Recipes for Facilitative Leadership – a workshop session design

At Aspiration’s Non-Profit Developer Summit in November 2019, I attended a workshop on Facilitative Leadership run by Misty Avila. What struck me about the session was how Misty walked the walk, demonstrating the power of facilitative leadership through the session design, providing structure and scaffolding for participants to share and build a knowledge base. I asked Misty to share her session design notes, which is what follows.

A Workshop Session Design by Misty Avila

The concept of the session is to (attempt to) demonstrate a slice of facilitative leadership. By participating in the workshop, each person experiences collective ownership and contributes to its outcome. Rather than dictate, the aim is to define facilitative leadership guiding principles collectively and focus less on “how” to use specific facilitation or leadership tactics or processes. Participants travel through a narrative arc, exposing them to a process in a digestible and short time frame. A stretch meta-goal is to motivate people to reframe “leading” and see themselves as agents of leadership even if they are not the “boss” and to identify emerging/experienced facilitative leaders in the room.

What is needed 

Guiding folks into leadership vs facilitating conversation

Session Participant.
  • enough blank letterhead paper to be distributed to each participant 
  • Markers and pens
  • Flipchart paper
  • A big enough room for participants to sit in a large group circle and shift to small groups. No tables. 
  • 1 hour or longer if other activities are incorporated.

Step 1 – Self Reflection (5 to 8 Minutes)

Distribute the white paper and a variety of markers, pens. Participants are welcome to use their notebooks. Please take note of any participants who might not be able to draw or write or move around the room and ensure access for their participation. 

Instruct participants to self-reflect on a time when they witnessed or experienced facilitative leadership. Depending on experience present, you may ask participants to define the term from their perspective and then share your own. If people looked confused even after starting, tell them to draw or write an experience of good leadership or of good facilitation (doesn’t need to be “facilitative leadership”) and think about a specific person (name the person). About 5-8 minutes. 

Step 2: Story share (10 Minutes)

After self-reflection, each person shares their story example in groups of 2-3 depending on group size. If your total group size is 6-7 or smaller, share in a full circle together. Invite small groups to introduce themselves in the small circle before sharing since there was no initial go around. Ask participants to take mental notes of things that are similar or different about the examples people share. 

Facilitator Note

This first step works better when avoiding group conversation on the topic of defining facilitative leadership before initial self-reflection of grounding in actual human experience. The self-reflection step takes the focus of the group off sizing up the ability and credibility of the facilitator leading the session. Hope is that people tap into their experience as well as seeing their peers as having the knowledge. Building trust to create the next step collectively together.

Step 3 – Creating a Collective Recipe (30 Minutes)

Come back to full circle for a significant group discussion. Invite reflections from the peer sharing or if someone had an example to share with the group.

Holding multiple differing truths at the same time

Session Participant

Once you have generated multiple sheets of paper, label the top of the list “facilitative leadership principles” or something that best fits the list created. The list will change flavour based on the participants. In the end, ask folks to review and identify anything missing. Ideally, lay out paper on the floor or on a wall where everyone can read. Add or modify in real-time if people have any additions. Ask if they support the list or anything unexpected/interesting. 

Ask each person to start reflecting on one thing, value, sentiment, quality, principle, ingredient of facilitative leadership. Invite each person to share either a sentence or word that captures facilitative leadership to them with the group. Guide them to trust other folks in the room to share things they might have missed or something they wanted to say. Facilitator or designee writer is capturing everything as close to the language of the participant as possible. Acknowledge input as it comes. 

End the session by inviting participants to write their names on the list to get credit for the co-creation process. 

Facilitators Note

Typically, there is depth to this list that can push people to reflect on what it means to lead and starts to touch on “how” they can and do lead. Often, core values in the room are surfaced and inform the list in the language/words of the participants. 

Recognising power structures in the space and redistributing it

Session Participant

The goal is for session outcomes to be co-created by participants rather than the facilitator dictating to the group. The session should create pathways to experience facilitative leadership without the hype, and demonstrate how collective approaches lead to better, more inclusive, more profound outcomes and not just participation for participation’s sake. Sometimes participants offer that insight in real-time, but that’s just a bonus. Do not force it.)

Optional next moves if time permits

The Dark Side of Facilitation. 

Run as an open chat to reflect on how to be a more accountable, inclusive facilitator. 

  • Power dynamics, facilitator power/biases, and self-care of holding space, energy, trauma, who comes to the table, social, race, gender, intersectionality, community organising, identity, systems change
  • “The messenger is more important than the message” – understand how you are perceived as a facilitator and how to position yourself to 1) be more accountable 2) diffuse yourself and not make it about you
  • Avoid this conversation upfront as it can lead to lots of “calling out” and better to have built a relationship and positive energy with group, but then be honest/vulnerable about struggles of facilitation
  • Share a personal story about the process of feeling and learning power/bias of facilitator 

Final reflection – 1:1

Invite people to reflect either with a person in the room or on a sticky note one thing they will apply or take away from the principles list moving forward in their facilitation or leadership opportunities. Done without report back, so the energy of the session ends with talking and organic movement rather than in a silent circle.

  • Or, invite them to share a dark side of facilitation moment for themselves with the person next to them and then move to break etc.

What’s the next conversation we need to have?

Folks may want to explore more about the mechanics for how to facilitate or how to apply these principles in situations where they are not the “lead” or “boss”. Sometimes the individual story share examples will feed the need for new tricks or processes, but often more is needed. The spirit of our time together is not to get into the details about process/exercises used to facilitate. Start a resource board if people keep bringing these up and encourage them to document resources/people. Or roll into the next conversation. Also, refer to Dirk’s guide on primer for facilitating a session. Possible excellent questions for the following discussion.

  • Document the questions people ask during the session, not just the answers. Help frame them for the next session or do a check back at the end of the session to see if they now reframe their question or sometimes, answered it for themselves. 
  • If applicable and time, introduce the idea of facilitative learning cohort to learn from each other and see if anyone has an interest. Follow up 1:1 about their interests and what they would hope to learn. Connect them with Evelyn or Gunner at Aspiration + network of existing.

Other activities that may be incorporated or used to build upon this session

  • Incorporate art
  • More discussion around facilitator self-compassion and development 
  • Break more assumed rules of facilitation and leadership  
  • Discuss power dynamics and redistributing power as a core principle
  • Document stories that people share or take pics
  • Discuss the facilitative approach as acting on values and some simple approaches that can always fall back on (listening to people, asking questions, defining what people or a group are hoping to achieve or do etc.) More depth topics can be how to design processes, narrative arcs, activities, guiding folks to leadership, reducing barriers for others to lead etc. that help to achieve the desired outcome. 
  • Have a better-prepared resource list
  • Improve access in session (refer to Mia Mingus access as love) 
  • Facilitative leadership is guiding folks into leadership vs facilitating conversations – develop a process to demonstrate this in session better 
  • Help folks define their personal/professional values they can apply in their everyday
Evolved session design from BADCAMP 2015, CATECHFEST FRESNO 2018, CATECHFEST LOS ANGELES 2019 and DEV SUMMIT 2019. Facilitation inspirations from Aspiration Tech, Fabriders, Mozilla Foundation, Allied Media Conference and organisers throughout the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Output Examples

Notes from facilitator leadership sessions run by Misty.

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