Archive for the ‘Facilitation’ Category

Things happening that are good for my ego ;)

Agile & Lean, Facilitation, Photography, Presentation, Travel | Posted by Doc List
Nov 30 2015

Tomorrow (Tuesday, December 1, 2015) I will be featured in “Photography and the Art of Facilitation“. It’s a virtual, online event in which I get to talk about two of my favorite things – Agile and Photography – via one of my professional areas of expertise, facilitation.

On Sunday, December 6, 2015 I leave for Spant! in The Netherlands. On Tuesday, 12/8, I’ll be delivering a keynote at the Continuous Delivery Conference. My topic is “Continuous Delivery requires Continuous Communication“.

Coming up next year I’ll be at a number of conferences and conventions in both the Agile and Photography worlds. I’ll also be teaching more classes in Austin, including my well-received class on creating composites in Photoshop. Here’s a recent example.Amanda at the Prison

For those of my readers who are not uncomfortable with some nudity (“appropriate” nudity – no genitalia and no nipples showing on women), I’ve been busy this year with a passion project called the Austin Bodies Project. It’s primarily focused on celebrating fitness and the human body. It’s had an excellent response, including at the exhibit I had at the Gallery at the Ground Floor Theatre. If you are so inclined, can scroll back to August to see images of the exhibit.

In January, I’ll be volunteering at the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) annual convention called ImagingUSA in Atlanta. At the same time, I’ll get to learn from some top professionals, see the outstanding images that received merits* during this year (including mine), and hang out with some of my photographer friends.

In between all of this, I continue to work as an Agile Coach and Trainer, and as a photographer. I’ve got some weddings coming up, more work on the Austin Bodies Project, completing my application to be a PPA Certified Professional Photographer, and of course there are the holidays.

What is training?

Facilitation, Musings, Presentation | Posted by Doc
Nov 13 2010

Doing what we call “training” for a while, I’m reflecting on what it means.

I tend to think of training in terms of providing information, guidance, exercise, and correction in order to help others develop some level of understanding and skill.

I’m forced to consider whether what I do on a day-to-day basis is actually training, or is something else.

I am definitely teaching, in the sense of pedagogy: I deliver information, attempt to engage with the students, and check to see if it’s sinking in.

I am definitely providing all the tools and environment and – in some cases – exercises people need to learn.

A lot of what I’m teaching (or enabling others to learn) is intellectual: principle, values, philosophy, attitude. While there is some skills acquisition as part of it, there’s so much more.

Is that training? Or is it something else?

Body Language

Facilitation, Musings, Presentation | Posted by Doc
Nov 08 2010

Have you ever heard or read this?

  • 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

Or maybe some variation? Maybe you’ve even repeated it, telling others that 93% of all communication is non-verbal.

First, let’s put this in its proper context. This misinformation is based on research done by Professor Albert Mehrabian in the last twenty years. Here’s an excellent clarification on

Here is the key part:

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.

Note the inclusion of “pertaining to feelings and attitudes” in each of these. Simplified, this says “93% of all communication about feelings and attitudes is non-verbal.”

Also, please note that body language is not included at all!

Here’s a further clarification from Mehrabian himself, from that article on

Mehrabian did not intend the statistic to be used or applied freely to all communications and meaning.

Mehrabian provides this useful explanatory note (from his own website, retrieved 29 May 2009):

“…Inconsistent communications – the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages: My findings on this topic have received considerable attention in the literature and in the popular media. ‘Silent Messages’ [Mehrabian’s key book] contains a detailed discussion of my findings on inconsistent messages of feelings and attitudes (and the relative importance of words vs. nonverbal cues) on pages 75 to 80.

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references 286 and 305 in Silent Messages – these are the original sources of my findings…”

(Albert Mehrabian, source, retrieved 29 May 2009)

This clarification, that this research was specifically and only about communications about feelings or attitudes, kills a common misconception. It’s not that 93% of all communication is non-verbal, or even that 93% of communications is about feelings and attitudes. Rather, this was a very focused study that addressed communication about feelings and attitudes.

This doesn’t rule out the importance of non-verbal communication, either in voice, presentation, facial expression, or body language. It just eliminates the so-called authoritative reference.

All of that academic-y stuff being out of the way now, we all know that there are also loads of research about body language. And we also know, and research supports, that a significant amount of communication is conducted non-verbally. As such, I think it’s important that each of us who has interaction with others (hmm – that would be pretty much all of us), and particularly those of us for whom interaction is our professional focus, should have some knowledge of body language and facial expression.

Whether you do presentations or training, coaching or leading, understanding what’s being communicated in ways other than in words is a critical skill. When I’m doing training or delivering a talk, one of the constants is that I’m looking at each member of my audience/class/group. At least those I can see: sometimes a group is so large that you can’t really see everyone. As I’m looking at each of them, not only am I making eye contact (a separate topic), but I’m also examining their facial expressions and body language.

  • Are they looking bored? Hostile?
  • Are they looking confused?
  • Are they looking like they have something to say?
  • Are they looking away? Or working on their computer/phone/iPad/whatever?

Each of these is a cue to me that something is going on. Note that in none of these cases is there any verbal communication. So the non-verbal communication, intended or otherwise, is actually 100% of the communication. And I can use that communication, assuming that I recognize it and understand it, to guide my actions and words.

For instance, if I look around and I see a number of people looking sleepy (usually after lunch ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), I may choose to stop what I’m saying and doing, and have the group do an activity.

If I see people looking confused, I may ask if there are questions, or take a few moments to explain a challenging topic in simpler terms.

Regardless of the specific cues, what’s important is knowing that they exist and how to understand them, so that I can use them to inform my choices and be more effective at my communication.

And, lest I leave out an important part, it’s equally important for me to be aware of my own non-verbal communications. But that’s a topic for another day.

Driven by Desire

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Oct 07 2010

one_angry_man_facing right-flippedChange. It’s what I spend my time thinking and talking about. Whether it’s coaching or training or organizational or individual, change.

And change is hard.

Thinking back to the Plow, there will be varying amounts and degrees of resistance whenever change is occurring. It doesn’t matter whether the change is initiated internally or externally.

The challenge when you’re an agent of change, therefore, is to reduce the amount and degree of resistance. Of course, if you know my IAAM philosophy, then you know that I believe that you can’t cause change or change resistance. Rather you can offer others the information and perspective that you bring to the table, perhaps couched in such a way as to be most influential or persuasive. But when you get right down to it, change must come from within: within the individual and within the organization.

There’s an implication here for those of us who are, in fact, agents of change. The implication is this: our job is not to change people or organizations.

Our job, then, is to help individuals and organizations desire change.

Whoa. That’s a challenge. How do you guide/help/lead one person, much less an organization, to want change, when change is threatening, frightening, intimidating?

Start by understanding the pain points that they live with today. I know this seems simple and obvious, and to a certain extent it is.

Sadly, too often we go in with the attitude “change is coming, so toughen up, and let’s go!”

That doesn’t work.

Think about yourself. When have you been successful in making a change in yourself? For me, I know it’s only when I want to, not when I think I should. Even when I need to, I still have to want to or the change will fail.

Just look at my waistline. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m working on it. Ignoring traveling, I’m actually achieving change.ย  Change in my eating habits and exercise habits and attitude toward food.ย  Not because someone told me I should.ย  Not because someone else cares (although they might). It’s because *I* want to change.

So the next time you are sitting in the change agent’s seat, stop and ask the first question: “Why should they care?”

Push-Me, Pull-You

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation | Posted by Doc
Aug 10 2010

Do you remember the special animal in the movie “Doctor Dolittle“? The pushmi-pullyu?

The challenge these animals faced was this:

“They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head.” and “…no matter which way you came towards him, he was always facing you.”

I always thought that an animal like this would die out, because if the heads were equal, it would never be able to go anywhere.

We all know about “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, which has a similar problem.

So how do you handle a situation where there’s either too much push or too much pull?

In t’ai chi ch’uan (commonly referred to as just tai chi), one of the techniques has to do with pushing. Pushing takes on many different aspects, from forceful lifting/pushing, to a gentler slower movement. As I think about how we work with teams and organisations, it occurs to me that all too often we’re either pushing too hard and too directly, or not enough.

Consider, first, what happens when you try to push someone. What do they do? They brace themselves, at a minimum. Sometimes, they prepare to push back, and then they do push back.

How about if you come up on them gradually? Let’s say you’re standing next to someone, and you slowly shift your weight so that you’re leaning on them – pushing – more and more, little by little? How do they react? Most typically, they will notice when you cross some threshold that is very specific to them. Many times, it will be when some “significant” amount of pressure reaches their awareness. If you were walking down the street, then they’d realize at some point that you had steered them by either physically leaning on them or by entering their “personal space”.

If we are working with a group, team, or organisation, in helping them to adopt new principles, practices, and/or methodologies, some of us – myself most definitely included – have a tendency to push. To be emphatic, zealous, excited, energetic, passionate, insistent,…

We must be aware and wary of creating resistance through our pushing. We must consider whether it’s more effective to lean on them rather than to push them.

Open Space facilitation

Facilitation, Open Space | Posted by Doc
May 05 2010

Dan Mezick, a colleague who had engaged me to facilitate an event (Agile Boston Open 2010), asked me about my behavior during the event. That is, he noted “As a practitioner, I noticed that during the event, you stayed in a neutral space and did not circulate when not doing facilitation tasks. I am eager to discuss this with you at some point.”

In fact, while I did circulate (he was very busy as the organizer and a participant), that circulation fit within my concept of my role. Here’s what I wrote to Dan:

Regarding my behavior at the event…

Harrison Owen talks about what I refer to as “invisible presence”. I remain very conscious that the event is not mine, nor about me. My value lies in holding space and holding time, as well as “igniting the spirit” (my term) and providing the opportunity for closure and continuation.

The opening: this is where I believe my responsibility is to ignite the spirit of the community, and to connect the individuals into something larger than themselves. While that responsibility includes guiding the process, my focus remains on helping the community that is present to form and grow.

The closing: “When it’s over, it’s over,” as Harrison Owen says. “And when it’s not over, it’s not over,” as Doc says. ๐Ÿ˜‰ That is, the end of the event is an opportunity for people to share, and to absorb from other people’s sharing. The closing circle has a different flow of energy than that experienced at the opening, and it’s no less important. The chance to share one’s thoughts and feelings, and to feel a connection with others who share those thoughts and feelings, is extremely powerful. My responsibility is to guide them, encourage them, and to assure them that it’s all right to share and to feel.

In between: This is the interesting part. Harrison often says “find more ways to do less.” My focus during this time is on the process, and in allowing the participants to self-organize. It might be tempting to engage with the participants, to join sessions, or to otherwise be a part of the event. I believe that my role is not to do any of those, although on occasion I have participated in a session. Mostly, though, I take responsibility for making sure that things keep moving, that the participants have a sense of ownership, and for helping to keep things clean. That’s not to say that I’m disengaged. Rather, I have a vision, a sense, of what my role is and what my responsibilities are, and that’s where I try to stay. That’s why the place I choose to spend my time is generally out of the direct flow of traffic, but visible and accessible. It’s important to me that people know where to find me, are aware that I’m there and available, but do not feel that I’m trying to control things or in any way intrude on their event/experience.

Identify, Isolate, and Remove

Facilitation | Posted by Doc
May 01 2010

This week is a two-event week for me. First was the Agile Boston Open 2010 in Waltham, Massachusetts. The second is Alt.Net Houston 2010 in Houston, Texas.

While in Boston, I got to spend a good chunk of time with Dan Mezick (InfoQ writer, founder of Agile Boston, founder of New Technology Solutions). Dan was the organizer and driving force behind Agile Boston Open 2010, which had about 250 participants. The event was a hybrid: programmed sessions in the morning, which included Ken Schwaber, Amr Elssamadisy, and Michael de la Maza; true Open Space in the afternoon, including an opening, agenda creation, and closing.

In the evening after the Open Space, Agile Boston held their regular monthly meeting, and I was privileged to follow Jean Tabaka on the program. Jean presented Twelve Agile Adoption Failure Modes. I presented Facilitation Patterns & Antipatterns. The synergy between our presentations, and between us, was exceptional. It was GREAT fun!

The following day, Dan and I did some walking and sightseeing in Waltham and Boston. During that time, we talked a lot about topics that interest both of us, much of it around group relations, group dynamics, facilitation, and working with Agile teams.

At one point, our conversation focused on how to deal with disruptive individuals in groups. My focus was on meetings and events, while Dan’s was on working teams, during this conversation. As we were discussing this, Dan casually said “Identify, isolate, and remove.” That really caught my attention, because it’s such a clear, simple formula.

The challenges with that formula are twofold, for me:

  1. It may apply to a working team. In fact, I’d say that there are circumstances where it clearly does. I feel that it does not apply to meetings and events. Isolating someone and removing someone from a meeting is countereffective, as it will engender the wrong feelings in the target, and negatively affect the group.
  2. It’s so simple that I fear it could become a mantra, and misapplied because it’s so easy to remember and apply.

I’m not disagreeing with Dan, or arguing that I don’t like the formula. I find it compelling, if only for its simplicity. I’m just being cautious that it doesn’t get misused in the wrong circumstances.

That said, I give Dan full credit for spontaneously articulating something that is so effective as a model.

Free Open Space Conferences

Facilitation, Open Space | Posted by Doc
Mar 28 2010

I find it fascinating that there’s a common attitude amongst various of the communities I work with that Open Space events should be free. In fact, I just had a conversation* about this with a friend in Austin. It stumps me that people have this attitude.

First of all, most of the people who attend Open Space events would tell you that these are among the most valuable events they attend. Then, I also find that people are coming to some of these Open Spaces from all over the world, because they know how valuable they will be. Whether they drive or fly, they are typically spending their own money to get their, and sometimes substantial amounts of money.

It does cost money to put these events on. So let’s do a little bit of math…

Let’s say that it costs $5K to put on an event, and the organizers decide to cap attendance at 150 people. The hardest part of these things is to find sponsors – someone to cover the venue, someone to cover food, and someone to cover supplies and such. In my experience, the organizers spend substantial time just trying to find sponsors.

$5K, 150 people. Hmm – if 150 people paid $50 each, that’d be $7500, which is probably enough. And if they paid $100 each, that should be more than enough, depending on the venue and the cost of the food.

How much would you spend for a weekend event that you knew would be particularly valuable? $250? $500? $1000? So why not $50 or $100?

The example I gave to my friend was this: suppose that 20 of the colleagues that you like and respect most said “Let’s get together and talk about stuff we really care about, and let’s split the cost.” How much would you be willing to put up? $25? $50? $100?

I’m not suggesting that the organizers of these events should be looking to make money. I am suggesting a model in which they break even by sharing the cost with the participants. Is that unreasonable?

We won’t even talk about PAYING for the facilitator, who is a professional, eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰


* Okay, I ranted and he listened politely. And then he said “oh – I get it – that makes sense!”

Facilitation Patterns at Houston APLN April 15

Events, Facilitation | Posted by Doc
Feb 05 2010

Another opportunity to tighten it up, thanks to Robbie Mac Iver and Houston APLN.

Presenting at XP2010 in Norway and Better Software in Las Vegas

Events, Facilitation | Posted by Doc
Feb 01 2010

I’ve put these together – XP2010 and Better Software – because they occur one after the other. So I may be insane for considering this, but I’m just so psyched that these conferences are embracing my work on Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns.

Now to work on the second deck of cards for March (SDC2010) – I want to have two variants of the deck ready to go for all three conferences.

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