Have you tapped into the power of a group?

A problem shared is a problem halved as they say. By sharing your problem with someone else, it often seems smaller as you gain perspective by talking it through. Sometimes that’s all you are looking for, a chance to mull over something out loud, an ear to bend. Talking it through can help those intangible blobs of seemingly unfathomable problem take shape and start to become clearer. If you’re lucky, you might actually realise that the problem isn’t a problem after all.

Unfortunately some problems, puzzles, or concerns are more tenacious and don’t move along quite so easily. Sometimes you get stuck with a half idea that won’t budge, it will neither go away nor gain momentum. Often it’s not just about talking it through and sharing or offloading. Resolutions and ideas for how to tackle the issue are required. Outlining next steps, creating tangible solutions and developing practical ways forward are essential. To give that problem a bit of a kick, to unstick it and to move it from its prime spot niggling away at you, you’ll need some deeper thought on the subject. And there’s nothing like the power of a well facilitated group to provide some much needed mental energy to help you move forwards.

group facilitation

Why a group?

Each individual has their own knowledge, skills, experiences and ideas. As individuals we can draw on the information available to us to offer advice and support to others. But as a group, each person brings something that can be built upon by others, their initial contribution magnified and enhanced. Whether these are complimentary or contradictory the process of bouncing information and ideas around is an important part of working through a dilemma or difficulty. Different people will come up with different questions based on what they know, to dig deep into any ideas. Teasing out different elements, sharing creative thoughts, sparking new ideas and discussing new information are functions that a group can provide. The collective energy of a group, when harnessed in the right way can be invaluable for helping to unstick those sticky problems.

Capturing that energy is not always easy, which is why it’s good to have a Facilitator on the job! Problems and ideas can be like flies trapped in a bottle; they can go round and round in circles without really resulting in very much. But with a well structured process and some key tools to address the task, the group can be guided through the problem by managing discussions, unpicking and unpacking the issues and coming out the other side with some possibilities to take forward.

Problem solving

If you have a team or department at your disposal just waiting for a Facilitator to come along and work with you, that’s great! But what if you are a small business owner, or sole trader who doesn’t have a ready made group of brains at their disposal?

Well, for a start, if you are a women in business then I have some great news for you! As part of International Women’s Day 2017 on 8th March, I am going to be running the Brainstorming Booth at The Enterprise Network’s Women in Business Conference. There will be two sessions during the day for you to come along with your problem, stumbling block, query or idea. You can share this with others who can work together to help you solve it, move it forward or at the very least provide some clarity. By being a part of the group you will also be able to share your own knowledge and expertise to help with someone else’s conundrum. It’s all about sharing and learning from each other. Many problems discussed may be common to quite a few people, and you quite possibly might find answers to questions that you didn’t even know you had, or surprise yourself with a new idea!

This is a really exciting opportunity, and this year’s theme is #beboldforchange. Perhaps you have things you want to change in your business, but aren’t sure how to go about it. Perhaps the power of a group can help!

And if this isn’t for you, then watch this space as I have another exciting brainstorming event coming up later on in March…..

For more information about this or about in-house facilitation of this kind please drop me an e-mail on helene(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)jewellfacilitation.com

 

Are you getting enough from your brainstorm?

Do you love a good brainstorm?

I do.

It’s a great way to collect a plethora of ideas together in one place, whether thoughts from a super creative and overflowing mind or the result of collective input from a group. It’s a common enough technique, and simple to do.

Idea

 

But there are most definitely things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of your brainstorm, and to make it more effective, at least in the group sense. Let’s leave aside for a moment the lone brainstorm. I am partial to “brainstorming myself”, and use it to:

  • Offload a myriad of thoughts floating around my head that need to be captured and contained somewhere, usually on a piece of flipchart paper.
  • Organise that information in a way that I might be able to make use of it effectively. Once it’s recorded then I can start to reflect and decide how to act upon the content.
  • Perhaps generate some more ideas to clarify, modify or add to the ones that I have just “stormed”.

That’s more or less what a brainstorm is – eliciting information from inside the complex systems that are our minds. Doing it alone can be tricky. Doing it in a group is far more effective, but not without its pitfalls.

So how can we make a group brainstorm work well?

Brain

The first thing to pay attention to is WHY you are doing the brainstorm in the first place.

Obviously you are asking people for ideas, thoughts and suggestions, but sometimes a brainstorm is used primarily as a discussion starter. In this sense you might be less worried about the answers people give, and more interested in the discussion itself. A brainstorm used in this way may be most effective at the start of a workshop where you are teaching people something new; a training session. Before giving your participants the “right answers” you are opening up, stimulating ideas and helping people engage with the topic.

You may however really need to find out and gather particular knowledge from the people in the room. For example if you are looking for ideas to save costs on a project, or answers to a specific problem, you are looking to the participants for some answers. While the brainstorm has the same function of stimulating discussion and engaging people, its main aim is to elicit the ideas from the people in the room. The ideas, knowledge and experience held by the participants are what you are really after. They can provide information on a certain topic which may then be built upon and investigated in more depth later on in the session. This is more common in a meeting or facilitated workshop where the main purpose is not to teach people new things, but to help them to share what they know.

Whatever the main thrust of your brainstorm, it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are asking of people and make your questions clear.

If you manage your brainstorm well, then you will get all sorts of ideas flowing. A good brainstorm will not only help people to share their insights and knowledge, but help ignite the sparks of new ideas and produce fantastic gems of information. This is when a brainstorm can become truly valuable. It moves beyond simply asking people to offer up an answer, or even stimulating a discussion. It is about really enriching that discussion, broadening it out and creating a result that is so much bigger that the individual ideas on their own.

WHAT you do with the information elicited very much depends on the aim of your brainstorm in the first place. But, the more in depth and targeted the process, the greater the flow of ideas and the more extensive the possibilities will be for your next steps.

A brainstorm is far more that a brain dump. It is far more than collecting and recording information. It is far more than finding out what people think. It can be the start of something quite exciting, a voyage of discovery. But as with many of the simplest things; the devil is in the detail, so make sure you think about what you need!

If you want to get more from your brainstorms:

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To get your workshops in much better shape, include a great brainstorm and really get some ideas and discussions flowing then click here to find out more about my “how to” workshops!

 

 

Much Maligned and Misunderstood – the Humble Flipchart

How do you feel about flip charts? An odd question, I know…….

I’ve noticed there is a bit of a divide – the pro and anti flip chart camps, people that either love ’em or hate ’em. There are people who express a distaste for this humble piece of equipment. And then there are those that swear by them.

Someone asked me just the other day whether I was “flip chart” or “not flip chart”. Do I use one or not in my workshops?

The answer is of course, but not always. More often than not when I use a flip chart, I use a lot of other materials too. A flip chart is a tool, a piece of equipment to use when the occasion fits. It is not a centre piece.

Jewell Facilitation Workshop024

My own flip chart is frequently used for writing down all sorts of ideas, scribbles, drawings, the odd mind map or large list. I like be able to see the big picture (literally!). It is a fabulous tool, and one of several pieces of equipment that I use regularly.

In a workshop I use it:

  • To “park” ideas
  • As a way to record the results of a brainstorm
  • To note down the main points in a conversation when needed
  • To show a diagram or do a quick drawing to illustrate a point
  • To show the aims of the workshop
  • To write up some ground rules if needed
  • To note down important questions

There is nothing special or clever about it. It doesn’t have a particular air of cool. It’s not a spendidly exciting  thing, but then it doesn’t need to be. I can see where the dislike comes from, you can get it wrong (yes, really). But in defence of this uninspiring looking piece of equipment, I would suggest that it is not about whether it should be used or not used, but about whether you can make it work well for your needs.

Is there a way to use a flipchart properly?

Well actually yes there is, or rather there are ways to use it badly that are probably what spur on the idea that they are not to be encouraged.

There is such a thing as “death by flipchart”. It’s the lo-tech version of “death by powerpoint”. They both mean the same thing. They refer to a tool used badly, the impact of which is to make you feel talked at, slide after slide (or sheet of paper after sheet of paper) with little or no regard for the audience or group of people listening, watching or reading. Most of us have been in the audience and experienced this at some time or other. It’s boring and so rather than risk being in this position, perhaps people prefer to avoid them.

Powerpoint, or perhaps Prezzie or Sway are all valid ways of presenting information. It is not the tool that is to blame but the way it is used. You can include them very well in a workshop, but they are not THE workshop.

flipchart

And the humble flip chart is the same. When I worked in Nepal many years ago, we used a flip chart with “newsprint” the hand made and comparatively expensive paper to write on. We used it sparingly and didn’t write down endless tracts of information. This was so long ago that in fact the then high tech version of presenting information was on an overhead projector. I digress…

A flip chart is a valuable tool, but only if you use it well. My top tips for using one are as follows:

  • Do not write pages and pages of information out and flip through them.
  • If you are preparing information in advance, make sure it is in sequence and that perhaps you mark your pages so you don’t get in a muddle.
  • Write clearly and choose good pens. I really can’t emphasise enough the good pens.
  • Green and red markers are often hard for some people to read, particularly at a distance- I tend to avoid them.
  • Using all colours of the rainbow to write in may seem appealing from where you are standing, but remember people do need to read what you have written.
  • Make sure you write big enough for your participants to actually see.
  • A flip chart is something to support your information on. It is not something you are glued to, it is not a comfort blanket. You can move away from it and use other materials (something I highly recommend in fact).
  • If you are writing things down as you go, remember your audience, don’t just talk to the flip chart.
  • We are not all lucky enough to have primary school teacher neat and tidy writing, and we are not all good at writing on a board in straight lines (I’m not, and I’ve been doing it for years!). But equally scrawling all over the paper in millions of different directions is not helpful.
  • Summarise, paraphrase or use short hand where appropriate if you are writing as you go along. Most of the time you don’t need to get every word, for example if you are doing a brainstorm. Your participants won’t want to be reading great long sentences and you will take a lot of valuable discussion time doing so, not to mention a lot of paper!
  • If you are taking notes, recording a brainstorm or taking down ideas it’s a good idea to take the pieces of paper off the flipchart as you go along and stick them up on the wall somehow. That way you can see all the information. If possible, think in advance where you are going to out these pieces of paper and whether you have space to display them.

And there I rest my case. It is a simple piece of kit, not to be overused and I would say generally doesn’t work well as a solitary thing. By which I mean you will need some other activities to go with it.

If you want to see me and my flip chart in action, it plays a minor but important supporting role in my next workshop and will be there together with a large variety of other pieces of equipment and materials.

Do you have a favourite piece of equipment in your workshops?

 

 

 

Bold steps workshop

Boldly Stepping Forwards

Last week as many of you will know was International Women’s Day #IWD16. A great day for women all around the globe to focus on ourselves as women, our achievements, our accomplishments and on the way still to go. On this day I was lucky enough to be working with an amazing group of women considering our bold steps…….

I was tasked by the fabulous Faye Dicker to do a workshop as part of her special IWD Brave, Bold and Bonkers FreelanceMum networking day. The workshop needed to be 20 minutes (in truth the shortest workshop I have ever done) and needed to be delivered to 40 women. Ha, what could be easier? I do like a challenge……

The numbers of people didn’t bother me, I love groups, it’s where I feel comfortable, the more the merrier as they say. It was the 20 minutes that I was a bit more unsure about – 3 hours no problem, a day or two much better, but 20 minutes? Added to which we were going to be doing this in a church (seat layout, acoustics etc all very much not my idea of a perfect venue) and there would most definitely be children! The “take your children” ethos is what makes this networking group special and different. And it works, I’m a regular, although have to confess I left my son at nursery on this particular day.

So before the day had even begun I was feeling a bit bonkers, rather brave and decided to boldly grab the challenge and see what happened.

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Sorry About the Meetings….What Should we Change?

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I came across an article the other day, talking about something that is, I think, fairly well known, about the way women often struggle with meetings, are perceived as bossy when they speak up and often use apologetic language. I am sure it is not just women that encounter difficulties participating in meetings in crushingly corporate environments. Meetings are a fact of life and teaching people ways to survive and perhaps thrive in such situations (such as those discussed in the article) does sound like a very decent plan . If this was me I would probably love a lifeline like the Get Heard in Meetings Course – workshops in how to do things differently, how to learn poise, speak louder, get yourself listened to. I am a sucker for a good workshop, and this does look fun!

I read this not long after another article about the Google App “Just Not Sorry” that helps women to stop saying sorry via e-mail. And I watched again a brilliant sketch by Amy Schumer “I’m sorry – A Conference Goes Awry” I have seen this several times – it’s also about women saying sorry. This made me cringe and laugh out loud at the same time.

meeting-women

It is a thing. Women do often say sorry a lot. And it’s not just that, there are many many things about the way we communicate that are vastly different from the way men do. Women fitting into predominantly male environments is not a new topic of discussion. I know that it’s not just about communication and not just meetings, there is far more to these kinds of workplace difficulties where men and women in particular clash. That is a bigger conversation…..

But I confess to being the proud owner and purveyor of “soft skills”, I am a people person and I like it when people get on. I am a facilitator and my job is very much about adapting the environment to include the people. Not the other way around.

So I can’t help thinking that when looking at the bigger picture, this is all slightly back to front. Like most people I have been to all sorts of meetings in my life. Some I have felt comfortable in, some less so and for all sorts of different reasons. True, I have never been employed in a male dominated highly corporate environment, but I have worked and networked with plenty of men. I have facilitated workshops on many occasions where I am the only woman. I have also facilitated meetings. So I do know the scenario, it is not a myth.  And in many situations where you have clashes of communication, culture and style things can be tricky to say the least, and soul destroying at worst if this is your norm.

But it doesn’t make sense that women (or anyone for that matter) should have to learn to behave differently in order to be a part of a meeting. Presumably the people attending the meetings are skilled in their fields, expert and knowledgeable. Is it reasonable to expect them to learn something extra just to be able to share that with people?

I would say no.

Meetings themselves are very often at the heart of the way businesses are run. They are also the bug bear of many. They can be a necessity and a time waster, an efficient way of delivering and discussing information, or completely fruitless. A way of informing and feeding back or a lot of hot air. They are that double edged sword that many people loathe, but we all have to embrace on some level.

What about focusing on running meetings better? Managing meetings so they make space to include the people that need to be included, women and men alike. Rather than sticking to a format that excludes people, necessitating them to learn how to cope, wouldn’t it be better to revisit the way the meeting functions? Using some well founded techniques to encourage people to feel like they want to go to meetings, that they will get a lot out of them and will be able to put a lot in to them is surely a good idea. Much has been written about ways to run meetings better. A good chair or a facilitator, a focus on engagement and a clear agenda are a good start. Teaching people to listen is also a valuable skill that we could all work harder on, and something that goes far beyond meetings. Focusing on the people in the meeting is, I think fairly fundamental – after all, the people are what make the meeting.

Knowing there is a place to learn skills to enable you to get on better in meetings is great. Tools that are out there to help women “manage” their communication (whatever the format) are clearly important. But encouraging people to run better meetings in the first place would be a much larger win, have far wider implications and a much deeper impact. After all, it’s better for everyone when we are all less sorry!