Reflection on my first solo-facilitating

I have just finished my first solo facilitator’s job of important, 3-day meeting. It was a planning meeting/retreat of CIMMYT’s Global wheat program. Preparation was quick, however quite detailed and interestingly enough during the meeting itself were just minor adjustments of the agenda. Participants (in average 20 people) were practically only  CIMMYT scientists (meaning I wasn’t a stranger to the group). The only person who used the powerpoint (and only for introductory session) was program director.

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Sorting the cards

Following the  introductory presentation, the first session was in a format of BS – brainstorming (by some called BullShitting). It worked very well till the moment when my sticky cloth with about 100 cards felt down from the wall where it was placed. Luckily enough at that moment the cards were already sorted and issues defined. Three different colours of cards were used for issues of different importrance, however not all participants really paid attention and we got little bit of color mess. Next time I have to be more careful when formulating the instructions.

The world cafe
The world cafe

Next session was in the form of The world cafe. Although … little bit modified. Four groups were circulating around the tables/discussion themes, but there was one person permanently sitting in each table, who didn’t circulate, presented to each new group what previous group(s) discussed, ensured that everybody in each group has some space to talk, took notes and at the end presented all discussed issues of the theme in the plenary.  Overall it worked very well, although the whole session was nearly 2 hours long. Everybody had a chance to say something to each of the themes, however obviously in each group there were some more tolkative people.

Sorting the cards
Sorting the cards

Following day we have started morning with lengthy plenary discussions (luck of invention from my side), but participants felt comfortable as this is the way they are most used to present their ideas and opinions. It was interactive and we also had some fun. We used ‘talking stick’ (only person holding stick can talk). However I didn’t have any stick, so we were using spray bottle instead. Funily enough, most of the participants started to use the spray bottle as a microphone, placing it in front of the mouth. Many pictures were taken ;o). And even more incredible was, that next day during another plenary session some participants themselves asked to use the the spray bottle again.

Afternoon session was in the way of Samoan circle (modified fishbowl). It worked very well with just one strange point – several people entered the inner circle just to raise the question or quickly comment on something that was said, but immediatelly after left the circle again… so during the excercise it happened few times that in the inner circle were just 2 people (all together 4 chairs). Bit overall the discussion was going very well and several interesting issues appreared and further unfold.

Very brief afteraction reviews in the day one and two were done through the way of modified dotmocracy. Not surprisingly to me, the only method that got negative points was the classical discussion in the plenary – it was lenghty, sometimes slow and quite a large number of participants didn’t contribute to the discussion at all (although there were opportunities). The final evaluation however was anonymous and in written form as that was the wish of the director.

Evaluation of facilitation methods of day 1
Evaluation of facilitation methods of day 1
Evaluation of facilitation methods - day 2
Evaluation of facilitation methods – day 2

Overall I am satisfied as from my point of view the meeting went very well, without any significant hickups and even the reactions of the participants at the end were very positive. Some lessons learned from my side – I need to write down the list of all common stationary items that one may need (I was missing masking tape and scisors). Lentghy planning might not necessary lead to more succesful meeting, but to be well prepared is essential – it gave me feeling of confidence when standing in front of the group. Few times I have enetered the discussion with my contribution  (stepping out of the facilitators role), but retrospectivelly I think my contribution wasn’t really essential and so next time I need little bit more of self-control.


7 thoughts on “Reflection on my first solo-facilitating

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  1. Congratulations for the meeting, your great job in facilitating it and for sharing it with us! It lloks like you achieveda lot in the two days! Fabulous!

  2. Congrats Petr. It sounds like it was a successful event. Your experience took me back to a very memorable CIMMYT meeting that Doug and I facilitated so many years ago.

    Not sure if this will help you but this is my ‘basic’ list of materials:
    – Coloured markers (at least 1 per person), unscented if possible
    – Min of 2 flipchart stands & paper
    – large post-its (half a piece of A4) or cardboard paper cut in half A4
    – wall stickies (depending on the wall surfaces and venue restrictions ie. pins, blue tack, green tape or regular tape)
    – A4 paper (2 -3 colours preferred)
    – scissors
    – stapler

    Looking forward to hearing about your second-solo-facilitating event.

  3. Hi Petr,

    Congratulations and well done! The results speak for themselves! I found it amusing how the fish bowl went. 🙂 I am sure more and more facilitation requests are going to come your way!

    This is just the start! 🙂

  4. Hi Petr! just stumbled across this; excellent work. How much would think is required, at minimum, for the card sorting exercise? cheers! Vanessa

    1. Hello Vanessa, its now more than a year ago, but I think it was less then 10 minutes to think and write the cards. sorting then was possibly another 10 minutes. Hence all togteher not so bas – 15-20 minutes.

  5. Hi Vanessa,

    We just did a card sorting session to train people how it works. As Petr said, about 10 mins to get the cards but then depending on the topic it can take between 10 mins to an hour for sorting and naming. A lot depends on the trust between the participants and how (strongly) they identify with the issue.

    Hope this helps,

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