how to lead effective collaboration with agile teams

With the recent publication of the book ‘The Art & Science of Facilitation How to Lead Effective Collaboration with Agile Teams’ TeamCatapult is proud to present the Virtual Book Tour to promote this new book and its important message.

This Virtual Book Tour consists of several online ‘Virtual Book Tour Stops’ where casual conversations about facilitation take place with guest speakers.

Each speaker invited to participate in any of these virtual events is knowledgeable about both Agile and Facilitation and an expert in their field. We invite you join us for this book tour and learn more about ‘The Art & Science of Facilitation’

The Start of a Virtual Book Tour: Stories of Facilitation

During the first stop of the tour, we met Teamcatapult faculty as they told personal stories of facilitation. 

The full conversation with Marsha Acker, Antoinette Coetzee, David Levine, Jeff Hackert, Kari McLeod, Kay Harper, Larissa Caruso and William Strydom can be watched in its entirety via this link.

These stories of facilitation yielded not only a vibrant and stimulating conversation, but also several follow up questions about facilitation. As is common with webinars, virtual events or panel discussions limited on time, the speakers didn’t have an opportunity to answer all questions in the moment.

However, we believe these questions need to be answered. The team thought so too!

Thanks to TeamCatapult faculty, we now have not just questions, but amazing insightful answers as well! 

Here are 7 FAQs questions about facilitation!

1. Facilitating Outside of Work, Can It be Done?

Question: I’d be curious to hear folk’s opinions on facilitating outside of work – as a parent, as a spouse, at my book club?

Answers:

Jeff: I find these skills to be useful in nearly every act of group communication.

Marsha: I agree with Jeff, I use aspects of facilitation skills in almost every aspect of my life – home, work, girl scout meetings, volunteer efforts, etc. 

Kari: Yes, and being clear about your role when you do so is key. For example, facilitate a discussion as a parent, if you’re truly willing to be neutral. I have to remind myself of this one! I attended a virtual memorial service in November, and there wasn’t a facilitator. It was awkward. So, I asked if I could help guide the discussion. Once there was some process and people started speaking, I stepped back as a facilitator and the conversation was more organic.

David: Me too. Recently, at a Home Association meeting, I found myself recognizing a structural dynamics pattern and was able to steer the conversation to something more collaborative and productive (Science over Art…)

2. How is a Facilitation Book Different From a Communication Book?

Question: Why do you think this book is necessary at this time, how would you distinguish these books from countless books on communication?

Answers: 

Marsha: There are hundreds of books out there on facilitation and communication techniques – and they are very helpful (I have many of them on my shelf). The intention of this book is more about what beliefs, in our own mindset, will support those endless amounts of techniques and make them more effective. In the agile movement I think we are at the place where there is a general understanding of the need for collaboration, that coaching skills and facilitation skills support this, and I see many teams that just apply the techniques without doing the mindset work that would allow them to make those techniques more impactful and meaningful. I think we are at the place to collectively deepen our work on how we collaborate together.

Antoinette: The reason why I love working with Marsha is because I resonate so much with her belief that facilitation is as much who you are and how you are being, as it is about what you do. I have a number of really great books on facilitation that have helped me in my own journey, most of them have a section of how you show up, but the majority of the book is devoted to the act of facilitation. The combination of Agile, facilitation and Structured Dynamics is where I think this book really helps facilitators grow awareness of what is happening in them, in the room, and in the group they are facilitating. 

Kari: I echo both Marsha and Antoinette, and I’ll build on what they wrote to say that this book grows how we’re being as facilitators which is the foundation of what we’re doing as facilitators.

3. Can Facilitation Be Helpful for Non-Agile Teams?

Question: I know that the book is targeted to Agile Teams but do you feel it is applicable beyond Agile Teams and why?

Answers:

Larissa: I would argue that this is even more important for non Agile teams. Because Agile teams are somewhat used to concepts of collaboration, co-creation, and facilitating meetings. If you can bring a little bit of that mindset you find in the book to meetings, you will see a huge 180 in productivity and engagement.

Kari: Much of the foundation of this book lies in professional coaching and facilitation as well as Structural Dynamics–none of which have Agile as their foundation. The facilitation mindset you’ll explore in this book uses Agile teams as a lens, and I encourage you to adopt the mindset and look through other lenses.

David: Only you need to be Agile to make this stuff work. I have facilitated many many meetings using the concepts from this book without the “A” word ever coming up.

4. What is the Role of Intentional Distractions During Meetings?

Question: I am curious what folks think about intentional “distractions” – ie pipe cleaners, legos, snacks

Answers:

Antoinette: These items are really useful for people (like me) who need to be kinetically busy in order to concentrate. Completely voluntary of course!

Marsha: For me, it depends on the topic and work to be done in the meeting. If it’s detailed thinking work and I’m using tables, then I might use ‘fidget items’. If the topic is more about how the team is working and relationship based or if I think there is a certain level of ‘heat’ in the conversation I remove tables (if we are in the room) and really ask people to be present to the conversation and give their full attention to reading the room and what’s happening for them and others. 

Kari: David, you probably know I love having these manipulatives in training, MeetUps, and certain meetings and events. I have had participants thank me for bringing them, saying they wished they had had things to fiddle with in school, college, and at work. I have learned to make it clear that they are on the table for them to use (i.e., we’re not saving them for an activity), and, as Antoinette pointed out, that they can use them or not. I also point out that they can take whatever they created with them (I don’t want the Play-Doh back!). And, I agree with Marsha, I don’t use them if it’s a meeting where participants need to be IN the conversation.

David: A tool in the kit, best used in service to some purpose. Useful for some meetings, not for others.

5. Facilitation Goals and KPIs: Can We Measure Performance?

Question: What are your thoughts on organisations wanting to measure the effectiveness of a facilitator, defining some sort of goals and KPIs for facilitation? How could or should we measure performance?

Answers:

Jeff: Focusing on outcomes and measures will help to improve our practice. Of course you have to be careful that the focus is on improving communication, team participation, and process vs say moving a leadership agenda. Make sense?

Marsha: I would suggest asking the group to evaluate how well they think they currently do in: hearing all voices; talking about difficult subjects; raising concerns; meeting deadlines; making decisions; etc.  Ask them what they want to improve and what that would look like. Then in 6 months ask them to rate these same items again and see where they are. Getting the team to take ownership of their communication is critical, facilitation will help you (and them) achieve the outcomes they want to achieve. 

Antoinette: I would also add that looking at the quality of solutions and the stickiness of decisions and whether they are improving might be useful. 

6. How Can We Uphold the Agile Mindset While Facilitating?

Question: There is a chapter in the book on upholding the Agile Mindset while facilitating. I would love to hear everyone’s perspective on that.

Answers:

Antoinette: I will answer by defining the Agile mindset as consisting of three beliefs : the Complexity belief, the People belief, and the Proactivity belief: 

  1. The Complexity belief says that when we work with Complex problems we can never predict the impact of an action. As facilitators we plan, and then we dance in the moment. We are not married to our plan. We need to facilitate the group in front of us, wherever they choose to go.
  2. The People belief helps us to make space for every voice including the unpopular ones, believe in the wisdom of the group, and value every contribution equally.
  3. The Proactivity belief has us asking for feedback and looking for continuous improvements.

As facilitator I both plan an agenda with activities that creates the opportunity for all of the above to be possible, as well as be present to what is happening in the moment to change tack if necessary.

I would actually argue that, maybe with the exception of the last belief, facilitators have been doing this all along. Traditional facilitators just tended to be a little more heavy on the documentation! 🙂 

David: It is as good a practice as there is. If you haven’t been exposed to it, please read Carol Dweck’s little book called Mindset.

7. Any Tips for Virtual Facilitation?

Question: Can you provide some tips to read the room when facilitating virtually?

Answers:

Jeff: My tips: mics on, cameras on – make it safe for folks to be present

Marsha: I agree with Jeff, these two things, when practiced by everyone in the meeting can significantly change the nature of ‘safety’ in the meeting. We have several blogs about this as well. Check these out:

How Do You Facilitate for Unexpected and Unplanned Magic?

How To Best Guide Your Team With Virtual Team Facilitation

How To Lead with Virtual Team Facilitation

Why We hold Check-in and Check-out as a Sacred Space

8 Tips to Successful Virtual Team Facilitation

Antoinette: Yes! I also contract with people explicitly to make their wishes known more openly than when they are in a physical space. And it is good to ask for DISAGREEMENT rather than agreement, eg. “who has something else” instead of “does everyone agree”. Knowing you, Naresh, I can also say trust your intuition and don’t rely on your eyes: 🙂 And that is actually for everyone – we rely too much on our eyes when our hearts tell us more about what is going on in the virtual space. It’s a muscle we need to develop more.

David: Agree. I find that scanning the gallery view is helpful. People get tired more easily when virtual. Don’t confuse fatigue with lack of interest.

The Art & Science of Facilitation 

Don’t miss out on reading the book, or the tour: If you lead teams of any size, it’s time to become a true facilitator — in every sense of the word.

Learn how to lead effective collaboration with agile teams!

We will leave you with these last words about the book: 

The Art and Science of Facilitation is your guide to moving your team further forward using the groundbreaking Five Guiding Principles of the Facilitation Stance. For anyone ready to lead with self-awareness and group insight, this book is designed to help you navigate group dynamics so that your team can work more efficiently and effectively in a truly collaborative environment.

About Marsha Acker

Marsha Acker | CPF, CPCC, PCC, ICE-AC, ICAgile Coaching Track Co-Founder, CEO of TeamCatapult, LLC

Marsha coaches leaders and teams, who want to work in a more agile manner and lead change in their organization. She is a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF), Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Certified Structural Dynamics Interventionist through the Kantor Institute and Dialogix. Her coach training is from Coaches Training Institute and Center for Right Relationships.

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