Becoming who we are not: facilitation as performance

jIu84dxoCathy Salit is one of the biggest influences on my work. She’s got a book out this April – Performance Breakthrough -and I talk to her in this podcast.

The subtitle of the book is A Radical Approach to Success at Work and I think Cathy lives and breathes that claim. Listening back to this interview, I feel reinspired in my work. Facilitation is not about having clever tricks to make people behave differently; it’s about helping people discover and grow together. We need to avoid the traps of aiming for “behaviour change” and be more open to the amazing things that human beings are capable of.

 

Show notes – these are a rough guide, there’s no substitute for hearing the real thing!

0.00 Introductions.

1.48 Cathy: helping people to be who they are, and who they are not… who they are becoming.  We all have this capacity to become new versions of ourselves.

3.20 Cathy: The value of being unnatural, that’s how we expand our repertoire of what’s possible.

3.38 Johnnie: It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds when we seek to change. To grow, we have to leave behind old versions of ourselves.

4.39 Cathy: We are all artists… think about living more as an artistic process rather than focussing on “behaviour”.

6.07 Johnnie: How a child learns to walk: not by being instructed, but by pretending to walk until it can.

6.40 Cathy: How babies learn language also a process of pretending; and the adults join in this pretending process, relating to babies as who they are, and who they are becoming.

8.15 Cathy: So facilitation, leadership can be about creating space where people can go beyond their normal, constrained ways of behaving.

9.10 Johnnie tells a story of how Viv once responded to a group in apparent difficulty: by saying, “you can work this out” and leaving the room. An example of how you can be quite robust in the way you show faith in people.

10.30 Cathy sees that story as being like a theatre director, responding to what the group is doing and seeing what they need to move forward. Letting go of control, not being “the answer”

11.39 Johnnie: the paradoxical role of facilitator – being seen as “in charge” but also needing to get out the way. Talks about the notion of the ensemble raised in Cathy’s book.

12.20 Cathy: The importance of trusting the group, at least as much faith in creating the ensemble as in getting the notional work done. The dangers of getting over-focussed on the outcome.

13.45 Cathy: Story of a recent facilitation where she asked them to do an unusual introduction process. People met in pairs but then had to perform to the group as the person they’d just met. How it had a dramatic impact on how people were connecting, the performance element helped create a sense of ensemble.

17.15 Johnnie: an apparently simple activity can start to reveal that there’s a lot more going on in meetings than the surface material that we notice. Recalls Cathy’s notion that we can be more than one version of ourselves.

18.50 Cathy: We are not just who we are, already packaged and done. We have a multiplicity that we give little voice to. The perils of being told what “type” we are and getting attached to our identities.

20.20 Johnnie: How I (and others) respond to pressure is to double down on “who I am” which keeps us trapped – and keeps people away. But what right do we have though to push people who are stuck like this? Relates a story about getting permission and creating invitation.

22.10 Cathy: I don’t believe in trying to change people’s behaviour, I believe in helping people to grow. We need to see that we have choices. We have performance choices, we can play other people.

24.15 Cathy references Herminia Ibarra’s book: Act like a leader, think like a leader. Flirt with the idea of being other than who you are.

24.50 Cathy: What it means to be authentic is to give expression to our multiplicity, getting stuck in one role is inauthentic.

25.20 Johnnie: The importance of trusting people to uncover possibilities, and not necessarily on your own schedule.

25.50 Cathy: The orientation to changing people’s behaviour makes it a problem to be fixed. I don’t want to problem-solve when it comes to helping people to collaborate. It’s not a problem, I want to help people grow. Relate to people as performers.

27.30 Johnnie: Recalls Keith Sawyer‘s work on problem-solving vs problem-finding. The value of not answering questions for the group.

28.25 Cathy: Asking big questions about little things. Engaging people in philosophical activity. Beware of assumptions about what we think other people are saying, thinking “it’s all been said before”. The importance of curiosity, keeping asking questions. Language is something for us to create new meaning with. There is so much to work with than we realise is available to us.

30.30 Johnnie: Sometimes I ask a group to not settle for analysis. If people give a performance of an issue, it comes to life in a very different way. Getting beyond management-speak. Connecting more levels of intelligence than the initial problem description suggests.

31.35 Cathy: A performance can be so much more honest. Performance and play create safety to say and see things that are unseeable, unutterable otherwise. Sometimes I’ll ask people to perform the conversation in the hallway that’s going to happen after this meeting.

33.05 Johnnie: What sort of safety is it we want? Do we want polite, po-faced safety, where we don’t take any risks or talk about feelings. A rather weak, febrile kind of safety. Versus a different kind of safety where we do share more emotional stuff and find we are more connected and safe in a quite different way.

33.55 Cathy: We’ve got to break down the cognitive and emotive divide that rules our idea of what learning is and what facilitation is. Learning is not just in your head, it wires our full selves.

35.05 More about the book and how to get hold of it!

I can’t wait to get my hands on Cathy’s book, and there are some incentives for pre-ordering. Details here.

 

5 thoughts on “Becoming who we are not: facilitation as performance

  1. Nick Shackleton-Jones

    This was great. I especially liked the synthesis of pretence and authenticity: a lot of people struggling with the concept of authenticity and I like that you’re encouraging people to act out as a way of becoming. It’s an approach that has much more creativity and movement to it. It’s so sad that people lose their ability to play as they grow up; businesses are stuffed with people trying to be innovative on the one hand and earnest on the other.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Viv McWaters

  3. Ian Helps

    Superb piece. Thank you. I have never come across this notion before of “being who you are not”. What a source of potential this can create, as evidenced by your conversation. It rings so true of the best facilitation. Otto Scharmer in his U.Lab uses the concept of Social Presenting Theatre, to ask people to connect physically with their future selves and to describe in physical form what is holding them back. This seems closely connected with your conversation.

    Reply
    1. Johnnie Moore Post author

      Thanks, Ian. That social presenting theatre sounds interesting, and not a million miles from some of the ways I use theatre methods to help people see new possibilities.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Being the facilitator | nods & dots

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