Climate, time, distance – three reasons why more and more meetings and workshops take place online. This is an interesting crossroad for facilitators, team leaders, project managers and collaboration specialists in terms of supporting online collaboration and engagement. Moving online as a facilitator might look like a technological step yet, not surprisingly, the main work is of human nature.
As facilitators, we have some options here: We keep doing what we always did and copy and paste our face-to-face collaboration approach to an online environment. Current practice shows that there is a rigidity trap here of falling back to some old patterns and habits we thought that we have left behind. Bringing the formula ‘presentation followed by Q&A ‘to an online environment and labelling it as webinar is a guaranteed engagement killer.
We have online meetings run by people who haven’t been well trained to run regular meetings, using technology they also haven’t been properly trained in and working with people who aren’t sure how to use the tool themselves and don’t want to be there in the first place. Why is it any surprise that most people use their time to catch up on email?
So, we need to bring our facilitation skills and practice from the face-to-face world and adapt them to an online environment which offers us new opportunities to boost collaboration and conversation.
For a series of live online workshops that I am currently designing together with Corinne Sprecher from begegnungsreich, we held conversations with many experienced facilitators and trainers to learn about their insights and challenges in moving online. Competent and at ease in the face-to-face world, many facilitators are puzzled and even a bit overwhelmed how to design and facilitate an online workshop. “How can I create engagement and collaboration online without a drop in quality?” “How can I bring my flipcharts into the virtual space, now that I finally got rid of PowerPoint presentations?” “How can I be present when working at a distance?” “In a workshop room I know that my methods work, I have no experience in an online room.” “In our Community of Practice, we do regularly case clinics, I did not think that this is possible online.”
The crux is to get started.
So, let’s step over the threshold:
Bring in the essentials from in-person workshops
Our current practice as facilitators in face-to-face meetings is an excellent starting point. We bring in the basics of process thinking, workshop design and creating engagement. Gain some clarity on what is essential to you as a facilitator no matter whether you support an in-person or online meeting or workshop. What are your Min Specs – your minimum requirements, your guiding principles, your mantras that really matter to your process heart as facilitators? Bring them online!
Mine are: The 3 Ps must be clear: the purpose, the people and the process. – As much conversation as possible, as little input as necessary. – Everyone contributes – all voices count.
Do some homework on the technical stuff
Ask yourself what is challenging you with regards to online meetings and workshops. It might be technology; technology is not intuitive to everyone. We can do some homework (read a tutorial, try and explore with colleagues and the team, ask peers for advice and help, join some inspiring online workshops, eventually follow a training), and we can and must practice – practice – practice to feel at ease with the platform and its tools.
Start experimenting and look for new opportunities
It might be that your toolbox is not fit for the online job and needs some updates? Try Liberating Structures, many of the interactions are great online.
You worry about bad online habits of participants? In face-to-face workshops we often start with defining the common ground and look for an agreement on how we want to work and learn together. Let’s do it online too and give people a chance to reflect on their engagement.
Experiment/introduce a new practice, then make sure you briefly debrief it. Use it again in the next meeting. It gets easier to do, and the work gets deeper and more meaningful. Encourage people to be curious and withhold judgement until they get to that moment of greater depth. Right now it seems that new practices really bear fruit on the third use.
Let’s grasp the new opportunities the online environment offers. This is the creative part of our work as facilitator and process artists. What is clearly different is the time and the timing. We can design a process that is spread over time.
There are new options method-wise. Joint writing is easy online. And maybe an excellent opportunity to include the more introvert voices? And “who says you cannot move your body online?” a friend of mine told me. Yes, indeed who says you cannot integrate some physical exercises or draw or sing online?
Workshops to come
Curious to explore what is possible online? Join the upcoming series of live online workshops starting on March 10 on Zoom:
Bringing Workshops Online.
Confident. Creative. Convincing.
We will be exploring together how we can bring meetings and workshops online. A-not-as-usual online facilitation training: 3 live online workshops & 2 group coaching sessions
Two days exploring with Johnnie Moore how to apply the unhurried approach – to everyday life and to the bigger challenges of uncertain and anxious times.
September 10 and 11, 2020 at YOUR SPACE in Amsterdam