Tips for staying nimble as a facilitator
Adaptations during an ongoing pandemic.
If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that change is constant. It may sound obvious in theory, but in practice it can actually be quite hard to embrace. The pandemic has forced us to face ongoing obstacles, and while acceptance of uncertainty is step #1, I’d argue that planning for uncertainty is step #2. The inevitable is bound to happen, so how can we respond vs. react in the face of change?
My own facilitation career underwent big changes in 2020. After working primarily with teams in person, I suddenly needed to shift my entire model to a virtual environment. That meant learning new tools, methods and techniques to fit the digital/virtual/remote way of working we all needed to embrace. And the change didn’t stop there. In fact, it hasn’t stopped. Between teams returning to office then leaving again, and positive test results throwing a wrench in the best laid plans, I’ve learned that attitude is quite possibly one of the strongest assets we have for navigating the unknown. That said, there are a handful of other adaptations facilitators should consider to help manage the (seemingly) unmanageable.
Take a remote-first approach
Many facilitators have been hosting sessions virtually since the beginning of the pandemic, and with a lot of success. But as the pandemic went on and hybrid work models were embraced, suddenly meetings and workshops meant having a handful of people together in a room and another handful joining via screen. And guess what, it didn’t work. Why? Because the dynamics were too different, participation became a nightmare, and digital and physical tools were required to cover both groups.
It’s like dialing into a call with a team that’s together while you’re at home. You feel invisible, fight to be heard, and can’t pick up on nuance and non-verbals in the room, then all of a sudden a decision has been made without your input. That’s how hybrid workshop shake out, and the result is a disjointed group experience that isn’t ideal for you, your participants or their outcomes.
That’s why I always take a remote-first approach when the team isn’t able to meet in person, whether you have a group of people joining from multiple locations or just one person dialing in while the rest of the team is together. The key is to have everyone log into the virtual space via their own computers (even if they’re sitting in the same office). This levels the playing field by ensuring that everyone can access the same information, participate equally and maintain a balanced conversation.
If you need more support running sessions virtually, the Remote Sprint Guide that John Zeratsky, Jake Knapp and I put together is a great resource.
Upgrade your virtual environment
It’s critical to treat your digital meeting room with the same care as you would the physical workspace. Just like an in-person session, you need visual aids, whiteboards, post-it notes and collaboration methods like breakout rooms. You need to think about how people will move through the virtual space and complete different parts of the workshop.
When everything shifted in 2020, I did a lot of research to put together the Remote Sprint guide. In the process I discovered that tools like Mural and Miro were best-in-class for virtual facilitation. I had never used them before but quickly learned how, and to this day I still use either one to prep and set up for workshops because they have such a positive impact on outcomes.
If you feel like something is missing from your virtual workshop, stop and think about what it might be: is it connection, or clear decision making tools, or clear focus? Then ask yourself what you can do to solve for that in a digital format. Maybe you need to add icebreakers to make people feel more comfortable, or thoughtfully-designed workspaces in your virtual whiteboard, or maybe you need to look at using a more sophisticated tool to convene teams. Making these shifts will boost the virtual environment so your group can get the work done in a more meaningful way.
Surprises happen, so have the COVID conversation up front
Just the other week I led a session that was supposed to be 100% in person but — with just a few hours until the workshop — a positive COVID result among one of the participants meant we needed to pivot, and fast.
At this point in the pandemic, we absolutely need to have conversations with our teams up front to establish a COVID protocol and decide on things like:
- Are people comfortable meeting in person?
- If so, will everyone wear masks? (I always tell the group that anyone who is uncomfortable meeting without masks should email me directly so I can make it a policy for the whole group and keep them anonymous in the process.)
- Does everyone need to be vaccinated to attend in person?
- Will we social distance?
- What happens if someone tests positive for COVID or has an exposure before the workshop? Will we reschedule, press on without them, or shift to a virtual session?
It might seem obvious, but being proactive is critical to making sure the show goes on. When you agree up front on your protocol it makes those bumps feel a little less disruptive when they inevitably happen.
So much is out of our control right now, but a little extra planing to account for the unknown can save us headspace and better set our teams up for success. And while we can embrace tools and try our best to plan ahead and anticipate change, at the end of the day the most powerful thing we can actually do is drop the idea of perfection and press forward with a positive attitude.
Fellow facilitators, how have you adapted your approach during the pandemic? What worked, what didn’t? Drop your thoughts below, and clap me some love if you thought this piece was helpful.