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Facilitating Aligned Autonomy — Build an Equitable Platform

Think about a time when you attended a large workshop. It could a product or project kick-off or a discovery session for a product idea with you team. How did the workshop feel? Did you struggle? Did you think you understood and when you walked away you realized you were not as completely aligned as you thought?

This is where I find most teams when they leave a workshop. So, how do we create a better environment as a facilitator?

How about if the facilitator focused on creating a generative space for the team to come together and build on each others ideas to have a “shared understanding”? The right facilitator can do just this!

Let me share some tactics that I use to kickoff a workshop & set the tone to start building a generative space.

Make it Magical

I have had the opportunity of facilitating a lot of large workshops in the last 2 years and it’s been such a joy! I was apprehensive and nervous about facilitation when I started. The voices in my head said — what if I fail? what if I’m not able engage everyone? Self doubt was prevalent and I had to push through it.

I reflect back on my journey today and I am not an expert by any means but I rarely get on edge about facilitating a workshop. An hour before I am about to facilitate I start to tune into the role I will be playing, how the workshop will flow, what I need to watch out for & what tactics I’m going to use to engage the participants. Every team is different so I also tune into what the team will need to be in this headspace with each other. I also focus on what I need to be present and mindful in the workshop and center myself.

The truth is, if I’m not feeling centered and calm I don’t stand a chance in creating the right environment for the workshop.

Depending on the criticality of the workshop and the maturity of the participants, I might have to lean into teaching some practices or techniques while continuing to facilitate. But I never want to loose sight of the main role I’m here to play — which is to hold space in a way that the team can come unleash their magic.

The outcome I aim for in every workshop is aligned autonomy. It’s this magical state when the participants walk away with a shared understanding of the topic, have the freedom to continue to explore & creatively problem solve to get to desired outcomes.

Facilitating aligned autonomy is — bringing teams together into a space, aligning them to their purpose, so they can generate great ideas & collaborate magically!!

So how do you enable this as a facilitator? I’m going to share what I have tried & hope this sparks something in you.

Build an Equitable Platform

Let’s start with creating an equitable platform. It sets the stage for collaboration to naturally occur and enables team safety & contribution.

Set Context

First we need to set the context. When teams are coming together to collaborate it is important for them to have the same context of what & how they will come together in a space.

  1. Set the context from a process perspective so everyone knows what to expect & how to interact in the workshop.

  2. Set the context from a content perspective and guide the team on what needs to be prepared to make the workshop effective.

  3. In the beginning of the workshop, talk about how the team prepared & what everyone in the room knows before diving in.

Setting the context for a workshop from a process and content perspective shows we care as facilitators & this helps the team feel at ease.

When the team is at ease we have taken the first step to build safety in the environment.

Build Code of Conduct

Once we have ensured there is enough context, we need to build a code of conduct before kicking off the workshop. It reminds everyone why we are here, how to be “present” so everyone can learn from each other & create a respectful environment to enable participation.

Think about any workshop you attended in the past. Let’s say someone was multi-tasking or disengaged when you or another team member were sharing a thought.

  • How did it make you feel?

  • What impact did it have on the quality of the conversation that followed?

  • How did it affect the mood in the room?

It probably did not feel great right?!

This is where you can set some ground rules and make it clear about what you need from everyone in the space to seed the environment.

Ground Rules to promote safety & contribution

  1. Re-iterate the purpose of why everyone is in the workshop & remind the team to be present. (Increases engagement which promotes contribution)

  2. Ask for the team to show respect and let everyone know when they leave the room and get back. (Increases respect which promotes safety)

  3. Communicate with grace and use the appropriate tools to indicate you have a question or want to share a thought. (Increases respect which promotes safety & contribution)

  4. Go slow and be deliberate in your communication, with the intent to create alignment. Remember there might be people in the room that are listening to this information for the first time. (Increases engagement which promotes contribution)

These are all small nuances that influence the effectiveness of any workshop and makes it a joy for everyone participating.

When a Facilitator takes the time to build a code of conduct , it sets the tone & helps everyone feel cared for. A caring environment then enables everyone to openly contribute.

How are you Improving your Facilitation Practice?

Now that you understand an equitable platform enables team safety & contribution take a moment to reflect on how you are doing this in your workshops.

  1. How are you setting the right context from a process & content perspective?

  2. How are you building a code of conduct to create a respectful environment?

  3. What is your feedback loop with yourself, co-facilitators or the team to understand how the workshop experience is and how to make it better the next time?

If you enjoyed this blog, come back for more tips on how to improve your facilitation practice! I’m just starting to pour my thoughts here …

Building Facilitation skills is like building muscle. The more you do it, the better you get at the practice.


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