Chris’ comment about remembering things by association did strike a chord, but for different reasons and made me think about my filofist.

Filofist for remembering things


I like to do what I say I’ll do.

Sometimes I can get caught without my notebook.

I’m quite a visual chap, and tend to remember things I have seen, so writing things down is an important way of making sure I remember things I have promised.

Filofist is my light hearted way of describing writing little notes on my left hand to act as memory joggers.  I wear my watch on my left hand so the chances are I’ll look at it frequently during the day.

I only use this for those few vital things I must do, once done I wash the note away.

It can be misinterpreted though.  I once got complimented on my unusual tattoo

Use sparingly.

Facilitation tips – Pocket Book


“How do you remember all our names so quickly?”

A question I get asked a lot in workshops.  I am not blessed with a great memory for names, I have to work hard not to forget.

So, over the years I have developed coping strategies.  One of the most straightforward is my notebook.

I use small Moleskine type pocket books. These are small enough to fit into my trouser or jacket pocket.  They have an elasticated closing band that I use to make sure the book opens at the page I need.

As the audience arrives, I make a note of each person’s name and where they sit.  If I don’t get time to do that as they arrive, then making a note of who sits where as each person introduces themselves is a good backup.

These notebooks are good for capturing content during the day, especially in a fast moving situation where people are presenting and you don’t have a flip chart.

I also photograph each page with my phone.

Evernote picture of my notebook

Evernote picture of my notebook

Then using free apps such as Evernote I can find the things I have written again.

Evernote has an optical character recognition tool that reads my handwriting.

Clever eh?

This is handy if you have to write a report of the workshop afterwards.

Ermine or Vermin?

Every year we host a family Christmas quiz, called Ermine or Vermin.

There are 20-25 of us and it takes a little bit of organising to make it run smoothly and to keep it fun.

This is how we introduce it:

Ermine - The winter coat of the European Stoat and The Grasshopper Mouse of North America

European Stoat and The Grasshopper Mouse

  • The quiz has prizes, Hurrah!
  • There are 4 rounds of questions.
  • Each round someone wins and the group gets a bag of prizes wrapped in christmas paper.
  • Some of the prizes are desirable, some less so, hence the title of the quiz.

So why am I telling you this?

Well, it is the preparation that is key to keeping this light-hearted fun.

The first problem is how to divide up people into different groups.

We solved this one by passing round a tin of chocolates.  There are 4 varieties in the tin.  This year we used Cadbury’s Flake, Crunchie, Caramel and Dairy Milk. Yum.

Then we had the questions.   My friend (thanks Paul) provided these.  This year we had  questions about countries and capital cities, another had a list of dinosaur names, some made up, some real. And so on.

We get the groups to monitor one another for fair play, so that no-one secretly consults Wikipedia.  Peer pressure is a good self regulation mechanism, even in families!

The groups use score sheets we had prepared in advance.  At the end of each round they pass their score sheet to another group to mark.  Then we put the scores from each round on a matrix sheet on one of the doors of the room.

The winning group gets a bag of prizes and open them there and then.  Part of the fun for those who didn’t win is seeing the individual reactions to the rather diverse range of prizes each group gets.  🙂

After the final round, there is an overall winner and the group get the rather dubious pleasure of an extra bag of prizes!

This year everyone came away with at least one prize, and more importantly we’ve also added more fun stories to the family bank of memories.  It is the stories we tell one another that bind us together.

The preparation is the key to making it look effortless and smooth.  You can see how much work goes in to a family quiz, so you might be more aware of the behind-scenes effort that goes into our day job.

More of this in 2014.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, the scores on the doors revealed that the Flake group won this year with 45 points.

Helping a group recognise their behaviours

It’s been busy!  I’m back to resume the blog. I’ve lots to tell you about. So, how about starting with that trickiest of things, personal behaviour.

Getting engagement

As a facilitator there are a number of ways to get people to recognise things they are doing that might get in the way of adding value to the work they do.  Watching situational videos or reading examples are fine but a bit passive.  Discussing case studies gets a bit more engagement however it can be rather abstract.  Playing games is another useful device, but people have seen a lot of these and they do get repetitive.

So we invent our own situations and get people to engage in activities that are novel to them.  This requires more effort from us, but it makes life more interesting too.

A real example

An example of this from our recent work:  We had a group of 30 staff from various locations who were about to start more cooperative working.  Our client asked us for “team building that wasn’t team building” – mmm ok, interesting brief, just the sort of stuff we like to get involved with.  Let’s understand a bit more, together.

Preparation is key

We spent some time talking things over with the client bouncing around a few ideas and together we realised that the root of the problem was that there were very different types of people involved in the organisation.  Some were ‘steady Eddie’ types that could be depended upon all the time.  Others were more ‘high performers’ who were great in a crisis but boy, did they get bored and dysfunctional the rest of the time.

We had a good think about this and set up a workshop to sort out how the new organisation was going to work.  As part of this event we designed a special activity where we divided the room into four groups.  As facilitators, we had the confidence of knowing that no-one had seen this before so it would tax the minds of even the high performers.  In essence each group had a fairly straightforward task to perform however embedded within the task was a much harder one with a greater prize.

Facilitating the task

We set the task going. Immediately, the energy in the room went up. Everyone piled in and we saw the usual tuckman behaviours you’ll all be familiar with.  Then after a while we started to get the behaviours we were looking for, we let it run a bit further.

As you’ll have guessed by now what started to happen was a split in the room.  The ‘steadies’ were still deeply involved in completing the task while the high performers had become bored and were picking up their mobiles checking emails, getting coffee, in fact anything other than the task.

We shouted out: STOP!

That got everyone’s attention.

Facilitating learning

Then we did the facilitator thing we are all good at – getting people to look at what was happening and start to reflect.  We got the re-engagement needed and directed the energy of the group back to analysing themselves.  They began to self-identify the behaviours in the room and relate this to what was actually happening at work.  Deeper learning started.

a bit more…

We drew everyone’s attention to some props in the room that hadn’t been used yet.  Suddenly a realisation spread that there was a task embedded within the task, and a bigger picture emerged.  Both high performers and the steadies quickly came together to solve the problem and to everyone’s satisfaction cracked the larger puzzle. Result!

Later exercises started to draw on this and each of the group members understood that they had a part to play in making the organisation successful.  We increased tolerance of their different ways of working by highlighting the differences and helping them realise for themselves that they needed this diversity.

Have we completely solved all the issues? No.  Have we helped the group come together as a more successful unit?  Yes.

Job done. That’s why we get invited back.

The Milllion Dollar Smartphone

Million Dollar Smartphone

Million Dollar Smartphone

How is a phone worth a million dollars?

The answer is captured in one word:


Got your attention?

Good, you are present.



.I’ve been working with a large manufacturing company recently, helping the senior management teams improve their performance by exploring better ways of working together.

During these sessions an interesting phenomenon emerged.  Some of the top management in the business have become heavy users of smartphones to the extent that they bring them in to meetings. Not a problem you may think.  Not unusual too.

In one particular meeting the lead executive was attending a briefing about managing the product portfolio.  A decision had been made to manage out one of the question mark products (see earlier post ) The lead exec spent the meeting tapping away on his smartphone during the briefing.  A dispiriting experience for the team presenting.

  • Later this same executive led the negotiations to sell the technology to another company.
  • He thought the negotiation had gone rather well
  • It had.
  • It had gone well for the buyer rather than the seller.

The product had been sold for less than its true value and the lead executive’s company had retained the liabilities for product failure after it had been sold.

The cost of this mistake?  you guessed it…..  about a million dollars.

Attending meetings is not just about being there.  It is about being Present.

The hundred million tea break

Coffee break

Valuable work gets done in the breaks when running workshops

I’ve been running a large event kicking off the collective working capability for several parts of a multinational company.

There were people representing 4 organisations each of which had annual turnovers of several hundred million pounds.

I thought I’d share what happened.  We had to think on our feet a lot….


  • Developed the workshop bringing 20 or so people together to develop collective working capability over two days.
  • Spent weeks planning the event
  • Planned down to the minute (we had expected highly structured, task oriented types present)
  • On the day the plan got busted within the first 5 mins when the client asked for something different than I’d been told – ok we fitted that in.
  • Then these tasky, structured types started to get more creative and overran our timings, so we ran with the energy in the room and made space for this.
  • Did more prep in the break re-planning on the fly (this was possible because we’d put all that work in beforehand)
  • The end of the event we got real success achieved everything we set out to.

 So why am I telling you all this?

In the feedback session we asked what had gone really well about the event, where the real value was

The answer – It was the tea breaks where we got the most value

My inner reaction for a microsecond – OH NO!

[for those of you that facilitate you’ll know the mind works in the fast lane where you are stood up there]

Then it suddenly occurred:

  • Yes they were right, the real value was in the unstructured dialogue when people were relaxed
  • But if I’d just brought them together for a tea break :
    • They wouldn’t have come
    • Nothing would have happened
    • So the structure is needed to get things started
    • Then allow space for people to start to feel safe
    • Then allow time for all that relationship building stuff to kick in
    • Stand back and try not to interfere.

 So What?

Learning for me..

  • Build in longer breaks, let people talk
  • Allow space when people in the room get energised
  • Your plans can change
  • It’s the result for the people in the room that matters

The event was such a success we’ve been commissioned to take it to other parts of the organisation.

I’m now busy planning more overseas trips

Funny old world isn’t it.

Using for virtual facilitation

JoinMe Logo

Join Me Logo

Tim recommended we take a look at as a facilitation tool.  So we did.

Having played with the free version for a while we have come to the conclusion it is pretty good for getting your message out there.

However, for the sort of physical / virtual meetings we have been playing with, we find it falls short.

What is good at:

  • Share your desktop with selected others giving each person a unique code.
  • a large number of others can view your desktop (100+)
  • Open a voice over IP channel with those sharing the view of your screen
  • Instant messaging facility for text chat.
  • The capability to transfer the broadcast to others

Clever stuff

What would be ideal for:

  • Broadcasting your thoughts to an attentive community.
  • Delivering a training session
  • Communicating a presentation or webinar

When we’ve tested in a group we have found its design tends to suppress two-way dialogue as whoever controls the visuals tends to dominate the group.

Therefore we would see as a useful tool for giving information rather than promoting true exchange of information between peers.  It is a broadcast tool rather than a dialogue tool.  Provided you understand this, it will work very well for you.

More Experiences With Mixed Virtual / Physical Groups

We are getting the hang of facilitating mixed virtual and physical groups.

We are innovating with small but significant incremental improvements.

Tick Box - created by Rawich

Tick Box - created by Rawich

This group has people who attend physically, we also have people attending from all over the UK and also from Continental Europe.

Readers of this blog will know that we have tried video conferencing, and played with telepresence with mixed success.

We have come to the conclusion that the off the shelf technology (Skype)  is not quite up to the task at the moment.


We still want to involve people and give them a meaningful two way communication between those present in the room

What worked this time

  • We abandoned video conferencing and pre-prepared virtual attendees so they knew it would be voice only
  • We used two facilitators:
    • one to manage the room(F1)
    • a second person managed the virtual attendees (F2)
  • We used the Skype  instant messaging facility for virtual members to communicate with their facilitator (F2) in the room
  • At appropriate times F2 helped draw attention to comments made by the virtual attendees, then we turned up the sound on the laptop and let them speak for themselves to the room.

The benefits of this approach:

  • This made the people attending vitually feel included
  • The main facilitator (F1) could manage the flow of content in the room
  • The backup facilitator (F2) was the virtuals’ champion in the room and as respected by everyone.

We’ll continue making improvements and will tell you how it goes..

It Doesn’t Happen Without You….

Interesting comment, it was made by the members of one of the Chief Executive Groups I run.

Empty Meeting Room

Empty Meeting Room

Sometimes letting things happen can be quite revealing.

This answers one of the questions posed earlier in this blog (Why do we need facilitation anyway?)



You’ll need some background:

  • I have been facilitating this particular group for about 4 years.
  • We meet once every 2 months or so.
  • We started it because being a CEO is a particularly lonely position.
  • Talking to peers in a confidential environment is really valuable.
  • CEOs need others to bounce ideas around
  • We have unlocked so many seemingly intractable situations.
  • Problem solving at this level needs absolute confidentiality.
  • This builds a lot of commitment between the members of the group.

Why change anything?

I’m constantly aware of being complacent, and try not to take situations for granted.
 They had all known one another for 4 years.  A lot of trust builds up in that time.  I got to wondering whether I was actually adding any value.
So I started to let go of this group.

So what happened?

  • Interestingly, nothing happened.
  • The group stopped meeting.
  • Gradually they began to ask me when the next meeting was to be.
  • We held a series of reality check conversations to find out whether what we were doing was still worthwhile or just habit.
  • These conversations need to be 1:1
  • They all needed the group to continue.
  • “It just doesn’t happen with you” they told me when we got together again.

Facilitation does make a difference.  Really valuable group working doesn’t just happen.

I’ll still not be complacent though…

Tips for facilitating virtual meetings on Skype

Skype Logo


I have been facilitating many meetings using Skype and have some observations to share:

Our experience so far is that Skype’s voice conferencing is more stable than video conferencing.

This is based on facilitating many conference calls between 5 – 15 people at any one time.

There are things you can do to make a Skype conference successful.

I thought it would be useful to condense some of our learning for you, so here goes..

Facilitation Tips for a Successful Skype Conference

  • Make sure you have everyone’s Skype ID – set up a group list in Skype beforehand then you just need to make one call
  • Let everyone know you will call them – If they call you – and you answer, you put the main group on hold and this can be frustrating from their point of view.
  • Circulate a clear agenda beforehand.
  • Set a clear start time – and don’t forget to include local times for people in other time zones
  • If people arrive late, get them to text you rather than Skype you to let you know they are waiting to join – then you can add them to your conference call.
  • Leaving a virtual meeting is easier than leaving a real one, so….
  • Set a clear end time – If you don’t do this I’ve found that people make their own assumptions about when the meeting will end and you run the danger of people giving their apologies before the end of the meeting then you can lose control and it ends when you run out of a critical mass of people to contribute.

Tight or loose control – it’s your choice:

  • If you want to control the meeting tightly then add more agenda points.
  • If you want the meeting to flow more freely then just have 2 or 3 points at most

Managing Distractions:

  • Microphones are sensitive things, we have had all of these and more in our meetings:
    • Dogs barking
    • Mobiles ringing
    • Doors slamming
    • Landline telephones ringing, then voicemail kicking in
    • Birdsong (I can live with this one)
    • Postmen, delivery people arriving
  • Make sure people know how to mute their microphone (and recognise when it is muted)

Involving everyone:

  • You get a visual cue for who is talking, their icon on-screen has a blue halo.
  • Keep a mental (or written) note of who is contributing and encourage the quiet ones to have their say
  • Dont be afraid of silence, give people space to talk
  • A good tip to involve the quiet ones:
    • Give them warning that you will invite them to have a say after the next person.
    • Some people need that time to think.
    • You can get really valuable contributions this way.
  • Nearly every time I have run a Skype conference someone has had trouble with their microphone
    • Encourage people to use the Instant Messaging feature
    • This can seem like you are running two simultaneous meetings – it gets easier to do with practise

Should you put in a comfort break?

  • If shorter than one hour, no
  • If longer than an hour, schedule in a break halfway through and make this clear at the start.
  • Tell everyone not to close Skype, keep it open while they take a break 5 -10 mins max

Tips for helping the meeting write-up afterwards:

Creating a Skype transcript is easier than you might think.

Skype has an instant messaging (IM) function built-in, encourage people to use it during the meeting and the notes write themselves.

  • We find it is very helpful when people have problems with the technology.
    • In one case two people could hear us but not speak
    • So I encouraged them to type comments in and we had a parallel track of conversations
    • This makes for a juggling act as a facilitator keeping track of the voice traffic and message traffic but you get used to it pretty quickly
  • At the end of the session before I closed the Skype window I did 2 things
    • Took a screen capture to get everyone’s pictures (using the print screen key – then paste the image into the meeting notes document)
    • Clicked and dragged over the message traffic text in the IM window, copied and pasted it into the meeting notes.

Ending the meeting:

  • Try to keep to the end time, having a clear ending is satisfying for everyone involved and shows you respect the value of their time and, by implication, yours.
  • If you are not good at monitoring the time..
    • Tell the people in the conference call at the start.
    • Encourage people in the conference to alert you when the meeting is close to the end.
  • If you are going to overrun call a quick halt agree a new end time and stick to it.

This all works, it is based on actual experience.

I’m a fan of learning by doing so give it a go and tell me what works for you.