This is a series of diary entries. I write many, just about every time I fail, which is often. I write them to vent, to make sense of confusion, to rid myself of the demons. Most of these never see the light of day, let alone make an indelible mark as a published blog post. This is because failure is rarely celebrated, and I’m as conditioned to that as you are. Well, fuck that. I’m publishing this because I try. Endeavour eventually wins, failure must come before success.
Written a month ago.
This morning I woke up, got out of bed and stumbled to the shower. For the next 20 minutes I stood under the water and replayed yesterday afternoon’s session in my head. Every time I remembered something I did wrong, I moaned-grunted audibly, until it started to upset my wife in the next room. I got out of the shower and got on with the day.
I pursue excellence as a facilitator. It is a field particularly prone to never allowing perfection to be attained. I’ve been at it for a long time, yet I still replay sessions in my head after they have been run. This kind of self-flagellation is indulgent and impossible to justify to most people. I find it the best way of consistently reviewing my own performance when getting feedback is just another of the things that fall away with having a leaner business. In the session it takes hyper-awareness, reading the signs of people in the moment and then remembering the entire sequences in memory HD. The replaying is tortuous.
Yesterday’s gig involved a room full of 60 leaders in a department in my company that is facing potentially enormous change. My remit was to walk through four change models in 2-3 hours, and set up an appetite to embed such key learnings over the next 2 months as my team runs a suite of training offerings for them. When I thought about what was important and in my control, it was the timing of the session, the adherence to a key message, the accessing of thoughts from the group and use of the right language.
You choose your attitude with these situations to some degree, however I felt shackled and constrained. Perversely, this is exactly how it should be for a facilitator employed by the company he/she is facilitating for. The company pays my wages. The company has a strategy. The company has a culture. The company has a language. The company has a cohesive identity. The company needs predictability and consistency. So OK. I’ve signed up to that for the last 20 years, willingly, knowing my role in the community that the company really is.
Like any community, we also have outliers, and I am one of them. I reflect, I challenge, I think independently, I have my say publicly. I follow my values and sometimes they conflict with what goes on and with what the prevailing view is. I care, and am proudest when I couple that with courage. I most respect and gravitate to those who are the same.
So why the hell didn’t I access the outliers in the room yesterday? Was it the high stakes? Was I scared to trust in their wisdom? Was it the time constraint? Or was my head-space not right? I don’t have the answers. What I do know is if I had failed because of noble experimentation that would be more palatable; I failed going the other direction. Benignly, I told no stories of work-related change experiences, and sought none. In doing so I didn’t create an immediately safe space for the outliers to put their considered view or cry from the heart across. This is the facilitation crime I am most guilty of. Guilty. Resultant, I had mistimed pauses, I was wooden, my opening frame was weak, I shouted to the room for when time was up, my session design felt repetitive….
At the end of the session, the most senior leader in the room asked how I thought it went. I couldn’t directly answer her. I knew exactly, but I couldn’t articulate it; the failure had momentarily sucked all breath into a black hole somewhere in my gut. Regaining small composure, I asked for her feedback instead. I haven’t received that yet, and haven’t unpacked it in depth with my colleague co-facilitator in the session. But really, how can I expect others to be honest with me when I don’t have the immediate pluck to be honest with them?
Written a few days later.
I feel a bit better. The natural distractions of work have pulled me out of my funk. I’ve typed up the participant outcomes from the session a few days ago and I have sent them to the senior leader. I re-read my diary note and I feel slightly silly… I can be a supercilious bastard sometimes. I debriefed with my co-facilitator too, this gave a lot of perspective. I’m in a great team.
Written last night.
I ran the first of 6 sessions to the same audience as a month ago. This was a fully fleshed out, all day exploration of the same models they had a taste of last month. A group of 10, half were brought along by those that went to the sampler session. This was success in itself. I chatted to a few of them in the break. They said that a month ago they were sitting on the naughty table up the back. I apologised for shouting instructions at them, they apologised for still not hearing it! We smiled at each other and we all felt at peace after that.
Gee, today was good. I’ve been waiting a month for this chance at redemption, and I shot the lights out. I hit every note. I’ve got another 5 such chances, the next one tomorrow. I’m going to deliver in all of them. My failure is fuelling it.