Case Studies

Virtual (or Remote, or Online!) Facilitation






    Virtual Facilitation

Just when you think it’s all sorted along comes COVID-19! Generally I work with groups or teams, usually in a conference room in a hotel or an office and quite often overseas i.e. not in the UK, so you can imagine that with the advent of COVID-19 lockdown my business model looked a little flimsy! What to do?

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Just before lockdown I had a fortuitous and enjoyable catch up coffee with Daniela Yarnold of ProFutura, our conversation arrived at a mutual recognition of impending common challenges reference the threat to face to face facilitation caused by COVID-19. Several weeks of joint research and rapid climbing of a steep learning curve and we are now both ready for the brave new world of virtual facilitation.

Our tools of choice? Well Zoom and Teams are great for the VC element of online sessions but not so good at the highly interactive ideation element of what we do, the ‘what ideas can we generate as a group that will address this issue?’, ‘what are we thinking of this particular challenge?’, ’ what actions can we agree to take?’ questions. As we looked for solutions to this, talking to people in our networks and to Pinpoint themselves (the origin of our ‘go to’ facilitation process) we kept hearing about MURAL.

Stash Solution

So we set to investigating; attending online demonstrations (thanks to Bruce Rowling at Pinpoint), watching videos on YouTube (YouTube is so good for that?), watching webinars offered by MURAL customer services, and fairly soon we were sold. MURAL is a great tool, working in tandem with Zoom or Teams it allows us pretty much to duplicate what we would normally do face to face in a room. In addition it has a wealth of additional functionality with which we are only just beginning to get to grips. It is fantastic!

Within the month both Stash and ProFutura were accepted onto the MURAL consultants network and we were off and running. Wanting to demonstrate our new found capability we organised a live demonstration / discussion session attended by ten key clients spread from Houston in Texas to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East and encompassing Paris, Oxford, London, Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well. Geography is no issue, and travel is not required, how great is that? Our topic was COVID-19 business lessons learned. Ninety minutes later and we had the results and fantastic feedback, the ‘How useful was this session?’ question getting seven 10/10 and three 9/10 responses in an exit poll.

Click here to see a redacted output of the workshop.

What have we learned about virtual facilitation, the do’s and don’ts? Some pointers:

  • Run sessions in maximum two hour chunks, anymore and people can lose focus. So a complex multi-faceted session may need to take place over a few days, comprising two or more chunks.
  • Never try to facilitate a session alone. They need two facilitators, one to look after the process the other to keep an eye on the technology. Hence the Stash / ProFutura collaboration.
  • Expect the unexpected; working with paper in a room is at least predictable, working with people spread across the globe working via the internet can introduce unexpected surprises. Be ready!
  • Try really hard to get your participants conversant with the technology in advance. It is intuitive but still needs a little practice; doing this in a live session can be distracting and time wasting.
  • Be careful with numbers attending, any more than 20 in a fully interactive session can get very messy. If you have more than this needing to input try running multiple sessions then aggregate.
  • Watch the technology does not take centre stage. It is quite impressive to see a workshop in full swing and the MURAL functionality is amazing. Get over this and focus on the topic of the workshop!

So what next? Well we think that face to face is still best and as and when we can get back to that then great. We lose much in the way of communication if we are not actually physically working together occasionally. But lots of long haul travel is not good for any of us or the environment so having the ability to run a mixture of online and face to face sessions is an amazingly useful outcome. We can even run hybrid workshops with teams physically together on different continents but working the discussion using Zoom and MURAL. It would have been better if COVID-19 had never happened but as the saying goes it’s an ill wind…

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