Facilitating with Excellence

Facilitating With Excellence
By Leonard Kok

As a Facilitator, I find satisfaction in meeting the clients, getting to know their objectives and translating them
into Experiential Learning activities. Facilitating an entire programme is an invigorating, exciting experience for
me, especially so when the team is able to meet their learning objectives and hearing them shake our hands at
the end of the day and say: ‘Job well done!’

All of us are made uniquely and have different experiences and backgrounds in life. Thus, any facilitator who believes in Experiential Learning can and will be able to gather new insights. Alvin Toffler says that the illiterate of the 21st century will not

be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. This enlightening statement cuts across time; it can be applied in times of affluence as well as times of adversity.

What can we learn as facilitators? We interact with different programmes, create and manage learning outcomes and venues. It also, and certainly, includes participants – simply because each one of us, including the participants, have unique experiences to share. Their experiences can surely enrich us if we choose to
interact with a learning attitude.

Most of the time, facilitating is a physically tiring, sometimes mentally exhausting experience but at the end of the programme, satisfaction in a job well done motivates and encourages me to do better. I am able to sleep at night with a clear conscience that i have done a good job. Of course, receiving online and other forms
of compliments after a programme acts as a booster for continuous improvement.

Through getting constructive and very often, excellent feedback, i have garnered what i think are the factors which are important for the personal facilitator’s toolkit:

1. Facilitate with confidence
Confidence begets confidence. Confidence in oneself is the starting point of any programme and adventure and it sends a clear message to our participants about our professionalism and image. For younger facilitators, know that you are not standing in front of the participants alone. The boss, the organizers, and generally the participants want you to have a successful programme. If we look at it from the perspective, we can take the programme and do a good job of it.

In addition having confidence in oneself acts as a security blanket in situations where our participants have not faced before, like going against the gravity for 10 to 25 metres. So, more than a smiling face, confidence radiates not only warmth but also issues a sense of credibility and authority in our profession, which leads to trust in what we do.

2. Relate with Sincerity
More than many other professions, we facilitators interact not just with human beings but also the organizational processes which drive their behavior and just about everything which explains their existence in the marketplace. Their time spent with us means they are entrusting their well- being and the whole set of objectives, which they hold dear to their hearts, to us. Relating to our participants must mean more than just having professional knowledge of the things they do. First and foremost, sincerity should be the very cornerstone for our interaction with the participants. Many of us have heard of this statement ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. Just as our professionalism encourages
our participants to trust us, our sincerity causes the participants to open up, have fun and understand us when sometimes when things don’t exactly go the way we want them to.

3. Facilitate with a listening ear
More important than our verbal facilitation, we have to listen. We are the host, caretaker, first-aider, weatherman, clown, magician, servant and helper – each role we play demands a different set of job description. If we are able to listen, we will be able to fulfill these multiple roles with excellence. Listening will also enable us to ensure that our process debrief is to the point and relevant for their organization. I strongly believe that a facilitator who listens will correspondingly increase his or her situational awareness.

4. Plan with seriousness
When I was a student, I have been drummed with this message: ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. The same goes to planning for a programme. A facilitator who attaches the adjective ‘professional’ in front of his or her title must surely do some research into the organisation’s mission and goals, the core values which explain their market existence and other information which enable us to do a good facilitation. Just coming in at 0800 hours for a ‘template’ programme starting at 0900 hours will do fine but putting in the 3 extra mile will enable us to facilitate with a higher situational awareness and intelligence; plus a higher EQ as well because we will know what are the OB markers and will not tread onto ‘thin ice’.

5. Manage expectations well
The management of expectations is an acquired skill. Expectations not set or set in an unthinking way will meet with obstacles along the way. After the participants have set the expectations, what next? Do we just leave it to chance for the text on the flipchart to materialize and concretise or do we proactively seek to refer to it along the facilitation process and to provide means and platform to fulfill them? In addition, out-of-the-template requests, if managed well, will result in comebacks and returning clients. The reverse is also true – promises made but not delivered will not just drive away our clients but also create some negative publicity by word of mouth. A great facilitator I once knew said that a satisfied client will publicise to five other people and a dissatisfied client – ten.

6. Deliver Fun

Why do children have some much fun and ‘a-dull-ts’ have so much fewer LOL moments? We take ourselves too seriously. Seriously, that’s how I sometimes feel about myself too. However, if we include fun in the entire
process of facilitation, it lowers the emotional barriers and will naturally result in gut-wrenching, floor-rolling moments of spontaneity. Laughter is one of the objectives of the organizers and the participants themselves.
‘FUN’, we have realized, will always appear during the setting of Expectation.

7. Practice Safety
Is this an overstated objective or understated opinion? Years ago, I was in the Combat Engineers, being introduced to C4 and other explosive devices and booby traps. In the very first introduction to the very exciting part of the entire course, we were shown gory human parts, scattered around this region in Singapore called the Area ‘D’. Due to carelessness, such tragic mishaps took place. It will serve us well if we learn from foresight instead of hindsight, because hindsight means sad sights. Safety should always be the foundation of a fun programme. Is it not a fact that ‘To have a safe programme’ is one of the often heard expectations? This therefore means that we walk the actual ground before the participants use the elements. In fact, any activity comes with a certain amount of risk – it will do everyone good if we minimize it. This brings me to the next and related point.

8. Walk the ground
I learnt a very memorable lesson in Batam in the not so distant past when I as the lead facilitator forgot to check the ground, only to find out one hour before the programme started, in the morning. My heart almost dropped out of my mouth when I discovered that the entire Low Elements were shifted to a location which was deemed to be very unsuitable for any programme to take place. Shocked? Just ask yourself how many times has the Low Elements moved away from a site? Thankfully, in my situation, the clients were understanding and a change of activities were put in place and accepted. I learnt that if we don’t walk the ground, we have to accept the consequences of our assumptions and plan for the unplanned. Cross-
reference to point 3.

9. Focus on the Objectives
If all of us, from Project Managers to Instructors to fellow facilitators are focused on the clients’ outcomes and objectives, what is being planned and what is not planned for (‘screw-ups’) will be managed with a great deal of understanding. To me, being objective-based will enable us all to focus on the issue(s) on the ground and not on the person(s). I have had tremendous satisfaction working with my fellow facilitators who, with one heart and one mind, tried our best to meet the clients’ objectives by working shoulder to shoulder, even though our energies were almost sapped. I shall and will never forget those golden moments.

10. Work as a Team
This goes hand-in-hand with point 7. Coming from a background which places a great deal of responsibility on the individual, meritocracy and personal achievement (meaning competition), our society in general needs to emphasise on the simple synergy which guarantee success. We are team- building specialists but we could also do with teambuilding ourselves. Personally, I have also learnt a great deal by focusing on what each part of the team has to specialize in and not to shoulder everything, even if I am the lead facilitator. I have also learnt a lot in focusing on the strengths of the person and letting him or her do the part of the entire project. And I am still learning, since life is an ongoing adventure.

11. Take an interest in reading
Reading? Where do you find the time, you may ask? An excellent facilitator first has to know some current affairs so the newspaper ought to be part of one’s staple diet. Why? We are teambuilding professionals
providing insights to organizations on organizational processes. We are in fact, professional consultants. Where do these insights come from? Analysis, observations from journalists and updates enable us to speak with depth and understanding. Reading also helps us to build up a repertoire of narratives. Narratives are powerful tools which are capable of breaking paradigms and providing catalyst to change and transformation. A narrative, well-told and at the appropriate moment, provides a great opportunity to shift an
organization’s gear. We have never underestimated the power of the three construction workers, have we? Which is why we keep on using it. How do I improve my language? What are the Seven Habits? What kind of
family background did Akio Morita come from? Well, there’s an answer to every single curious reader, found in the form of a book or a computer with an internet connection. Further than that, reading as an enjoyment
helps us to grow as a person. There is a book for any enthusiast; there is a book for any willing reader.

12 Take care of yourself
This seems very self-centred but if we take a look at emergency and non- emergency procedures, most of the time, one has to take care of himself or herself before he or she can render assistance to others. In an
emergency on the airplane or ferry, we have to put on lifesaving equipment before even attempting to save others. In the same vein, we should take proper rest after programmes and apply sunblock before
going out into the sun, simply because we exhort our participants to do so. Same theory here. Prepare for the programme, rest well, and the programme will most likely turn out with better results as our physical
constitution is able to prep well and respond to any unique situation which arises. This will prevent us from running on an empty tank, which can be potentially disastrous both for our health and well-being.

Take care of ourselves can also means developing a hobby or a passion. Start and pursue a hobby. It gives meaning to our growth as a person. We can most certainly sense the passion when we talk to people who
have hobbies and healthy pursuits in their lives. We may never fully understand why a person takes up that particular hobby but we certainly 6 will identify with the word ‘Passion’ when the person is able to apply the
same amount of it into his or her work. It would not be far-fetched to say
that people who have hobbies and interests and pursue them will be able
to put that same amount onto the work areas.

13 Don’t forget your family or your loved ones
It would be an irony if we are teambuilding specialists and yet we cannot teambuild with people whom we call the ‘inner-circle’ – the ones who have a special place in our hearts. Take care of this aspect of our lives
and it will provide more meaning to the things which we do at work.

14 A Spiritual Focus
What if we have prepared well for a programme but some unexpected things happen? So, what then? Do we feel bad about it? Do we have to carry the consequences one, two days or weeks after the programme?
Well, I think it’s not necessary. There must be a time and place when after all that has been planned for, said and done, we must step back and let go. There could be a reason behind it? Having a spiritual anchor in
one’s life enables one to see life as a part of a whole rather than a moment, and it provides balance to one’s existence.

I hope the pointers will be useful for the facilitator. A facilitator never stops learning as facilitation is a skill which is honed over time and experience. All the best to your facilitation journey and share your insights!