Tip #722: Overlooking the Obvious

three people in

“It takes an extraordinary intelligence to contemplate the obvious.” Alfred North Whitehead

I’ve facilitated train the trainer and presentation skills workshops both nationally and internationally for many many years. But it was gently pointed out to me in a recent workshop that I’ve been debriefing facilitation practices backwards!

Let me explain. In my train the trainer workshops, participants learn how to create participatory lesson plans and design participatory learning activities. For the last day, they design a 10-minute learning activity at a learning level of application or above. This is on a topic relevant to the other participants in an activity they have never facilitated before.

In debriefing, I’ve always asked for the observers’ feedback regarding the strengths of the facilitated learning activity first, to build each facilitator’s confidence. Then I’ve asked for any constructive, nonjudgmental recommendations for improvement, to encourage continual growth and development.

It never occurred to me that, by following this order: identifying the facilitator’s strengths then providing constructive feedback, I accomplished the exact opposite of my intent. As Melissa pointed out, this meant that the last comments each facilitator hears are less than positive.

This was obvious to her, particularly based on her own facilitation practice experience. It had not been obvious to me until that moment.

So, let me take this opportunity to apologize to the hundreds of trainers and presenters who received feedback in the wrong order. I have finally seen the light, thanks to Melissa.

Robert offered another debriefing recommendation regarding something I used to do and then stopped doing: asking the facilitators how they felt about their facilitation practice before getting feedback from the group and chief facilitators. I stopped doing this when there were many facilitation practices to get through and a limited time in which to complete them. But when I really think about it, giving the opportunity to review themselves would only take a minute or two. That’s not so much. And self-reflection can provide powerful learning.

Gemma suggested that the facilitators remain silent while receiving feedback. As she says, “When getting constructive criticism, it’s really hard to resist the urge to defend/explain/justify why you did things a certain way. However, the reality is that you’re not always going to have a chance to do that when your participants give you feedback.”

Now, with thanks to Melissa, Robert and Gemma, I’ve learned how to improve the debriefing process so it truly accomplishes my intent: to build the facilitators’ confidence in their own competence. My future debriefing process will have three steps:  (1) self-reflection from the practicing facilitator and then (2) silent receipt of recommendations for improvement, and (3) identification of the strengths of the facilitated practice from the other participants and the chief facilitators.

May your learning be sweet.


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