Jules and I had the great pleasure of delivering the very first 'MVP' of the Facilitation Starter session to the latest intake of Code for Australia Fellows.  It was a half-day version with the 12 Fellows from this year's intake.  This group of young, ambitious and very bright technologists had taken a week out of their public sector placements to partake in team-building, reflection and professional development.  Our thanks go to all the amazing Fellows who attended and enthusiastically participated and especially to our good friend Alvaro Maz for making this possible.  Thanks amigo!

The purpose of the session was to provide them with an experiential introduction to facilitation. The outcomes of the session were two-fold:

1. They would leave the session feeling more capable and confident to design, prepare and facilitate a collaborative session than before they arrived.

2. That Julian and I would generate learnings on what does and doesn't work for the Facilitation Starter session.

We're in the process of collecting more detailed feedback from the group but based on our group debrief at the end of the session, it was evident that they'd all learned things that increased their understanding of facilitation as a practice which they could apply back in their placements.

On the second outcome, there were several key learnings that were generated for us from the session:

1. We needed more time to center and warm up this particular group.  This was perhaps due to three factors:  Firstly there were a number of participants with more introverted characters in the room and who were therefore more likely to be quieter.  Secondly the group were tired from a week of learning and collaboration.  Thirdly they were probably just wary of us!

During this centering process we asked each individual to share their main learning goal for the session.  This had several benefits. Firstly it identified where the common learning goals were and the key areas we had to emphasise in the session.  As participants were sharing, Jules and I were actively taking notes of what they were saying as well as asking clarifying questions.  Secondly because it was everyone's first opportunity to speak in the group setting, it opened the space for everyone's participation on the key theme of the day - increasing our facilitation confidence and capability.  Thirdly once everyone had shared, rather than summarising what we had heard we firstly turned it back to the group to summarise what they thought they had heard.  An early cue to the critical facilitation skill of listening. 

2. Continuing on the theme of session timing, we also realised how each of the topics we covered could easily have been at least 3-4hr slots in themselves in contrast to the 45minute sprints we'd allocated for this half day session.  A hypotheses that's emerging is whether a longer program could also be offered as a package down the track to really allow the ideas to incubate. 

3. The value of action learning and reflection.  Rather than lecturing and presenting slides (we had none) we focussed on questioning, reflection, small group sharing to draw out the group's experience and understanding.  We were then able to share our own experiences after this process of participant-driven exploration and discovery. 

4. Collaborating on a model of Mindset, Skillset and Toolset.  The session was organised on key jobs of the facilitator: problem definition, defining purpose, session design and performance.  We ran out of time for experience, content and participants.  In the limited time available, what really helped was how we used metaphors to model the mindset and behaviour of the facilitator at each stage.  For example we used the metaphor of the Doctor at the problem definition and scoping stage because of the listening, questioning, observation and empathy required at this point.  We continued to build out this model as the session progressed, using content of our conversations to supply the ideas on each post-it.  Not only did this then provide the 'take away' for the group, it did so in a way that once again role modelled listening as well as the practice of model-making.  Next time we'll make this second point more explicit.

Is there anything else you'd like to know about our first session?  We're excited to run our next one, just need a few more sign-ups!  If you like what you're reading, we'd encourage you to sign-up to our expression of interest list here or drop us an email.  

Mindset Skillset Toolset