When faced with complex and challenging issues, it’s tempting to become very solemn. People try to manage the fear of chaos by insisting on lots of structures and rules. We see this a lot in meetings. Unfortunately, many of these efforts to make meetings efficient eat away at human beings’ natural genius for creativity and collaboration. The most important skill for a facilitator is to remain flexible and respond to what happens, moment-by-moment in the room. That’s more important than any technique or process, no matter how well practiced.
We’d sum it up as serious playfulness. It’s not about being foolhardy or treating serious issues in trivial ways. Nor is it about using games to manipulate people. What we mean by serious playfulness is the capacity to stay focussed on topic, but remain open to choices and flexible about how we achieve results. We think of participants as people who are able to succeed and not in need of excessive control.
We created these little cards to capture some of the principles behind our way of working. They’re not rules and they’re not the absolute truth – but they inspire us to remain curious, open and flexible in how we work.
Accepting offers is about seeing opportunities in what others say and do, rather than being defensive and blocking them. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but you can look for ways to acknowledge and build on what they bring. When dealing with complex and controversial topics, it helps to be able to include diverse perspectives and approaches – if you try to exclude them they’ll often come back to bite you. It’s closely related to the practice of noticing more. When groups of people get stuck, it’s easy to lose perspective and close down, missing a lot of what’s going on. By noticing more, we open ourselves up to new ways of responding.
It counters the fight-or-flee instinct that can reduce our effectiveness under stress.We sometimes say “Let go… of something“. What that something is will vary. It might be our attachment to being right; it might be the tense way we’ve unconsciously chosen to hold ourselves. It’s not saying, oh just relax and everything will be ok. But is a reminder that it’s easy to become rigid when flexibility is more useful.The idea of put down your clever comes from a friend of ours. It’s too easy to think we can manage complex people and situations by knowing better than other people. Expertise is fine, but if it stops us from spotting what is new by focussing only on what is familiar, it gets in everyone’s way.
When we say be affected we don’t mean become false and difficult. It means let what others do and say sink in and let it change us. People will notice and they’ll understand that we have actually heard them. When we don’t acknowledge what others say, we invite trouble.Groups really notice when people are co-facilitating whether they get on with each other or not. Making your partner look good is not about empty flattery, but realising that the quality of your relationship will have more impact on others than the mere words you use. If you want playful collaboration, try to be an example of it.
Sometimes when you’re trying something new, it’s easy to hedge your bets and be tentative. That’s great up to a point, but groups will often respond cautiously if you don’t commit yourself. By committing, you don’t pretend to be infallible, but you do show that you really want to engage. And when we say move, we’re being deliberately ambiguous. We might mean move yourself, we might mean ask others to move. And we might mean physical movement, or emotional. It’s easy to get stuck in a particular way of relating to people as if it’s the obvious or only way to do it. It isn’t.