The Art of Mixing and Matching Techniques – What to Do and Not Do

Facilitation Techniques

In a recent facilitation, my colleague, Rangineh Azimzadeh Tehrani of Solh Resolutions International and I discussed the design of something fairly complex in a short amount of time. It was a job for Mercy Corps and members temporarily called “Women’s Philanthropy Group”. We had several lofty objectives!

In this blog, we talk about what makes a job complex, why one might consider merging and mixing techniques, and how to do and not to do it. Our hope is that you can also more confidently choose different component parts of several techniques/methods together in an artful way.

Now, more on the job.

Defining the Objectives

After several meetings with the client, and conducting a focus group with many of the group members, we realized we were heading for a lot of complexity. Here is what we came up with for objectives for the day:

  • building excitement for a long term project
  • gaining clarity on what the project was, and how to launch and sustain the project
  • strengthening commitment to the project
  • building deeper connections between volunteer and staff members
  • defining roles and contributions each group member could take

How do you design for something like that?

What makes a job complex?

These are the elements of complexity that we encountered in this particular project:

  • Our room environment was unknown because of COVID so we didn’t know what we were dealing with until a few days before the event. It turned out the room was very small, and initially we thought we could not put anything on the walls. Luckily that policy was not rigid!
  • We had several people participating remotely and others in person. Several were not sure to attend and if they did, it would be part-time remotely.
  • This was a pivotal meeting. The group needed to achieve some very key and specific decisions and steps for this project to be successful in the future.
  • We had to achieve a lot in a short amount of time.
  • We were unsure of the group members’ comfort with COVID risk.
  • We had a total of 7 hours to cover all the objectives including lunch and breaks
  • And, full disclosure, it was about climate change so I was not neutral about the topic.

Why we merged techniques

When we first thought about it, we chose to use the ToP Action Planning process. It seemed  straightforward. The only difference was this was not a short term project. It was a long-term project. We thought we could deal with that difference by adding extra years on the calendar.  Then we realized that there was something missing from this methodology that the group needed. We needed to define the project more precisely. We needed to gain excitement and motivation.

Therefore, we thought we might use the PATH planning process. It is very motivational but we realized it lacked a way to create very detailed steps and determine which committees were needed.

Then we considered merging the two methods and yet we realized we were still missing some elements of what was needed. Could we add in a ToP Consensus Workshop? Could we add in elements of The Circle Way. We decided “Yes!!”

Below you’ll see we used all four methods/techniques/approaches. We don’t always recommend this but when you know how to smoothly segue from one method to another, it is doable.

How did we do it? Our Mixed Technique Agenda!

This was the sequence and details of the methods we used in our final agenda:

  • We started out with the The Circle Way process. In particular, we emphasized that the group appoint a guardian. The guardian’s role is to call for a pause when things are unclear or uncertain. This turned out to be pivotable later in the day. We needed the group to be accountable at all times, because we, as facilitators, couldn’t possibly read the group’s many needs given the complexity and the shortness of time.
  • We next used the first two parts of the PATH planning process. The first part is to define the Vision or North Star dream. It included colourful graphics and words. It was very enlightening for the group to see how much they agreed about where  they wanted to be at the end of the project. The second step of the PATH planning process was also very helpful. It is called “positive & possible goals”. In this step they were able to define very specific targets that they would accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months. It gave them something very tangible to focus on and was exciting to see the specifics.

  • At this point we realized we needed to change over to the ToP Action Planning process. We used all of the steps starting with the current reality, key actions, calendaring and coordination. This helped the group determine the types of committees they would need for a successful launch of the project. It helped them be specific about what had to come first.

  • But then we had to deviate again. Why?
  • There were some elements of the group structure that had not yet been defined. So we had sent out an advance question to the group asking them, “What are the component parts of a very engaging and sustaining project?” We knew we might not have time to take all the answers and do a Consensus workshop on it, live. So we took the liberty of synthesizing the data ahead of time and presenting it to them the next day when we did indeed not have enough time to have them do the grouping and naming parts.
  • I know this feels like heresy. But in the end, a quick look at this data showed that they had missed some critical parts in their calendaring of key actions. We added these critical actions and the group seemed satisfied we had covered all the bases.

  • Next, finally we returned to the Circle Way process and had them reflect on the whole day and appreciate each other.

Results: 

At the end, the client and the group said they were very pleased and could not have done it without us. We had a debrief meeting to define next steps for the staff to ensure that the project moved forward as efficiently and quickly as possible.

What to do and not do when merging techniques?

You probably picked up some tips already just by reading through this. But let me summarize what I think are “the do and do not do’s” of merging techniques.

  1. Make sure your techniques are similar to each other. Figure out how to make smooth segues between techniques.
  2. Test the segues with a co-facilitator or members of the client group to see that they make sense. Try answering all of the questions or do the activity yourself to see if they flow well enough.
  3. You understand the purpose of each step of the disparate parts of the methods you are using.
  4. Have confidence in yourself that you are using techniques that you know well.
  5. When you’ve got it all mapped out, go over it again and make sure that it flows and has elements of imagination, creativity, product development and excitement.

How have you merged techniques and methods? 

Barbara-8-2017

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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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