Awakening the Spirit of Creative Collaboration

Upcoming workshop: is this for you?

Are you interested in effective ways to help people become curious and interested about differences, instead of defensive and threatened?

Last time I was in Maine offering a Dynamic Facilitation workshop, one participant wrote afterward about her experience of this work: "…a dynamic shift in the capacity of the participants and the group as a whole to hold diversity and complexity with their eyes and hearts wide open." 

It seems to me, that we need this more than ever! At the same time, to arrive at powerful outcomes, we often need to do things differently. In Germany (where this photo was taken) Dynamic Facilitation is often described as "ein ganz anders moderieren" ("a very different way of facilitating"). Many of the participants in our workshops have been mediators: they, too, feel that this work offers something new and highly effective to their mediation practice.

So, how "different" is this way of working with differences? Below are descriptions of four basic elements of our practice, so you can decide for yourself.

1) Heart-centered listening. What might "active listening" look like, if our aim as facilitators or mediators was not to "be impartial", but instead, to be "multi-partial" and to really support each participant? In this work, we take a highly relational approach. Our intention as facilitators or mediators is to establish a connection with each person, to really "get" what they are wanting to express, to let them know what we are hearing, and to create a space where they can hear themselves.

As we do this, others are better able to hear that person, too. After facilitating high-friction meetings, it's quite common that a participant will come up afterward and confess, "I had never really heard before, what so-and-so was trying to say, until you reflected it back to him… It's like some part of my brain would shut off, whenever he (or she) would start to speak." While there's more nuance to heart-centered listening than simply reflecting back what someone is saying, this is one key feature of our work.

2) Welcoming initial solutions. What would happen if as facilitators or mediators, we viewed each person's "initial solutions" as their best creative effort to date to make sense of a complex situation and to come up with an appropriate response? Of course most initial solutions are usually quite limited, as they are based on the narrow amount of data each person has from their own vantage point in the larger system. And of course we want to support participants in moving beyond initial solutions!

Yet what we've discovered is that by welcoming and listening deeply to each initial solution, participants are much more able to take in new information afterward. Once they start hearing one anothers' initial solutions, along with one another's various concerns about the various solutions... many of which correspond to divergent ways of framing the initial problem... participants are quick to realize the limitations of these initial proposals. At the same time, by creating a relational, heart-centered space that honors each person's best creative effort to date, we can easily build on the positive seeds within each of these partial perspectives. So, we are "going slow" in order to "go fast"....

3) Receiving and translating critical energy. As facilitators or mediators, what would happen if we viewed any criticism as a sign that the person offering the criticism, really cares about a positive outcome? Furthermore, what would happen if we understood our role as being the "designated catcher" on the team, so that each participant can more easily stay in their creative brain rather than shifting into their reactive brain?

In this work, we create a trusted space for the co-existence of creative thinking AND critical thinking by inviting participants to re-direct any charged or critical comments toward us, instead of toward one another. That way, each participant can speak freely and be heard, with less likelihood of setting off reactive triggers. This might sound a bit challenging -- all of that energy directed toward us, as the facilitator or mediator?? I know it sounds paradoxical, yet one of the benefits that practitioners of this work frequently report, is a greater sense of ease in working with conflict.

4) Harvesting each contribution. What would happen if we saw each contribution as a piece of the larger puzzle that is emerging, and our own role as creating a faithful map of that larger whole, while staying in "beginner's mind" or "don't know" space? As we record each contribution, it adds another layer to the trust that is building. Each person is being heard, each offering is being gathered.... not just the "major decisions", not just whatever the facilitator deems as important. Each bit is being gathered, for our collective work of bricolage... And, as we pause to verify with participants whether what's on the chart paper is an accurate reflection of their contributions, it creates yet another opportunity to deepen the shared weave of meaning-making that is taking place.

So, those are four key elements of this practice. You are welcome to experiment with any one or more of these elements on your own. I have also written a book that goes into much more detail about what it looks like, when all of these elements are used together. I love it when people tell me that they have been able to start exploring this approach just by reading the book! There are also free articles and short videos available on the "Resources" tab of this website.

At the same time, I've also heard this practice described as "simple, but not easy". So if you'd like an opportunity to experience it in person, and to practice it in a supportive context, you are warmly welcome to attend our upcoming workshop in Maine.

In this highly experiential learning journey, we will have plenty of opportunities to see Dynamic Facilitation in action and to experience it as participants. We will also be practicing it in small groups, where each participant will be receiving appreciative feedback from peers, as well as in-the-moment coaching and support from the instructor.

We'll also explore various special topics, including how to work with power differences, how to engage in "skillful interrupting" as a facilitator, how to manage flow when emotions are high, and how to adapt this approach when working with two people instead of with a group.

I'll close with another quote from a participant in the 2015 Maine workshop:

"…an elegantly simple process for helping people call their power back from interpersonal or group conflict, and recast it in the direction of the change they want to see in the world."

If you feel called, I look forward to having you join us!  Here's the link for signing up.

If you'd like more info first, there's some videos and articles on the Resources page, on how this work is being used in Europe for the participatory design of public policy. And scroll to the bottom of the Workshops page for some testimonies from past workshop participants.

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