After our first day together in the field, class XVII had a 2-day in-class facilitation training with Donna R. Ching of The Pacific Center for Collaboration (https://www.pacificcollaboration.com/). Although the original plan was to utilize Plant Quarantine’s boardroom, a faulty A/C made us seek refuge elsewhere. Thankfully, another student in the class was able to get us into a room at University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library! So we enjoyed a flashback to our younger years on the UH campus (thank you, Vickie!!).
The class consisted of 17 students from several different agencies. Although we came from diverse backgrounds such as state agencies, farmers, and private companies, many of us immediately bonded over the similarities we had with facilitation during Covid. One of the most common elements people cited as a challenge was training- either they were the new hire, or had to train a new hire. Although Zoom and Teams kept us in touch- there were still challenges with connecting with people that we had not met before. It was so refreshing to hear that we weren’t alone in our challenges.
Facilitation training was a multi-part program, with both classroom lecture and hands-on activities. Attendees were introduced to the many mantras of Donna, and in particular reminded each other of the #1 Manta: Legitimize Immediately and often. Students learned that some of the most important parts of facilitation happen at the very beginning. Codify your expectations: people will come with the expectations you give them. Give agendas at the front end: let people know exactly what to expect before they get there. Develop ground rules and make sure everyone agrees to them. People will often get unruly- and it is best to redirect them to the ground rules and not allow unruliness to continue.
Perhaps the most relatable lesson that maybe no one wants to hear (and yet everyone needs to!) is “consensus is unreasonable”. In any facilitation, we are not looking for consensus: we are looking for an outcome that we can all live with and support.
So now that we have the beginning and the end, so all that is left is the middle. In this course we all had an opportunity to be the Facilitator: the neutral party who will help facilitate the groups conversations, ideas, expectations, etc., and the Recorder: the person who works in tandem with the Facilitator in order to document and capture the ideas, thoughts, and feelings in a “Group Memory”. The class also learned tools to help create a safe space, to practice active listening, and even to assist with anonymity. We explored taking a group through the listing of ideas and ideal outcomes, clustering ideas, drawing overlap and relationships, and working towards solutions. The take home message of it all: inviting all parties to the table increase ownership of the outcome, and results in a solution that we can all see ourselves in.
Perhaps the most exciting part was the roleplaying, where we were given roles of community members to work through a real-life facilitation that had occurred within the state. Each of us played a role in a town hall and worked with a Facilitator and Recorder to try and resolve a conflict in the community. After we finished, we learned that out “group memory” and the solutions we identified were not only similar to the original outcome- but also similar to previous classes!
This, along with many of the other lessons we learned all really had one thing in common: our differences may be passionate and important- but our similarities are so deep. Many people in any facilitation situation really want a lot of the same outcomes. And with a little facilitation help, we can establish those ideal outcomes and work toward them.
After our 2-day Seminar, the class had a wonderful dinner at Donna's home with many past ALP classmates and ALF Board members! We saw old friends and made new ones, and revisited with familiar faces. The food was wonderful, the view was beautiful, and the company was spectacular.
Thank you Donna for such a wonderful course that we are all already using: at work, and at home.