My name's Joran Oppelt. I'm the founder of Illustrious Consulting and co-author of this new book, Facilitation: A Human-Centered Guide to the Art of Collaboration. It is available now worldwide, wherever finer books on Amazon are sold.
Facilitation is the fully-illustrated, definitive resource on how to facilitate groups and design collaboration. It presents a holistic view of facilitation – based on Integral Theory – and includes an array of contributions from expert voices and luminaries in the field. If you (or your team) want to get better at team meetings, making decisions, collaboration in the workplace, team building, or effective communication, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.
We'll give you a little sneak preview of this book today. I hope you enjoy it and get as excited about it as we have been over the last three years.
EXCERPT 1: THE VIRTUAL CAMPFIRE
Fun fact, at MURAL, a labs team is working closely with Meta on workplace collaborations in VR (virtual reality). One of the things that was discovered is that it's really great for team-building. It's not yet a very productive place. Don't do your spreadsheet calculations in VR. But it's great for having conversations, particularly with distributed teams.
One of the first metaphors they're focusing on is the campfire. The virtual campfire was literally creating environments where you sit around the campfire. In one scenario, you pick up something, talk about it, and then throw it in the fire.
There's something primal about being in a circle. With the closed space, the light of the campfire creates a dome of interaction where effective communication can happen. And it's almost as if the fire is facilitating the conversation.
MURAL - as a virtual whiteboarding tool - is sometimes the deliverable, or the outcome, or the artifact. But MURAL is an empty space. You open a Mural, it's a white, blank space. MURAL is the fire around which we all gather in order to create something together. MURAL is the location of the conversation.
The same can be said about maps, which are essentially diagrams of storytelling in a visual format. It's not about the map; it's about the territory itself and the conversation that the map facilitates.
That's what these visuals do - they provide a glowing campfire for us to all rally around.
EXCERPT 2: DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
In 1974, Dave Anderson and Gary Gygax published Dungeons & Dragons in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Twenty years later, in 1993, Accelerated Learning - a graphic facilitation and visual thinking organization - was founded in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We know this because Brian has a binder full of these tools from Accelerated Learning.
So, what the hell is in the water in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin? It's a tiny town. It is very cold. That is all we know. When there's nothing to do in the winter, people have a lot of time to sit around and invent games.
And what does Dungeons & Dragons have to do with facilitation?
We made the D&D connection when we were forced to do virtual facilitation during the pandemic. We spent a lot of time building our Mural boards out so they had a flow, theme, and bird's eye view design, almost like a board game.
They were heavily designed to facilitate. As Rob Evans from MG Taylor says in the book, "Let the facility facilitate."
As we were looking at these Murals, it was clear that they were the facility. That was where we were. When you're playing Dungeons & Dragons, you have a back-and-forth between one person who sets the scene and describes the situation and then the other people at the table who react to the situation.
If I were to say to a player, "You come across a door. What do you do?" - there are any number of things a person could declare they would do. They could listen at the door, knock on the door, or see if the door was locked. There are a number of things, right?
You have all these opportunities to respond to this environment that lives in the shared imagination of the people at the table. It's not a physical space, but it is a virtual space. And what we found when we were doing virtual facilitation is that we were giving that level of effective communication to the participants because what we wanted was for them to have a sense of embodiment.
Because that was the big "brouhaha" around virtual facilitation and virtual team meetings: "Oh, we can't see body language. We can't see each other's faces."
So we made it our mission to do as many things as possible to make things as sensorily rich as possible. So that when someone was in a Mural, it wasn't just putting stickies on a virtual whiteboard. Instead, I'm in the treasure room, and my ideas are the treasure.
There were all sorts of different spaces we led our participants through and made sure it was wide open. It's the idea of a narrated virtual shared experience without having anywhere to go. This is where that connection to Dungeons & Dragons came because we had those shared experiences far beyond reality. In the book, we call it lo-fi virtual reality.
It's about a shared story, shared imagination, shared experience, and shared memory. In D&D gameplay, we have memories like, "Remember when that giant tarantula bit this player?"
Or, "Remember when that player almost killed the giant worm but instead chose to talk to it and made an ally out of an enemy?"
We have shared memories as if these things actually happened. And for facilitators, that's what we're driving toward - shared memory. The goal of graphic facilitation is to preserve that group's memory. Harnessing group memory is scientifically proven to leverage groups toward an outcome.
Our goal was to say, "If our team is in a clearing and we're lost in a snowy forest, what is the Yeti? What is the big monster - the thing you're afraid of but you never see?"
"What is the wolf - the visible enemy that you must fight or defend against?"
"What is the mosquito - the thing that's been buzzing around and bothering you that you can't get rid of?"
Turning those questions into shared experiences and memories for the group helps turn them into a strategy.
When we're facilitating virtually, the more we can create a shared story space - where there's emerging content that everyone's building in a way that feels like you're there - that's where the magic of team building happens.
Putting stickies on a Mural isn't exciting. But discovering the Yeti, swatting at mosquitos, and everybody revealing themselves in a curated, virtual campfire moment - that's exciting.
You're giving your team something concrete and allowing them to treat it as a container for their otherwise very abstract ideas. It's difficult to talk about my mood. It's difficult to talk about the state of my team. It's difficult to talk about the future of my organization. But when you say, "How is my organization like a turtle?," we suddenly start to make connections.
Many people think it makes sense to weigh information rationally and then make a decision. The science is the opposite of that. What often happens is that we tend to make a decision very quickly and then work backward to justify it.
By creating a physical space or using tools like metaphor or Visual Explorer in team meetings, we provide containers so that people can talk about difficult, abstract concepts in a safe and inclusive way.
It might not be cool (or safe) for me to say, "My organization is completely falling apart, and we're at each other's throats."
But it is okay for me to say, "Hey, you know what? If our organization is a factory, the assembly line is shut down. Now, let's talk about why."
Are you interested in learning more about the connection between facilitation and D&D?
Purchase a copy of the book here and watch our recent webinar on YouTube.
As you continue exploring other sections of the book, please reach out to us. Let me know what you think of it, or leave us a review on Amazon.
Blog post inspired by a recent talk with authors and contributors of the new book, Facilitation: A Human-Centered Guide to the Art of Collaboration, in a panel discussion and interactive conversation. Joran Oppelt and Geoffrey Nelson are joined by Brian Tarallo, Jim Kalbach, and others.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.