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110 | Why facilitation skills can help your HR career & how to develop them, with Kirsty Lewis
Episode 11010th November 2023 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
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Facilitation skills can help you thrive in your HR/People career. In this episode of HR Coffee Time, Fay is joined by Kirsty Lewis, Founder of the School of Facilitation (SOF) who generously shares valuable insights, tips, and resources for honing facilitation skills. Listen to this episode to learn:

  • What facilitation is
  • The difference between facilitation and training
  • How facilitation skills can help your HR career
  • Practical tips on facilitating or running an online workshop (to make it as effective and engaging as possible)
  • How to develop facilitation skills
  • Recommendations for further learning & helpful resources

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(Disclosure: the book links are affiliate links which means that Fay will receive a small commission from Amazon if you make a purchase through them)

Other Relevant HR Coffee Time Episodes

Episode 94: Summer reads: 3 great books to help your HR career

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Fay Wallis:

Welcome back to HR Coffee Time. It's great to have you here. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I'm also the creator of the HR Planner. I've made this podcast especially for you, to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR or people career, without working yourself into the ground.

for this episode is that the:

to set you up for a fantastic:

I'll make sure that I share links to both versions of the HR Planner in the show notes for you, and I really hope you enjoy using it. if you decide to either download the PDF version or treat yourself to the hardback version. This is the fourth year that I have released the HR Planner for you. I've created and tested out some new goal setting and career coaching exercises for this year, so I'm really excited about sharing those with you.

I really hope they're going to have a great impact for you. One of them includes a list of what I call career enhancing skills. So it's a list for you to take a look at and decide, hmm, do I want to really work on developing one of these skills throughout the year? These skills aren't necessarily HR specific, but they are skills that can help you thrive in your career.

They include things like business acumen, coaching skills., communication skills, conflict resolution skills, influencing skills, and time management skills. It's my aim to create at least one episode of HR Coffee Time for each of the skills that are included in that list. Although I've already covered off quite a few of the skills so far, one of the ones that I've been really keen to create an episode about for you is facilitation.

Because I think that facilitation skills can really help you thrive in your HR or people career in all sorts of ways. Whether that's to make any training you have to deliver much more engaging and impactful. Whether it's to improve the way you run meetings or help other departments and teams run important events.

Whether it's to help the senior leadership team decide on an important outcome. Facilitation skills are something that can be a Powerful addition to your toolbox. I feel really lucky to have the brilliant Kirsty Lewis on the show to share her facilitation expertise with us all. Kirsty is the founder of SOF, which stands for the School of Facilitation.

And she describes herself as happily spending her day talking about designing workshops that focus on the human versus the content, how giving ownership of the learning to the participant is essential if change is to happen, and that creating engaging environments is not as hard as we think. She works globally with organizations to upskill managers, L& D teams, and in house trainers to train and facilitate with purpose.

And I always want the podcast to be as practical as possible. That's one of my real aims with it. Kirsty has been incredibly generous with sharing all sorts of resources and ideas with us to build and hone our facilitation skills. So it truly is a practical, helpful episode. I really hope you enjoy hearing what she has to say.

Let's go ahead and meet her now.

Welcome to the show, Kirsty. It is so wonderful to have you here today.

Kirsty Lewis:

Thank you. Hello.

Fay Wallis: And before we get started, it would be great for everyone to know a little bit about you. So can I ask you to introduce yourself to everyone listening today?

Kirsty Lewis: Hi, this is Kirsty Lewis, founder of School of Facilitation.

SOF is all about. As it says in the name, facilitation, training, helping people be really great at designing and delivering workshops in person and virtually.

Fay Wallis:

Fantastic. And I should start off by saying that I have attended one of your fantastic workshops. I've been really throwing myself this year in trying to improve my skills as much as possible when it comes to group facilitation and group coaching.

And so if anyone else is thinking of doing that, I definitely recommend. that they take a look at your workshop. It was brilliant. And so I'm incredibly grateful that you agreed to come on the show to share some of your fabulous insights and tips with us all. But having started off by telling us you've got the School of Facilitation, I think my first proper question to you really needs to be, can you tell us what facilitation is?

Because I know that when I was in my former HR career and people would talk about facilitation, I had a sense of what it meant, but actually I was probably a bit hazy. And if I was feeling like that, then I'm pretty sure there'll be other people who feel like that too. So what would you say facilitation actually is?

Kirsty Lewis:

I'm going to flip it and add training in as well because, uh, what is the difference between training and facilitation? And the reason for that is there is, I think people get mixed up between the two and there's an interchanging of the word and language of, um, facilitation and being a facilitator and being a trainer.

So training is the sharing of often information, knowledge, skills, and behaviors. And there is a perception, I think, in the world, and snobbery, that training is often tell versus, uh, and a push versus a pull. And people put facilitation in as the word. Instead, I am a facilitator. So... But a facilitator, at their purest essence and sense, is someone who makes things easy.

So if anyone speaks French out there, they'll recognize the French verb, facile, and facilitator, to make easy. And so when we're in facilitation mode, we are in the space of helping other people arrive at some thinking, a decision, um, and forming their own thoughts. We are not subject matter experts. We do not need to know the answers ourselves.

What we do need to know is what is the outcome of this session that needs to be achieved. And I also think we need a toolbox of skills, maybe exercises that can help us help the group unlock their thinking to get to their answer. And I think what has happened is over time people think facilitation and being a facilitator is a lot more sexy than the language of training

And so, and so people go, oh yeah, I'm a facilitator. And then I say, oh, what do you facilitate? Like what area? And then they go, oh yeah, uh, finance and, you know, financial, like finance and non-finance. And I'm like, oh, you're a trainer, or a facilitative trainer is probably the language I'd use.

Fay Wallis:

So from you saying that, it almost makes me think of the fact that you can blend the two together as well though, can't you?

Kirsty Lewis:

Absolutely. Um, I often talk about the third way, which is a spectrum between training and facilitation, that there's the facilitative trainer, and I think the facilitative trainer is a person who is helping people grow their skills, knowledge, behaviors, but in a way that's facilitative. So it's more about the pull than the push.

It's great questioning. It's great, great listening. They have the capacity to hold the outcomes of the learning lightly, and they're not grasping them so tightly that they strangle the life out of them that, you know, they can flex their behavior. They can flex the needs to the need of the group. They can move the agenda as required.

Fay Wallis:

And given the fact that everyone listening today works in HR or is a People professional, why do you think facilitation skills are something that could be really helpful for them to develop?

Kirsty Lewis:

Yeah, I'm guessing a lot of your community are in and out of meetings on a regular basis, whether that's their weekly meeting, whether that's a monthly review, whether that's a yearly strategy or planning.

And when we are in with our facilitator hat on that means you are holding the space for the group to find the answer. You're not going in with your answer yourself and directing the conversation by subterfuge of, Oh, this is a workshop, but actually I know what the answer is, but we're going to do a series of exercises.

I think as HR professionals, we can be using facilitation skills to help us help our teams or, um, if we're in a partner role, um, the parts of the business that we work with to do their thinking. You can hold the space for them to do their thinking and come back out with a better answer.

Fay Wallis:

Absolutely. And that leads me on to another question, which is, do you think if the HR or People professional who's listening now thinks, right, okay, yeah, I definitely want to develop my facilitation skills and start using them in meetings.

Do you think that if you're facilitating a meeting you shouldn't actually be one of the participants as well or can you be a facilitator and actually involved in the meeting where you're you're going to input your opinion and you're going to be shaping what the outcomes are?

Kirsty Lewis:

No, I think you need to be clean.

Because as soon as you put yourself into the situation and the system of participant and adding, you are then stepping out of the role of being able to see the total picture and step outside. of the total system and see what's going on with a wide angle view because like you suddenly go quite focused when you're the participant.

Um, also for anyone who's ever run a workshop or a meeting, there's a lot to do. It's not just, Oh, we start at 10, we end at 12. And I've got some questions that we need to answer in the middle. There's so much to, I personally think there's a lot of magic going on that people just don't see happening in terms of room setup, time management, always reprocessing, what's going on in the room, um, and are we on track to achieve what we need to achieve?

Do we need to course correct? Do I need to do a different activity because we're not moving towards the thinking that we thought we were going to think. It's actually even just being able to sit with the unknowing and the utter chaos that often happens in the middle of those sessions and be okay and not try and control what's about to happen.

So I think it's really hard to do both. And that's why there is a whole school of professionalism around facilitation and many of us who are facilitators like positively encourage businesses to bring in professionals to do that piece of work for them because we know what to do. And like, like your HR professionals know what to do.

I don't know in a talent situation or an OD situation or succession planning or reorgs, uh, that's their, their skillset. Our skillset is. Let us come and hold that space for you as a facilitator.

Fay Wallis:

So for anyone listening who's thinking, Oh, this sounds fascinating and so powerful. I want to really start to develop this skill set.

What would your advice be to them for getting started with that?

Kirsty Lewis:

Yeah, I think there's some basics that you can start to hone. So get really clear on The why of the meeting, so I know you've read The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, sort of one of my favorite texts, and Priya Parker talks about purpose is our bouncer, and that's the why.

Why are we coming together today? Why is it important that we have this meeting? That's the first thing. And then secondly, know your outcomes. So what is it you want to have achieved within that 90 minute meeting? What are the three outcomes that you have got to, um, and get those really clearly stated and be kind to the people that you invite and go, does the presence of that person help us achieve

the why and the what, the purpose and the outcomes? Because purpose is your bouncer, so it can help you invite people, but it can also help you say no to people. And guess what? Everybody's quite happy not to be invited to a meeting, as I'm sure your listeners know. So that'd be the first thing. The second thing I would really encourage people to think about are their questions.

So the questions are what are going to unlock people's thinking. So getting some really good, crunchy what and how questions written down so that you can have those ready. And have them written down because you're not going to remember them. Also give yourself permission to have time for certain discussions and activities.

I often say no one can do a brainstorm in 10 minutes. Yet I see so many people go, Oh, we'll just do a 10 minute brainstorm. And you're like, by the time you've briefed it, by the time you've given people time to do some thinking, quality thinking and some conversation, and you've debriefed it, it's easily 20 minutes.

So. Please don't 1ask to do a brainstorm in 0. Also, if you're looking for inspiration for some activities, I strongly recommend, uh, looking at liberating structures. So the liberating structure movement came out of Canada. Uh, it's an open source technology. Um, and they have an app that you can get from any good app stores. And it's called Liberating Structures and on there are 33 different ways and different activities that you could utilise.

So I'd go and check that out.

Fay Wallis:

Oh, exciting. I haven't, I don't think I've come across Liberating Structures before. You may have told me about it before and it just hasn't sunk in. So I'm really looking forward to looking that up. One of the things you did recommend to me when I attended your workshop, well you recommend it to everyone, was a tool called Session Lab as well.

Kirsty Lewis:

So Session Lab is an online platform for creating agendas and flows. And this is just an awesome bit of tech. I think they've been around for a good five, six years now. And what I really like about it is you can collaborate. So that's the first thing. So say you and I were working on a workshop together, Fay, I invite you in and we can build.

In, like, real time together, the agenda, the flow. Also in there, if anyone's listening has ever tried to manipulate agendas in a spreadsheet, please don't, you're going to just cry. But timings. So the, the amazing thing about Session Lab is you just put blocks of time and then it shows you the running time you can drag and drop blocks of activity around and it just recalculates things for you and it's just super easy.

And within there as well with Session Lab, they have an amazing free library of resources and activities that have been created by people like Liberating Structures, hyper Island, Gamestorming, as well as lots of different individuals. And again, those are free. So you just do a search and you can find activities with full instructions on what it is you need to do.

It's amazing. And templates. So yeah, if anyone's interested, I can give you a code. If you want one give you that. Yeah.

Fay Wallis:

If you want to share the code I can pop that in the shownotes. That's no problem at all. And after you told everyone in the workshop about it, I then went down a rabbit hole of hours and hours of looking at all of the activities in Session Lab and it's just an amazing resource that I didn't know was out there.

Kirsty Lewis:

It is. It's a great one and I think especially for a time poor. people, especially like your HR listeners and people in corporates.

I think it's a great resource.

Fay Wallis:

And you also mentioned Priya Parker's book, The Art of Gathering. I read that . This is going to sound like I'm just basically your number one fan, Kirsty.

So I read that book after you recommended that in the workshop as well. And then I couldn't stop talking about it. And in fact, people listening today might think, oh, this does sound familiar. Well, that is because after reading it, I talked about it in episode 94 of the podcast, which was called Summer Reads - Three Great Books to Help Your HR Career.

And Anyone who I've talked to about that book, who has read it, everyone just raves about it. So if you're listening today and thinking, oh, this is all so interesting, I really want to dive into the world of facilitation. I cannot recommend that book highly enough. And it has really, really helped me, I think, with running my group program, Inspiring HR.

I've incorporated all sorts of different things from coming to your workshop Kirsty and also from reading that book. So, uh, yeah, that's another big shout out for the book. Absolutely. Coming back then again to the workshop I attended with you, the focus of it was on, I can't remember what the exact title was actually, you'll have to remind me, but it was about delivering really effective online

workshops and.

Kirsty Lewis:

Yeah, it was about designing the workshops.

Fay Wallis:

Yes, about designing them so that you're creating a fantastic experience for everybody when you're having to facilitate or deliver training online. And of course, so many of us are now operating in a hybrid or a virtual world. It would be silly of me not to ask you if you're happy to share some of your advice with everyone listening today, for if they are facilitating or they're running a workshop online, what would your top tips be for making it as good an experience as possible for everyone else attending?

Kirsty Lewis:

Great question. I'm going to be controversial and all you're going to hear eye rolling coming down the line. If you can use Zoom, please use Zoom. It's such a better experience than MS Teams. And I know all of you are probably tied into MS Teams because of your businesses pay for it, so you're stuck with it.

And it's purely because you can do so much more in Zoom, and we all bugbear MS Teams. Secondly, when, when people are arriving into your workshop, please don't hide behind slides. Like, I've walked into many workshops virtually online, and I'm greeted, not by a human being, I'm greeted by a slide.

And I'm like, Oh, it's going to be like that, is it? Because the signal it gives me is, right, I'm not talking to a human being, I'm going to be talked at, and all I'm going to be made to do is look at slides. So one thing I really encourage everyone to do is be present on the screen as people arrive in the room, be chatting in the chat box, say hello.

I use music at the start, so as people are arriving, I always have a particular piece of music playing. And the reason for that is, it sets tone. It says to the group, Hey, this is going to be slightly different. There is music, there's Kirsty with her bright red lipstick, that she's chatting in the chat box.

You know, create the, create the tone that you want to create. Also, don't be afraid to give over the first 15 minutes to a connecting exercise. Not an icebreaker, not an icebreaker, because those just seem trivial and churlish, but an activity that allows people to connect to one another and allows you to connect to them as well.

So in the virtual world, more so than in person. It is our responsibility to connect people together because they cannot just walk over to someone and say, hi, nice to meet you. So we need to create those conditions and therefore a short activity that allows people to be put into breakout rooms in pairs or trios to answer a question or to explore something related to your topic will pay dividends because you'll get people warmed up, you'll get people into the space with you.

Fay Wallis:

Could you give an example of what that might look like? Because I can imagine some people listening thinking, oh, I can absolutely see why that's important and that it's a great idea, but how do I actually do it?

What, what could be an activity that I would do?

Kirsty Lewis:

So. I've got two, so let's just go first with the breakout room one, um, it can be as simple as asking a question. So say you're running a workshop on line management and you're focusing in on, I don't know, giving feedback. You could invite the, you just put a question up and you go talk in your pairs or talk in trios about what you find valuable about using feedback and what do you find a challenge.

So two really easy questions for the brain to answer. When they report back, I am more interested in the challenge than I am in what they find easy. Because if I ask the group to then write in the chat box what they identified as some of their challenges, or what they find icky or hard, I know that's what we need to dial into and focus upon, but it also gives people the opportunity to name things themselves.

So those questions need to be easy enough that it doesn't tax the brain. My analogy is you wouldn't go into a gym and go pick up the heaviest weight. As soon as you've walked in, you, you warm up. So this is your warmup. If you don't want to put people into breakout rooms or your breakout rooms are having a funny five minutes, you can do a really, you could do another activity, which is let's stick with feedback on a scale of one to 10, 10 being often, one being rarely. Write in the chat box, how often you use feedback in your

day to day business, in your day to day lives. And you get people to just write something in the chat box. Or if you have the capacity to use annotation, you can do scales. So you can bring up onto the screen, you might use Miro, Mural. I don't know if MS Teams has annotation yet. But you can put something on the screen that allows people to mark where they sit.

So again, you're creating that interaction. And then you can invite people to share with their voices, their experiences.

Fay Wallis:

It's great to have those examples and you just mentioned another couple of tools. I think you said they were called Miro and Mural. Would you mind just telling us a little bit more about them?

Kirsty Lewis:

Yeah, they are same and different in that they are online. I don't know what they, how they define themselves online sharing tools. So they are like big whiteboards, basically. And, but they are so much more than that. So you can, we use Miro more than Mural. I've used Mural just as much. It allows people to come in, collaborate, write sticky notes, put GIFs up.

is disappearing at the end of:

Fay Wallis:

I heard that it's going away. It's not a tool that I've ever used, so I'm, I'm okay about it, but I have seen lots of people getting very upset that it's disappearing.

Kirsty Lewis:

I know! I'm like, use Miro, you can get a free account, it's fine.

Fay Wallis:

It's so helpful to have all of the tips of the technology, but I think the most important bit really, that I really hope people will take away is what you were describing there about making it feel easy for people to share, helping people connect, figuring out what the challenges are for people, and then really being able to hone in on them. When

it comes to developing those sorts of skill sets, what kind of training or professional development or work would you recommend people look into?

Kirsty Lewis:

There's definitely some spaces so you can do the informal route whereby I think it's just joining some groups and putting your hand up and volunteering to to facilitate or hold the space. You can also do it in your own workplace and just put your hand up and go, go work with a team that you don't have a direct connection with.

So it's a safe space. If you want to do more formal work, there's the ICF, which is the, I can't remember what it stands for. something of facilitation, international something of facilitation. You could go and do their very formal training. You can come and work with us at SOF. We have a program called the flourishing facilitator.

So that's a four month space to come and learn about design. And the big focus for me is practice and getting feedback on your delivery because As you'll know, that's a rare gift. We don't get to get that very often. There are communities of practice as well. So another one I can signpost is Never Done Before, Myriam Hadnes.

So I recommend checking out that community. They are a, they're very European. And then you've got people like L&D shakers with Anne Marie. You've also got Butter as well, just to name some of the different communities of practice out there.

Fay Wallis:

It's invaluable to have all of these recommendations and resources, and I'll make sure that I put links to everything in the show notes.

I feel this is an episode where everyone is going to definitely be checking out those show notes. And if you're listening thinking, Fay, what on earth are you talking about? What are show notes? It is literally just some text that explains a brief overview of what Kirsty and I have been talking about today, with lots of helpful links in there as well.

And you can find them by going to the relevant page for this particular episode on my website, Bright Sky Career Coaching, or you're probably listening to this in an app. So just tap on the episode in your app and scroll down and you will see all of the text underneath there. And I'm just explaining that because

so many people say to me, you keep talking about this show notes thing, Fay. I'm not really sure what it's, so, I think there are so many helpful resources that Kirsty shared with us today that I really want to make sure that you don't miss out on them. If you've never found the show notes before, then here's your challenge.

See if you can find them. And if you get stuck, you can always just message me and I can, um, show you exactly where they are. Okay, well, that brings me to my nearly final question, Kirsty, and it's changed. It's evolved recently. I used to always just ask people for their top non fiction book recommendation, but I had a couple of guests say, I don't really like reading that much.

I don't really have anything I want to recommend. So I said, that's absolutely fine. The podcast has been going for a couple of years now. It's probably a good idea to shake it up a bit. So you now have a choice of two questions, Kirsty. It's either, what is your nonfiction book recommendation for us today?

Or would you like to share a confidence building tip with us today?

Kirsty Lewis:

Oh, I thought you a podcast recommendation as well. I was all planning for that one.

Fay Wallis:

You can do that too, that's no problem. You can recommend a podcast as well.

Kirsty Lewis:

So, a book I've read recently is Stella Collins, uh, Neuroscience for Learning, which I really recommend.

So, it brings... It just ties up a lot of loose ends for me around why do we design and deliver learning the way that we do so it meets our functionality of our brain. So that, that would be one. And in terms of a podcast, which actually plays into the confidence tip, other than your good self, I would, I love listening to high performance, the high performance podcast with Jake Humphries.

And the reason I think that really pays into confidence is the types of stories that they have from, it started off predominantly with sports men and women, uh, but now you've got the titans of business, life. Yeah. TV, film. So go, go and have a dig around there because his, their, their way of interviewing and just the stories are incredible.

You, I always learn something from that podcast.

Fay Wallis:

Excellent. Well, I'm going to definitely check that out. I've seen that recommended again and again and again, but I haven't actually listened to it. And now, sadly, it's time for me to say goodbye, but also a huge thank you for your time today. For anyone who would love to know more about your work, more about the School of Facilitation, or would like to get in touch with you, what is the best way of them doing that?

Kirsty Lewis:

You can send me an email. So, Or go find our website of the same name, www. schooloffacilitation. com And LinkedIn, the tried and tested route. I'm on there as Kirsty Lewis. But I would just say, um, anyone drop me a line, especially if you're thinking about how can you support and involve

your team's in house facilitation and training skills, because often those are the people who don't get any training because they're too busy helping everybody else. So it's always well received.

Fay Wallis:

Fantastic. And of course, as I keep saying nonstop today, I will pop those links in the show notes. So thank you so much for coming on the show today, Kirsty.

It's been absolutely wonderful having you here.

Kirsty Lewis:

Thank you.

Fay Wallis:

That brings us to the end of today's episode. But before I say goodbye, I just wanted to make sure I have said a huge thank you to Hannah for the lovely review she left for HR Coffee Time on Apple Podcast. She said, Fay has a great tone and pace with her podcasts.

The guests are interesting and cover really relevant topics that us people professionals want and need to learn more about. It feels like I'm chatting with a friend. I'm currently working my way through the back catalogue. Thank you so much, Hannah. It was wonderful to read your review and it helped HR Coffee Time to move up the Apple podcast charts last week, which means it's more likely to be discovered by other people who haven't come across it before.

So I am truly grateful for your support. For anyone listening, if you would also like to leave a rating or review for the show on Apple Podcasts, I've added a video to the show notes that shows you how to do this as I know it isn't very obvious at all when you're in the app. Thank you so much if you do decide to rate or review HR Coffee Time and an extra big thank you if you already have.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support. Have a great week and I'm looking forward to being back again next Friday with the next episode for you.




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