The most difficult workshop

sábado, 05. 9. 2009  –  Category: Destacados, Transformando la Educación

I would like to share with you a facilitation story…

In April 2007  I facilitated the most difficult workshop in my brief lifetime as facilitator
I think that writing it will be a powerful learning opportunity… for me and others.
It was in Cali, Colombia.
A friend of mine, and former consultant colleague, who has started up a new consulting firm, especialized in Corporate Social Responsibility, invited me to participate in this project. The client was one of the most important business association in Colombia.
The project consisted in developing a diagnosis on CSR… analysing stakeholders expectations, interviewing key stakeholders, some online tests, and two key workshops with the managers and board of directors…
In the first workshop, the easy one, we had to help the managers of the biggest companies of the region to identify their key stakeholders and priorize the issues for each stakeholder. In the second workshop, the difficult one, we had to help the board of directors – most of them, big fishes… white hair, gentlemen, expensive clothes, MBAs abroad – to analyse their regional environment and focus the issues where they should priorize their social investment and lobbyng action… education, refugees, health, citizenship, peacebuilding, water basin management, humanitarian crisis prevention…
Well, it was challenging because:
– the  participants high profile… I was used to work with middle and top managers… but most of them were the owners, the CEOs, the fattest fishes…
– the complexity of the subject: strategic level,  invisible political networks and power conflicts … what if they say the guerrilla or paramilitary groups were key stakeholders to whom negotiate whith? what about the ethics? what should we say as consultants in business ethics and social responsibility?
– the environment: Colombian Culture is  so formal, well educated, they take care of being extremely polite … they could send you to hell, but always politely
– the time… as in a final countdown, we had to facilitate the workshop in just five hours.
Fortunately, I took your book, Practical Facilitation toolkit, and I read it during the six hours flight, and scales in Lima an Panama. Now, its my bible¡¡ Specially the chapter about managing difficult situations and reluctant participants..
Some lessons I learned:
– Thanks God the workshop was co-facilitated. This allowed us distributing roles… I focused on applying the planned and re-planned participative methodology, with colourful cards, flipcharts, and she focused on neutralizing egoes, and managing political issues which were invisible for me. – my partner had been in the project since the idea was born.
– Even I had designed the workshop anticipately, we realized that we had to re-design it to adapt it to the cultural and political context… which means changing the activities schedule and powerpoint slides… 24 hours before the workshop.
– Explaining the rules at the beginning helps
– Inviting groups to write down their ideas in cards and flipcharts contributes to focus on ideas, not in power conflicts, neutralizing egoes.
– Even Big fishes are humans, may be colder, but humans… they also had two eyes, one mouth, they also have families and even a heart… they are not Monsters.
– Power only exists when it is used.

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