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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 13, 2023

In this episode, Pilar talks to fellow podcast team members Helene and Nikki, along with Penny Walker and Shanaka Dias about a global, hybrid process they facilitated together, running over 4 days with multiple languages and timezones.

They reflect on planning in advance, adapting in the moment and working well as a team.

The full transcript is below.

All of the team can be found on LinkedIn:

Penny Walker:  

Shanaka Dias   

Helene Jewell   

Nikki Wilson      

Pilar Orti            


And you can find all of the links to IAF England and Wales on the Facilitation Stories website:


PO – Pilar Orti

HJ – Helene Jewell

NW – Nikki Wilson

PW- Penny Walker

SD – Shanaka Dias


PO  00:03

Hello and welcome to Facilitation Stories brought to you by the England and Wales chapter of the International Association of facilitators also known as IAF. My name is Pilar Orti and I have the absolute pleasure of recording today with not one guest, not two, not three, but four. So first of all, let me introduce fellow co-hosts of the show Helene Jewell, hello, Helene.


HJ  00:26

Hello, nice to see you.


PO  00:30

Nikki Wilson. Hello, Nikki.





PO  00:33

And I then like to welcome back to the show Penny Walker who first appeared in episode two of this show. So welcome back, Penny.


PW  00:40

Thanks very much. It's lovely to be here.


PO  00:43

And finally, first time guest and someone I've never chatted to before Shanaka Dias, welcome to the show.


SD  00:50

Thank you. Thank you for having me.


PO  00:52

So to have some proper introductions, I've asked each guest to prepare just two lines to introduce themselves. So we're going to say the same order in which I introduced you so that you'll know when it's coming. So Helene Jewell, we'd like to introduce yourself.


HJ  01:06

Hello,I'm Helene. I'm a freelance facilitator based in Bristol, and I work cross sector with all kinds of clients and Yeah, mostly team organisational development and strategy stuff.


PO  01:18

Excellent. Thanks, Helen and Nikki Wilson.


NW  01:21

Hello, I'm Nikki, I'm based in Essex and I run a social purpose business focusing on facilitation, research and strategic support. And as a facilitator, I particularly enjoy working on Deliberative Public Eengagement projects and Action Learning.


PO  01:39

Thank you. Thanks, Nikki and Penny Walker.


PW  01:42

Thanks, Pilar. I'm Penny. I'm an independent facilitator based in North London, and my specialism, I suppose is working with clients to have more effective conversations about tricky things. Maybe because they're complicated or there's conflict, or there's multiple parties. And those conversations are mainly about sustainable development topics. It might be climate change, it might be biodiversity loss. It might be I don't know social enterprises coming together. So those kinds of conversations. Yeah.


PO  02:14

Thanks, Penny, and Shanaka Dias.



Hello, I'm Shanaka. I'm based in London. I'm a freelancer. I work in the social sector with charities and foundations. And I guess my specialism is bringing people together to firstly have difficult conversations and to look at ways to come together around measure mission and vision and strategy.


PO  02:40

Thank you Shanaka. Thank you very much. Right. So the reason we have you all together for this very special episode, and we're really testing the platform as well, is that you all facilitated a trilingual hybrid session back in January 2023. Is that correct?



That's right.


Yeah. So I'm going to be discovering what you did along with the listener and what your challenges were. So let's start with how did this collaboration start? And maybe Penny, you can kick us off?


PW 03:12

Thanks. Yes. So I'm trained to use a particular process called the Organisational Mapping Tool, which is something that is promoted by the Ford Foundation, a philanthropic funder based in the US, and one of the grantee organisations needed to use this tool as part of the grant conditions, and because I'm on the list, they came to me and they said, could you run this for us? And they said it’s a little bit complicated, because we're going to it's going to be hybrid, and we know this, and I was not very comfortable with that. And I said, “Well, that is you know, it's going to cost you more, we're going to need a bigger team. And you know”, they said y”es, that's fine, we're comfortable with hybrid£. And they said, “Oh, and by the way, we also need to do it in three languages. So and by the way, we would like to have other meetings going on, kind of with the people who are in the room together over the time”, so I knew that I needed a big team. Nikki has worked with me before using this particular process once so I thought that she would be my first kind of “go to” person and I know that Helene had a great time helping out make the IAF England and Wales conference hybrid a couple of years ago, so I thought, I wonder if Helene will be up for being on the team. And then I asked I asked them who else they knew who they thought might be up for it and Nikki recommended Shanaka so that was how we came to be working together.


PO  04:42

Nice. Oh, I love that because of the you some of you have worked together there was a new elements into the into the four so I love it. Excellent. Nice and who were their participants then? If one of you feels like giving us just an overview of who they Were where they were located. And just a little bit of the logistics around the event. Helene.


HJ  05:05

So the participants were the staff from this organisation. And they were based in several different countries. And I can't completely remember which countries they were based in, but we had probably, Penny may tell me, I'm wrong, half of them in the room, and another half in different countries over Zoom. And so yeah, it was bringing their different different staff members from within the organisation together.


PO  05:34

And the people who were online, were they in their other countries together and online or individually online,


NW  05:41

I think it was quite a mixture, mostly on their own. Some of them were in the same country, but not sitting in a location together.


PO  05:50

Okay, so at least you had that and Penny can you do remember the countries of the participants?


PW  05:59

So we had some, we were working across multiple time zones, which was another kind of design challenge. So we had some people in Sub Saharan Africa, we had some in South America. I'm not sure if the people who were in kind of Asia Pacific managed to join us. And the other interesting thing about it was that we had some people who started online, and then were able to join us in the room, and vice versa. So there was someone who tested positive for COVID, partway through who went from being in the room to online. So that changed, so we needed to have really good understanding of who our participants were. And each morning, we would sit down with our key kind of client liaison and find out who was going to be in the room and who was going to be online, and what languages they were comfortable speaking in so that we could think about how we might do breakout groups, I can see Helene is rubbing her eyes, even just at the memory of it.


HJ 06:58

It's funny, because on the one hand, I sort of I remember, you know, I loved the challenge of being kind of quite, you know, think on our feet and all the rest of it. On the other hand, when I recall some of the elements, I think so “how did we do that?”


PO  07:11

Wow. So over four days. So that's interesting. Before we go into maybe how you prepared for it? Does that mean that during the four days? Did that look like you ,were you meeting before each session together? How are you checking in with the client who wants to have a bash?  Penny go for it.


PW  07:32

So we, it was over four days, but each day, we only worked on this particular event for half of the day. So the people who were in the room had other side meetings when they weren't in session. And that helped us overcome some of the timezone difficulties. And the other thing about it that people will be interested to hear is that three of our team were in the room, so Helene and Shanaka, and me were with the client and Nikki actually did all her work online. So our check-ins were over Zoom, so that we could make sure that that Nikki was there. And it also meant that Nikki was able to give us a really good insight as to what the online experience was like, because try as you might if you're in the room, that's that's the thing that pulls you. And it's very easy to neglect or not have a proper understanding of what the online experience is like.


NW 08:30

Yeah, I think sort of adding to that. The fact that I was purely online, and there was no temptation to even be in the room, I was in a completely different location made that a very pure experience as well. I think if we'd ended up swapping on and offline, it would have been, that would have been a bit more blurred. But it was very clear to me that I was experiencing it just as someone who was joining from anywhere else in the world apart from obviously, that English is my first language, so I didn't have that added layer, but I think that that really made it very focused on this is what the online experience is like.


PO  09:07

Yeah. And did you have interpreters as well? Is that right?


PW  09:11

Yeah. So the client tries to be, it's part of their push to be very inclusive and to make sure that they have for the work they're doing in country that it's with people who are from that country rather than, you know, white, Northern World kind of people parachuted in. So they they have quite a lot of experience of working in English, French and Spanish. And so they already had, not in-house, but they had interpreters who they have worked with a lot in the past and they taught us about Zoom’s interpretation channel, which I don't think any of us had used before, so that was quite exciting. And they also were very comfortable using a translation software called Deepl, which I had not come across before, but does seem to be a kind of a really good bit of automatic translation software. So they were quite used as an organisation to at least trying to make that work. And that was something that I definitely felt I learned from the experience.


PO  10:24

Wow very heavy tech. Helene, were you going to say something?


HJ  10:27

No, I was just saying I had used the interpretation, software on Zoom before, but never, not with three different languages going on. And most certainly not with hybrid. So I think that the challenge was the sort of the added, you know, added bonus of not just one logistical challenge, which is working in three languages, but obviously, the hybrid element and making those two things work together.


PO  10:51

So you had everything interpretation, timezones, online versus in person and, and going and people turning up switching, I've never come across that, like people switching between the two mediums. So let's talk a bit about how you prepared for it. Shanaka, I'm going to go to you. Because for me, it feels like you were the one that was coming into, these three people already knew each other, so how did the group preparation look like? And also, from your point of view, what are some of the things you remember from the beginning of the process?


SD  11:26

I'm thinking back to it. So um, we had a quiet, a really structured plan. So Penny put together a really structured plan. But at the same time, we sort of knew we would have to be adaptable to that. So we tried as much as we could to look at the languages that people spoke, put them into groups, we tried to think about how we could mix up the group so that the same people speaking the same languages weren't only speaking to each other all the time. So we also tried to look at who was multilingual and mix up those groups, that had varying levels of success. And we also wanted to try and make sure that it wasn't just the people online speaking to each other, that they would be able to speak to people in the room as well. And that had varying levels of success as well. So we a lot of planning went into it. But then we had to adapt on the fly as things turned up, because there were a lot of moving parts. And I think the one thing that really stood out was just how well we managed to work together around that. And part of that was down to, I think, having clear roles. So we really defined what we were doing. We swapped out Helene and I swapped on the day because we were both in the room. So on each day, we would swap out what we're doing, and have a turn at it, but at the same time, even though we had clearly defined roles, we were flexible enough to help each other when different things started to happen. And that worked really, really well. The client, were really surprised that this was the first time that we were working together we were we got some great compliments off the back of that.


PO  13:09

Nice. Anything else to add about that preparation?


PW  13:13

Well, I think I, I wasn't really sure how to bring us together as a team and how to how to prepare for it. And I think I fell back on just trusting that if we got to know each other a little bit, that would be a really helpful platform. So our first kind of planning meetings when when we first kind of talked about it. Think I invested a bit of time in getting people just to say, kind of talk about their work and what they were interested in and what they were comfortable doing and not comfortable doing. And out of that emerged a little bit of what would be appropriate roles. And I think the team, let me know that if we did it, not that we necessarily would want to because it was very challenging. But if we did something like this, again, that the lead facilitator role in the room could be shared out a bit more than we did. I think I held on to that because I was anxious about, the thing that maybe hasn't come across so much in this conversation yet is how prescriptive the process was that we needed to go through using this Organisational Mapping Tool, which was a survey a whole staff survey of maybe, actually when you count them up individually, over 80 questions, and we needed to present the data and then get the group to kind of come to consensus around what the group score was based on the data and to have conversations about it. And there were glitches with the, with the form that was provided. So actually, some of the questions didn't properly record the data that people that, the responses that people put in Shanaka spent a lot of time between sessions combing through that manually and and brought a lot to that, and then so there was a lot of prescription in the process. And I kind of felt that I needed to make sure that we got through that, perhaps at the expense of the more interesting, creative, flexible kind of conversations that you might want to have when you bring all your staff together for for that amount of time. So I definitely felt some tensions. And it came. One of the things I thought about was the different kinds of compromises that we might need to make as a team. You know, we know we've got a compromise to make here. Are we going to favour this or that in the design and so on?


PO  15:33

Helene did did want to add something go for it, Helene?


HJ  15:36

Yeah, no, it was just the in that planning phase. So because Penny and Nikki had use this tool before, and were familiar with it, I think that was that was a really kind of interesting, but helpful dynamic, that they could bring their experience of having used it before. And I think that obviously informed the plan. But in that process, and in that, sort of uncovering the prescriptiveness as Penny's just said, I realised, one of the things I realised was that Shanaka in particular, is very good detail and I myself find very not a detailed person. So that I think then informed how we sort of played to our strengths when it actually came to working together because of the glitches and as Penny said, in the form, and the various things sort of to do with that detail of getting the data weren't quite as we wanted, Shanaka was able to sort of jump in and help. And then actually, as we, we did move on our feet throughout the process, it was that detailed kind of what I call Excel spreadsheet, nightmare stuff, I really didn't want to run away from that, but I realised he was really good at so that helped, you know, helped us work together to find and focus on a bit that we knew we were, you know, we could add to more


PO  16:49

Thank you, Shanaka is there something you wanted to add?


SD  16:54

Yes, actually, I was, I was gonna say, we, the overall feeling for me is we each held our space really well. So I was comfortable that Nikki was holding the space for the online group, so that I could let that go. And I could focus on the some of the detail and fixes that were needed. I was comfortable that Penny was holding the space in terms of the whole thing and giving us the space to work on some of the issues that we were having. And I was comfortable that Helene would be looking after the sort of people elements of it, and sort of providing that creative boost and the energy that was really, really needed. So that gave me the headspace to focus on dealing with some of the issues that we were having. And that was a very comfortable space to be in, even though all these things are happening at the same time.


PO  17:46

Thank you, Nikki talking about the preparation, maybe that you had to do to be online? Do you feel there was anything that was different or similar? How was that how was preparing to be the person who was holding the online cohort?


NW  18:05

Well, it was, it's very interesting, because I don't consider myself a techy person in particular at all. So having that as my kind of responsibility was quite interesting. So yeah, so that was quite interesting, I think particularly thinking about the multilingual aspects, the fact that they were going to be the interpreters who were joining online as well, and that they were sort of part of my cohort. But they were also supporting people in the room occasionally, was quite interesting. I think, as a person, I really like to plan everything. And so the kind of weekend before I was there, trying to arrange, you know, who would be in what breakout and how I could, and I had all these spreadsheets and lists and things. Of course, when it got into the room that went completely out of the window. And I had a notebook and a pen, and I was scribbling names down going, “well, this person's here today and that person isn’t” and so I think, yeah, it was, it was probably quite a big lesson in thinking, well, you know, in many ways it does is not a use a good use of time to really spend lots of time preparing for those kinds of things. But I knew that for my own peace of mind, I needed to feel like I've done as much as I could to prepare for it. And then if I needed to wing it in the room, that was fine, because there was nothing more I could have done. So I think there was that aspect to it.


I suppose just thinking about how we made sure that there felt like there was a level of equal space for online and in the room people and I think that's that's an ongoing challenge with an event like this, because there is no way that those experiences are the same. And I had some people who were joining at sort of 4am in the morning, and for some of them, it was the middle of the night, you know, their energies were different at different times a day and I couldn't really have anticipated that but I think we was just trying to be as conscious as possible that there were these kinds of two parallel experiences and that we were going to need to learn as we went as to how that worked.


PO  20:11

Nice. Thank you. And just touching on that, I think, yeah, let's touch on that, on the, the experience of the people in the room and the online. So let's focus on the hybrid aspect. What were some of the things that you, you planned? And the ones that one were they what are some of the things that you did in order to, to keep it as one whole, like a feeling of sense of whole?


PW  20:37

Well, I think it'd be lovely to hear from everybody on this, because I think we'll have different perspectives. But there was one thing that we did, that was I think it's fair to say that I was quite uptight at the beginning of the process, and by the time we got to maybe the beginning of day three, I felt able to kind of make jokes I'd be, I'd be a bit more relaxed. But we did a kind of an icebreaker, where we knew we couldn't get everyone because a very large group, we knew we couldn't get everyone to speak. But I asked some questions that were a bit like the kind of “the sun shines on” kind of process. So I asked “who is currently the, or who has been the furthest north in the world?”. And we got a story from people who thought they probably had been the furthest north, and then who's been the furthest south, and we got stories from people who thought they'd been further south, and then “who's, who's nearest the equator now?”. And that was a way of making sure that we brought in at least, there was an opportunity for some of the people online who I knew would be geographically,we weren't very near the Equator in the UK, so there was that question and that worked quite well to, to bring in the people who were online, because we knew just by geography, that, that would be an opportunity for them to say something. We also asked about, who's got who thinks they've got the most unusual pet? And someone, actually, who was, who was joining online from their garden, picked up a tortoise and showed it to the camera. And we've got some other great kind of pet related stories. And then I also, at a different time, asked people to tell us about a local delicacy, that's a food that's special to your, to your kind of country or culture that you think other people won't have eaten. And we did get quite a good variety of, of stories. And I think that was the question that got the most engagement from people online. And also probably challenged the interpreters, poor things. But, but let's hear from some of the others ,


PO  22:36

That's great, for it, Helene.


HJ  22:38

Yeah, so from a technical point of view, rather than a process point of view, necessarily. I know, one thing that we got good feedback on was the fact we had a participant cam, which was, so they weren't unused to having hybrid meetings, , but the way that I think they commonly did them was just, you know, they had one camera, and it was kind of less, you couldn't see the room necessarily couldn't see individuals speaking and we had a tablet that Shanaka, I took turns in sort of running around the room, if you like, taking the camera, the tablet camera up to a participant, so you could speak directly into it. And apparently, that was really appreciated. So although it was a bit of, room space wasn't as easy as it might have been, there were a few things to kind of, logistical challenges of moving around it, let's say, but actually, I'm pleased that we managed to sort of do that quite often, you know, all the time to sort of help people to kind of actually, you know, show when they were speaking each time.


PO  23:39

And it's so nice when you have such a low tech process, like with an iPad, but that actually people see like you, you really are as a person making a genuine effort to include everyone. It's not just that you've got the best tech in the world, and you can do it. So anything else about what you did as a group, but also what you did personally maybe would be interesting. Nikki, Shanaka, if there is something so what else?


SD  24:04

I think just one additional thing that popped into my mind is we had to think about the translators as well. And we did get feedback, at one point that people were, they were finding it a bit difficult to translate at the speed that they were talking to. So we had regular reminders, once we had that feedback to get people to slow down, and I think we had a picture of a tortoise on the wall that we drew as a reminder for people to slow down as well. So we had to take that into consideration too.


PO  24:36

Wow, that dynamic you're trying to create all this energy and all this cohesion, but you've got to slow it down. That is like a real effort to keep the momentum while the speed can't go. Yeah, anything else


NW  24:51

As a team as well, that that kind of very set space where we reflect it together online as a team really It was beneficial that we, you know, we, we invested quite a bit of time in kind of a debrief for kind of how did it go? What can we do tomorrow kind of thing. So I didn't ever feel like through the team in the room although I was aware they were doing things that I was not party to, we were still always checking in so that we sort of had that grounding together each day. And that I felt like we'd had actually walked through what to expect rather than just being sent a plan by email that the others had all discussed, I think there was that important aspect of feeling like a hybrid team as much as creating a hybrid event for the participants as well, from my perspective, at least that that really was important to me, because I could easily have felt like I was just there to press buttons, really. So it's really important.


PO  25:52

Wow, from an inclusivity point of view, there's so many dimensions like you had okay, how do you feel as a team that you're all still together? How participants with the timezone aspect with the translators? Any anything about how you worked with the client, either anything you want to bring up either before, during, after Penny?


PW  26:13

Yeah, so the client had used the venue a lot before and was very confident that it would be fine. But I felt that I couldn't just rely on that. So I actually went to visit the venue, even though it was, it was a long way to go I took a whole day to go and visit the venue. But I think I might have even built that into my costing. So I think I knew when I did the costing, that would be important. And fortunately, it was quite close to where Helene’s based, so Helene was able to come along as well. So actually two of the team had been to visit the venue and we had a much better idea of its limitations. The room was very dark, for example. So that meant it was even more important that we make an effort with the participant cam so that people online could get some sense of who was there rather than everyone being in shadow. The venue also did have in theory, Wi Fi everywhere, but we we stumbled when we tried to set up a hybrid breakout group in one particular area of the venue where it just wasn't up to it. So that was that was a bit tricky.


PO  27:25

And think about the client who are working through Yes.


PW  27:29

Oh, sorry. Yes, that's that was the thing. So what that? Sorry, I forgot what your question was. So all of that was around, that meant that Helene, and I got to meet a couple of people from the client team, they were extremely responsive, and really, that lovely mixture that you sometimes get with a client of being really competent and capable, but also quite laid back and flexible. So I think that really helped us and we met with them, they came to help us set up a couple of hours before the first session. So we were doing things together, we were swapping out bits of equipment that belonged to the client organisation or that we had brought with us. And we also included them in different debriefs. And I think that worked. I think that worked really well. And there was a, there was a point at which which we might come on to a little bit later, where the group kind of told us that they didn't like the process. And I think that was that was a really useful thing for us to have already built a sense of trust with the with the kind of client team that actually we personally, I sometimes feel anxious that I you know, am I performing well enough for the client? Am I you know, am I giving good service? and that sometimes is an anxiety for me, which makes, which can lead to me being inflexible. But I think we've built up enough of a good relationship, that actually flexibility at that point didn't feel like an admission of failure, like, oh, I should have planned this better. It just felt like a really natural thing to do in response to the group.


PO  29:04

Yeah, well, we will pick up on on that. Helene, anything else to add about working with a client?


HJ  29:10

Yeah, I was just thinking about the fact that we went to visit the venue beforehand. And how we also looked at just because I think I had tech focus as my role, partly, one of the things we did was find out what equipment they commonly use, because they work internationally, having hybrid meetings is not something that is they're not used to. So I think, us finding out what they used and trying to work with it rather than coming along and saying, “No, we're not going to use that, we've got this special way of doing it, we're going to do it our way”. For me that felt quite important, that we built on what they had already, and tried to adapt it and add to it rather than just kind of you know, come in with our own system because I think then that helped make the setup a bit more a bit easier.


PO  29:58

Thank you. So we will already started to hear and listeners, they're all nodding at each other I have to tell you, it's like everyone's like,” yeah”. So, you've already started to, to mention some of the things that didn't quite work as well, maybe or, or that that could have worked better that you found out, you needed to adjust. So Shanaka, I'm gonna go back to you when you were talking about one of the challenges was about mixing people who were more comfortable with one language than another. You mentioned this earlier, that one of the ways in which you prepared to bring everyone together was by mixing people with different first languages and that, but you said it didn't go as well as? Or that there were some problems or I don't know how you phrased it. Can you tell us a little bit about that, how that looked like, and what were the issues that came up?


SD  30:48

Oh, I was more on the one of the responding party for this so there might be more detail coming from Nikki or Helen. Oh, great.


PO  30:56

So you were an observer?


SD  30:58

But yeah, yes, I think it was more. In particular, the one that comes to mind was when the Internet wasn't working properly. And we had a mixed group. And we'd planned how who would be in the groups, so we could swap them out. And we knew that we were quite careful to make sure that people could speak the right languages, and that people would feel supported both online and offline. But because the Internet didn't work, our groups weren't working. So they sort of came and ran to us and say, “This isn't working, we need to do something, can we like, join another group?”, which then threw our plans out of who was in what group. So then we were just having to respond to all of that. And we were able to, it was a bit touch and go. But yeah, the client had an idea of what they wanted to do, and to get around it. And we just supported them through that. But yeah, our original plan didn't work. So we just adapted around it. And then we needed to keep track of who was where. So a lot of moving parts. But the client seemed happy afterwards. So they were okay with it. We were just a little bit stressed and had a few more wrinkles


PO  32:07

Oh the internet. And how about, yes, Nikki, we're going to say something.


NW  32:12

There was this sort of this kind of mindset shift that we needed to do of kind of the ideal world of what a perfect hybrid would look like, and the reality of what was achievable, that what was practical and didn't involve so much kind of complication that it took away from the process, I think I was very conscious that there was one group that were online, who more or less work together throughout the same process. But that was partly because there are a number of people who only spoke French, so we couldn't swap them in and out. And although we could bring other people in, they needed to all be together all the time, because of the way that the translation interpretation worked. And the fact that they were all online, so we couldn't do this kind of hybrid with the room. So I think in the ideal world, we would have swapped them around. In reality, I'm not sure it really took away from the experience. And it was very clear that we planned differently, but that, you know, practical barriers were in the way. So I think even that ethos of kind of, we're gonna try our best to make this mixed and, you know, interactive, but at least if everybody has a discussion that they can participate in, and that we try our best to kind of bring people together in the plenary sessions to kind of interact, then, you know, it was that, as I say, it was that balance between pragmatism and the ideal world, really, that we needed to keep revisiting all the way through,


HJ  33:41

I was thinking about the groups and the way, we had to kind of really keep an eye on the groups. And we did try and set up some mixed hybrid online and in person groups. And then we had, as I said, the different language groups, and we tried to mix them up at a fair bit. But in doing that, also, we, the bit that wasn't apparent to anybody online is that this venue had a number of different buildings. It wasn't just, it wasn't a hotel, let's say we've got, you know, shiny breakout rooms, it was spread over a little bit of a, an area. So Shanika, and I between us did spend a fair amount of time walking between buildings to check in the groups as well. So there was an added dimension of us having to actually, you know, physically go between different places and also work out which corners and which buildings have the right, the best Wi Fi. So there was there was another added level, if you like, running around trying to sort that out.


PO  34:39

Yeah, go for it Penny.


PW  34:41

So I'm just thinking, I can't believe we've got this far into the conversation and not mentioned the fact that we had a Miro board it was a place where we displayed the data, so the results the kind of responses to each question. And it was also the place where we expected groups to take, to write their kind of notes about, you know, that whatever discussion they'd had about the, the area of the survey that they'd been allocated. And it was also the place where we took notes in plenary of the conversations. And I'm not sure if we would make a different decision about how, I think we definitely needed a virtual space of some kind for written material. Some people found it, they were very unfamiliar with it, very unconfident using it. And there were also some particular aspects of Miro to do with whether you can pin things down, how movable things are on the board, whether things get lost. And also, if you type too much before clicking, somehow your text gets, there was one session where we had to basically remember afterwards, what had happened in the session for the plenary notes, because because we hadn't realised that Miro has a character limit, and everything had been written, but it somehow wasn't there.


HJ  36:02

So yeah, so fess up, it was me who was typing merrily, So Shanaka, and I took it in turns to live type, plenary conversation. So there was, you know, great, groups were feeding back. Penny was facilitating Shanaka andI took it in turns to type up the notes. And so I was merrily typing in Miro, and then eventually realised that it wasn't, I was typing, but nothing was on the Miro board, because it does have this character limit. So we were really quickly able to recall what we needed to and put it in a Google Doc. And actually, I think it is a lesson that just choose something simple when you're doing something like that, like a Google Doc or whatever, to, you know, type all the stuff you need to and then we can put it back into the Miro board later, it would have been much less stressful. But that's yeah, lesson learned.


PO  36:50

Listeners, they're all throwing their hands to their heads and nodding and smiling, and you can just feel the pain looking at them, Nikki?


NW  36:59

Well, actually, I'm honestly not because I didn't know anything about that. So you've never told me that, which is really interesting. I had no idea it was all fixed by the morning. But we did it at the very end piece. We might be jumping ahead here. But we asked for a longer form bit of writing. And in the end, I think a number of them defaulted to doing a Google Doc or something and just sending it to us. And you know, at the end of the day, they were able to read out some of the things that they'd said, and we didn't actually need all of the detail on the Miro board then and there. And we were able to capture it in a different way. So again, there's that is always that balance, isn't it between something that if it worked perfectly would be the ideal tool. And then there's the practical aspects of people needing to use it other people with that kind of tech when they haven't got great internet access, when they're not all as familiar with technology. And but yes, I can't believe that there was that issue that I had no idea about? Because you obviously were fixing it, probably late into the night when I was tucked up in my bed. But yeah,


SD  38:08

I would say um, once again, that was that was in a way, that was a lovely moment as well, because I remember the stress of us realising the notes, were not there. A significant portion of notes were not there. And Penny, you just came in and held the space and said, Okay, let's prove, and let's look at what we can do. We've all worked, you know, we can start taking notes from what we remember. And then together, we sort of all brought it together. But it really helps having that calm space to do that, rather than everybody getting worried. So it worked quite well in the end. But it was a stressful moment.


PO  38:41

Yeah, for you. It's great when you can say how much you learned from it, and how well it was handled? Yes, plenty.


PW  38:50

So So I've experienced a funny sort of split personality at those sorts of moments, because I think about how terrible I would feel if if, if that were me, and and if I were about to get kind of told off for having made such a terrible mistake. And so I kind of feel that anxiety. And at the same time, I'm thinking like some other great facilitators who I've worked with where I've been part of the team and they've been the lead facilitator, you know, what would they have done at this moment, that would have been the perfect thing for me to be on the receiving end of and try to channel that. So being able to say, look, you know, nobody died. We can, we can only do what we can do, let's see what we remember, you know, we're all doing a fantastic job. And I felt it was really important to keep reminding myself and and the team I kind of felt that slight sense of team leader responsibility to remind us all of how great we were doing as it went along because different different ones of us had different moments. Whether it was beforehand, you know, Nikki's described worrying about what the grouping was going to be Like, or whether it was kind of partway through, you know, we can, we can do a better job if we're all just realising that we're already doing a great job, and that it's all fine. And that the whatever solution we come up with, you know, will be a good solution



Thanks, Nikki


NW  40:16

And I think this, this, again, might not be the right moment for this. But I think that, then what Penny said just had a particular resonance for me around this kind of team energy that actually having four of us in the team, that clearly this was a very intense process, it was quite tiring, even though I was sort of, I was really buzzing at the end, which is this, again, this weird kind of mix. But that we probably all had dips and peaks of energy at different times. And we were able to adapt to that and kind of carry each other through, you know, like somebody's having a difficult moment with something. And we were probably, even though we weren't all together, we were aware that someone was having to focus on fixing something or whatever, the rest of us could just go, alright, we'll deal with everything else. And it was sort of one of those things where probably we hadn't really engineered it, it just happened. And it was just really fortunate that as a group, we were able to work well in that way. Because we probably all have a slightly different energy about us, things that we bring to a space that the others don't. And so there was just this kind of really fortunate gelling of the team, which allowed us to kind of maintain a fairly consistent energy outwardly whilst having dips and peaks individually. So yeah.


PO  41:40

That's a really nice point. So before we, before we start to wrap up and just ask you, I'm going to just ask you individually for some reflections, don't we'll just go around the four of you. But I did want to come back. Just just to touch on. Penny, you mentioned that at some point, the participants or the group said that they were not liking the process. Is that right? So what happened?


PW  42:04

Well, there were two aspects of the process that people didn't like. One was how kind of laborious and time consuming going through the survey was. And I would say that they were right. It is boring and time consuming. And it's kind of a mandatory part of the process. And in a way, my strategy at that point was to was to be on their side and say, yeah, it is that but it's a funding requirement. So you know, let's, let's just make the let's make the best of it. The second bit was the bit where it got interesting from a participant conversation point of view was when they had been through the whole survey, and they had an opportunity to prioritise three aspects of all of the things that the survey covered it to look at it in more detail. And I proposed, I think, I think my proposal was that on day four, we would spend our time doing that deep dive using a kind of, I think I suggested a carrousel process. Or maybe we weren't divided into six groups to start with, do a kind of bit of a brainstorm on what good looks like for each of the three priorities. In fact, in the end, the group rebelled even more and had four priorities even though the process prescribes three. And that they would then I can't even remember what I proposed, it was either that they would do it as a carousel, or that they would just have to pick one. And just deep dive on that. And they said, “Actually, we don't want to do that we we want to give an opportunity for everybody talk about the thing that they're most interested in”. And I think because we had talked about it quite exhaustively as a team, because I was conscious that there wasn't actually a single perfect bit of process. We talked about, shall we do it this way? Shall we do it that way? Shall we carousel it? Shall we do it in three groups? Do people get to choose their groups? How important is it that all of the three priorities get kind of equal number of people talking about them? Because we had, because I changed my mind quite a lot and talked through some different options with the team. I felt like I was like, I had a kind of unwritten mandate from the rest of the team to basically say, okay, yeah, we there isn't a perfect process here. You know, I can see what the downsides are of your suggestion, which was that they divide into small groups and each group work on the one it's most interested in to start with, and then choose other ones and basically have an opportunity to work through up to four priorities. In the time that we had, I felt able to say, “  Okay, well, I can see that there are some downsides to this. And as long as you're happy to accept those potential downsides to accept those risks, then absolutely, you know, do it the way you want.” And we had a bit of conversation back and forth with the people in the room. I'm trying to remember whether anyone online actually got involved with that conversation. It's in my memory, it's very much an it was very much an in the room conversation. But I don't know whether anyone online got involved. Do you remember,


NW  45:23

I don't think particularly because it was quite fast moving and dynamic. Obviously, we hadn't planned that, the conversation to go that way. And it was sort of bouncing around the room. And I suppose on reflection, perhaps kind of advocating more for having a small discussion with the online group might have at least felt like they'd contributed, even though I don't think anybody objected to the way it went, if you see what I mean. I don't think anybody online did but at the same time, it was probably two or three people in the room actually, that proposde something kind of adapted it a bit together, and everyone went, “Okay, that sounds reasonable”. And, you know, we needed to make fairly rapid decision because we only had whatever it was an hour or so left of the day to kind of put people in groups and have this discussion. It’s important to note that this whole process is framed as a starting point, it's actually about opening up the discussion helping people to identify priorities, but it's never meant to kind of be conclusive. And that actually, we were just giving them space to” start teasing out some of the issues within those priorities. But  making that clear, as well. And saying, Whatever you do now, is something that you can take away and build on,” we were able to let go of the kind of output of that discussion a little bit more and just go, you know, the value is the fact that this is an opportunity that you don't often have to all come together to discuss these things. And then what happens is your choosing really, so was that really, that helped, again, as well as the fact that Penny had some clear sort of options and parameters that we had considered to then say, you know, we can adapt to this, because we want the out output for you to be as valuable as it could be, you know, we're not hung up on what that looks like, necessarily. So


PW  47:15

I think the other thing about the client organisation, and the group that we were working with, is that compared to most groups, they were quite process literate. I think they probably used quite a lot of participatory conversations of different kinds in their actual work as an organisation. So there were people who had the language and you know, had quite clear rationale for the views that they were expressing about the process that they should use.


PO  47:47

Yeah, I suppose that's, I suppose that's quite unusual as well. Yeah. In such a big group as well. Great. Well, what a nice, I think this is a perfect place to to wrap up. So I'm going to just ask you for some quick reflections. Shanaka, we'll start with you. It could be something that you learned that you enjoy that you want to share with listeners, I'm just going to leave it open. So Shanaka some final words from you. Thank you,


SD  48:12

I've taken a lot of what we've done then actually into other facilitation work. So a lot of learnings and that is very much about letting go of the process. Sometimes even though you can prepare, you can let go of the process and trust the participants to be able to do something, as well as bringing in a bit of humour and icebreakers just to create that bonding. That has worked really well. So yeah, I've taken that into further jobs. And it was just such a lovely team to work with. And that balance of energy, as Nikki said, us holding the space and getting us through the ups and downs just worked amazingly. So it was a great experience. Helene


HJ  48:53

Yeah, I think like Shanaka that allowing for the process to go a little bit sideways. And and that sort of management of that, definitely, I've learnt from that. And I've actually had a client recently that I've, I've really been able to sort of take a step back with and let the participants say that actually, they don't want this. They want it to work a different way. And sort of reflecting on this experience thinking yeah, actually, that that's okay to do that. And I think the other thing is, is this sort of team dynamic as well, and Penny's kind of what I call gentle leadership, you know, we felt very much like a strong team. And I don't often, you know, I'll often facilitate with one other facilitator, but not a team like this and it was just such a rewarding and really positive experience.


NW  49:38

Having done the process twice as well, that was a really interesting reflection, that the previous time that Penny and I had worked through this process, it was all online with it, even though that one in theory was much simpler. I felt that this one was had a much more kind of dynamic energy about it. And I really enjoyed the second one a lot more I think, partly because we felt a bit more able to let go of some of the process. And so there was that comfort in kind of knowing where we were trying to get to, but thinking actually, you know, we can be a bit more flexible with it, it's a kind of constant reminder, really, there's only so much planning you can do. And that, whilst that might give me comfort to feel I've done it. And you know that I do need to do that to feel like when I do need to be flexible, it's fine. You know, like, actually, this is just what's happening in the moment. It's a really a constant personal learning to keep applying that there's a bit that's planning. And there's a bit that just goes, I've planned for the fact that I would know I will need to adapt to this. And I don't know what's going to happen. And actually, that's part of the fun. Having a team alongside you to adapt with makes all the difference, though, because dealing with all of the challenges coming at you on your own is a completely different kettle of fish, I think for me to, to use an unusual phrase, but yeah.


PO  51:00

Great, and Penny.


PW  51:03

Well, so I think my closing reflections are a bit of a, an advert for getting involved in the IAF, whether you're a member or not, because actually, it's not just knowing somebody or having somebody kind of recommended to join part of a team, the fact that that Helene and I had kind of seen each other in action, if you like, at if events and experimented together at events, the fact that Nikki and I had worked together on teams that other people had brought together, there's nothing like feeling Yes, I've worked with that person, you know, albeit not in a client context. I've worked with them, I know that they're, you know, that they can bring something to a team. So anyone out there who's thinking, I don't know how I would bring together a team of additional people to do a piece of work, actually, you know, get involved, whether it's online or in person at some of those events. And, and that way, you know, you'll just have a much broader pool of people who when you need to bring together a team, you can think actually, yeah, I know. I know who I want to ask for this.


PO  52:07

Excellent. Thank you. Thank you for that. It is a great resource. So remember, listeners, that Facilitation stories is brought to you by the England and Wales chapter of the International Association of facilitators, also known as IAF. Well, thank you very, very much listeners for staying with us. Thank you so much to our guests, Helene Jewell, Nikki Wilson, Shanaka Dias and Penny Walker. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, thank you.


And that's the end of today's episode of Facilitation Stories. Make sure you're subscribed to the show on whatever podcast app you use. And if you would like to contribute to the show, you can get in touch via email podcast at Or you can get all the other links from our website Facilitation This has been Facilitation Stories brought to you by IAF England and Wales.