Space: The Final Frontier of Facilitation


Highlights from the International Association of Facilitator’s Conference

Do you know what I’m talking about if I say I have a little ache in my heart because I’m missing being with my IAF friends?  I returned home to Portland, Oregon in Northwestern USA from spending 5 days in Orlando, Florida (southeastern USA) being with many old friends and meeting new friends.  I often find when I’ve been with my family for an intense period of time, when I leave them I wander around my house feeling a little lost.  That’s how I’m feeling over the last few weeks.  I came to realize how much I love people in this profession and have a great deal of respect for our common passion around process facilitation.

So I’d like to share a few things that are staying with me as I think of my highlights of the North American version of this conference this year. The ones I’ve chosen to share with you all relate to the element of space.  By this I mean tools, techniques and concepts related to affecting the inner and outer space of a group.

Workshops I Attended or Led

5-elements-flipchart-aFive Elements of Facilitation Design:  The first workshop that Eunice Shankland and I led was on the 5 Elements of Facilitation Design.  We got to work with some amazing people from Boeing and one of our key themes was thinking about how to create more time and space to reflect and learn from the many projects and activities that go on in large corporations.  We had an exercise at one point where Eunice asked us to come up with 4-5 simple rules around (inner and outer) space for groups.  Between us, we came up with nine! We’ll share these simple rules with you further below. First I’d like to share some other highlights around space that occurred to me while attending others’ workshops. Photo Note: Flipchart of first day agenda – trying to give impression of ample space for depth work.


Coaching Based Workshop Designs:  The first workshop I attended was one led by a Danish facilitator named Jens Lillebaek. His workshop was called “Coaching Based Workshop Designs – Personal Experiences and Best Practices for Designing Workshops”.  Jens shared amongst many great things a coaching template to understand the context of your client.  It was a simple coaching model to understand the client’s context that seems profoundly helpful to me. Imagine the model on a single page of paper and it is divided into four quadrants. On the top left – you start with the client’s perspective on their organizational or team past/history. On the bottom left, you ask questions about others’ views of the past; on the bottom right, you get them to talk about what others think about what is needed in the workshop and positive outcomes for the future. In the top right – you ask them finally what their own perspective is on the aims of the workshop and their view of what needs to happen in the future.   We got a chance to practice this with several case studies. The power of asking the questions in this exact order helps coach the client to think not only of their own view but others’ views and helps them arrive at a richer perspective on what needs to happen in the workshop.  It is a great needs assessment.  In another blog, I’ll share more about this model as Jens has given permission to share its origins and some good references on it.  In summary, the coaching model had the impact of helping the client reflect on both time and space in their organization and the end result of this reflection, is that the client had a much more expanded/spacious view of what was needed for the group that was to be facilitated.  Of course I liked this workshop because it was all about design and I continue to be fascinated with meeting and workshop design.  Photo Note: Visual practitioner captures Jen’s workshop content – another way of using space.

Journaling – A Professional Development and Self-Care Staple: The second workshop I attended was by Helen Wythe from Alberta, Canada.  Her company is Facilitrix Helen.  Her workshop was called Journaling: A Professional Development & Self Care Staple.  She gave us the time and space to reflect on several important things including the opportunity to journal on one of the IAF certification competencies called “Model Positive Professional Attitude”.  She had us practice a number of different journaling techniques.  I was reminded that this is an amazing practice that I used to do especially after I had facilitated.  I found it tremendously helpful in reminding myself with what I had done with a client and where I still wanted to grow and develop as a facilitator.  I’ve started a journal again as a result of her workshop!  Helen’s offering reminded me of the critical importance of always giving myself enough time and space to recharge and reflect using the simple tool of journaling.  For more details on Helen’s journaling and mastermind offerings starting in May 2014 see:

9 Simple Rules for Creating Time and Space in Your Workshops

Back to the simple rules of space that participants created in our Five Elements of Facilitation Design two day workshop. Here’s what our participants came up with when we asked them about non-negotiable, simple rules for both inner (related to processes that nurture individual and group spirit and thinking abilities) and outer (related to the physical room setup).

Inner Space

  1. Schedule time to encourage reflection, celebration and creativity.
  2. Use processes that spark imagination and innovation.
  3. Use frameworks and questions that evoke multiple perspectives.
  4. Allow for collaborative learning and decision making.
  5. Be present and responsive to the ever changing needs of the group.

Outer Space

  1. The room space should be inviting, safe and appropriate for the activities planned.
  2. Consider space that doesn’t always include four walls. Aim for flexible, maintainable space.
  3. Equip each room for the task at hand.
  4. Ensure everyone can see, hear, talk & move. Take into account different physical abilities.

What’s Next…

The next North American IAF Conference will be held in my country of origin, Canada.  For the first time ever we are holding the conference in a national park setting in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta.  It will be May 13-17, 2015 at Banff Centre.  This is one of the most beautiful spots in Canada where large wild animals such as moose and big horned sheep are spotted from the road.  Registration will be happening soon – put it on your calendar now!  We are also going to present at the IAF Asia conference in Singapore from August 12-16, 2014.  If you can make any of the IAF conferences you won’t regret it!


Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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