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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.

Dec 15, 2020

Helene Jewell hosts this episode about the skill of online facilitation and the importance of Facilitation to make your celebrations go with (or without) a pop!  

We also have two voices from our virtual coffee meet-ups: Gordon Mullan and Jane Mitchell share their thoughts about online facilitation following the IAF conference in October. And Helene introduces the new England and Wales IAF Board, and thanks the outgoing Chair and Treasurer!

Two Twitter handles for the coffee inserts: @gordonmullan and @janemitchcomms

Helene’s first guest for this episode is Claire Mays. 

Claire has a background in facilitating health promotion and is has recently re-engaged with “the facilitator in her” during lockdown – lots of opportunity that wouldn’t have had if not for the pandemic!

Since April – Claire has been part of an online facilitated programme that has engaged over 200 people as part of the Barts NHS Acute Trust shielding online programme.

Barts Shielding Community was started to support those members of the Barts NHS Acute Trust who had to shield due to Covid 19 including Claire herself. Claire talks about the core group that helped to determine how to support shielders and reconnected with and updated her own facilitation skills to develop what was to become a lifeline to the many people defined as extremely clinically vulnerable. 

They used a liberating structures approach to create an online supportive community, with space for human-to-human connection that brought together, consultants, administrators, nurses, therapists and more. Their shared experience; all people who had to shield due to Covid19 and who worked at Barts.

As we approach Christmas, a time of parties and celebration often with colleagues, Claire recognises the importance of creating an online holiday celebration, and the challenges of ensuring that it is inclusive and accessible to everyone who wants to participate, and how key the role of facilitation is in ensuring that this happens! 

Member of the Barts Shielding Community have a great experience to look forward to – that will include quizzes, costumes, cookie decorating and more. But they are not naïve to the challenge of working to achieve this online with such a diverse range of people, but feel what they have created with the support of expert facilitators will be an inclusive and memorable experience.

Claire is also putting these skills to excellent use elsewhere and is helping to facilitate 2 further Christmas gatherings including an online Christmas menopause café using the ‘spaces for listening’ method.

Claire’s Top Tips for people organising celebrations online keep it simple, fun and accessible, have a clear structure because it’s very easy for people to get lost online.

Helene’s second guest Andre is the Cofounder of People Storming who specialise in facilitating and coaching organisational development. 

Helene first asks Andre about the challenge of organising a 2 day retreat  online that would normally be a real retreat in Colorado involving snowboarding and other physical activities. 

Andre talks about the importance of getting to know the team and organisation and how they co-designed a structure for an online retreat including space for people to design their own personal retreat experience, and if that wasn’t challenging enough across a 3 hour timezone! 

Andre talks about how they built in structured time, a web platform to ensure an accessible and personalised experience, the range of asynchronous activities; using Mural, pre-recording stories and experiences that other people could walk through, worksheets and activities; that were included, and the importance of recognising that peoples lives were carrying on as normal around them, work, family etc. 

Andre outlines some of the challenges and advantages, the biggest challenge being the amount of time and energy the planning took to make the retreat run smoothly and seemingly effortlessly for participants, and the obvious advantage of cost including sending out cocktail kits and materials. One surprising advantage was how the online retreat felt more inclusive due to the active facilitation layer – as opposed to a more traditional retreat.

Andre acknowledges that the skill of a good facilitator is to make what they do look effortless, something that is hugely undervalued generally! Online this went to a whole new level of active orchestration with detailed cue sheets and 3-4 times more time invested in planning that meant the time online was more than just hanging out together and was actually more productive than a real world retreat.

Andres key learning points;  while there is a cost advantage from a facilitated perspective it’s not a ‘cheap’ option in terms of time. And for this experience to work smoothly they invested in building a website specifically for the retreat to ensure accessibility!  

Helene ends by asking Andre what learning he will take from online back to face to face. Andre talks about the challenge of  physical distance making everything less personal, and how finding space to be themselves as facilitators and immersing themselves into the team and their Slack space meant the relationships had formed prior to the event. A challenge to take forward is how to create the sense of being part of the team by the time we start real world events not by the time we finish! 

And finally Helene invites Andre to share his Top Tip; the rhythm of what you do is important – keep it moving! Trust your instinct to keep people engaged! Even if it’s 5 minutes of quiet time in the middle of a party! Pace and variation. Oh and did he mention the word party! Lots of space for connection and celebration! 

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