April 4, 2018

Facilitate with confidence — Les Robinson

Story and photos by Russ Grayson, March 2018

Following on from the previous Saturday’s workshop with Les Robinson on how to use communications to get people to take action, last Saturday’s taught us how to facilitate small groups to come to decisions.

Les is one of Australia’s more experienced educators in social change, his consultancy work taking him into local government, health, landcare and other areas where his problem solving, facilitation and communications services are valued. His book, Changeology, is read by people working in both organisations and community associations.

The facilitation workshop offered participants down-to-earth, proven techniques for working with groups, all drawn from Les’ extensive experience. And like all his workshops they included plenty of time practicing. In teams, people worked on their own real-world applications.

Participants came from a diversity of organisations and activities. Some worked with community organisations, some in health, one in a school, one a WWOOFer.

The dire need for effective facilitation

If bad meetings and processes are a malady, effective facilitation is a remedy.

For anyone who has sat through unnecessary and boring workplace meetings, or tedious community organisation meetings where people ramble on, where time is wasted and agenda items left undone, which was most of us there, the workshop offered a better way.

It is especially in community associations that there is a lack of facilitation skill. The result is long wordy meetings after which people forget to do the things they say they will do, or who do them at the last moment before the next meeting. This is a path to ineffectiveness that a well-facilitated meeting with clear actions to follow can fix.

Les said that facilitators should be involved in the planning of meetings and should make clear to organisers that a diversity of attendees should be recruited to attend. This produces results that a meeting of like minds, that can generate a kind of groupthink, cannot produce.

Dealing with difficult people was a topic that piqued the interest of all. A participant asked about public meetings that are stacked by NIMBYs who only want to further their agenda and who are often loud, rude and verbally aggressive. Les suggested putting to the attendees the option of stopping the meeting to discuss what the disruptive people want to talk about. Unless the meeting is mostly of that type, attendees will likely vote to continue with the agenda. If they are the majority of attendees and try to coopt the meeting or dominate it, then it is time to close the meeting.

Effective facilitation is a skill and requires the ability to improvise and to think on your feet. It requires extensive practice with a diversity of organisations and people to become a really effective facilitator.

Participants got an inkling of that in this workshop. Like Les’ workshops in communications and reviving your community group, this one was packed with the wisdom of experience.

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The workshops are part of the community leadership training program offered by the sustainability unit of Randwick City Council at the Randwick Community Centre. To book into courses and workshops visit City East Community College's website.

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