Have you ever consider what could happen when you combine the African bush, facilitating strategic planning workshops, an open meeting room and an abundance of roaming wild animals? Like you, until it happened to me it wasn’t even in my facilitator’s playbook.
As a professional who loves to travel and work in countries and cultures around the world, I often find myself developing new insights and techniques that benefit my approach to my work. Sometimes I encounter experiences that are extremely beneficial but very difficult to translate on to my c.v.
A perfect example of this relates to being a leading edge facilitator. Especially being an accredited facilitator for conflict resolution and strategic planning.
I have long known that acquiring strong facilitating skills requires lots of practice, patience and a willingness to tread a path others might be hesitant to. Experience has taught me that there is always something to be learned from each and every session that you facilitate.
Facilitating workshops and sessions that have a high level of tension or underlying emotions is not uncommon for me. Skillfully managing these emotions while maintaining the confidence, participation and momentum in the session requires both patience and a strong commitment to achieving consensus. I nurture my ability to intuitively adapt every session that I facilitate to the needs of the group while skillfully moving participants towards the workshop objective.
This may sound far easier than it truly is which leads to my most notable example of experiencing a situation that could have been a facilitator’s nightmare.
As I alluded to before, I was facilitating a two day strategic planning workshop deep in the African bush under conditions most other facilitators would have run from.
Let me set the stage
The meeting site literally was in the bush – meaning it was completely surrounded by wild animals, no source of electricity, and in a wide open space that was situated very close to a local watering hole that wild animals visited throughout the day.
Add in the fact that some members of the participant group required a translator and there was a degree of tension between some participants. Certainly this was destined to be one of the easiest strategic planning contracts that I have ever taken on.
With lots of preparation and attention to detail, I launched in to full facilitator mode ensuring that workshop activities flowed easily and were adapted on the go as needed; participants were engaged and fully participating; all while managing emotions and conflicts as they surfaced in a respectful objective manner. Feeling that facilitator’s high that the workshop was going exceptionally well, my true test was to come in the form of curious ostriches.
As I was navigating a particularly tension filled group session I spied a few feet beyond the backs of the participants a trio of ostriches dancing and parading around outside of our meeting space. Keeping one eye of the ostriches while facilitating a tough conversation I managed to maintained full control of my facilitator demeanor. Then as tensions in the room slowly abated as validation and consensus for participants was achieved one of the beautiful wild ostriches decided it was an opportune moment to join our workshop.
I cannot begin to articulate how strong of resolve it requires to watch a wild animal join your session while not interrupting the flow of the facilitated session. As a facilitator many emotions and thoughts run through your mind all while you continue to do what you were hired to do. “Do I acknowledge that there is a wild and highly unpredictable animal in the space?” “Do I ignore the ostrich?” “What is the ostrich going do?” You get the drift, rather basic questions like that.
Thankfully, I held my cool. Not missing a beat, all while considering the participants’ familiarity of living with wild animals, I could only conclude to continue on as normal. In the end it was this approach that benefited me immensely as my cool acceptance of nature at its best built an even higher level of trust and respect between me and the strategic planning workshop participants.
It has taken considerable time and thought since then to actually learn the most valuable lesson from this encounter. As a Canadian I never experienced the joy of facilitating with wild animals in my space until I began working in Africa. But since that time it has been something that I experience with great regularity. Now I can boast comfort levels with a variety of wild beasts such as warthogs and baboons popping in on my sessions.
Reflection has finally taught me that it takes great skill and control to successfully facilitate when strong emotions or wild animals are present. In both circumstances as a facilitator you can never let your participants gain the upper hand or see you sweat. You need to be confident, able to adapt when you can’t control circumstances and love what you do. Anything less can result in considerable harm to you or the group.
Now, I have a much richer depth of experience to bring to my clients various and diverse needs and a whole new appreciation for my facilitating skills under any and all conditions. Having found myself in a situation that I certainly never anticipated I have discovered that my ability to facilitate under any and all conditions is stronger than I gave myself credit for.
Best of all I learned that the best experiences in life happen outside of the box (such as in the African bush)!