Stepping into something new… it’s exciting!

There’s a certain beauty in entering into new experiences  don’t you think? I LOVE taking in what is happening around me, and relaxing into observing and engaging with perhaps a bit more distance and (I won’t lie) thoughtfulness than when I am a long-time group or team member.

In my personal life, I observed a group in December and decided to join in January. The nature of the group is to provide a service to those who are very ill and/or dying. As you can imagine, we all come to this volunteer work with a commitment to creating a positive experience and with varying levels of expertise. 

I haven’t entered a new volunteer group in quite a while, and I have a long history of joining and moving into positions of leadership. These two factors are making this a journey that is interesting…

What about you? 

When did you last join a new group, team, or organization as a volunteer or paid worker? 

What was that like for you?

I walked in with expectations based on my many years as a volunteer. I imagined there would be some infrastructure in place:  

  • a plan for meeting group members and making a new member feel welcome (creating the space)
  • a handbook or materials ready for the tasks to be accomplished
  • an agenda for meetings and our practice 
  • clear roles and information (who reaches out to whom about what, how decisions are made, having processes at our fingertips for working with challenges that arise)

A girl can dream, right?

What I discovered was:

  • people who were happy to be together and committed to serve others
  • a desire to do the tasks well 
  • folks eager to contribute their ideas (which at times felt chaotic)
  • formal and informal leaders within the group
  • ad hoc decision-making
  • little attention to the passage of time (a facilitator’s nightmare)

As I am still relatively new, I chose to sit back, look and listen… which worked until our last meeting went off the rails—meaning that we didn’t accomplish what was necessary to be prepared for our performance the next day. I came home and, seeking to gain perspective, shared with my partner that I would wait and see what transpired over the next three months… As you might imagine, things fell apart a bit the next day at the performance. 

I am a true believer in, “In every crisis there is an opportunity.”

What do you think?

How do you work with challenging circumstances?

What’s your philosophy and how does it guide your thinking, feelings, and actions?

I stepped into the opportunity presented by our crisis, asking to have a quick conversation about the experience. While I had lots of thoughts and much I wanted to share, I bided my time, keeping my eye on my goal—a group that could view the experience with perspective, recognizing what had gone well and where we could do better, and begin to develop ideas for what better would look like, and how we would achieve it. (A mini-session of Appreciative Inquiry design.)

This situation required “upaya”/skillful means (Sanskrit) —particularly as the newest kid on the block. I worked to stay in the experience, keep  my purpose and goals of the discussion uppermost in my mind, focus on the relationships within the group, ask questions, manage my emotions/take a breath and listen, be open to various ideas, co-create ways to do even better and, ensure that concrete steps were taken for different experiences in the future.

Happily, it came together well. We left feeling aware and committed to how we want to work together in the future. 

This Saturday is our next meeting… I look forward to being a part of the change we envision. And, I am aware that progress is messy. No doubt we will do some things better, and some things will continue to challenge us. I feel quite sure that we have the heart and the will to move forward positively. 

Like salt in a recipe… participant engagement is everything!

Quick, tell me the first thing that pops into your head when I say, “You have an opportunity to facilitate a session on the topic of facilitating sessions at a virtual conference.”

What areas immediately come to mind?


Number of people, length of session, time of day/time zones, platforms and apps, tech partner, end-of-event survey


Philosophy underlying personal practice, the universe of possible topics to address, resources to share


Dependent on: group size, platform, participant knowledge with platforms and apps, familiarity with each other

Personal expertise

Philosophy re: facilitation, knowledge of models and methods, strengths and preferences re: content and processes — including participants’ autonomy, methods for tracking participant engagement (with the understanding of the impact of differences re: communication styles and learning preferences and differences on participation), personal need/desire for knowledge about an understanding of participants learning.


Conference session not participants’ own work environment (which might run the gamut from consultant to corporate) which may impact participant commitment and engagement


Range of knowledge of the  topic, background (academic and  experience in the field), ages, races, genders, cultures, and classes, (i.e., the reality of power dynamics in the room re: areas of DEI), degree of interest in the topic, and accountability

Where do you begin?

Maybe it’s not so much about where you begin, because all of these factors are important (and it’s not an exhaustive list, of course, there are more factors and variables). Perhaps, it’s more about your priorities and how you effectively integrate these different areas to create stellar experiences.

What’s your vision?

And, what is a stellar experience? I believe there’s not one kind of stellar experience because of all the variables listed. The creation of facilitation is both an art and science from my perspective, and every experience is different! I will say though, as  I wrote about on LinkedIn earlier this week, I believe that participant engagement is like the salt in all my recipes—the essential ingredient!

Just this week, Karina Antons, Charles-Louis de Maere, and Yasmine Corda and I discussed a few of these variables during the bikablo Meet up on the subject of autonomy in facilitated meetings. Of course, we wanted people to not only discuss the topic of autonomy but also to experience it. Participants had the opportunity to experience degrees of autonomy within the two breakout sessions and in the larger group. our 90 minutes together flew by and we just scratched the surface of these topics. We will be continuing the conversation in a few months with more ideas and methods to share. I hope you’ll join us. You can sign up for bikablo Meetups here!

“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words”

Tess Flanders (news editor from The Post-Standard, 1911), had it right! Here’s a quick drawing of my recent experiences!

Just this week I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with groups. They have run the gamut—from well-coordinated and productive to organized and lackluster to chaotic. No doubt there are factors that contribute, in varying degrees, to the functioning of these particular groups:

  • attention to processes for increasing group cohesion
  • clarity of vision, mission, purpose
  • commitment of participants (time, energy, resources)
  • planning for achieving goals
  • accountability of all involved
  • the ability to reflect and course-correct (when the need arises)

It was a delight to think about my universe of interactions, discovering in which groups I feel like a member of the team and really invested in the people, the work, and the outcomes… and where I do not. It’s been enlightening and cause for action—particularly in those groups in which I am feeling degrees of disconnection.

How about you?

As you reflect on your meetings of the past few weeks, where do you feel most connected and productive? What is the harmony that needs to exist between those elements to make it a great experience for you? To me it more about complementarity than balance… I’d love to hear what you’re thinking!