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Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely. Brought to you by IAF England and Wales. For more information on our chapter, click here.

Jun 8, 2020

Helene interviews Pilar Orti from Virtual not Distant, creator and co-host of this IAF E&W podcast, Facilitator and trainer specialising in online collaborative processes, podcaster, author and voiceover artist (she is the voice of Xuli on the Go Jetters). 

Pilar starts by recounting her facilitation journey which started with the theatre company that she ran for 10 years. She went to a conference where Toby Wiltshire (from the Trestle mask company) was talking about using theatre in corporate training. This eventually led her to do her first away day using theatre exercises as a facilitation tool.

She eventually moved away from this, finding it hard to describe what she did and getting people to take the “drama” seriously and understand what it was really about.

She describes how she started to look more into organisational behaviour theory and find out how she could run workshops on leadership and change. She started to work on-line as she was travelling a lot, initially running some webinars which she loved. She discovered a gap when talking about leadership in the virtual space.

She talks about how if you have facilitation skills it is easy to transfer this on-line, it is just about changing medium and mindset.

As her specialism is training managers of remote teams and helping teams communicate online her focus is about helping them learn about tools to communicate with each other in non- real time (rather than running online facilitated sessions).

The tools she spends a lot of time working with are asynchronous tools for clients, rather than tools for online facilitation where she prefers to keep it simple (and talks about capturing ideas with Linoit and Google docs). She draws on her background in theatre to think about what can be done with an empty space, rather than necessarily relying on too many tools.

She talks about the legacy of the way online meetings have been run in the past and how there is a feeling of the need to be entertaining people and the difference between entertaining people and engaging them.

Pilar reminds us that collaboration doesn’t only happen in real time and that it is important to remember asynchronous communication too. Different teams will have preferences as to how much they communicate in real time and non- real time and this is an element to consider. She also reminds us that a lot of communication is text based but asynchronous audio or video is another option.

As a starting point facilitators could acknowledge that there two modes (asynchronous and synchronous working), know where they can add most value and what they are most comfortable with. Embracing an asynchronous way of communicating will help facilitators to have more of a conversation with the client before the meeting or workshop and get closer to the participants before the event.

Pilar describes and example of collaborative consultancy helping a small company of coaches and how she helped them set up asynchronous ways of communicating and create an ecosystem. This started with a real time meeting and involved a lot of role modelling. She used Retrium as a wrap up retrospective tool.

Helene ends the conversation by asking Pilar about her role as the voice of Xuli in Gojetters and finds out that there is a link to facilitation there too.

You can contact Pilar at Virtual not Distant or on Twitter on @pilarorti and Helene @helenejewell

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