Bringing Our Whole Selves to the Group – Reflections from Banff IAF

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In my last newsletter, I was raving about the location and the people I encountered at IAF North America in Banff, Alberta, Canada. I’d like to share some of the key learning highlights for me. They range from sessions I co-facilitated related to virtual facilitation and reflective/spiritual practices to organizational culture change to looking at the Hero’s Journey as a way to get connected to yourself and the group. There does not seem to be much to tie these four sessions together but let’s see if I can help you see the underlying common threads between the four sessions. Here are my or others’ learning highlights from the four sessions.

1) Virtual Facilitation: A Cutting Edge Tool for Inclusive Participation and Social Change

The first conference workshop I participated in, I was co-facilitating with Rangineh Azimzadeh Tosang and several panelists. The goal of our workshop was to shift people’s internal resistance to using technology for meetings. We advertised our session in the following way: Virtual meetings are most often viewed as “necessary evils” – something that must be endured for the sake of our new emerging global economy. What if instead we reframed online or virtual meetings and events as opportunities for empowerment or building our capacity?

One of the challenges for some participants was that their experience with virtual meetings and webinars was that they were not interactive. Their question was,
“How do you take poorly run virtual meetings/webinars now and make better?” in the beginning, we had people share their experiences with five common platforms: Skype, Adobe Connect, GoToMeetings, Zoom and Google Hangout. They shared how they are using each platform, success stories they had with it, barriers to using it and under what circumstances it is best used. Although the exercise was only about 20 minutes, participants shared that they had already gotten their money’s worth from the session from this simple World Café style exercise across platforms! By the way, we took notes on everyone’s experiences if you want a copy of the document, just email us.

We then looked at trends using the ToP Wave Metaphor Trend Analysis tool (see photo below). Several felt that a yet to-be-established trend of the virtual meeting environment is that technology can really connect us much faster to knowledge and wisdom, that meetings will become shorter, more structured, that we will use a variety of platforms in any one meeting, and that everyone will be using “screens” during meetings.


One very humorous moment was when several participants lamented about being “booted out” of the virtual meeting rooms, i.e. they lost internet connection. Then one participant retorted, “and yet, do we as facilitators throw up our hands and walk out of the room saying, ‘I’m out of here’ when our flipchart pad falls off the flipchart stand or our markers run dry? Therefore, why should we give up on virtual technology when a person gets temporarily cut off from a meeting because of internet connection problems?” The main ‘ah ha’ from our workshop participants was that virtual meetings may give us a huge advantage and it is worth taking risks and having fun with  experimenting with different platforms.

2) Transformational Practices to Cultivate Facilitator Authenticity and Deepen Impact

The second conference session I attended I was also co-facilitating with Sharon Almerigi from Barbados. People told us they wanted to deepen the impact of their facilitation and bring more heart, mind, and creativity into the room. We each shared some current reflective practices that we bring to our facilitation, and talked about when and why we use different spirit practices. Some of these practices  included:   guided meditation, music breaks, sharing personal stories, visioning, practicing empathy, bringing toys and color, and deepening authenticity. We said that when we do bring these practices into the room, there is a lighter energy, people are more open to sharing,they become more present and they manage their own behavior better. We then did a couple of exercises based on Katie Byron’s Four Step Technique when you’re thinking through a personal conflict situation. She has us answer the following questions: 1) Is it true? 2) Can you absolutely know it’s true? 3) How do you react when you think that thought? 4) Who would you be without that thought? My co-presenter Sharon Almerigi acted as the facilitator in a demonstration of this technique with me as the participant. We had practiced it a few times before the workshop but it was only in the workshop that I had a real breakthrough. I had been blaming myself for being too assertive with a client. As a result of this four step questioning technique, I came to realize that what was true was that I HAD been of great service to the group in being that assertive!  I found it extremely useful to go through that four step process in front of workshop participants.

The last exercise we did in that workshop is we asked the group, “How can we apply our practices to deepen our authenticity and impact as facilitators?” Here are the group’s six summary theme answers (photo shows details under each  theme noted below):

1)    Keep the group aware of where we are in the process.

2)    Create the right environment for group engagement

3)    Bring your whole self to the group

4)    Be true to ourselves

5)    Have a spirit of gratitude

6)    Engage the body not just the mind

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Video showing Byron Katie’s four questions and turn around.

3) Facilitating Organizational Transformation, One Conversation at a Time

In the the third session I was able to be a full participant : ). It was presented by Gilbert Brenson Lazan.  I had first met Gil when he was living in Colombia, South America many year ago at other IAF conferences. He lives in the USA now but has spent much of his life doing OD, consulting and facilitation work in Latin America. He also has won many awards as a facilitator! He talked about his experience working with a globally based company in Latin America for 3 years. He generously shared his design for a massive culture change where leaders began to understand and behave in a way that was much less authoritarian and much more collaborative. Workers became happier and more productive.  Gil first had us try designing a 3 year intervention ourselves (in 20 minutes!). When he shared his actual design, Gil noted that he worked with the core leaders from several countries and developed bi-monthly customized modules for them. For the managers and directors level, his co-facilitators provided modules every 2-3 months for 18 months  consisting of formal training, self study and mentored follow-up practice sessions. They did something similar for the supervisors as well. Much of the content included helping people understand the incredible importance of making employees feel appreciated and engaged with their work. He mentioned tools and exercises such as Solutions-Focused Coaching, creating a new culture of conversation, creating team and organizational resilience and helping people make legends among many.

If you Google the term “Solutions-Focused Coaching”, you will find many articles. Gill highly recommends it as a skill.

4) Beyond the Hero’s Journey: The Brain that is We

My fourth and last session was with Hugh Smiley who facilitated the session. My dear colleague, John Miller from ICA Canada invited Hugh. Since Hugh is a healer and psychotherapist, this was his first facilitator’s conference so it was remarkably different in tone and energy … but beautiful! As Hugh said in a follow up email, “Considering the size of the circle (28 participants) and the multi-layered nature of the work (mindfulness, voice, body, emotional, communication, shamanic/mystical) we ‘travelled” together quite splendidly! It helped that you are fast learners, wise AND skilled.” Hugh had us work with the voice and also used a drum to take us on our own Hero’s Journey.  The drumming journey reminded me that even when I face major life and work challenges, I usually come out victorious.  The key is to remember, as in Joseph Campbell’s explanation of the Hero’s Journey, that I have many allies and teachers along the way to help me through the tough parts. Truly, once we complete our journey, we become “masters of two worlds”.

You can find out more about Hugh’s work here,

What are my main take-aways and underlying common threads in these vastly different four sessions?

  • Don’t be afraid to take appropriate risks and experiment – in the end, it will make things go better for you and the group.
  • Bring your whole, fully authentic self to the group – body, mind and spirit. It will help others do the same.
  • Be willing to go on the journey with the group. It is a journey for all of us. Help the group become the “we”, as Hugh Smiley’s title suggests.

Enjoy our photos below.

P.S. Guess what?  We just got accepted to present a one day pre-conference on our hugely popular “Meetings That Rock” workshop in Mumbai on August 20, 2015!

IAF Banff Collage
IAF Banff Collage 2

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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