I’ve recently been doing a whole new thing with my Thursday evenings – singing in the Business Choir in Bristol. Yes, they let me in, no there weren’t any auditions and no they haven’t ejected me so far! It’s a group of business owners in Bristol who get together once a week to network and sing. Simple really. It was created by the amazing Amy Box who is our choir leader and also a vocal coach. She gets us working together, performing as a team and we all rather enjoy it. We did our first gig a couple of weeks ago at National Freelancers Day, and by all accounts our tuneful tones went down rather well. Take a look yourself, there is video evidence…..
So of course (because this is the way my brain works) I started thinking about the similarities between leading a choir and being a group facilitator. And there are in fact many:
1.The main job of the choir director is to get the group to work together. The better the individuals gell together and work with each other, the better it’s going to sound. The odd solo aside, the overall sound is a cumulative effort and it needs someone who knows what she’s doing to guide this. A group facilitator’s job is the same, we get individuals to work together, but rather than create glorious tunes, we help the group to have productive discussions and to share ideas and exchange information. Part of our job is to guide and to enable people to work collaboratively. The noise of a group of people having productive discussions is rather pleasing, but probably not nearly as much as a team of great voices!
2.I didn’t think I really appreciated this until I joined a choir, but there are quite a few different parts. It’s not about teaching everyone to sing the same tune. There are altos, sopranos, base, tenors (and probably lots more that I’ve never heard of). The different parts come in at different times and all add something different to the song. The choir director needs to make each set of parts feel valued and help the individuals to see where they fit in the song. The role of a facilitator is to work with a group where there are often people with different roles, possibly from different teams and different levels of seniority. Making them all feel welcome and included and helping them to equally each be a valuable part of the discussion is vital.
3.As many people will understand (myself included!) there is a certain amount of confidence required to stand up in front of people and sing. Most people save their voices for the shower or the car, but allowing other people to hear your voice, particularly when you are not “a singer” is a pretty big leap of faith. The choir leader needs to help her choir feel confident and believe in themselves. A facilitator’s job is similar in that they need to help the people in the group feel confident enough to contribute their ideas, to step forward and share with others. Participants in a workshop don’t need to perform in any way, but joining in with group activities and speaking up can be daunting for some people, so it is really important to create a process that encourages, and helps people feel comfortable.
4.A more practical side of both these roles is that of time keeper. Timing has many different facets when it comes to singing; the timing of the songs you are singing, keeping in time with each other and the length of songs that fit into a performance time to name just a few. Watching the time is pretty crucial. And equally when running a workshop, the group facilitator needs to allot time to different activities and discussions that will happen throughout the workshop. They need to allow enough time and monitor it. One of the keys to doing this well though is flexibility, and knowing when you can shorten a section or let another run on longer if it is particularly productive. Being flexible with song timings though may prove more tricky!
5.Keeping everyone on track is vital to both roles. Whether you are letting your choir know which songs are coming up next at rehearsals, or in the performance, keeping us all moving in the right direction, standing in the right places, or the more important role of maintaining the right volume and style (and as above – in time). The facilitator also needs to keep people on track, by using an agenda, sign posting where different sections are and what is expected, perhaps setting ground rules and using a whole raft of tools and techniques to keep conversations flowing in the right direction.
6.It’s not until you actually learn a song that you begin to analyse it a bit, and for many people (this is me we are talking about here!) this may be the first time you find out what the actual lyrics are. I can now tell you for example that my 15 year old self though she had the lyrics to “Love Shack” by the B52s totally nailed. Ha – “heading down the Havana highway” is actually “Atlanta Highway” and the solo in the middle “Henrrrryyyyyy – rested” is nothing of the sort, it’s “Tin roof, rusted”…just so we’re clear! So even on a basic level the head of the choir has a definite responsibility to ensure everyone in the group is clear and knows what they are singing. Clarity is key. A facilitator helps the group in a workshop or session to gain clarity too – not about words to songs but about ideas, or plans, perhaps about direction and purpose. It’s easy to misunderstand, assume and generally get the wrong end of the stick especially when a lot of complex information is being discussed. But helping people to recognise this and untangle what is really being said is part of what group facilitators do best. Interpretation and understanding whether over song lyrics in a choir, or over parts of a conversation or pieces of information in a facilitated session are both pretty important.
7.It sort of goes without saying that you need to be pretty good at listening when you are leading a choir. A choir director needs to be able to help the group to listen to get it right and needs to listen well herself so she knows whether the group is singing it correctly! I imagine this to be a much harder feat than listening as a group facilitator. It is crucial to the role though. Active listening and really paying attention to what people in group are saying is very much part of being a good facilitator as well as helping the participants to listen to each other too. We do ask a lot of questions as group facilitators, but the trick is really making sure to listen to what comes back too.
8.Finally I would say that we both probably bring a certain level of fun to our groups. My experience of being a part of a choir has been enormous fun, but setting the tone of the group, the facilitation of this fun and the engaging nature of the choir director is what allows this to happen. I imagine that there are many more serious choirs where fun is not part of the plan, and that’s fine. But this one has fun at it’s heart. And I like to think that on some level, even the most serious workshops I fun as a group facilitator have an element of fun. Whether this is a particular tool or activity, a story shared or some particularly interesting materials (I’m a bit of a fan of fiddle toys), I think this helps people to open up and relax a bit. Too much fun or the expectation that you must have fun can be off putting for some people so it’s always back to the facilitator to monitor how this is going.
There are probably many more similarities and many differences too between facilitator and choir director, so if you can think of any let me know! I think it takes the love of working with groups to be able to do both of these jobs, the energy and collectiveness, the combining of skills and knowledge and the sum of the whole that is greater than the individual parts. Do you have a profession that embraces some of these skills?
If you’d like to know more about the Business Choir in Bristol then please check out their website.
And of course if you’d like to know more about how I can help your groups have productive discussions and fruitful conversations (with a bit of fun thrown in) then you can e-mail me at Helene@jewellfacilitation.com I most definitely won’t be asking you to sing, but if that is something you’d enjoy then I know someone who I can bring along to help!