Structure, Chaos, Confidence: The Workshop as a Social Construct

I’m facilitating a Partners Assembly today in Brussels, and I’m awake early going over my agenda – the flow, the segue ways, the objectives and outcomes that we want overall and from each of our sessions. I need to know this agenda inside and out, and I realise that this is a lot about confidence.

Agendas for workshops, training courses, meetings, even work days for that matter, are just words on paper. They are words that a potentially large number of people share (we have 60 today but you might have 250 people), and they depend on strong group norms for people to follow them.

So the agenda says that the opening is at 09:00 and coffee at 10:30, or the discussion question is this or that – people could actually easily do whatever they want, not follow the little numbers or words on that paper called an agenda, and simply do their own thing for your 8 hour day (and sometimes people do, as we know.) But the fact that so many people actually do stand up at 10:30 and go for a coffee, and come back at 10:45 for the next session, depends a lot on confidence. Confidence that the agenda makes sense, that the topic and time spent is worthwhile, and that someone is in charge of what might otherwise be an 8 hour free-for-all.

So when you are leading such a workshop, as facilitator, what you are doing is giving people that confidence as the leader of the group in that particular context. It comes through your voice, through your body language, your level or organization, your complete knowledge of what people are doing at any given moment (must not get caught with your pants down not knowing what room Working Group 2 is in) and why (and you will be challenged over and over about the rationale for x or y). And of course you also need to be flexible, because as the group develops over the day, you will want to gradually hand over the invisible programme to them, so that the confidence that started with you, transfers over to the organizers and the participants, and they become the masters again of their process and the outcomes, and ultimately the application and follow-up.

But at the beginning of the day its me, so back to my agenda, and building my own confidence in proposing it and making it happen for a group of 60 people willing to donate 8 hours of their time today to the International Year for Biodiversity 2010.

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