A daylong workshop is comparable to flying from Melbourne to Singapore. Hopefully in duration alone, yet there are some similarities and practices which could be shared and improved upon.
Participants and passengers both give their time, money and permission to be held as ‘prisoner’ in a confined space - allocated to a seated position, with limited personal space and generally alongside someone unknown to them.
Know the feeling?
Anticipation relates to both workshop and flight attendance. We have the opportunity to improve the on-boarding experience to set the vibe for high trust in our workshops (and on our planes).
So, what can we do to improve the daylong experience – on the flight and in the workshop?
I believe we can learn from train travel - the ability to configure the seating to suit you and your travelling companions comfort is a start. Even though we’ve been flying for over 100 years, we’re still confronted with rows of seating facing in the one direction (unless you’re paying for business & first class.)
My heart sinks when a ‘theatre style’ set up is used by people who intend to sell and serve us with their intelligence – whether that be a Facilitator, trainer, speaker or presenter. To me, it broadcasts a day of sitting, listening and note-taking opposed to energy inducing conversations, activities and movement.
When I board my next flight, I want to hear this announcement:
“Please introduce yourself to those seated around you on today’s flight; we encourage you to get to know each other as you’ll be sitting next to each other for the next eight hours. You’re more than welcome to change seats if mutually agreeable and please check who’s planning on taking a nap and who needs to work throughout the whole flight.”
However, you will hear this if you’re a participant in a room with me!
The role of a Facilitator is to purposefully engage people, fast track relationships to boost their resilience to move from their comfort zone to their stretch zone and to create a feeling of psychological safety to heighten the trust in the room to become involved in the conversations.
The Amygdala, a part of our brain, is our champion in risky situation e.g. if a tooth bearing Tiger enters the room it helps us run faster than normal, however, in the absence of the Tiger it causes us great pain and angst if we allow it to take control of our thoughts and feelings when we’re in a foreign environment.
A facilitator who on-boards participants with the day’s plan, uses welcoming exercises and connects participants prior to attending, enables the control of the Amygdala by engaging the Prefrontal Cortex part of the brain - which is where new visions for the future, feeling good about others and empathy, reside. It also fosters trust.
We all get annoyed and frustrated about flights when there are delayed, and details are changed. Fear and distrust close the Prefrontal Cortex.
Working with people’s brains, in flight and in the workshop can help you take the lead to resiliently fast track relationships. Understanding people gives trust and forgiveness.
Flight crews offer us a window into their practices of building relationships while working on their flight:
· The Crew arrive early – ensuring the plane has fuel, engines are working, cabins are clean, food has arrived, and they start preparing for serving.
· The Purser welcomes everyone aboard – using names, pleasantly asking questions whilst provides direction to seating.
· The Pilot makes necessary compliance announcements - introducing the crew, updating weather reports, time differences and importantly, stays in the cockpit where needed most and leaves the leadership and relationship building to the Purser and crew.
· The Purser ensures everything runs to plan - engaging passengers, checking to ensure their destination will be achieved with the quality of service during the flight.
· The Crew demonstrate the necessary safety requirements and ask questions to about meal choices early on to keep the engagement of their passengers.
I recall a Qantas flight when two of our five screens stopped four hours into a 13-hour flight. The Purser rescued the situation, developing a friendly relationship with each one of us including two children, sharing shopping tips for our destination stay and arranged for our kids into the cockpit when we landed. The problem couldn’t be fixed however the relationship dissolved the anxiety.
Resilient Relationships are necessary to survive both these environments - in a room or on a flight.
Here’s are few practices from my experience:
Before you Start:
· Engage and educate. Increase awareness of what to expect and how to enjoy the experience. Our brains are wired to either run fast (Amygdala) or to be entertained (Prefrontal Cortex).
· Consider the room layout – sit in various chairs around the room to determine how comfortable is it for your participants to see you, (where you’ll write, draw, demonstrate) and how easy is it for them to engage with others who’ll sit next to them and how easy is it to take notes.
· Make your tables look appealing to sit at - use colourful post-it notes, markers, note-taking material and welcome messages or workbooks – reinforce what you’re aiming to achieve during the day.
· Ensure you have a flight manifest– a list of everyone attending and details about these people. Homework to help you remember names if you have a larger group. I often connect via LinkedIn prior to meeting.
· Welcome everyone as they arrive. Introduce yourself, ask for their name and use their name. Give them context of your role and their role. Let the Purser be your role model.
· Introduce people to each other to create conversation and to minimise anxiety. How many times have you flown, and you don’t know the names of the people whom you’re wedged between for eight hours?
At the Start:
· Start on time – or early if everyone has arrived – there is always a sense of surprise when the plane starts to move out early. And when a flight is delayed, there’s annoyance.
· Stay on course – stick to the set times for breaks, speakers, exercises – or seek permission to make changes - when a flight is diverted to another destination, there’s anarchy!
· Create safety rules with the participants – use Brené Brown’s ‘setting boundaries’ exercise - ‘What’s OK and What’s not OK’. I ask the group if they require their devices to participate as I know the ‘Pilots’ in the room who operate best with their technology in their little cockpit!
During the day:
· Avoid working from your ‘cockpit’; move into the room and work together – don’t talk at or to the participants, encourage them to join in the conversation. The answer is generally in the room.
· Check body language - is there eye contact with you, how did they shake your hand, where did they choose to sit in the room – your emotional intelligence radar captures this data, enabling you to adapt your communication with the different personalities in the room.
· Pilots need to know the agenda, the destination, and any changes in the course of the direction. They’re keen to use their control panels (devices) and comfortable in their own space.
· There will be ‘Pursers’ and ‘Flight Attendants’ in the room. They enjoy taking the lead to ask and respond to questions, to speak on behalf of those around them and eager to accommodate others’ needs. Let them help you however don’t let them take control of the flight.
· There will be Prisoners too. They’re physically with you in the room however they have a mental meeting which beckons their attention. I’ve found that its best not to take prisoners. If need be, a conversation in a quieter space of the room, is needed to understand their reasoning for their behaviour – it’s important that the safety (and enjoyment) of all other passengers is considered – not one lone passenger.
· Provide a parachute option for someone who wants to leave the meeting. It can be a gift to both the person and remaining participants - a departure can release extra oxygen into the room.
We really can make an impact with the experience we offer in our workshops (and meetings). And it does start with the effort you make to fast track the relationships with the people in the room.
I suggest that if you’re in need of mentoring in this area of your leadership, then connect with me. I’ve had 25 years’ facilitation experience.
Being a Facilitator takes experience – it’s a skill and requires learning and mentoring, just as the Flight Crew have learnt and continue to grow in their roles.
I continue to learn from new resources as I want to increase my Facilitation capability and achieve more resilient relationships with my clients and participants. Here are three books which I recommend:
· Conversational Intelligence by Judith E Glaser
· Dare to Lead by Dr Brené Brown
· Emotional Intelligence Coaching by Stephen Neal, Lisa Spencer-Arnell & Liz Wilson.
Happy International Facilitation Week (this week and next week!)