Facilitating transitions

9 January 2008 6 By Viv McWaters

sunflowers.jpgThis is the photo that I drew at random from Visual Explorer. It reminds me of the somewhat artificial world we facilitators operate in. We’re often called in to ‘fix’ a situation, or work with a group as an independent, neutral outsider. Sometimes we’re asked to challenge the group or help them explore other ways of thinking. Our role and our workshops vary enormously – especially, if, like me, you are an independent consultant. What is common though is the time-out aspect of facilitated workshops. Some people like this, others resent it. It’s a change from the everyday. And therein lies a challenge. How do we make the transition from the ‘event’ – a conference, a forum, a workshop, an on-line discussion – to the ordinary world that we usually inhabit?

This photo encompasses that transition. Plants are nurtured in the controlled environment of the greenhouse. They are carefully monitored, fed and watered. there is a barrier between them and the harshness of the real world. If the greenhouse nurturing has been done well, and they are gradually aclimatised to the outside environment, plants are likely to thrive. If they are taken directly from the greenhouse to the outside, they may encounter extreme conditions and wither.

While I would never claim that facilitated workshops are as controlled as a greenhouse – although I do know sometimes I wish they were – it is often an artificial environment. And I’m intrigued by our role in facilitating the transition. Does our job finish when the workshop is over? Do we have any responsibility for what happens afterwards? What can we do in a workshop to gradually aclimatise people to a new way of thinking or working or being?

In many ways change is incremental. Giving people time out from the everyday to explore or reflect or simply work differently is one of many ways that we are influenced, develop, grow or change. Facilitation is a means – one of many tracks that people may choose, made more complex still by the choices the facilitator makes.

So I’m going to look at facilitation more as a continuum than a single event – more of a hiccup in the everyday that may or may not be what’s needed by all or anybody. And I’m going to give more attention to transitions: how to enable whatever emerges from a facilitated event to be gradually aclimatised so that it has a greater chance of survival.

What do you see in this photo that relates to your practice of facilitation?