A Day in the Life…of a Facilitator
Every now and then I get asked: What’s it like to do your type of work?
This blog is for the novice facilitator and for those who are curious to take a peek behind the curtain.
Coolness. This is the best part of the job, so it merits going first. We get to meet a wide variety of people across several industries, functions, and service lines. There is mutual learning, and sometimes friendships that last years from just one or two full-day sessions.
Mood. Some are recalcitrant, because they’re there out of obligation; others are eager to learn. If the former, an early ground rule to establish is no laptops or cell phones. Know that you have precious time early on to secure credibility, so work on something immediately applicable or critically relevant for them.
Reasoning. Some don’t believe in Behavioral Science tools, or are agitated by discussions on ethics. It’s best to set expectations up front that all exercises are designed to engage creative thinking, which is the first step in innovation / “thinking outside the box.”
Time. Some get the time/date wrong and either don’t show up or show up an hour early/late. Send them a calendar invite (Google), if they have one, to place it on their calendar. I usually bold print and increase the size of the font for just the time and date.
Quarrels. Spats occur occasionally between colleagues. This is a great opportunity for on-the-spot coaching. One time it happened between a married couple…this was my first day on the job, so I stayed out of it.
Working with Pros. These are the facilitators who know that if YOU look good, they look good, so they are there to support you; not sabotage. They make sure to prep pre-workshop with you, share the stage, support your comments, and debrief right away. They engage with you, and don’t “data dump,” or soliloquize, on the participants.
Stage Hogs. These are the facilitators who like to stand front & center and regale the participants with stories. They take much more than 50% of the air time, and then end up telling you to hurry your piece. They crave attention.
Competitors. These are the facilitators who are trying to beat you at whatever additional skillset you have. I had one co-facilitator who desperately wanted to be able to assist the participants in one exercise and felt defeated when he couldn’t, yet I could. His persistent efforts to keep guessing left him looking like a dunce. Have the conversation with your colleague about this tendency (i.e. to compete) before you engage.
Prima Donnas. Prima Donnas want you to perform all of the set-up (i.e. manuals, flipcharts, LCD projector, tables/chairs, etc.) while they socialize; then, leave without partnering to wrap-up. Establish a code of conduct, and be prepared that they may not stick to it.
Errors. If your co-facilitator makes an error, it is up to you to deftly correct the information (without contradicting your partner), if possible. Participants frequently forget which facilitator said what, so you will both go down as erroneous if one makes the mistake and the other one of you says nothing.
Billing. Due to audits, every cost must have a receipt; otherwise, you pay out of your own pocket. Contractor accountants are dealing with a heap of “paperwork,” so they can be quite finnicky, if you do not get the process right. Payment can take 4-6 weeks.
Fees. Payment is good, and frequency is not guaranteed. Feast or famine.
Scheduling. Dates can be on the calendar for months, but then they can fall through at the last minute. If you had another client vying for that date, it’s too bad for you, unless they cancel within a specified window of full payment (usually 24 hrs – 5 days, depending).
Human Resources (HR). Sometimes HR wants to sit in during the sessions. This makes a lot of participants anxious, because employees are fearful that HR will document what they say. This inhibits the progress of a session, which results in lower evaluations.
Room/Supplies. We may need to change rooms at the last minute, or during the session, due to doublebooking. Sometimes the supplies are not set up, working, or available. Have a Plan B.
Blizzard. Check forecasts in other states before even driving to the airport. I had a flight scheduled from LA to NY at 7 a.m. but it was cancelled. I also got stuck post-program in NYC and had to stay an extra night. Clients usually compensate you for these missed days.
Carry-On. If you are travelling for two nights, get a great carry-on bag. Lost luggage is a nightmare, and it’s happened to me twice (on vacation, though).
Ferry Flights. I just learned about this one (See blog: What Does Confucius Say?). Some airlines (i.e. Delta) list non-passengers flights (Who knows why?) on the passenger board, so look at your flight number, or risk missing your plane.
Unscheduled Stops. I once flew to TX from CA and the headwinds used up so much gas, we had to make an unscheduled stop at a shutdown army base in the middle of nowhere. We were landed for hours with no food (and I was 4 months pregnant). Lesson learned: Always travel with snacks.
Wardrobe Malfunction. My heel snapped in two. I had a back-up pair in my luggage, fortunately. Go barefoot, if you have to.
Death. A colleague of my participants had cancer and passed away at home while we were in session. We discovered the news in the early afternoon. We adjourned for a half-hour break, revised our ending module to be centered around “transitions,” and ended the program early.
Lay-Offs. I once had 5 people (out of 16) laid off minutes before our 2.5-day workshop began. They walked out of the session to cope. Take an impromptu break to show the human side of business.
Threat. We received a bomb threat for the building across the street and had to evacuate. We continued the session at a local restaurant.
Wrong Sub-Contractor. Somehow a sub-contractor was misinformed and joined my private session. She thought she was replaced by the participant and pitched a fit. Take her outside and agree to compensate her.
Computer. Have a thumbdrive as a back-up, &/or use DropBox. If the flight attendant doesn’t spill a drink on your laptop, then maybe it crashes to the ground or inherits a virus.
Have a crazy facilitator story? Please share.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of a virtual consultancy of OD experts, CLG. Visit us at CorporateLookingGlass.com.
©Rossina Gil, 2014