Thursday, November 10, 2022

saturday night in front of the TV

Those of us of a 'certain age' (older generations) will remember a time before digital and streaming TV services - a time when people would would sit together with their families and friends, with their teas on their laps, watching Saturday night TV together.

We'd laugh and cheer together as contestants and teams undertook increasingly wacky challenges, all of which were compared by a comedian (or would-be comedian...) before an amassed studio audience.

And at the end of the show, the compare/host would turn to the camera to wish us all a good night and wave their farewells as the credits starting to roll and the theme tune played.

It was a shared experience between us at home and those in the studio - we felt connected not just with our immediate family and friends who we'd shared the experience of watching the TV together with, but also a wider kinship with the audience all those miles away: linked by the act of someone waving goodbye to all of us at the same time.

The formality of the goodbyes and physical act of their waving also gave us a sense of closure to that experience. We knew it was concluded and we could go off to the next thing without any FOMO.

And it's why when I've led a group workshop or seminar on a video call, you'll see me grinning and waving at you all as you press the red button to leave the session - I'm trying to help maintain some of these practices I experienced and appreciated whilst growing up, in attempting to contribute to us remaining as 'human' as possible in our relationships with each other in an increasingly digital and physically dispersed world of working and living. After all, if we'd met IRL and were seeing each other off at a train station or driving away, we'd think nothing of waving as we left each others' company, so why not try and keep the habit when we're on screen together?

(but if you're meeting me in a more straightforward meeting on line, don't worry - you won't see me suddenly start to manically grin and wave at you, but rather raise my hand in a Star Trek Vulcan wish. More on that in a previous blog post here:

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Faith in facilitation

Amongst other things, I sometimes support clients and groups in the guise of a facilitator – which has led to my hosting a monthly meetup call of similar people to share stories and encouragements, and also having been part of the internationally acclaimed IAF England and Wales hybrid conference earlier this year.

But more recently, it led to a group of facilitators coming together to risk of being heretical and incurring divine retributions by openly talking about Faith – how our approaches to working with clients who are rooted in it may differ from those that don’t; if we profess a personal faith as facilitators, how this impacts on our work; and generally trying to avoid being blasphemous…


Don’t mention God?

A quick round of ‘hello, how do you do?’s identified that most people in this conversation professed a Christian faith of some type – although many are actively seeking ways to ‘deconstruct’ this in crossing traditional boundaries of denominations and traditions, to explore how their faith remains relevant and pertinent to the issues we face today as individuals and society.

This realisation that we were then having a conversation in something of an ‘echo chamber’ in not having a wider diversity of beliefs and non-beliefs gave us pause to wonder if this had happened because we’d self-selected ourselves on the basis of the session being explicitly around this theme? And in turn, that led to our realisation that in being part of a wider body of facilitators, we don’t actually know how far faith is or isn’t a part of our shared cultural identity within this community of practice – and that we never ask each other about this: perhaps because it’s a legally protected characteristic, and so we fear accidentally falling foul of the law?


Faith vs. Secular

In further establishing that we’d all had experiences of facilitating groups of people who shared an identity rooted in faith, and well as those that didn’t, we mulled over what different this makes (if any?) through a sharing of some of our experiences and stories together (all of which were safely anonymised and sanitised):

  • Faith groups will have values that are more visible and influencing on their decision making and how they reflect – such groups can therefore sometimes expect that their facilitator “sings from same hymn sheet” in having enough commonality with those values to offer them an assurance over how the facilitation process will be managed and delivered. But this risks facilitation losing its neutrality (part of the defining nature of the process). 
  • People draw on faith for personal security, and informing their identity in ways that go beyond and further than a person would view their personal relationships with their (paid) jobs – and as facilitation should push people into spaces that they may not always be comfortable in, there needs to more time spent in careful planning to ensure sufficient psychological safety has been created for the group. 
  • The ‘maturity’ or extent to which a faith community has engaged with wider cultural norms and practices in society around them were felt to be a key factor in how facilitation processes could be best designed with them – for example, if people feel their theology is being threatened, they can quickly withdraw and disengage from a process. But if they have already been part of conversation and debate that has allowed them to critically reflect on their beliefs, creeds, and dogmas, then they will be more able to constructively engage with a more open facilitation process.

Godly Gaffes

In following the adage “to err is human, to forgive Divine”, we also sought to explore what learning we might draw out from where we’d worked with faith groups and things hadn’t concluded with them in the way we had anticipated at the outset…

  • Having a starting point in a process of trying to create the perfect (church) community was felt to be an ‘own goal’ with hindsight: in this story it was only as the agreed process proceed and started to become unstuck in places was it realised that the point of a church isn’t to be perfect: it should always allow space and opportunities for growth (a core tenant of all beliefs). 
  • Having an assumption that the outcome of a process will be able to be adopted and acted on was another ‘gaffe’ shared –facilitation often crates new outcomes that existing systems may not exist to accommodate. This can be challenging enough for secular groups, but as faith communities can often be culturally steeped in maintaining and celebrating traditional practices, this makes introducing and managing change more difficult for them.

Helpful hints for facilitators

In trying to draw some points of learning from these stories that we might use as ‘initial hints and tips’ that we might share with a fellow facilitator who is thinking about/starting to work with a faith community, 2 key insights were agreed: 

  • think of everyone in a faith community as a volunteer (even if they’re paid) - the culture of faith means their organisations will be closer in feel to community groups and smaller charities than formal organisations. 
  • be prepared to practice grace in terms of patience and acceptance: although issues that arise when working with faith groups are usually similar to those with secular groups, they are more explicit and manifest to greater degree owing to faith being a bigger part of people’s personal identity than their job is.

Faithful facilitators 

Finally, we turned inwards to ourselves as facilitators to begin to consider the influence that any faith we profess might/should have in informing how we work.

This identified that for some, we saw our work as our ‘calling’, whilst others saw their role as such in a more pragmatic way to work – a means to a (greater) end. Understandably, depending on which position you hold, your response to the question of “would you ever turn work down because of your beliefs” drew contrasting responses that might be expected.

Those for whom work is more than just a job were more explicit and open about how this informs their choice over clients they choose to work with. But briefly exploring this from faith-based perspectives and the scriptures of different beliefs, highlighted various examples of where a person of faith deliberately chose to put themselves, and work, in both places and with people that their wider community of faith might not otherwise feel comfortable with nor appropriate.


Heading to the promised land

In seeking to draw conclusions from the conversations, it was apparent that we’d probably created more questions than we’d been able to reach a consensus in answering. But this in turn prompted some in the call to want to keep exploring these ideas and themes further – so they’re now off finding times to convene to start to explore and design what/when that might look like. If you want to remain updated as to when more details about it are confirmed, please contact me and I’ll start a list….