How my bad French made me a better facilitator

Let Your Magic Happen

I recently went on a mission to Cameroon, where one of my tasks was to facilitate a workshop with about 100 participants. Cameroon is a bilingual country – but that doesn’t mean all Cameroonians are bilingual. It rather means, there are some regions that are predominately francophone (the majority) and some that are anglophone (the rest). And, in my experience, in a room full of 100 people from all over the country, you have maybe 5-10 who prefer speaking English… and who are very used to working in French. Then you have about 90-95 who prefer speaking French… and who understand English better than if you were in a purely francophone country – but who have a strong preference for working in French.

My French on the other hand… well… I understand most of what people say. And I can survive very well. What I cannot do in French is sound clever. Or express delicate matters delicately. Or explain complex processes clearly, so that everyone can easily follow. You’ve guessed it: What I cannot do in French is facilitate a participatory workshop with 100 participants.

How on earth did that make me a better facilitator, you wonder?

Well, a facilitator is someone who provides structure and processes and then gets out of the way to let the magic happen. In the case of Cameroon, like in a lot of my work, we are working with local facilitators who are there not just for the workshops during out field visits but to support the project throughout implementation.

My typical approach to a workshop like this would be to be the lead facilitator and have the local facilitators facilitate small group work and other less challenging, less complex and less visible work. During this workshop however I did not hold a microphone or say a public word even once. I had prepared very well with our local facilitators, we knew what the process was, then I handed over to them and spent the day listening, observing, preparing flip charts, handing out post-its, checking in with the facilitators, feeling the room, keeping eye contact and trying to get out of the way to let the magic happen.

All the while the local facilitators had space to show their value, get visibility, develop contacts and prepare for the implementation work which started once we left.

From this experience I gained two insights:

  • Running the show and dancing on stage might not be the best idea for a visiting mission – even if we know the language well. Because it can easily send the message: The international team consists of superheroes, flown in to save the day. The local team is just second-best – you have to bear with them until the superheroes come back.
  • You are more likely to learn, adapt and innovate in a situation of scarcity and constraints than in a situation of abundance: If everything I wanted had been there (e.g. my perfect command of French) I would have done things like I always do them, without a second thought.

How about you, how have your limitations led you to do your work better?

(image credit: http://www.ourspiritedlife.com/)

Join us: Largest international Net-Mapper meeting ever!

Wouldn’t it be great if Net-Mappers from all over the world could share their experience, learn from each other, build a common knowledge-base and just hang out and enjoy each other’s company? You might be working with Net-Map in your university, organization, consulting practice and maybe you are the only one excited by the participatory drawing of networks. Or, maybe a lot of your colleagues are excited, but they all have no clue how it really works, so you always have to be (or look like) the expert who knows everything. I am sure you have some great stories, lessons and results to share and together we might find the answers to your questions.

We (that’s Eva Schiffer, Jennifer Hauck, Amit Nag, Paolo Brunello and our Net-Mapping friends) are planning to have the biggest international meeting of Net-Mappers at the next Sunbelt Conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis in Brighton, UK (June 23rd to 28th, 2015). In addition to hosting one (or two) sessions which will be dedicated to applying network knowledge, we are planning to host a Net-Mapper get-together as informal side-event of the conference so that we can all get to know each other and each other’s work and start working together more closely.

We will discuss whatever questions are at the forefront of our minds. For me there are three things I am really curious about:

  • Learning more about all the great applications of the method to start having an extensive case collection.
  • Strategies for working together to make Net-Map interventions happen and grow the community of practice. This could lead to developing a database of international Net-Map consultants so if any of us wants to implement something that is bigger than one person, we know where to go.
  • Asking and answering questions about how to use and analyze Net-Map, moving the method forward and understanding it better.

To make this happen we need you. And you. And your net-mapping colleague too. If you are interested, please contact me directly. And submit an abstract for the Sunbelt Conference session on applying network knowledge.

Oh, and did I say that this is just the side-event? The main event is also pretty amazing. Sunbelt is the largest Social Network Analysis conference and it’s an great mix of the old gurus, the young geniuses, master’s students getting feedback for their half-done thesis, and everything in-between. Also, they have great hands-on introductory workshops on most of the common SNA software and approaches (including a Net-Map training) during the first two days of the conference. If you have never submitted an abstract to a conference and the task intimidates you, I am happy to talk you through it. And, surey, you can also come just as a participant, without presentation… but we would all be missing out, if you didn’t share your work. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Guiding your network weaving: Net-Map training in DC (June 27-28)

ImageAt our trainings you dive into using Net-Map in your own context pretty quickly. Last fall one of our participants actually took a break from the map he was drawing because it made him realize that he had to make a few phone calls to some key influencers that he had not been quite aware of. And he had to do that RIGHT NOW. So while he continued learning more about Net-Map through the training he had already kicked off powerful network weaving in his home county to save jobs and keep major local employers from moving out of the county. Experiences like this give me goosebumps. How mapping out formal and informal networks, seeing them in front of you, can give you new insights about problems that you have obsessed about for ages…

If you want to spend two days with us in DC, learning how to map actors, connections, goals and influence levels and how Net-Map can inspire transformational changes in a question you are passionate about, secure one of the remaining spots in our June training.

 

 

Do your networks own you – or do you own them?

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Does the bear eat you or do you eat the bear (Polar Bear Family and Me by Gordan Buchanan)

Does the bear eat you or do you eat the bear?

Coming back from the largest meeting of social network analysts, the Sunbelt Conference of the International Network of Social Network Analysis (INSNA) I realize that my approach to this question might be different from the mainstream in the field. Most researchers who are interested in social networks will ask a variation of the following questions:

  • How does the network you are embedded in determine what you get (depending on research interest the “what” can be as diverse as “money”, “weight gain” and “HIV/AIDS”)? Or:
  • How is your network determined by who you are (looking at the network differences between men and women, rich and poor, sick and healthy, new and old staff etc.)

I guess, that’s what most researchers do, looking at how one thing is determined by something else. I am much more interested in the practical and proactive question:

  • Once you understand your network, what can you do about it?

Network researchers make a compelling case (backed up with a lot of evidence) that network structures do indeed influence what you can achieve or what risks will come your way. And it is obvious that different people have networks are structured differently. But wouldn’t it be great to get a better understanding of what individuals and groups can (and cannot) do to improve their network structure and content to be happier, achieve more of what they want, get out of painful, limiting and dysfunctional network relations?

Have you been able to change your networks? Why did you do it and how? What was difficult? What was easy? Did it change what you can give and get? I’d love to hear from you.

And if you want to find out what happens to the man in the glass box as he is visited by a hungry ice bear (picture above), you will find an amazing video here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/01/04/polar-bear-arctic-gordon-buchanan_n_2410791.html

Net-Map training: Learn to map your career or torture networks…

drawing informal linksThe most interesting aspect of teaching Net-Map is that our participants bring their own cases to map, so that they can learn how to apply the method to their own problems. And I have had participants mapping torture networks in a South East Asian country (to improve the effectiveness of an anti-torture campaign) and I have seen many different versions of: “Who will influence that I achieve my career goals?” or, even more personal: “Who will influence that I am happy more often and unhappy less often?”. If you join us for our November 15th-16th training, it’s up to you: What are the burning, confusing, exciting and/or painful issues that you want to clarify, where you want to become more strategic and understand the major bottlenecks and opportunities? And yes, in the process you will learn all the nuts and bolts of the method and become a member of our growing community of practice. A few spots are still available. The training will be held at a beautiful event space in the Eastern Market area of Washington, DC. All the details are here and you can sign up here.

Own it – with a smile

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(Picture by Alan Cleaver on flickr)

How do you deal with situations you are not 100% comfortable with? How do you approach your work and your family life when it gets stressful? Are you quick to blame others for whatever goes wrong? Are you inclined to focus on all the different ways that you have messed it up?

How about owning it with a smile?

What does that mean? I started thinking about this last week, attending an amazing creative facilitation training by Retreats that Work (or, more specifically, Merianne Liteman and Sheila Campbell). They highlighted the power of an honest smile, how it can light up the room, make the most difficult group processes more bearable and convey to participants that you approach them in a positive, inviting manner. As a German I come from a culture where you only smile if you have a reason – and even then, you often don’t. My German friends think I have become Americanized… I am not sure my American friends would agree. There is still a lot of room for adding more smiles, with or without concrete reason. So I just started trying it out: What would happen if I smiled more? Not a “I’m sorry I’m in your way” kind of smile but rather a “I own my own space and invite you to join me here” smile.

At the end of the training I realized that “owning it – with a smile” is a powerful guidance for dealing with things beyond group facilitation. So I have looked at a number of issues both in my professional and private life and asked myself: What would happen if you didn’t blame others or yourself for this, but own it with a smile? If feels like breathing in – in a way that makes your lungs expand and fills you with fresh spring air. Now I’m curious where it will get me. And I’d love to hear from you: Do you own it with a smile? What does that mean to you? And what happens if you do?