Permission.

I subscribe to the practice of trying out at least one new thing in every workshop. So as normal I did that today, and whilst the participants aren’t usually aware, I needed to ask for permission this time.

I had an elite group of 7. As every facilitator knows, a prime number is not ideal (to split into even groups would require physical dissection). The design of this particular workshop I ran today involves the final hour having groups of three, so every time I run it I hope for 9, 12 or 15. With 7, you are getting to a size where the workshop can become a group coaching session, putting pressure on both the facilitator and learners to sustain momentum. Happily, after bright, positive introductions, it was quite clear that my group today were capable of trialling something different.

Firstly I explained the standard structure of the day; essentially they were to finish by individually crafting a change message, break into trios and get peer reviewed feedback. Then I explained my plan: to peer review the change message to the entire group instead. In explaining the rationale, I shared that I had to date struggled with that last part of the workshop to capture the entire group’s learnings and feedback. Learners had been walking away with rich feedback on the change message, but only from two people.

The response was mildly supportive, so I said we would check in about it again at afternoon tea. When that time came around, everyone was a lot keener. They had been preparing their change messages more assiduously than previous groups I had facilitated. There was a little bit of excitement also at the prospect of doing something that had not been done before. Also, further ideas had been brewing in my own mind during the day about how I could further experiment. So, I put a more cohesive plan to them: I would scribe their feedback to each other on a whiteboard wall around 10 potential areas. This would give them some direction for deeper feedback, and also remove note-taking pressure away from them. The deal was they could take a photo of my scribed outcomes, and/or wait until I had typed it up and sent it to them on the post-workshop email.

The fact that it was an experiment seemed to elicit from the learners a greater respect for the feedback process. There was a gravity to it, and a basis of trust that had built through the day as they knew they would be accountable to each other as a big group at the end. They liked it, so it worked, and while it took a little longer than normal to complete the feedback process, I made up the time in a naturally shorter debrief.

It’s a nice feeling to be able to involve learners in the live evolution of workshop delivery. It’s for them after all, and I can’t think of a better way to display my professional respect for them.

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