Chair’s corner: Looking back and drawing on our salient past

04 October 2016

Many years ago, when I first started my consulting practice, I had Henry Ford’s quote on my website.

“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

It served then to remind me of my role as a process facilitator to help people build effectiveness towards the results they want to see.

Over the years, while this quote remains true, I have considered some other ideas that might enrich the way groups function whether they be our client organisations, the community groups we help and the IAF which we are proud to belong to. I will be sharing three such ideas, one each over the next three monthly updates. They are related to each other and centre around the notion of ‘looking’:

  1. Looking back,

  2. Looking sideways and

  3. Looking forward.

I spoke about them at the Board’s face-to-face in January 2016 and I last mentioned them again at last month’s successful 19th Asia Conference in Taiwan.

Let’s start by looking back

The IAF is 22 years old this year as an association. At conferences and on board calls, I am often struck by senior colleagues‘ stories of their key experiences in the IAF over those 20+ years. As an association shaping and making impact in the field of process facilitation, we have come a long way on our growth path, which I have learned was at times fairly straightforward and at others, somewhat winding. Whatever the case, the opportunity to look back is essential as a reflection point. As a parallel from my long rides on my bicycle, when I stop for rest breaks and turn briefly around to see where I’ve been just to get where I am, I’m often quite awed, not by my own human effort but the actual journey taken.

Similarly, we might take stock and see how far we have come in our individual growth as facilitators, in our chapter life and in our global reach as an association. Over the last two months, we have welcomed the IAF Lithuania and IAF Rwanda chapters. At the Taiwan conference, I noticed a strong coming together of a regional identity formed through very good personal friendships across countries. Likewise, the IAF is an All-Star sponsor at the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) 2016 conference, where past and present board members are going to present the IAF’s story about our journey with our competencies, standards and ethics. These various developments come on the backs of certain capacities, strengths and learnings that we have grown or accumulated as an association.

Yet, as we look back, we should consider what helps us go forward and grow stronger. I refer to these useful aspects of our history as the salient past. These could be hard lessons or otherwise, but I suggest that we might have a place to use the following questions to determine whether aspects of our past have value for our present and future:

  • What capacities and strengths do they help us celebrate?

  • How do the episodes of our past inform about why we have problems that keep recurring?

  • How do they help or limit the association in developing the next chapters of our strategic narrative about our place and work in the field and the world at large?

Later this month in October, as we engage in International Facilitation Week activities, perhaps amidst the excitement of this annual highlight, we might find time at our chapter meetings to do simple reflections together on these questions arising from looking back. Do feel free to reframe to suit local and individual circumstances.


Noel E K Tan, CPF
IAF Board Chair, 2016-2017

Noel E K Tan