Reaction: IAF Asia 2012 Shenzhen, China

I went to the International Association of Facilitators Asia Conference 29-30 September in Shenzhen, China. Here is the Facebook page. The conference was hosted locally by Leadership, Inc., based in Shenzhen and organized by the IAF Asia Conference committee. It was so useful to spend a few days with 80 facilitators from across Asia and learn from them. There were 4 large group activities and 16 break-out sessions to choose from during the main 2-day conference.

Facilitation is something that I learned about when I was doing my Msc in Knowledge Management at HK Polytechnic. I realized that I had ‘been facilitated’ many times over the years working in organizations. I learned some facilitation techniques in that programme and in some other workshops and gatherings over the past few years. Knowledge management is so much of the time trying to get people to have a meaningful conversation, which are both relevant to the organization and leads to sharing and exchange of knowledge. It is not easy to achieve since most of the time the typical meeting is not about a conversation between equals but rather about direction or control. That deadly PowerPoint presentation which no one listens to because they are busy watching their phones is a real-world phenomenon. All too common are neetings where no one but the lead and her chief lieutenant speak and then the real meeting happens later in small groups of 2 or 3. Frequently the consensus after the meeting is ‘we are not going to do that’.

What can be done to have more meaningful exchange inside an organization? I believe many of the techniques facilitators use should become part of everyone’s toolkit for working inside an organization. What should be in this toolkit? Ways of making people comfortable, ways of breaking down barriers between internal groups and cliques and ways of highlighting to people there preconceived notions and biases. Here are a few simple techniques that I feel may help:

– Let people settle in their seat with the people they know, have a short conversation and then have them count off up to the total number of tables – 1 – 8 if there are 8 tables. Then ask all the number 1’s to go to table 1 and all the number 2’s to go to table 2. This gets people sitting away from their colleagues and friends but gives them a bit of comfort in the beginning. It works best in a bigger group.

– Collect many postcards and spread them out on a table or the floor. Ask people to choose one postcard that best describe themselves. When people go back to their table ask them to explain to their group why they made this choice. This works well to let people reveal themselves to a small group.

– Get colourful hoops of string and make circles on the floor. Ask people to gather in the hoops based on how they define themselves. Once gathered, ask them to explain how they feel. This works well when you want people to become aware of how groups exclude and include others. I learned this from Masako Arakane from Qualia, Inc. at the conference.
Nationality
Ethnic Group / Race
Height
Age
Gender
Eye Colour
How they feel about being a member of this group
How they feel about being at this event

– Pose a question or a topic and have rounds of conversations for 5 or 10 minutes were in each round the groups change. Big paper on tables can let people jot down notes but it isn’t necessary. This is a world café sometimes called a knowledge café.

There are many other facilitation techniques and if you have an experienced facilitator it is of great value to use him or her to help guide the conversation process. However, you may want to try to learn some of these techniques yourself. Knowledge management success hinges on sharing, openness, flatness and transparency. If you want to have more meaningful conversations every time you have a meeting or gathering in your organization I recommend taking a look at these sites for more information.

Cognitive Edge
Gurteen Knowledge
International Association of Facilitators – IAF
Qualia,Inc
Straits Knowledge
The Institute of Cultural Affairs International – ICA
The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation – NCDD
The Transformation Institute
The World Café
ToP Facilitation

The conference participants were diverse but most interestingly there were over 20 experienced facilitators from Japan. The IAF Japan chapter has over 1,500 members. It will host the IAF Asia 2013 conference in Tokyo. As I’ve frequently noticed, Japan has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in how to work with and with-in organizations. However, sharing this knowledge with the rest of Asia seldom seems to be a priority. As someone said to me at the conference, the Japanese have a culture of listening and reaching out is quite difficult for the Japanese. This may be true but I’m never so sure about cultural pronouncements. I recommend getting to the IAF – Asia conference, 19 – 22 September 2013, in Tokyo and listening carefully. There is some excellent facilitation work going on in Japan.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for this, Bill. Good to meet you last week. Your readers might also be interested in resources from the “Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter” learning community. See http://www.artofhosting.org

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