One of the best ways to stretch the boundaries of your thinking is to be asked to do something new. Last week I offered a workshop I’d never done before: “Storytelling for Facilitation and Group Work” and it caused me to think about how and why I apply story in the groups I’m supporting.
I began creating my workshop by thinking about what training, facilitating and hosting are trying to do and mapping how story can support this work. Then I took a closer look at how story can support the wave of how participants move through a group process together. And finally, I took a look at roles story can play in organizational and group settings.
What training is trying to do
I see training, facilitating and hosting as three distinct but overlapping parts of a continuum of group work. At its essence, training is trying to get something in. A trainer is working with a group to present information and integrate knowledge.
Of course, these are not enough on their own. Unless a participant builds skills, she or he won’t be able to actually do anything. Training first leads to “I know what to do!”. Even skill isn’t enough, though, for a person to be able to take reliable action. They also need confidence: “I believe I can do it!”. The final part is agency, the ability to do something in the moment when it’s called for: “I can do it now, when it’s needed!”.
In order for agency to be cultivated, a trainer needs to create a safe space for learning. There is no such thing as totally safe space for everyone, but there is safe enough space.
It’s important to remember that discomfort does not equal unsafe.
Learning is uncomfortable, often physically, since what you are attempting to do is bushwhack a new neural pathway in the brain. Is it any wonder why resistance arises?
At the same time, the space needs to be challenging enough to make it stimulating. We learn best from situations where we are intrigued and focused. And there needs to be enough group cohesion so the group doesn’t get in the way of learning.
What facilitating and hosting are trying to do
The heart of facilitation is trying to get something out, whether that’s on a tangible level, like a strategic plan or a report, or an intangible level, like a stronger sense of team. The root of the word “facilitation” comes from the French facile – “to make go easy”. Facilitators are hired to support a group to conduct its work and achieve results in a smooth and supportive manner.
Hosting is more about holding space for emergence. We know we want to move in some direction, but we are unsure exactly how and what the results might be. Or we have conflict or challenge in the group or enough complexity in the topic that calls for ways of working in a participatory manner, supporting group members to stay together for long enough for something wise and useful to emerge.
Of course, the best practitioners move easily along this entire continuum, supporting participants to build their capacity and strengthen their connection around whatever they are focused on, work more easily together and stay together through challenge and change for innovation to arise.
Both facilitating and hosting are trying to:
How story supports training, facilitating and hosting
As the key way that humans both make sense of the world and capture and hold their experience, story is the perfect process partner for group work. Here’s what it can do to enhance group results:
Storytelling is an ecology builder.
Context leads to content, so asking a powerful question helps to bring stories to the surface ready to be combed through for wisdom.
Stories can reawaken what we most care about by re-storying the past and opening the door to a new future.
Making story your practice partner is a wise choice for helping the groups you work with to achieve more than they ever thought was possible.
COMING UP: Part 2 – Story as a process support – Inviting story into the room