This weekend I’m facilitating my 80th Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop (or Help Increase the Peace workshop which is the youth version of AVP), but my first on in over 14 years. One of the things I learnt through AVP is the importance of team building for the facilitation team. AVP workshop are run by a team of volunteer facilitators which means that I’ve worked with many different people of varying ability, styles and personalities. As would be expected, there have been some great facilitators and some quite poor facilitators; there have been people I’ve find it easy to work with and others I’ve really struggled with; there have been facilitators with a similar style to my own and others with a very different style.
One of the things I learnt over the years was to value different styles of facilitating. Some facilitators, whose style I found very difficult, were loved by some of the participants and their style worked much better with some people than mine. I learnt the value of different facilitation styles and personalities within a team and that sometimes a style I found difficult highlighted an area of my facilitation that could be improved.
One workshop stands out as being a valuable lesson in the importance of team building before facilitating. I was helping out a relatively new group in another state and the whole team was not able to meet as a group before the workshop. When we finally did meet just before the workshop, it became clear that there was some real tension between two of the facilitators. In the breaks, and even in the workshop, the tension undermined the workshop.
I found it fascinating that the group reflected some of the tensions in the facilitation team and the community building that is an important part of AVP workshops was undermined. During the breaks, instead of focusing on the participants and how the workshop was progressing, we kept having to address issues within the facilitation team. It was not a good workshop – but I learnt a great deal.
Spending time developing a relationship as a team and discussing how we will work together is probably more important that planning the agenda. If a team is working well and trust each other, issues can be addressed quickly and easily, sometimes even in front of the group. There have been a number of facilitators I’ve worked with regularly (especially Dee Brooks and Tracy Crisp) where we have made significant changes during a workshop by having a quick conversation in front of the group.
A benefit of a well-functioning team is that it demonstrates cooperative relationships and working as a team – particularly valuable for workshop on conflict resolution and nonviolence.
The team building process I now like to use before a workshop is based on the following questions:
- How are you today and how are you feeling about the coming workshop?
- Where are you with AVP and facilitation?
- How do you understand Transforming Power? (One of the key concepts of AVP which different people see in different ways. I found it helps to be clear about how each person in the facilitation team approaches it.)
- What are some things you’ve discovered about yourself when working in teams?
- How do you like to be supported in a workshop?
- What are three strengths you bring to the workshop?
- What are three learning edges (e.g., areas for improvement) you would like to work on during this workshop?
It also helps to be clear about how each of the facilitators feel about other facilitators adding something when they are running an exercise, how we will make decisions during the workshop and giving and receiving feedback.
During the breaks in a workshop, when the facilitation team meet, I like to start with, “What’s on top?” It allows us to quickly identify any pressing issues before doing anything else we need to do. What’s on top might include that a participant appears to be struggling, that there seems to be some tension in the group, or that one of the facilitators is worried about a coming activity.
After the workshop, an important part of the debrief is allowing each person to reflect on what they did well and the learning edges they identified at the start of the workshop. After a person reflects on their own facilitation, then the other facilitators provide some supportive feedback. I’ve found that this really helps promote reflection practice and has allowed me to develop as a facilitator.
AVP, and many other workshops, are all about relationships and so it is vital that we ensure that the relationships are strong in the facilitation team.
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