wow, that meeting was worth my while.”

There are a number of building blocks to creating safety. Those building blocks are the tools, or as we say, the science of facilitation. The first step is to learn what they are and to start using them. Unfortunately that alone does not create the safety. Making them work requires developing a feel for how to best use the tools, what we call the art of facilitation. The art develops from a deeper appreciation for people, an understanding of human dynamics, a positive intent, your authenticity, and lots of courageous practise.

When the art and the science come together, then we have magic.

You may remember my blog about the facilitation that I did with two groups that had been physically fighting each other the week before. In 90 minutes they went from extremely wary “us and them” to “we can work together and here are our ideas that we generated collaboratively”. That was only possible because I was able to create the safety in the room. In that instance it took about 30 minutes to create sufficient safety. Once we had it, it enabled people to share their individual perspectives, and to listen to each other. And then they were able to constructively explore the issues, and to come up with some possible ways forward.

It was magical. Even I was blown away by what they achieved.

Generally in articles like this we try and share with you three or five informative key points on the topic. I will give you a couple of pointers in a moment, but here's the challenge, the pointers are the science which we can try to explain, although we really need more than just a few lines to do justice to it, but certainly the part that we can't do in an article like this, is to help you to find the art.

Developing the art takes time and practise, and it happens easiest when you have a coach or mentor.

Four key elements that the facilitator uses to develop safety in the room

Do a check in: 

There are many ways to do this. Essentially you are gently inviting and encouraging everyone to share their name (if they don’t already know each other) and some other piece of information. Something that isn’t about jobs, titles, hierarchy, such as “something great that happened to me this week” or “something I enjoy doing when I am not working”.

This check in enables everyone to start connecting as people, and on a level playing field.

Create an agreement as to how we will be with each other: 

This is sometimes called ground rules or a team agreement. Again there are many ways you can do it. A simple one is completing the statement “I feel more safe when ….” And “I feel less safe when …”

It is important that everyone’s needs have been considered, and that any dissention has been heard, so that you end up with a mutual agreement that everyone willingly buys into. It also includes permission to kindly hold each other to it.

This agreement creates a container that the facilitator needs to hold. It gives people the assurance that their safety needs will be met.

Share the Strategic Intent of the session and the Structure that will be followed: 

The intent is the purpose, and it’s strategic because there is a good reason to hold this session and it has been designed to achieve that.

The structure maybe the agenda. It is the format that will be followed and a high level timeframe.
This makes people comfortable that they aren’t going to be wasting their time and that they know what to expect – no scary surprises coming up.

Create space for all the voices: 

This is very important. You notice above that I’ve said “everyone” a few times. You will have experienced that there are always a few willing, eager voices in the room. However there are often others who are quieter and don’t speak up unless you create the circumstances that enable them to do so. This is very much an art.

A few things that help are - letting people think quietly, individually, before you ask them to share their thoughts, ideas, suggestions, concerns etc; allowing people to speak when they are ready and holding silence for them to get that opportunity; and doing some interactions on paper (words or pictures), or by body movement, instead of verbally.

To get the results that I spoke about earlier you need to have both the art and the science of facilitation – you need to develop mastery as a facilitator. 

You need to understand the subtle differences in how one uses the tools to get the big results, to make them your own, to learn to hold space even in difficult circumstances, to confidently guide teams to engage in honest, open conversations and to find your own persona as a facilitator.

That is why Regina Martins and I developed the Masterful Facilitator fundamentals programme. To give facilitators, who already have experience with some of the science, the opportunity to grow both their toolbox and their art, and to take their skills to a professional level.

In December we were working with a group early on the first day of the programme. Regina started to guide them to create a Learning Alliance for our time together – a type of team agreement , or “way of being with each other” agreement. When the agreement was almost complete one of the participants said “We’ve done this at work in our team. I don’t know why it isn’t working there though. People don’t do what they agreed to. We’ve tried introducing fines but these also aren’t working.”

This was such a wonderful moment. It was the opportunity for the group to unpack the finer, subtler details of how the participant’s team agreement had been derived – the intention behind it, who had contributed, how were the points of the agreement derived, who was upholding or reinforcing the agreement. And to see where the art (the authentic intention and the subtle hows), needed to be blended with the science (the tool). A big hint here “fining people for not following the agreement won’t work 😊.”

The group on that Masterful Facilitator fundamentals programme grew tremendously. In particular they were amazing at holding each other to the learning alliance, the agreement that they had developed. There was no big fuss. If someone did, or said, something contrary to the agreement someone else would quietly say something like “our agreement” and the ‘guilty party’ apologised immediately and everyone carried on. They held each other accountable throughout. In so doing they’ve already shifted their group culture.

One of the formal pieces of feedback we received after that programme was “I gained relevant knowledge that I can immediately apply at work and solve most of the problems I have been struggling with for quite some time.”

However the comment I loved was given in our closing appreciation circle. One of the ‘millennial generation’ participants said “I so appreciate that we were off our phones for two days – I appreciate that I didn’t want to be on my phone – that is unheard of for me.”

If you’d like to take your facilitation skills to a higher level so that everyone gets value out of each meeting, event or session you facilitate, and that you see real results in the form of actions and/or behavioural changes afterwards, take a look here.

(PS if you are in Johannesburg bookings must be made and paid for by 17 Feb.)

Friday, 8 June 2018

The most destructive emotion?


Yesterday I was writing a response to a friend who had just off loaded how she was feeling annoyed with herself for having offered to do something that felt like too big an ask.

As I wrote, “I think that the balance between giving and receiving is a key. And it’s not empirical. It’s just what feels balanced to us,” my mind was running ahead thinking, “when the balance isn't there we feel resentment. And it doesn't matter whether anyone else thinks it is justified or not justified, we are resentful.”

I remembered just the other day reading something by Patrick Lencioni where he said “…(they keep quiet) because they fear jeopardizing a valuable personal relationship. Ironically, this only causes the relationship to deteriorate as team members begin to resent one another …”

Do you know how often resentment comes up in my work? So often when there is a toxic situation, whether it be in a client’s work situation, or personal situation, there is huge resentment.

Resentment comes when we feel unappreciated, disappointed, angry, or hurt. It can result from feeling belittled, being discriminated against, feeling taken advantage of, not being recognised for your good work (and) being criticised for small mistakes, or seeing others repeatedly get away with not pulling their weight. And many other causes, real or perceived.

Whatever the cause resentment can become hugely destructive. It starts off small, going round and round, inside you and then it shows up externally, breaking down communication and cooperation.

Left to fester it starts a downward spiral in the relationship with the one we feel resentful towards. And we begin to disengage from our work, the boss or the colleague; or the client; or the service provider; or our friend; or our spouse.

My heart sinks when I analyse a situation and see resentment that has been building for a long time. It feels like such an uphill battle. There is the original cause, there is the built-up emotions, and there are all the other consequential damages to work on. It takes a lot of coaching and sometimes mediation to repair the damage. And sometimes there just isn’t enough will to ever really get it right.

There is a much easier solution.

Speaking up about what you are feeling and why ……. as soon as possible.

Yes, it feels like it will be a difficult conversation, but it stops a much more difficult situation from developing.

The two things that stop us from having that conversation are usually, not knowing how to go about it skilfully, and all the emotional ‘stuff’ that gets in the way.

A colleague and I have combined our own strengths into a three module live, online programme that gives you the tools for both those parts. You get to learn and practise safely, so you are able to have a difficult conversation with courage.

Courageously having a conversation may result in the other person simply acknowledging where you are coming from; or the two of you finding a different way to do things; or you making some decisions of your own. Any of those outcomes, or others that may follow, are so much better than sitting with the building resentment.

If you would like to know more take a look here

Monday, 21 May 2018

Hope: from battle lines drawn, to talking together

At 7.30 am my phone rang. It was Selwyn, one of the retired people in the village of Vaal Marina near where I live at the Vaal Dam. “You said you’d help. I need your help now. The Mamello guys have agreed to come to the community hall. I’m waiting to hear if the VM Neighbourhood Watch will come. If they are there at 11 can you facilitate?”

wire under tension

The room we met in contains a huge u-shape of heavy, immovable desks. The two groups positioned themselves on opposite sides. They left the long joining piece empty telling me “you need to be between us”. Their bodies were stiff and the air was tense.

The week before these two groups had been at ‘war’. Mamello is the local informal settlement where the people have waited years for RDP (social) housing with broken promise after broken promise from government. They took out their frustrations on the mostly elderly, mostly white, villagers of Vaal Marina; closing the only entry road, throwing petrol bombs, burning council and private property and threatening people. The villagers responded with armed patrols through the night. And language that makes you wonder if you are back in the battles of the great trek or the cape frontier wars.
On the second day police arrived in a casper (armoured vehicle). An uneasy calm followed with an agreement from the Mamello people to give the local council until Monday to respond. 
That deadline had come and gone. Now the five young, black, mostly male representatives of Mamello faced the six, much older, mostly male VM representatives across the empty opening in the U.

After 30 minutes of creating a safe space, and then an activity to hear each person's perspective on the current situation, it was awesome to see them in three mixed groups animatedly discussing what needs to happen to get the New Mamello housing built!

By the end of the meeting they had one clear list of requirements to take to the local council meeting in two days time, and an agreement that the Mamello people would present it and the VM people would back them up. They’d also decided to meet weekly for a while and thereafter monthly.

In 90 minutes from extremely wary “us and them” to “we can work together to get government to build this housing”. It was amazing. I wish I could have taken photos and video. It was a gift to be given the opportunity to help bring it about.

Selwyn was over the moon. He gave me a big hug saying “Thank you. This was a miracle. I cannot believe the VM people talked.”
Two days later I received this whatsapp message as they were on their way to the council meeting. Riding in a taxi with I.M. and 10 delegates from Mamello😁😁😁😁👍🏁🏁”.

There is a lot of work still to be done, both groups have many differences. The seeds of trust and cooperation have been planted. It is a first step. A very big step.

As they did a closing exercise the words shared, the smiles on faces, and the body language all spoke of hope.
One of the Mamello people sent this message a bit later “I'm impressed, I think Vaal Marina can show South Africa how rainbow nation can be achieved.”

I believe the only way we can heal our country and move forward to a bright future for everyone is through people talking to each other; breaking barriers and building bridges.

If you would like a similar facilitation for difficult conversations in your workplace or community give me a call or send me a message.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A very scary experience - part 2

(see part 1 here)

I walked through the house taking quick photos with my phone as I took in the mess and realised the power of what had passed through. Part of my brain couldn’t take it in and the other was making sure I had a record for insurance.

There was glass covering the lounge suite and piano, in every room and in any cupboard that the wind had pulled open; leaves and thatching straw was on top of the fridge, stuck on the walls, on the paintings, in the cupboards and in a small fridge that had been sucked open.

This couch was moved by the wind

The curtain comes from the rail above the sliding door, across the far side of the room.
A jacket that was on that fallen coat stand disappeared completely.
Some of the clothes that were on the airer were sucked through the doorway you can see behind, through the house, and out into the garden at the back.
If you zoom in on the poster you will see it’s glass is broken.
Above it was a shard of glass embedded in the wall like a spear.

Items that had been in the first room were now on the floor two rooms away.
This fridge, in the laundry at the back of the house, had its door pulled open.
The pot on the floor marked with an x came from the lounge!
The sugar dispenser next to it came from the kitchen.

The door at the back of the laundry is a roller shutter like a garage door.
That was sucked out of its frame and bent upwards, a bicycle jammed underneath, half outside. Other objects were scattered on the ground just outside. 

The ceiling had been pulled down in the laundry. The many years of dust and animal droppings that fell from the roof space added to the mess and filth.

Three of the lounge curtains had been plucked from the curtain rings and sucked into the next room. When I finally got around to re hanging them two weeks later I discovered half the hooks were missing. And yet I never found a single hook anywhere as I cleaned up. Where did they all go?

Over the next few days every time we walked around we looked for missing things.
200m away I found pieces of the plastic basket that had contained the clothes waiting for me to iron. A couple of the clothes I found. The others were probably caught up in a now dead tree that has since been dragged away.
We picked up pieces of the outside plastic chairs up to three houses away in three different directions. Of three of the chairs we never found a sign at all.

During the five days of no power we either braaied or cooked on gas trying to use up the defrosted things that would spoil soonest.
When my husband went to light the fire the first time he said “oh you know what else is missing, the lid from the braai? And now I realise that is what I saw lying somewhere strange.”
He walked about a 100m and sure enough next to the uprooted stop sign at the start of our little road was the very heavy, flat, metal lid for our tractor wheel braai.

That picture had moved in the opposite direction from most things.
There were a few instances like this where one can see that the air had been swirling. Like in the laundry where a line of cleaning material bottles that had been sitting on a shelf had been swept off ”backwards” and deposited into a laundry basket further along. Like a magic trick! 

That was also where the only actual rain water was found.
It took quite a few days before we got to trying to sort out the laundry as it was so dirty and we didn’t have water for nearly three days. As I moved the remaining items from the shelves I found two little “swimming pools” on the top of ice cream containers I use to store things in.
Other than this the only other evidence of water was in things like the now dirty wavy pages of my bird book. Clearly there had been moisture but it been kept in suspension until the swirling wind got caught up against the possibly cold metal roller door.

Over the next days and weeks as we surveyed the damage in the rest of the Estate that pattern was repeated. One house would stand untouched next to one with most of its roof tiles missing, roof trusses buckled, all the sliding doors and ceilings blown out. 

In one case in the area where the greatest damage occurred there is a huge tree uprooted and next to it an almost untouched house.

Our boat garage had it's roof ripped off,
the heavy duty hasp and padlock never to be seen again,
but the garage next door has no damage at all! 

The houses immediately around us mostly lost a couple of roof tiles and had one or two broken windows. Ours, although not bad compared to others further away, got most of the damage in our little area.
Windows with hand size holes in them are one of the common consequences. They are usually on the back or side of the house as though it is where the wind was trying to escape.

The wind sucked up through this ceiling

After all the damage it had wreaked, nature did us a big favour afterwards.
Most days the wind blew and clouds built up threatening another big storm, whilst roofs stood open and doors had no glass. But each time it moved away without a drop of rain.
On the tenth day, when the emergency repairs were meant to have been finished, and the workmen finally allowed to leave for their Christmas holiday, the heavens opened with a beautiful downpour to feed the damaged trees.

I am hugely grateful for having insurance to cover most of the costs.
If you are in any way involved in designing insurance policies I have an idea for you to make yours stand out from the crowd:
give an ex gratia payment of a few thousand rand when a big mess is left after an incident. It took us two weeks of cleaning to get the inside of the house back to normal. That’s labour (mine and my husband’s in this case), cleaning materials, water and electricity. And we are still finding bits of glass in strange places.
Imagine what it must be like after a flood or a fire. My heart goes out to those who suffer that loss and damage.

Here is a selection of photos my husband took over the couple of days immediately following the storm.

It is expected that it will take most of 2018 to rebuild. 
The power of nature vs man, and sadly, nature vs nature.

Boundary wall flattened

Roofs ripped off the boat garages

Generally thatch roofs coped the best.
However all the thatched umbrellas were ripped up.
Here is one dumped in the swimming pool.

The pattern of the torn out thatch shows the path the wind took

What was left after the boat garages collapsed

Fairly typical damage to the houses in-line with where I was sheltered

The space after trees were moved so I could drive my car out,
whilst trying to see through the shattered windscreen

A 3 seater couch wrapped around a tree!

"weathermasters" took the brunt of it - turning into giant sails

So many huge trees uprooted

Wildlife suffered as well

A very scary experience – part 1

On Monday 11th December I was driving back from Joburg after delivering a workshop for a Social Entrepreneurship client. This was my last booking for the year and I was looking forward to spending the rest of the week supporting a FinTech client in meeting their big software project delivery deadline and getting up to date on my admin tasks. What do they say about the best laid plans?

As I drove through the village the first drops of rain were quickly followed by hail. I picked up two people who were walking with shopping bags. As we drove out to where they stay the hail stones got bigger and bigger. After dropping them I thought I was close to home but it turned out to be further than I thought. The hail was pelting the car and I saw one hit the road in front of me that was the size of a grapefruit.

Two plots away from our Estate the wind started feeling weird and was hitting me side on. Until then I was just concerned for the damage to my car. Now I was worried for my own safety as well. Along the way I had noticed someone else sheltering in their car under a covered entrance and thought I should have joined them. I concentrated on staying on the road, getting to our Estate, through the gate and under the overhang of the building that’s just inside.

The last few hundred metres seemed an eternity. I was pushing the gate remote long before it could transmit. I stopped right next to the building thinking I would now be protected from the hail. Immediately the tree next to me fell towards the car but was partially held up by the roof. Then one behind and one in front fell. For a few minutes I had time to be grateful that the trees hadn’t crushed the car and I felt protected in a green cocoon of leaves. Then all hell broke loose with objects flying at the windshield and the roof. The windscreen eventually shattered under the bombardment and I could do nothing but huddle in my seat and ask for angelic protection.

I noticed that the door of the building right next to me had a key hanging in the lock. When the tiles stopped flying at me I grabbed my bag and car keys and jumped out the car. The wind was still so strong that it felt as though it would rip the car door off.  As I scrambled at the house door the assistant estate manager opened it, pulled me in and slammed it shut again. He and his wife were praying out loud and I sat in shock trying to breathe until the wind and noise finally abated.

When we went outside we were met by a scene of destruction straight out of the movies. Huge uprooted trees across the roads, roofs with half their tiles off, metal boat garage doors ripped off and flung away, the perimeter wall flattened, gate bent and derailed, and the entrance blocked with trees and debris.  And silence.
Our first views: 

The access gate is beyond the fallen trees

At this stage I hadn't seen that the boats at the end of these garages had been picked up and thrown into the next door property.

 If you zoom into the green square you will see my apple green car buried under and behind the fallen trees.

My first thought was to get hold of my husband to stop him driving back from his meeting and meeting the tornado somewhere along the road. Fortunately, I caught him before he left.

A staff member appeared with a bleeding hand and head complaining that his leg was sore. He had been at the boat garages on the far side of the property. He spoke about how the bricks had flown at him pelting him as he ran away. As he spoke I saw the blood on his face came from a 10 cm gash in his scalp. I didn’t tell him about his head as I thought that would make him go into shock sooner. I got him seated and messaged the village to say that we needed the first aiders.

He was back at work the next day with a bandaged hand and a bandaged head. When I asked if he had a headache he said no the pain tablets worked but he wanted cream for his leg! X-rays had shown it wasn’t broken so it must be very deep bruising which I explained to him would take quite a while to feel good again.

This was all that was left of the building he had been in - just a pile of rubble. He was surprisingly lucky.  

And notice how clear the sky is - just an hour and a half after spewing devastation.    

This is what hit us.

Once the first aiders arrived and the ambulance was on its way I set off to walk to our house to change into more suitable clothes, get a torch and my first aid box, so I could help if we found anyone else who had been injured.

I had to pick my way around fallen trees, roof tiles and sheets of metal. At one point it started raining and I tried to shelter on what used to be a covered and enclosed verandah but the Weathermaster (metal louvered) roof was gone.

As I got closer to the house I thought “oh drat I hope I have my house keys and didn’t leave them in the car”. I need not have worried as the glass from two of the sliding doors was gone. I stepped straight through the frame into another scene out of a movie.

When I saw the damage inside, all the broken glass, a shard of which was embedded in one wall, objects lying two rooms away, cupboard doors pulled open and the back door sucked out, I realised that trapped in my car was probably the safest place I could have been.

Picking up those two people walking with their shopping delayed me by about ten minutes. If I had arrived ten minutes earlier I would either have been caught in the open, taking my facilitation boxes out of the car, or in the house with the debris flying around.

The magical thing is that I never pick people up. I sometimes feel bad, but it just doesn’t feel safe. On that day after I finished the workshop I was hungry. Before going to my next appointment, I turned the car around to drive the few blocks to the local shops. As I did that I saw one of the workshop participants walking towards the corner and guessed he was also going to the shops. I offered him a lift. As we drove we were discussing how sad it is not to be able to pick people up and I thanked him that I could give him a lift.

Because of that earlier experience I didn’t hesitate to pick up the couple walking with their shopping bags as the storm started. Perhaps that saved their lives and my own.

See "A very scary experience - part 2" for a photo essay of the power of nature vs man, and sadly, nature vs nature.