As we hurtle into the second month of the year I realise that the half written first blog of the year, was still half written. So now here it is, finished off. Full of things I thought at the start of the year, all about last year. So let us begin….as I look back and reflect, here is what I see:

Reflecting on 2021

The work I did

I was lucky enough to have some really rich and varied facilitation work over the year; I facilitated quite a few sessions that focused on team purpose, values, vision and goals and ways of working. There are certainly plenty of teams who have been through upheaval and this kind of checking in and recalibrating seemed to be a consistent theme for many.

There were also a number of sessions focusing on communication and helping each other to think about how to do it at a distance, or how to do it with a moving and shifting team. In addition some of the facilitation I did was about helping team members to get to know each other again (or in the first place) and to (re) connect.

I facilitated several strategic planning, and other planning sessions. Even in the midst of a pandemic, with so much uncertainty there is a need to plan and try to work out what next. I discovered a really nice Liberating Structure called Critical Uncertainties which helps a group to look at different scenarios.

I got stuck into quite a bit of different Stakeholder Engagement facilitation which includes a variety of different workshops with multiple stakeholders from different organisations or walks of life. Much of this was in the climate change arena, such as the work I did with Cheltenham Borough Council, and I have learnt a lot. These kinds of multi-stakeholder workshops present some different challenges when doing them online, in that the participants often had different levels of access to different online tools (as well as different levels of experience). It did bring into focus the importance of planning and taking time to do research before the workshops to make sure things work. I have also discovered that Sharepoint and I are not natural friends!

Key moments of happiness and joy

In amongst the doom and gloom of the global pandemic there have fortunately been some wonderful moments:

  • Collaborations with other facilitators is something that 2021 brought more than any other time previously. It has been fantastic to share so many experiences with other facilitators whether as part of a large team of facilitators (which I was able to do for example as part of the Bristol Citizens Assembly team), or co-facilitating with one or two others. One important lesson I have learnt about online facilitation is that having a “producer” or “tech facilitator” is quite important in making things go smoothly.
  • Because we have all been online I was able to meet so many more facilitators from the global community, across a whole range of time zones. And with this diversity comes new learning and sharing of ideas which is an absolute win.
  • I would say that I am quite at home with online or virtual facilitation. I used to think it was a super specialist skill, but actually it’s all about the way frame it and I love to challenge my thinking! With getting comfy you also get the chance to experiment a bit more, which has definitely been fun.
  • In person workshops – actually 3 of them! I do miss those marker pens…….
  • Bringing some of what I have learnt in the virtual space into my face to face workshops. My face to face workshops have always been lo tech, but with one very large workshop I facilitated I realised we needed to use some large screens. I am not sure I would’ve admitted this was a good idea before I’d worked in the world of online facilitation.
  • Aside from my client work I took on the role of IAF England and Wales Chair. I have been part of the leadership team for several years, host some of the meet ups and am one of the podcast hosts. But I am not sure I ever thought I’d have a go at being chair! But I’ve loved it. So far so good. It is superb to be a part of such a brilliant team.
  • Probably the thing that brought me the biggest smile of all (and a few tears) was becoming a Certified Professional Facilitator. It was something I’d been thinking about for a while, but was never quite been brave enough to try. But in the end I did it! It wasn’t so much that I felt I needed to demonstrate I am a good facilitator (hopefully my clients would’ve said something by now if I wasn’t doing a good job!). But more that I wanted to go through the process, to check that I was working in a way my profession demands, and to have other facilitators look at my work and give me feedback.
  • Moving house – more space and some great storage for my workshop kit.
  • Buying a bigger second screen for online facilitation. I was really lucky when my mum found an old one in her attic, but eventually I upgraded and am very pleased I did.
  • Flipchart stubs make excellent paper mache! Who knew…..

Key moments of weirdness and worry

It’s easy to see the negatives sometimes and not the positives, but actually aside from the obvious (the times we are living in) I don’t feel like there were too many nightmares.

  • Home school at the start of the year was definitely no fun. The second time around my creativity well had run dry and we were all bored by it. It didn’t last long fortunately.
  • In person workshops and the uncertainty around them. Just when you think they may happen, they don’t, or need to change in some way. And the threat hanging over you of cancellation, contracting the lurgy, or changes in legislation that will stop them happening. I wrote about my first face to face workshop of the year and while things have got easier, they are still not simple. I am sure we all thought it would get easier, but in fact the not knowing where we are just makes it more complicated.
  • Getting Covid – January was a bit of a slow start!
  • Not being disciplined enough with my time. In the home school period I realised that it is so true what they say about asking a busy person to get things done…..when you only have 2-3 hours a day to do any work you are so efficient. But somehow then when more time became available I thought I could do everything. Not true. The work of a facilitator is usually so varied. Every new piece of work is exciting as you just don’t know what it will actually look like until you dive into it. So of course I want to do it all. Learning to take on a sensible amount of work is definitely a skill I am working on.

What now for 2022?

  • Making space to learn. I have just booked onto a course I have been wanting to do for years. I am extremely excited but a little scared. Watch this space to see how it goes…..
  • I am going to challenge myself to actually read some of the many facilitation related books that I have half read or just added to my shelf. I am starting this year with Crucial Conversations (an audio book) by Patterson, Grenny and McMillian. So far it’s a very enjoyable listen.
  • Continued collaborations – absolutely. This something I definitely want to stay.
  • Continued work with some great clients in team development, strategy development and planning, and multi stakeholder workshops. Online, or off.
  • Some more outdoor facilitation – the last outdoors session I had planned ended up online. But with a bit of luck (including with the weather) I’d love to get out more in the fresh air.
  • The IAF England and Wales hybrid conference in May. That word we all love to hate……let’s see if we can make it work.

I wish you all the best for 2022, whether you have an amazing vision, some stupendous goals, a brilliant plan or are just taking each day as it comes.

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