It’s been three years and one pandemic in the making. I am so proud to finally announce the release of this 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, including co-author Geoffrey Nelson, David Sibbet, Lauren Green, Brian Tarallo, Jim Kalbach, Mark Tippin, Natalie Nixon, akasha, and Michelle Royal.
If you (or your team) want to get better at guiding conversations, making decisions, surfacing opportunities, or driving outcomes, you must grab a copy today. They even come in hardcover!
Inside you'll find:
Here’s What People are Saying About the Book
“Whether you're a seasoned veteran or brand new to facilitating meetings and group processes, Facilitation is required reading. Everything in it is essential to the design and delivery of facilitation. And yet somehow in all 272 pages, nothing is superfluous. I tried to highlight everything that every facilitator should know; it would have been faster to have dipped the entire book in yellow ink.”
- Brian Tarallo, Lizard Brain, author of Surviving the Horror of Online Meetings: How to Facilitate Good Virtual Meetings & Manage Meeting Monsters
“Facilitation is packed with essential knowledge and practical tips. This book is the perfect tool for group facilitators looking to feel more confident and capable in today's complex world. It’s an exciting and hopeful guide that delves into the underlying dynamics of group collaboration and places human experience at the center of the process.”
- Rebecca Ejo Colwell, MBA; Founder Ten Directions, Co-Founder Integral Facilitator®
In complex business environments, leadership cannot be off-boarded or outsourced. As leaders and executives, sometimes we blame the bad things happening around us on others, or the market, or circumstance.
Things like ineffective meetings, staff turnover, teams not hitting their goals, people holding back, lack of work/life balance, and not sticking to the strategy. These have nothing to do with other people and everything to do with the way you show up as a leader.
It’s been said that “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.” The opposite is also true. People don’t follow ideas, they follow other people. Is your mission confusing and convoluted? Are there too many initiatives to remember? Have you made your vision of the future (and their role in it) crystal clear for the team? If not, chances are they will burn out. If they stop believing in your capacity to lead, you will no longer be their leader. No amount of bonuses or self-care days will undo it.
Executives and leaders experiencing complexity and overwhelm can do two things to establish leadership in complex environments:
This alignment will look more like group storytelling than strategy. It will involve all of your people and involve them in visualizing things like retrospectives, journey maps, and cones of plausibility.
Consider how the diversity of voices, perspectives and competencies you convene and empower today will impact, amplify, drive, or disrupt your work in the future. Visionary leaders prepare for this long tail and are able to manage the business along multiple horizons.
The emotional benefits for leaders who can do this include:
Some measurable results we have seen in leaders and businesses that can enable this kind of thinking and behavior in those around them include:
As mentioned in our book, Visionary Leadership, these types of leaders are able to do three things well:
Raise more visual leaders. Celebrate them. Watch them shine.
At Illustrious, we pride ourselves on a commitment to quality outcomes. We've been doing visual consulting and facilitation for nearly a decade and have seen first-hand the negative effects of a poorly-designed and executed meeting, session, or client engagement.
As external facilitators, here are the top four reasons our clients give for using our facilitation services rather than facilitating themselves:
Our clients want to participate in the process. We’ve found that OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) in particular are difficult to facilitate if you want to also participate in the session. It’s not easy to consider your team’s interdependencies, listen to your fellow participants’ 90-day needs and goals, determine how it will affect your department, and come to a consensus on how to measure progress while also sorting and organizing stickies, summarizing and reflecting the group inputs, and keeping an eye on the clock.
Over time, our team has developed a mastery of visual collaboration tools like MURAL and facilitation methods, ranging from The Grove’s Strategic Visioning process to Liberating Structures and Strategyzer to StoryBrand. Our clients rely on us to know which tool to use to help them solve their complex problems.
Deciding on the theme for a session; coordinating everyone’s calendars; sourcing artwork, illustrations, and photography; coding and deploying the surveys for the pre-work; designing the MURAL (or setting up the room); writing up the agenda, facilitator guide, and other necessary copy; collecting all of the deliverables from the session (survey results, recordings, graphic records) – these things take time. Most of our clients have roles that impact their business directly and know that time spent designing and prepping the session will be time spent not leading their team or fulfilling their role.
Sometimes when a team chooses to facilitate themselves, they may neglect to ask challenging questions in order to protect their strategic plan (or someone’s job). Or they will design a session to reinforce a currently-held belief. This is called confirmation bias. Sometimes authority and esteem (see The Fundamentals below) hasn’t been established by the head of HR. Sometimes the VP of Sales has too many inside jokes or treats the women in the room differently than the men. Sometimes the Chief Innovation Officer talks too fast or over everyone’s head. Sometimes the CEO or President takes herself too seriously and elicits snickering when her back is turned. We are constantly told that people behave better and create the desired results when an external facilitator is leading the group.
From updating your strategy to scaling your team, growth is change and change is hard.
Visual Consulting (sometimes called Process Consulting)* is when a consultant is hired to visually “facilitate the organization to perceive, understand, and develop the organization’s business and human processes, in order for the client to improve the situation themselves, as they define it.”
This differs from “Expert Consulting,” where the client has a perceived and predetermined need and a consultant is brought in to share their expertise related to that specific need.
It is also different from “Pair-of-Hands Consulting” (or staff augmentation) where the consultant (or consulting team) is brought in to fulfill work that the client lacks the time or resources to deliver.
Visual Consulting is about teaching the client to fish, not fishing for them, or selling them fancy fishing equipment.
If you are experiencing the following, you may need someone to consult with on your vision, culture, story or strategy.
There are four things to look for when hiring a process consultant.
1. They are Process-Agnostic
If a consultant tells you they have an out-of-the-box solution, don’t believe them. There is no one-size-fits-all remedy. There is no killer app in consulting. It is dynamic, empathy-based work that requires deep listening and should include the wisdom (and the elements that work) from different maps, models and methods. A good consultant should have a belief in human potential and a passion for building capacity on your team, regardless of what book they’re reading.
2. They Understand the Process of Change
Look for a consultant that understands the positive and negative effects of change, what resistance to change looks like in individuals and groups, how to ease or work through that resistance, and ultimately, how to empower teams to lead themselves through change. If the change work (or creativity, or innovation) ends when the consultant leaves the room, they are not the right consultant for you. A good consultant strives to develop resilient, emotionally intelligent teams that are well-versed in the language of change and fire-tested in the crucible of transformation.
3. How They Do Anything is How They Do Everything
Take notes on the sales/discovery call and their approach to setting boundaries and expectations. Notice the way they organize information and their attention to detail. This is exactly how they will engage with you (and possibly your clients). If they are late, rushing, scattered, forgetting things, their tone is too negative (or jarringly upbeat and positive) this is not a good sign. A good consultant matches your energy, makes you feel at ease, asks great questions, and sometimes provides clarity and answers before you can form the questions.
4. The Proof is in the Artifact
They are a visual consultant, so look at their visuals. Are the final deliverables something that will be ready to share or distribute with your team/organization? Do they have visual impact? Will they be memorable or just another “dumb” report? The efforts and summary of your work should not only live on and easily shake hands with your implementation lead or strategic plan, but they should inform (or change) the way you tell your story -- internally and externally.
If you still have questions, let’s set up a Discovery Call to discuss what’s happening in your business.
* Source: Visual Consulting: Designing and Leading Change, David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling, PhD.
Guest post by Geoffrey Nelson, M Ed.
As virtual events and meetings evolve, we are discovering new uses for our tools. Murals, it turns out, can work more like game boards than whiteboards. Map-based murals look like rooms in a virtual space, each one with its own function and theme. These murals can look like chocolate factories or alpine mountains (check out the highly-stylized work of Benjamin Dehant). They can evoke a series of clearings in a dense, yeti-haunted forest. They can mimic a museum floor plan, complete with galleries of client work.
Map-based murals use spatial cues to deepen participants' engagement and focus.
Map-based murals support high-quality, high-value work. Like good architecture, their design invites action, directs attention, and fosters emotion. Architectural affordances like signs, corridors, and kiosks guide us through the mural’s virtual space. Implied geometry tells us that there is even more interesting work ahead. Sub-maps linked to the main mural create private workrooms. These nested workspaces are perfect for gamified activities. They heighten the excitement of competition we miss from live events.
To make a map-based mural, consider employing a designer or modifying a map or image in Photoshop. This fundamental image should be saved as a .JPG and locked down. Rooms in the design need plenty of space for your participants’ emerging content. Each room should give visual cues about its purpose.
Consider covering sections of the mural to build suspense and to hold attention to the task at hand. You can add an intriguing image or message to the covering element: a locked door or “No peeking!” Lock these down too. When you’re ready to reveal the next section of the map, delete the covering element or send it to the background. Alternatively, you may add elements (or backgrounds of entire sections) to the outline using the “Add to Outline” feature and toggle the visibility using the eye symbol in the outline.
This focuses participants on the visible content and unburdens their working memory.
Refer to the theme of a map-based mural only as much as it facilitates the work. People need to know how the theme relates to their objectives, strategy, or lines of business. Everyone wants respect even while they’re brainstorming in the forest clearing or slaloming the Alps.
As playful and fantastic as these map-style murals can be, we’ve never run into a credibility issue. We used map-style murals with Fortune 100 execs who loved the experience.
No one complained about the yetis.
Geoffrey Nelson, M Ed. is a people-builder, manager and trainer of creatives, and a conscientious process refiner. He leads talented people beyond their definition of possible.
Guest blog post by Geoffrey Nelson, M Ed.
When I discovered Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in the fifth grade, I fell hard in love. The funky box art, the spooky dice, the idea of a story lived and a world discovered through the power of pure imagination, all took me in and never let go. Through Dungeons and Dragons, people like me began creating outstanding virtual experiences for their friends long before Zoom, the internet, and even personal computers were part of daily life.
Dungeons and Dragons was first published in 1974. It disrupted the toy and game space and became the best-selling toy of 1978, despite having no board, no pieces, and no winner. It also flew in the face of the emerging trend in video games. Pong had just arrived and it seemed that digital games tethered to TV sets were the future. D&D wasn’t about winning or losing or technology. It was about fellowship and story-making. It was VR before VR was cool.
A shared virtual experience doesn’t live on a screen or a cloud server; it lives in the minds of the participants. They cast visions together with their super-power of conceptualizing the unknown and unseen. Their ability to collectively imagine creates unique interactive and problem-solving opportunities.
Truly virtual experiences provide a sense of agency. When participants cannot affect change through meaningful choices, their experience is passive and vicarious, not virtual. Engagement, investment, and synthesis characterize optimal virtual experiences. In D&D, the participants’ choices shape their outcomes. The Dungeon Master (DM) describes the setting and situations, but the players decide the actions of their player characters (PC’s). What emerges is a memorable, enjoyable, virtual adventure.
A good D&D session is a highly curated experience. The DM considers lighting, sound, and insists on the all-in presence of the players. Everything the DM does is intentional and aimed at immersing everyone deeply in the virtual world. Distractions must be minimized; table rules for players’ behavior are as important as the rules of the game. Cell phones in a basket, people! There’s no texting in the Fever Swamp.
To be a good DM, you must be a rules expert, a compelling narrator, and a master of description. As the rules expert, you need to know how the game works: what the characters can reasonably do, what they absolutely cannot do, and how to determine the outcomes of their decisions. What makes D&D a game as opposed to a cooperative storytelling exercise is the welcome element of uncertain outcomes. Just as in facilitation, the DM knows the rules of the game but not how it will turn out. The more a DM invests in a particular outcome, the less meaningful players’ choices are. Without the skill and courage to manage agency and uncertainty, virtual experiences are boring at best and destructive or divisive at worst.
To help the participants make the most of their agency, the DM must master skillful narration. Good DMs optimize the pace and momentum of the game through their narration of action, reaction, and consequences. Players lose focus and act silly or nihilistic when they are out of the spotlight for too long or the narration feels irrelevant. The DM solves this by keeping narrations short and vivid. Once a players’ turn is resolved, the DM focuses on the next player. Quick summaries, frequent reminders of critical information, and occasional over-cuing are tools DM’s use to keep the game moving forward.
Just because the DM doesn’t know what the players will do, she must imagine what they might do. DMs should visualize various outcomes before the gaming session to anticipate what the players may need next. The RPG luminary Hankerin Ferinale creates binary nodes at critical decision points: if A, then B happens; if C, then D happens. Thinking ahead and planning for both success and failure won’t provide an exact answer for whatever the players choose. It will provide a set of options that combines and synthesizes with new information to create the next adventure node.
Finally, the DM must master the art of succinct, evocative description. This isn’t action-focused narration or storytelling, which resolves a question. Resolving questions is for the players; The DM’s job is to evoke a shared story-space full of meaningful choices. The story emerges as the participants engage with these choices. With the focus on surfacing critical content, the DM must make situations as clear as possible: what are the stakes, what are the dangers, and what resources are available? By describing just the right details to bring the environment and situations to life, DMs enhance essential player agency.
The quality of a D&D session can be measured by how vividly and fondly the players remember it. They will carry the experience with them, reminiscing about defeating the red dragon or the zombie invasion. They may make art or write stories about their adventures. Their real-life behavior may reflect something they’ve learned through play. These are responses to deeply engaging and impactful experiences.
Learn the lessons of great DMs to shape your facilitation clients’ online experiences:
Follow these guidelines and your clients will be able to bravely and mindfully engage their challenges, and their virtual experience will be memorable and valuable. They will be heroes in a shared story and enjoy the riches of the highest outcomes.
Do I miss being in the room?
Yes, as a facilitator, coach and consultant, I miss being with people.
I miss the awkward silences, the reading of body language, the laughter reverberating off the walls, the high-fives after a big win. I miss the hugs after a really great breakthrough session. I miss struggling with the oversized Post-it Sheets, spilling the Sharpies and hanging the 30x40 engineering prints with blue painter’s tape.
I miss the side conversations. I miss the snacks.
And, I love the problems we’ve been able to solve as well as the solutions we’ve been able to build together using virtual tools like Zoom and MURAL.
MURAL is a digital workspace that enables innovative teams to collaborate visually and remotely. And, it’s fun. It taps into the part of my brain that loves graphic design (bringing harmony and emotion to a compelling composition), information design (where should my eye go next?) and even the 10-year-old part of me that would sit at the dining table and design board games.
Here are some of the different ways I use MURAL:
And, here are the top 10 Murals I created in 2020-2021 (and their outcomes).
10. OBJECTIVES and KEY RESULTS
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a goal-setting framework for defining and tracking objectives (aspirations) and their highly-measurable, time-bound outcomes at every level of your organization.
9. CUSTOMER JOURNEY MAP
For organizations with an emerging or reimagined line of business, the Customer Journey Map is a half-day virtual session that helps you make decisions that fit consumer and buyer needs in an environment that’s lively and productive.
8. STRATEGIC VISIONING
This academy needed to pivot all of their students and clients from in-person classes to virtual sessions - all while moving their offices within two months! We led a Strategic Visioning session for their leadership team using templates from The Grove Consultants, International. We also provided Executive Coaching for six weeks post-retreat in order to stabilize the operational plan.
StoryBrand is a marketing messaging tool that allows organizations to clarify their message using a seven-part process that leverages the power of story. Used correctly, this powerful tool can help your business become a valuable asset in the lives of your customers.
6. VISION BOARD WORKSHOP
Forget the magazines and glue sticks! In this fun and interactive workshop, we took inventory of our wins and accomplishments and set a bold trajectory for our big 2021 milestones.
5. VISION AND VALUES
For a quickly-growing team, this session included the creation of a Vision Statement, Mission Statement and the definition of Core Values. Using a basic Design Criteria (must, should, could, won’t) we identified key aspects of the Mission as well as themes that would later become the OKRs.
4. DiSC WORKSHOP
Using the DiSC Assessment, teams separated by style to discuss the do’s and don’ts of communication and leadership. A final roundtable invited the teams to share insights about the easy and magical ways they might work better together.
3. DESIGN SPRINT
This was a fast-paced, fun and interactive multi-mural event for the internal RIDG team. During the challenge, the participants received the resources and toolkit required to create a digital prototype, refine it, make their pitch and declare one team the innovation champions!
2. MY PERSONAL PROJECT BOARD
From sketching out high-level concepts and project planning to tracking my sales pipeline and outlining blog posts, MURAL has become my primary playground for problem-solving.
1. WILDERNESS RETREAT
This wilderness-themed retreat features a labyrinth, breakout sessions, dangerous animals, river rapids, a campfire session, gallery walk, and a hidden Bigfoot!
Do you need help building an amazing Mural of your own? Schedule a Discovery Call today. Call Joran at (727) 771-5656 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
- Stephen R. Covey
For as long as I have been around salespeople or sales teams, they have lived by (or been force-fed) the idea that they should listen more than they should speak.
The idea is to get the customer talking about their pains and needs. The more a customer talks about their pains, the more they reveal or confirm their emotional experience, including vital details about potential solutions. The more a customer talks about potential solutions, the higher the probability that your solution becomes part of the conversation. The more these words come out of their mouth (and not yours) the more they are involved and included in the act of selling themselves on the idea of your product, service or solution.
As Jeffrey Gitomer said, “People don't like to be sold -- but they love to buy.”
The same principle applies in coaching. From life coaching to executive coaching, successful coaches ask questions that get their clients talking about pains, blocks, limiting beliefs and bad habits. Coaches rarely give direct advice. You’ll hardly ever hear a coach say the words “you should.” The more the coaching client speaks, the more they externalize their inner dialogue. The more the client speaks, the more they are involved in “trying on the language.”
It’s a principle we see in Motivational Interviewing and “Positive Psychology” coaching. The more the client talks about what doesn’t work, the more a coach can respond with questions like “Is that true?” or “What do you really want?”
The more clients speak about things like change, potential, possibility and self-image, the easier it is for them to envision their desired outcome. Once again, feeling the words come out of their own mouth is them trying on these beliefs to see how they feel. The better these beliefs feel, the more the coaching client sells themself the idea of change.
I believe we can widen this analogy to include the art of facilitation. Facilitators are also tasked with asking questions (mostly to groups) and waiting for them to respond. The facilitator is in the business of selling – not solutions or ideas, but consensus or alignment.
If a facilitator were to present a group with a list of 20 vendors to evaluate, the group would be resentful and inevitably tell the facilitator where to stick his list. However, if the facilitator gently and repeatedly asked the questions, “How many names do we need?” “Who else might we reach out to?” “Who else might we include?” and “Who have we forgotten?” then the group will produce a list of their own. The group is then able to point to the list, feel good about the outcome and agree on the work at hand.
THE 80/20 RULE
The Pareto Principle (or 80/20 Rule) is named after economist Vilfredo Pareto. It specifies that “80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes,” disrupting what we think we know about inputs and outputs. It is a concept that cuts across many industries and theories of distribution. (As early as 1896, Pareto had observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.)
We now regard this as an unwritten law in business and leadership development. Where you exert 20% of your energy (or spend 20% of your time) will yield 80% of your results.
It shows up in nutrition and weight loss plans – eat healthy foods 80% of the time, and 20% of the time, treat yourself to a serving of something you love.
We see it in relationships – give 80% of your energy to your partner, keep 20% for yourself (and your personal, self-fulfilling activities).
We even see it in music production and content creation – spend 20% of your time reading other’s work, listening to reference tracks, etc. and 80% of your time writing or creating your own.
There’s no reason to believe the 80/20 Rule isn’t the golden ratio for speaking and listening – in fact (to use another auditory example), if you lower the volume on the background music at any cocktail party to 20%, you leave the perfect amount of headroom for lively conversation. It is an indication of our brain’s ability to filter signal from noise.
The same can be applied directly to selling, coaching and facilitation.
We should be listening (with the intent to understand) 80% of the time and with the other 20% we should be speaking (with empathy) and asking better questions.
The first 30 minutes of any virtual session are critical. It is where you greet your participants at the door, make a first impression, establish necessary ground rules, set the tone, begin to build trust and empathy, and get them familiar with any new technology.
Ensuring that your participants have an easy time with this new tech -- before the session begins -- can go a long way to make them feel included and significantly boost their engagement later in the session.
Here is how we begin every virtual session when using MURAL as our collaborative workspace.
1. Soundcheck/Set-Up (15 min)
2. Welcome/OARRs (10 min)
3. Tools Review (5 min)
4. Icebreaker, Check-in (15 min)
Now, you’re off and running. Finish out your agenda as you normally would. And, if you need help or have any further questions about facilitation, don’t hesitate to contact us at illustri.us.
Order Joran's latest book, The Visual Meetings Field Guide: How to Facilitate Great Meetings for Amazing Teams on Amazon or wherever books are sold.
MUSIC TO FACILITATE BYRead Now
Part 1: The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter (1996)
If you were in a facilitation led by me this past year, chances are high that while you brainstormed or wrote silently or sorted and posted up your stickies in MURAL you heard some retro–tiki, instrumental lounge music playing in the background.
That album is The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter and I played it so much in my sessions this year that, according to Apple Music, the album (along with killer releases by Hailey Williams and Moses Sumney) is one of my top 5 albums of 2020.
Most of the people I worked with this year were innovation teams, executives and leadership teams, Chief Innovation Officers and CEOs looking to manage the growth phase of their business or train innovation thinking and best practices throughout their organization.
The work we do together usually spans multiple half-day sessions where we are using collaborative workspaces (like MURAL) to gain clarity or consensus, cast a big vision, work on culture and communication, prioritize initiatives and outcomes, develop a strategic plan or stay accountable to the process.
When facilitating, especially during visioning or brainstorming, I usually build in plenty of time to work silently or write and reflect. And I’m always on a search for music without lyrics to distract from the thinking process.
Sometimes jazz is what I'm after. But, if it’s too busy (like bop or free jazz) it can feel distracting and chaotic, and if it’s too mellow (like smooth jazz) it can feel hokey. 70s–era Miles Davis is greatly atmospheric (i.e. In a Silent Way) and a personal favorite, but the tone of his trumpet can end up sounding grating or tinny when run through Zoom’s compressors or played through tiny laptop speakers.
Sometimes down–tempo electronic or dance can serve to keep the energy steady throughout a session. Goa (a blend of trance and techno) can work for high-energy activities. Minimalist electronic music with blips and washes of sound works great for quieter sessions (think Brian Eno or Bill Laswell). You may also find various playlists, designed for reading or studying, that fit the mood.
For whatever reason, The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter was the album that I played in the most sessions this year and it took a well-deserved spot in my top 5. I suppose it provided the right balance of tension/adventure (like standing in the line at Disney Land) as well as the non-threatening and nostalgic sounds you may find in your grandparents' living room.
I'd love to go through my library and feature some other music that I facilitate and work to. But I’m dying to know -- what is your go-to instrumental music for facilitation, working, studying or reading?
Please sound off in the comments below.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.