“This isn’t resonating for me,” T said.
We were part way through an exercise I’d devised specifically for this group — a team of devoted staff members on at a mid-size nonprofit organization.
After two years of working 100% remotely, half the team had never met in-person, and the whole team had never been in the same room together.
The Executive Director had done a stellar job building community virtually, but decided it was time to bring everyone together for a day of in-person bonding.*
The overarching goals:
- to give people a chance to really get to know each other
- to give people a chance to interact with people they don’t normally interact with
- to improve efficiency, in an already productive team
- to look at how to create more work-life balance
The activity in question was designed to address the work-life balance issue.
In groups of three, person A had 60 seconds to share as many things as they could think of that they loved to do outside of work.
Then person B played the role of person A, actively doing some of those things. (“I’m going out to the movies with my husband,” or “I’m taking an actual vacation!”)
Person C acted out work interruptions that might prevent A from actively enjoying herself/himself. (“I’m an urgent email that must be answered right now!” or “I’m a phone call, it’s after hours, but you have to answer me!”)
And the real person A, meanwhile, played the role of person A’s defender. (“Turn that cell phone OFF! You’re on a date with your husband! Work can wait!”)
My plan was for each person to have two minutes in each of the roles before we’d circle up for a debrief, but as I walked around to the different groups, it was clear that T was not comfortable.
“This isn’t resonating for me,” she said. “I don’t think this is my problem.”
What to Do? “Yes, and..!”
Now, as a facilitator, I prepare like crazy for my sessions. It’s not unusual for me to put dozens of hours into designing a session plan.
As an applied improv facilitator, one of the skills I bring to the room (or the lawn, in this case, since we happened to be outdoors!) is improvisation. Which means accepting the reality of what’s going on, and building on it.
Instead of insisting that we continue with the activity, I turned the question back to the group…
And WOW, were they bubbling over! They wanted to talk!
In fact, the conversation went on for a good ten minutes, moved inside, and continued (very mindfully on my part) through the time I’d planned to use for two other activities and a break that was scheduled to happen.
I knew if I called a break, it might stutter the momentum of what was proving to be a very juicy and important conversation.
In fact, that thirty minutes was the heart of the whole retreat.
Even more important, it’s led to some needed changes after the retreat that might never had happened without the opening of this conversation.
But that “failed” activity that annoyed T because she didn’t resonate with it?
It was the catalyst.
Sometimes an activity serves a different purpose from the one we think.
Ultimately, if it helps us achieve our goals, it’s successful. Even if it seems to be a “failure” on the surface.
Which is why good facilitation is such an art.
These moments of improvisation are one of the things I love most about what I do: surfing the wave of “what serves best right now?”
My nonprofit client was thrilled with the result.
*(Yes, you will notice that this off-site was in-person, which is not my usual wheelhouse of virtual trainings and events! Virtual is still my main focus. 🤩)
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