Tips from Trini – What I Learned From an Astrophysicist and More


I know everybody does not get to attend facilitator conferences. Last week I got home from the Trinidad Tobago International Association of Facilitators North America (IAFNA) conference and honestly, my memories are still very soft, precious and almost indescribably delicious. I feel compelled to give you a brief overview of some sessions I attended and co-led, and then share lots of photos and highlights of key deep learnings there.

This will include some great tips around brainstorming, a model for teams from an astrophysicist and insights from our own sessions. One was on facilitating multi-generational diversity (We did some amazing time lining of four generations currently showing up in our meetings – happy to share the paper that developed from that. See below for more). The other was on transformational practices for deepening facilitator authenticity and impact. We came up with reasons why embracing our own spiritual and reflective practices enhance the experience of the group and help us meet all of the competencies of IAF certification!

So onto the learnings…

Brainstorming with Karyn McDonald – Mississauga, Ontario:

Karyn gave an overview of different things you can do when using brainstorming to help:

    1. Define and prioritize the right “launch question“ in identifying the right problem
    2. Engage everyone (which I have covered in other blogs e.g., Tips for Brainstroming – see Resources below)
    3. Stimulate thinking using metaphors, etc.
    4. Assess and prioritize outcomes

Here is one great tip I really appreciated and had forgotten about – it is so basic I was pleased to be reminded of it. I sometimes forget to emphasize this basic rule. Her session was terrific and was called, “Up Your Game with Innovative Brainstorming”.

Quantity not Quality

She says: “Go for quantity of ideas at this point and narrow down the list later. All activities should be geared towards extracting as many ideas as possible in a given period. The more creative ideas a person or a group has to choose from, the better. If the number of ideas at the end of the session is very large, there is a greater chance of finding a really good idea.”

I was also glad to be reminded of two ways to get to the right question or problem statement. They are techniques I have used in the past but I have my own preferences and ignore many wonderful alternative ways to help a group do their best thinking. Often a group thinks the symptoms are the problem. These two techniques help a group get clearer on what they really need to solve.

1. Five Why’s: This is the fairly simple technique of asking why after each question is posed. Have someone in the group suggest what the problem question might be such as: “How can we improve student performance?” Then have them ask themselves, “Why is student performance not as high as we hope?” They might say, “The students don’t understand the new math curriculum?” Why 2: “Why do they not understand the new math curriculum?” Answer: “The teachers are not yet prepared to teach it effectively.” Why 3: “Why are the teachers not ready to teach it effectively?” Answer: “They are not sure they agree with this new approach.” Why 4: “Why are they not sure about this new approach?” Answer: They have not experienced the benefits of the new curriculum in terms of student performance. Why 5 – Which might become the actual (final) brainstorm question: “What are all the ways we can quickly demonstrate the effectiveness of the new math curriculum to the teachers?”

You can see the why question kept the group “digging” for the root problem. The final “launch question” for brainstorming answers ended up being much more specific and focused than the first suggested question.

2. The other is the classic fishbone diagram which I did not know was also called the Ishikawa diagram after it’s originator.
Do a web search on this name to get images of the diagram. Karyn notes the steps to getting to the right brainstorm question using this technique as follows:

    Step 1: Fill in the suspected problem or issue to be solved on the right of the diagram.
    Step 2: On each of the main “bones” or branches of the diagram, you might choose to label different aspects of the problem as Policies, Procedures, Process, People, Technology, Resources, etc. It could also be machines, materials, environment, people, measurements in a manufacturing environment.
    Step 3: Identify the causes to the problem/issue for each aspect. Record these on the sub-branches. She suggests you use the 5 why’s to get you there.
    Step 4: Identify the top 3 ideas.
    Step 5: Assess and prioritize the ideas using other techniques such as dot voting or criteria grids.

Early in the session, Karyn had us identify good characteristics of brainstorming and this is a photo of what the group came up with:







Karyn put up this slide at end and I loved it. So Thank You! back dear Canadian colleague, Karyn! And thank you to the organizers of this conference. Here are some of them on stage below from left to right: Hector Villarreal Lozoya; Gillian Chambers; Sharon Almerigi; Ulla Wyckoff; and the main organizer extraordinaire – Barbara King!




Charlie Pellerin, Astrophysicist: Key note Speaker

See also below for Charlie’s website. He freely offers almost all this training materials on his website. I was curious about that…so I asked what has been the impact on him of doing that. He said it gives him tremendous peace and satisfaction to be able to share something he has witnessed work well in so many situations. So that is the kind of person Charlie is. It was delightful to hear his keynote. Charlie worked at NASA and talked in particular about the Challenger USA space shuttle failure as more of a human mistake than a technical one. One article (see resources below) says, “The morning of January 28 (1986) was unusually cold, and engineers warned their superiors that certain components, particularly the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, were vulnerable to failure at low temperatures. However, these warnings went unheeded, and at 11:39 a.m. Challenger lifted off. Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including all the astronauts on board, stared in disbelief as the shuttle broke up in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. Within instants, the spacecraft broke apart and plunged into the ocean, killing its entire crew, traumatizing the nation and throwing NASA’s shuttle program into turmoil.

So despite all the warnings, the problem was not so much the technical, but the failure of people to be able to be honest and admit things were not as good as they should be. Charlie said, “The Challenger explosion was not due to individual error or technical knowledge. It was due to a phenomena he calls “normalization of deviance” which means people justify what does not make sense. He said it was a bit like oppression.

He spoke powerfully of how everything is about the information you choose to receive and the decisions you make with it. He reminded us that information can be sensed or intuited and it is vitally important to pay attention to this type of information. He teaches teams now about something he has created called the 4 dimensions of human need:

1. Feeling valued (showing appreciation)
2. Feeling included
3. Being hopeful about reality
4. Being able to show “response- ability” – i.e., able to respond

I won’t say too much more because his website below has so much more information. Pay attention especially to his contexting sheet!

Rangineh Azimzadeh Tosang and Me:

We led the session on nurturing multi-generational synergy. It was so amazing to realize in 2-5 years, we may have up to five generations in the workforce and in our meetings. The next or fifth newest generation is Gen Z (or the new silent generation born between year 2000 – 2020). It means we really need to capitalize on the talents and gifts of each generation which we identified in this session. Here is a photo of Rangineh and me relaxing on a tour after the session.




We used a timelining exercise called the Journey Wall or Historical Scan to map out key events impacting each generation. It is a Technology for Participation (ToP®) tool that can be used in a wide variety of ways. For more information on this tool, you can purchase Barbara’s instant download PDF module on the what, why and how of this technique or at ICA noted in the resources section below. We had the group work on these four generations which, by the way, were all represented in our group of six and nicely illustrated our point!

    1. Silent Generation (1925-1945) Phrase & symbol noted by participant of this generation: Peace
    2. Baby Boomer (1946-1964) Phrase & symbol noted by participants of this generation: Proactive Possibilities/busy hands
    3. Gen X (1965 – 1980) Phrase & symbol noted by participant of this generation: “Slacker”/Letting life go/Go with the Flow
    4. Gen Y/ Millennials (1981-2000) Phrase & symbol noted by participant of this generation: If you are not for us, you are against us/multi-tasking

Once we identified each of the gifts from each generation, we asked: How can you integrate the gifts from each generation into your facilitation design?


Baby Boomers

• Round robin to ensure all voices are heard
• Assign them to take the lead on new initiatives
Silent Generation

• Include a timelining or historical perspective activity if relevant
• Leverage their experience and wisdom
• Have them start the introduction or beginning of meeting
Gen X

• Assign them as team leader
• Get them to identify all the obstacles to a project, in planning etc.
• Give them ownership of ensuring inclusive communication follow-up
Gen Y/Millennials

• Put them on the action planning team
• Put them on the implementation team
• Give encouragement to name any bias or prejudices that arise



Sharon Almerigi and Me:

In this session, we talked about using transformational practices to deepen our facilitator authenticity and impact. We had people from about 10 different countries sign up. People identified their spiritual and reflective practices as everything from walking to praying, yoga, poetry, meditation, listening and learning among many more! We asked at one point: How do my spiritual/transformational practices support my work & competence as an authentic & impactful facilitator? We used the Technology of Participation (ToP®) Consensus Flipchart Workshop method. N.B. Here is what we came up with: The * lettered numbers indicate what participants thought about which IAF competencies were met when we did these things. You might want to use this list of five ways of working as a checklist for your own group:

    1. Creating value for your audience through patience, gentle, respectful listening and authentic speech (to model for them) *C1, A3, B1, F2, F3
    2. Being open, flexible and trusting of wisdom of group and allowing process and outcomes to emerge *C2, C4, D3, A1, A3, B1, F1, F2, F3
    3. Enabling a sense of groundedness and relaxation*C3, F2
    4. Focusing on what is important for preparation and delivery *C1, 2, 3, 4, D1, D2, A2, B2, F1
    5. Being equipped and confident to respond to what’s happening *C3, C4, E1, E2, A1, A3, B1, F1, F3, E1, E2

Nadine and Jonathan Bell:

Nadine and Jonathan gave a session called “From Breakdown to Breakthrough”. It basically help me understand some really important things to be sure to do with the client before the session and also how to get a group back on track when there was a breakdown. I intend to devote a whole blog to this. It was wonderfully insightful.

Photo Gallery

Here are some photos of the conference and the tourist events they organized to enjoy!




This is a Trini delicacy called “Shark Bake” on a tour organized to a beautiful beach!






red ibis


This is the national bird The Scarlet Ibis. I also included a free Flickr photo since my iPhone definitely did not do them justice!





This is one of the conference volunteers during the Opening Ceremonies displaying one of the many beautiful costumes often worn at Festival time which was earlier this year…



Charlie Pellerin’s website full of free stuff:

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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