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Global Flipchart #11

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April 2018

Loosen your grip on your script

By Dr. Rebecca Sutherns CPF

Facilitation training often focuses on deepening our toolbox of group process techniques. Sometimes training also addresses how to choose the right tool when designing a group process - imagine lugging a heavy toolbox onto a construction site and pulling out a wrench instead of a hammer to drive in some nails. 

But having a full toolbox and knowing which tool to use may not be enough. Facilitators also need to be agile. Too often, training misses teaching a critical facilitation skill: that of holding your script loosely.

Adapting to your group

A well-crafted facilitation plan is a thing of beauty. The problem is, we can become so invested in our ideas and intentions that we become too attached to our understanding of how things should go. We risk not listening well to what is actually happening in real time. We then fail to adjust accordingly. Or, perhaps worse, we do notice that a group is deviating from our plan, and we still refuse to adjust. 

Careful design is critically important. But in my experience, I can only script 50-70% of what actually happens in the room. Human interactions are alive; as facilitators we need to flex with that liveliness in order to lead sessions that are truly responsive.

Interactions are also unpredictable, so we need to craft designs that adapt to changing conditions. If your process designs are unfolding with 100% accuracy 100% of the time, there is a risk that you are paying closer attention to your script than to your group.

Responsiveness builds trust

If a group sees that the facilitator is capably adjusting to the unexpected twists and turns of group dynamics, while still maintaining a confident presence and achieving the group’s objectives, participants will trust that facilitator more fully. If, however, participants notice that the facilitator is sticking to a script, seemingly oblivious to changing conditions, the achievement of the session objectives is  at risk, and so too is that facilitator’s currency with the group.

How to loosen your grip

Aligning your expectations with a 50-70% accuracy rate is one way to increase your agility as a facilitator. Another way is to plan for multiple scenarios. If you have Plan A and a Plan B written into your script, you will be well-positioned to cope when Plan C actually happens. Your brain will actually be more ready to stay nimble in that moment, because in your preparation, you had already worked through the possibility of needing an alternative path forward. Nimble is definitely better than panicky at the front of the room.

So, do prepare your script, carefully and lovingly. Then prepare your mind. Say to yourself, “Won’t it be interesting to see which 50-70% of this actually happens! And won’t it be fun to see which of these scenarios I actually use – or which even better ones I create in the room!”

Intentionally loosening your grip on your script is one way to move from being a good facilitator to a great one.

Dr. Rebecca Sutherns, CPF is the CEO of Sage Solutions, a facilitation and strategy development firm based in Guelph, Ontario. She teaches facilitation skills and community engagement courses online and in person. Her practice of over 20 years has given her lots of fodder for her program called “Practical Facilitation: Off the rails but still on track.”. She is offering a pre-conference executive workshop called “The Nimble Facilitator: Today’s ‘yes, and’ plan” at the IAFNAC Conference in Ottawa in May.