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....and many other thoughts about facilitation, coaching ( teams & individuals) and learning


  • David

Intended Messiness (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

Scenario – Along with others, you designed and ran a 3-day workshop. For various reasons (e.g. flow design, learners’ composition), on Day 2 morning, a few participants criticized strongly and openly their workshop experience on Day 1. It was a hard time for the facilitators to deal with the dynamics on spot, and adapted subsequently. There were odd moments… with a lot of emotions and uncertainties. Somehow, the workshop ended reasonably well. Now, you are about to prepare for the next workshop, how would you like it to be different?

It would be natural to find ways to avoid the odd moments e.g. to re-design some processes or to align better the participants’ expectation. In fact, it was my thought to do so. But I changed my mind after a learning reflection with a fellow facilitator. I no longer want to kill all the odd moments. In short, our reflection informed me that sometimes odd moments are good stuffs for learning. This sounds a bit paradoxical. Let me elaborate by going back to the reflection conversation.

I found the conversation very rich in learning for myself. To begin with, we were very drawn to the opportunity to reflect because of the emotions involved in the event. There were a lot of case-in-point which we could discuss how we could handle differently. Pondering why, I believed the richness was largely because of the challenges in the workshop. I suspected that if the workshop was smooth and things turned out as planned, I probably would learn less.

I then wondered whether it would be the same for the participants. Well, it depends. Most importantly, it depends on the learning objective. If people come to learn about quality management or Health & Safety at workplace, odd moments in workshops probably do not help. But when the learning objective is about collective wisdom (it is the case for us), odd moments is useful and in fact probably essential. (Basically, using Ron Heifetz’s language, the former is ‘Technical’ in nature and the latter is ‘Adaptive’)

After all, learning how to tap into collective wisdom is largely about how to deal with messiness, emotion, uncertainties.

There is another reason why odd moments are good in learning collective wisdom. Most people (especially those with ‘Technical’ professional background e.g. accountants, lawyers and bankers) resist the notion of collective wisdom. Or to be specific, we (I was a banker before) hate the loss of control which often accompanies the process of collective wisdom. Thus, some odd moments are good signs that the participants are entering their learning zone (i.e. outside their comfort zones). Of course, hopefully they do not ‘check out’ as they go into the panic zone!

It then leads to 2 questions:

1. How to assist the participants to learn from the odd moments instead of just staying in the ‘complaint’ mode in those moments?

2. What are ‘good’ odd moments and what are those ‘bad’ ones to avoid?

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