Facilitating workshops – team building

Between 1994 and 2002 I helped facilitate around 80 workshops with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). The workshops were interactive workshops exploring nonviolent conflict resolution, most of which were over a weekend (Friday evening, and all day Saturday and Sunday). Now, whenever I run workshops, I am grateful for the excellent experience I gained through these workshops and how much I learnt about facilitation (and nonviolence). Over the next few days, I’m going to reflect on some of the things I learnt.

Because AVP workshops are run in with a team of voluntary facilitators in both the community (where most of the workshops I was involved in were run) and in prison, I learnt the importance of team building and reflection. There are three main AVP workshops (Basic, Advanced and Training for Facilitators) which allowed people to build their skills in both nonviolence and facilitation. This is particularly helpful in the workshops run in prison where inmates have the opportunity to undertake training as facilitators and help run the workshops. (We often learn heaps more when we start trying to teach things!)

Team building in the facilitation team was really important for a good workshop. This was driven home when I did an advanced workshop in another state with facilitators I hadn’t met before. There were four other facilitators besides me and we met for two hours before the workshop to prepare. Most of the time was spent planning the agenda and setting up for the workshop so we really didn’t do much team building.

In the planning time I discovered there was quite a bit of unresolved conflict between two of the facilitators, which really impacted on the workshop. It meant that during breaks and between days, rather than focusing on how the workshop was going, we needed to put effort into the relationships within the facilitation team. What I found interesting was that some of the conflict within the facilitation team was reflected in the workshop and the behaviour of participants. We really needed the time to get the facilitation team working well together before we tried to facilitate.

In some ways having a strong facilitation team was more important than having a great agenda. If the facilitation team was working well, we could adapt the agenda as we went along if needed. If the facilitation team wasn’t strong, even a great agenda might not be enough to save the workshop.

We developed a process for team building and debriefing which generally worked well, although it was pretty time consuming. Before the workshop we met to work through a number of questions/topics.

  1. Checking and catching up – How are you? Is there anything you’d like to tell the others so we can understand or support you better during the workshop?
  2. AVP – Where are you at with AVP? What is your understanding of Transforming Power (one of the central concepts of AVP)? What is your experience with facilitation?
  3. This team – What are some things you have discovered about yourself in working in a team? What are your “hidden agendas”? How do you like to be supported in a workshop? How will we facilitate together? (E.g., Is it OK to add comments when somebody else is facilitating an exercise?) How will we handle disagreements?
  4. Strengths – What are at least three strengths you bring to the workshop?
  5. Learning edges – What are three learning edges (e.g. facilitation practices or skills you are trying to improve) for you in this workshop?

After discussing these we would then start planning the agenda. It could take quite a while, but particularly when working with new facilitators, it was a great opportunity for reflection.

Throughout the workshop we would meet during the breaks to quickly check how things were going. My favourite question was “What’s on top?” In other words, what pressing issue (if any) do you have? Sometimes it might just have been, “I’m hungry” or it could be “I’m worried that Jane doesn’t seem to be engaged in the workshop.” If there were any pressing issues, we could then discuss them.

After the workshop we would reflect on the workshop and our facilitation. As well as discussing what worked well in the workshop and how it could have been improved, we also reflected on our facilitation. My favourite process for doing this was each of us would reflect on what we thought we did well in the workshop, how we went with our learning edges, and any other learning edges we felt we had. After each person reflected on their own facilitation, the other facilitators also provided some feedback, mainly building on the person’s own reflections. Once again, it took quite a bit of time, but it was very valuable as a learning tool.

I also kept a journal where I reflected on my strengths and learning edges, and what I learnt from each workshop.

Through the team reflection and personal reflection, I learnt heaps and my skills as a facilitator are largely thanks to going through this process of reflection.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching, Social change and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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