NOTES ON FACILITATION SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES 2012

Keith Wilkinson

Introduction:

For three days in September 2012, I attended a safety workshop in Mississauga for a major energy company. The workshop was led by three learning facilitators from a professional training company and I was able to compare and contrast their approach and facilitation with those of NCCP LFs.

Later in the Fall, I attended a three day CAO ( Coaching Association of Ontario) Facilitators workshop in Gravenhurst. The facilitation and approach was surprisingly similar, given the differences between corporate and sports coaching contexts.

Opening Approaches.  

The corporate group, numbering around 20, was required by its employer to attend the Mississauga workshop. The meeting room was standard convention room horseshoe table and no windows. However, there was sufficient space to break out into small groups for discussion and role play. Presentations involved mini lectures, video clips and power point, role playing, small group discussions and flip charts.

The sixth annual CAO Professional Development workshop for LFs was similar in number, but attendees were split into a LF Training Generic Modules Stream and a Professional Development stream, which I attended. The rooms had separate tables and were well lit by large windows. There was space to break out for small group work. Presentations involved mini lectures, video clips, power point, small group discussions, handouts, role playing, purposeful grouping, mini tasks and a flip chart.

First day highlights: Corporate

The corporate group was addressed by the Vice President in charge of Safety and Training for the company. He set a serious tone with graphic anecdotes relating to injury, safety and why the course was being held. He reminded the group that safety was priority one, and charged them that they would be required to run their own one-day workshop for “down line” staff within the next 12 months. If any more motivation was needed, this seemed to work! Participation was good and attention was focused.  

Interestingly, once the serious tone had been set, there could be more levity and enjoyment in the rest of the workshop. The two experienced facilitators worked hard to keep the tempo high and the energy levels charged. One trainee facilitator mentored the program. The facilitation was well–planned, rehearsed and the pacing was generally good.

Time seems to be all facilitators most worrying concern, whatever the context. The corporate facilitators kept to time by threatening that latecomers after a break could either pay $5 which would be donated to a charity, or sing a song  to the whole group. The threat was remarkably effective. At the end of the room, behind the facilitators, was a large diagram of the company’s Operational Excellence Management System and constant reference was made to it.

In contrast at the Gravenhurst workshop, “5 Core Competencies” was written on a flip chart, but these competencies were not spelled out, and only occasional reference was made to them.

Both the corporate and the NCCP group debriefed each part of their presentations, but the approach to formal evaluation was different. In the NCCP we have tended to use a single page evaluation sheet which participants are asked to complete at the end of the course. Constructive criticism is rarely given as candidates are pleased to have completed the course and are anxious to leave.

The corporate group uses an evaluation sheet given to each of the participants at the beginning of the course. The page lists the 8 - 16 modules of the course and who delivered each of them. It asks for an evaluation of not only the presenter, but the means of presentation and the reference materials. The facilitators remind participants to fill in these forms at the end of each module. The facilitators record the start and finish time of each module, and at the end of the course they collect the confidential forms. The professional training company analyzes all these to ensure the curriculum was adequately covered, but also for timing problems, usefulness of the materials and quality of the delivery.

The start and stop times allow the facilitation company to see that facilitators kept to the schedule, and covered the material (which can be a problem if LFs deviate from the curriculum.) In Gravenhurst, the NCCP facilitators were trusted to keep to their assigned schedule (and as experienced facilitators they tended to do well.)

First day highlights: NCCP Sports group

Participants had to pay to attend the sports coaching workshop, which had a nautical theme in accordance with the lakeside setting.  The kick-off presentation, “All Aboard” was facilitated by a coach of the Team Canada Wheelchair Rugby silver medal team at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Andy Van Neutegen, who introduced Garett Hickling and Dave Willsie athletes on the team.

In an informal and brief talk and then a question and answer period, everyone came to appreciate the athleticism, dedication, coaching and commitment of these men to their sport, even when suffering more adversity in their training and competition than most athletes.

The tone was set for the whole workshop as we learned about preparing for a morning wheelchair training session with food intake, the need for 2-3 hours to raise blood pressure levels; flippers and graspers, levels of physical commitment. And, I will never again complain about airline flights to an event. The evening was capped with a social event to allow further conversations with athletes and coach.

Day Two: The Corporate Workshop Journey and NCCP “Anchors Away:” Facilitation.

The energy corporation`s “journey” began with an analysis of leadership styles. This involved a pre-workshop task: An external  “psychology test” to determine colour and personality types. The printed results were given to participants on the first day, providing both an ice-breaking activity and purposeful grouping to emphasize the need for delegates to see problems and material from a variety of perspectives.

The facilitators introduced themselves and their 30 years of shared experience as facilitators. Then they asked for delegates to tell them their own years of experience with the company, which came to a total of over 713 years. The facilitators explained that the LF’s role is to use this experience to allow the participants to learn from each other. They used open-ended questions very much along the lines of the NCCP’s “What?,” “So What?,” and “Now What?” The facilitators made liberal use of printed reference materials which replicated the power point slides, video clips, role playing and discussion groups.

In the CAO workshop, the first Professional Development (PD) presentation, called Getting it Done, was delivered by Cindie Flett. She is Vice-President Research & Development for the Coaching Association of Canada and a former NCCP Director, so it was good to know that we are working with people who can implement change.  

The new generic name for LFs & MLFs is Coach Developer and the workshop focused on the nation-wide purpose of the NCCP: The professionalism of the LF, the need for a national standardized curriculum and the need for quality assurance. The role of the Coach Developer is to prepare coaches for certification. The curriculum materials must be covered. NB The LF giving a workshop cannot assess the same candidates, and MLFs must ensure this and the quality of the sessions.

In small groups we were challenged to prepare a short presentation after using some research notes and videos. Among the conclusions were that: NCCP has been a monopoly and we forget that coaches are “customers;” The NCCP is “formal mediated learning,” and as such should provide the same core foundations to coaches; the curriculum and materials may not be perfect, but they are the best that our experts can provide; we need to make better use of technology, for example in allowing pre-task contact with LFs; the MED module needs to be taught from the materials. Some LFs have brought in their own materials to deal with ethical issues like how do you deal with “running up the score,’ or the allocation of game time to players, etc., Liability issues could be involved unless one follows the module. It is important for MLFs to ensure consistency and quality.

There are plans afoot to use Quick Response (QR) codes in Course materials to assess the worth of the materials and LFs, but this assumes everyone in the course has a smart phone. The QR codes will allow trends to be plotted from a central data bank and specific changes to be made. 

The second session, called  Learning is not a Spectator Sport, was run by Andy Van Neutegem. The groups discussed the meaning of “knowledge.” The definition seems to have shifted from “being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find it and then use it.” Most people have access to a computer and to the internet for information, but can they use it critically and usefully?

 Findings show that learners come with pre-conceptions of how the world works, and initial understanding of material may be important or the learners or they may not grasp new concepts and information. Time must be assigned for learners to develop competence in the area of requirement. They need to practice after taking a course.

Andy came up with a good way to combat coaches who become barriers to shared work and who want to do all the talking. He calls it the “ice bucket rule:” To speak you must put your hand into an ice bucket. When you withdraw your hand, you must stop talking. Once the novelty has been used, one just has to say `ice bucket` and move on to the next speaker.

The final presentation of the day allowed Jeremy Cross, the CEO of CAO, to introduce staff members and bring participants up to date. With the growth of Comp/Dev courses, numbers of courses at Community and Initiation levels are declining. The need for trained and certified coaches for the 2013 Canada Summer Games may see a spike in the number of courses.

On 7th January 2013, new Professional Development requirements for coaches will be launched. The key is for coaches to keep educating themselves or they will lose their certification.  The requirements are not onerous – 25 points over each 5 years. A list of qualifying activities will be provided, including the facilitation of courses, active coaching, taking PD courses, etc.

The newly minted CAO website should be ready to launch by the end of November 2012. The CAO Conference will be 22-24th February 2013 in Hamilton. The new fees for CAO membership are free for the first year after taking a course; then $20 a year; or, $100 in a one-time payment. The evening social, a dinner at a local restaurant allowed good interaction.

Last Day of Facilitation:

Most of the corporate materials (a manual) were produced by the professional training company in conjunction with the client corporation. This manual is reviewed and up-dated continually. LF delivery varied eg Video clips were used prior to a module on communications, so that participants could role play and provide feedback. The facilitators used groups of 3 to set up a conversation about safety, using open-ended “what” questions. One of the three played the part of a young trainee who had been doing something dangerous. Another participant was the questioner, trying to elicit if the worker knew about the danger; and one, was an observer who “buzzed” every statement or non-open-ended “what” question. Immediate feedback was given.

Later, the professional training company facilitators led an interesting session which forced participants to question their own safety values and ethos, and force reflection of their “journey.”

The last day of the NCCP Sports workshop was called “Smooth Sailing.”

First, Barry Bartlett, a lead facilitator and coach materials writer, looked at “Purposeful Grouping.” Everyone knows the stages of group development and research on group process theories, but the participants attempted to dive deeper. Should groups be split up just because people know each other? Should time be given to allow groups to “perform?” What is “social loafing and how do you deal with it?” For what types of exercises might an LF allow groups to select their own leader? How do you decide on the size of a group for a task?

Second, Kathy Brook led “Deep Sea Diving, and introduced us to changing the “front” of the room to keep attention and reduce distractions.” Kathy reviewed the five core competencies: Leading; valuing; interacting; problem-solving; and, critical thinking. She examined how these are involved in debriefing – which we defined as “Guided conversation with an LF after an activity.”

Role playing Case Studies was an effective means to test the structure of “What?” “So what?” and “Now What?” We agreed that “What?” involves information gathering and until it is complete, it is hard to move on.  Once we have the information, we can see what coaches have learned or what they might have done differently. Lastly, we can ask them, what they are going to do about “this” now?

Conclusions

Learning Facilitators guide participants to desired outcomes though their own knowledge, shared experience and learning from each other. LFs (Coach Developers) use open ended questions and a variety of teaching and learning tools to achieve these desired outcomes. Whether the context is a corporate “Journey’, or a Coaching Association of Ontario LF Professional Development workshop, similar tools and approaches are shared. Problems with time constraints, quality assurance, standardisation and covering the material in the curriculum, are similar. Each can learn from the other.