So you want to start a facilitation business?

From the IAF Flipchart, here is some fantastic advice from Barbara MacKay:

https://www.iaf-world.org/site/global-flipchart/7/start-business

The very first competency required by the IAF for professional facilitator certification is called Create Collaborative Client Relationships. Being able to do this consistently is the key to building a successful facilitation practice.

It’s how you get clients and keep clients. In this article I’ll share a few tips on this, as well as four more aspects of building an independent facilitation business:

  • Knowing the price of your market
  • Gaining continuous confidence in core facilitation tools and concepts
  • Organising accessible files and bookkeeping records
  • Maintaining and nourishing your well-being on a regular basis.

 

 

Magic for Magicians

When professional and amateur magicians get together to practice new tricks and give each other feedback, they call it an "IGOM:" an Informal Gathering of Magicians. If you're lucky enough to go to one, you'll see them perform some of the most technically sophisticated and difficult tricks in their repertoire, requiring exotic devices or blistering sleights of hand. Even if you've watched every episode of Breaking the Magician's Code, you'll still find yourself saying, "How'd she do that?" 

These tricks are almost never performed for the public. Why? They're too difficult. There's too much chance of something going wrong. And most importantly, the general public won't appreciate the artistry of the trick. "Laypeople," as magicians call them, don't have enough knowledge of the craft to recognize the skill that they're seeing. Instead, most magicians perform the bullet-proof tricks that they’ve done a thousand times already. The linking rings may raise gasps of awe from laypeople, but if someone pulls them out at an IGOM, they'll get groans and eyerolls. At IGOMs, there’s a saying: “magic for magicians.” IGOMs are a chance to test your skill among sophisticated professionals who will appreciate the talent behind it. IGOMs are tacit permission to show off how good you are.

There are IGOMs in every industry. Visual practitioners have Facebook, Instagram, and the IFVP conference. Who hasn’t looked at someone else’s work online and thought, “How’d she do that?” The answer is the same for both magicians and visual practitioners: talent and years of practice. And on Facebook, visual practitioners are posting their best work to share with other visual practitioners. They’re posting magic for magicians.

Visual practitioners working on teams compare work, learn from each other, and adopt each other’s methods. That’s the strength of being on a team: seeing fresh examples, getting ideas, and receiving rapid feedback on your own attempts. I’m trying hard to pick up lettering from Heather Martinez and comic book layouts from Trent Wakenight. The push to get better is a powerful, healthy motivator.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that, for the participants, it’s all magic. Last week, I watched a (non-visual) facilitator do the old “rotate your finger above your head, now move your hand down to your waist, and see how it changed directions” thingy. I may have groaned (internally), but it generated gasps of awe from an audience of several hundred participants. Most people have never seen what we do before. You don’t have to be David Copperfield or David Sibbet to achieve breakthroughs with your participants. Don’t let the push to get better stop you from pulling out your linking rings*.

*My own "linking rings" is the Grove’s Graphic Gameplan. You can facilitate just about any conversation on that sucker. It’s bullet-proof, and it never fails to help groups achieve breakthrough. 

Tips for Successfully Using Visualization in Your Event

I'm lucky to get a lot of repeat business from the same clients, but sometimes I work for a new client who's never seen graphic facilitation or graphic recording before. There's only so much of the experience you can share in advance. I find it useful to set conditions for success by laying them out explicitly. Here's a list of tips that I include in proposals:

Tips for Successfully Using Visualization in Your Event

  • Please allow one hour in advance of the meeting for our team to set up material and one hour after the meeting to tear down and pack up. Please provide a 10’ by 5’ space on the floor near the front of the room to set up a 6’ tall freestanding display board. Please inform the facility manager that completed charts will be hung around the walls using a nonstick, acid-free, archival artist’s tape that will not mar or damage paint or wallpaper. Understanding that events are always fluid, please be sensitive to our set up time requirements when it comes to room changes.
  • If you are designing the agenda, please keep us informed as to changes in time and items, as this helps us plan paper space to allow for each presentation and minimizes disruptions by having to change paper midway through a specific segment.
  • If your group has any logos, key visuals, or briefing decks, please provide them in advance so that we can come ready with prepared visuals.
  • Graphic charts are not meeting minutes. Charts capture the major themes and discussion points but less than 1% of the spoken word. If you need to have more detail captured, please provide a note taker (or indicate that you would like us to provide a note taker.)
  • We would like to use copies of the visuals generated from your event for marketing purposes, just as examples were provided to you to help frame your understanding of this practice. We will not share any information you deem sensitive or proprietary.
  • Please allow one week for digital copies of charts to be rendered and emailed to you.
  • During the event, if you feel we’ve missed an important point, please pass us a note, raise your hand, call it out, or share it in any other way you prefer.
  • It is YOUR paper: if you feel like you have an idea or concept that’s easier to draw than to try to articulate verbally, please grab a marker and draw your idea. We consider participants drawing on the charts themselves as the highest level of successful engagement.
  • Visualization has real return on investment: you can expect increased consensus, higher retention, and greater engagement, and you’ll be surprised by the amount we will be able to accomplish!

The more you can engage us as partners in planning and delivering your event, the more we can ensure its success. We look forward to your partnership in this effort!

Managing Methods: Cards

Working on a team means you'll get exposed to dozens, if not hundreds, of new tools, techniques, and methods. How do you leverage what you learn? Here are some ideas for information management, ranging from the very simple to the very complex:

  • Stickies
  • A dedicated sketchbook or Moleskine
  • Index cards
  • Mindmapping
  • Google Docs
  • Evernote
  • SharePoint

Whatever you choose, it's got to work for you and your workflow. After a couple of iterations, I decided I needed a system that wasn't tied to technology. Most tech solutions limit you to viewing one method at a time, making scanning through many methods time consuming. I also wanted a system that I could share with clients for co-designing approaches on the fly.

Ring of method cards

Ring of method cards

For me, blank playing cards held together by a wire key ring works the best. I have them roughly organized into categories: energizers, principles, groups of methods like the Grove Consultants' "Strategic Visioning" or LUMA Institutes's "Innovating for People," and then a whole bunch of single methods arranged alphabetically. 

In practice, when I learn about or remember a method, I write the title on one of the blank cards I keep at the back of the ring. I'll go back later and populate the body of the card with the essentials of the method, possibly after a little research to make sure I've got my facts straight. 

In use, I'll pull out the cards with a client when a discovery meeting shifts from talking about outcomes to approach. I'll pull out the few cards that I think will work well to achieve a particular outcome, then weigh the pros and cons of each card with the client. I'll write the duration of the activity given the size and nature of the group on a sticky next to each card. When we're done, we'll have the entire agenda mapped out. 

A few friends have suggested I publish these cards. There are two problems with that. First, I don't own these methods. These are really good ideas from a lot of really smart people. Second, the act of creating a card is even more valuable than having a card because it creates a strong mental model of the method and how you might use it. 

Best Athlete chart

A Best Athlete chart is a powerful tool for a working team. It identifies core competencies and developmental opportunities. It minimizes the likelihood that a team member will get assigned a task they'd rather not take on. It's also a great way to make sure the client gets the best possible experience while avoiding over-reliance on a go-to team member.

Best Athlete chart

Best Athlete chart

The Best Athlete chart is a simple Harvey Ball chart that illustrates team members' relative strength in a given competency. Begin by brainstorming the team's core competencies. As a starting point, visualization teams often have some level of the following competencies:

  • Strategic visualization
  • Graphic facilitation
  • Graphic recording
  • Visual consulting
  • Visual coaching
  • Visual methods training
  • Facilitation
  • Graphic design
  • Vision mapping
  • Digital scribing
  • Remote scribing
  • Design thinking and human-centered design

Once your team identifies its core competencies and lists them along the top of the chart, have each team member rate their own strength against each competency by filling out the Harvey Balls to the right of their name. A full Harvey Ball means the skill is a towering strengths, an empty Harvey Ball means little to no strength. Their assessment of strength based on their own self-awareness, and must be done without fear of judgment or reprisal, and without ego. If your team has high trust, collaboration, and self-awareness, they could fill out the chart based on their perception of their own strength relative to others on the team. 

Then, have team members identify the competencies they would like to develop as well as those they would prefer not to use. For example, they could label the competencies they want to develop with a "d" or "+" and the competencies they would prefer not to use with an "x" or "-."

When new tasks arise, decide which competencies it will require, then choose the team members with the most strength in the key competency as the lead for the task. Offer team members who have identified that competency as an area of development the chance to shadow or partner on that task. And try to avoid assigning it to team members who aren't interested in that competency.

Here's a link to a template for a Best Athlete chart

Name it

Give your practice a name that's in keeping with your culture and your industry focus. It's part and parcel in this field to chose a name that's fun, funky, and a bit offbeat: Loosetooth, The Grove Consultants, Discovery Doodles, AlphaChimp, Ink Factory, ImageThink, etc.. When I chose "Lizard Brain Solutions," I was referencing the fight or flight response of the limbic system triggered by the visual cortex... not to mention that my wife's name is "Liz" and my name is "Brian," and the company that gave me my start, "SENSA Solutions." When I chose "Visioneering" for OGSystems' graphic facilitation practice, I was blending "visuals," the common language of the new team, with the OGSystems' "engineering" core competency.

To get you thinking, here's a random visualization practice name generator, made up of pieces of all of the company names in the International Forum of Visual Practitioners. Just open it up and hit F9 to make a name. 

Lauren's Discovery Questions

Here's a fantastic list of questions for a discovery meeting from Lauren Green:

·       Logistics:

o   Who’s in the room?

§  Leaders / Sponsor

§  Participants

o   Facilitators / collaborators

·       What…?

o   Event type

o   Event title

o   Overall event

·       When…?

o   Date / time

o   Duration

·       Where…?

o   Location

o   In person vs. virtual

·       Client Needs:

o   What…?

§  Is my role

§  Is the desired deliverable (information / graphic / model)

§  Do you hope will happen

§  Are the desired outcomes

§  Do you have so far (norming….)

o   Is some of the history of group or situation

§  Changes have you seen

§  Current State

·       How / Approach Design

o   Anything that you want to make sure is included?

o   Activities that you’ve tried or routines

o   Offer: graphic facilitation (team-building / strategy / design) GR, sketchnotes, graphic design

o   Put together a recommended approach

·       Personal Questions

o   Will I learn something?

o   Am I taking away someone else’s learning opportunity?

o   Is there respect present?

o   Hidden agendas?

o   What do my instincts tell me?

·       Consultant Needs

o   Is there enough time to prepare and enough time to achieve the desired outcomes?

o   Do I have access to the right information?

o   Do I have the support from leadership?

o   Do I have the right level of participation from the client

o   Is confidentiality being maintained?

o   Will there be an opportunity to give / receive feedback on the end resul

Joint Ownership

from Seth Godin - 

Joint ownership

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked...

When to charge by the hour - from Seth Godin

I usually do an hours build up in my proposals, but sometimes this gets me into trouble when clients say, "Well, spend less time on it, so I don't don't have to pay you as much." An thus begins a painful back and forth  where I have to explain why what they want will take the hours I've estimated. This year, I'm going to experiment with itemizing proposals without hours just to see if that's what causes the pushback... Or if it's just clients who like to negotiate. 

Below, Seth Godin does a fantastic job of explaining why an hour build up is a bad idea for professionals. 

--Brian

 Most professionals ought to charge by the project, because it's a project the customer wants, not an hour.

Surgery, for example. I don't want it to last a long time, I just want it to work. Same with a logo or website design.

Or house painting. The client is buying a painted house, not your time.

One exception: If the time is precisely what I'm buying, then charging by the time is the project. Freudian therapy, say, or a back massage.

Another exception: If the client has the ability to change the spec, again and again, and the hassle of requoting a project cost is just too high for both parties. A logo design, for example, probably starts with project pricing, but if the client keeps sending you back for revisions, at some point, they're buying your time, aren't they?

Seth Godin 

Decision Model

You can't do everything. There are lots of ideas, but only so many hours in the day. Having a solid, explicit model for decisions will keep your team on track and focused on the right things. 

As a team, brainstorm where new requests are coming from. Which do you say yes to? Why would you say no? Design a simple process diagram that visualizes the criteria you come up with and how requests flow through that criteria. 

Some criteria to consider: 

  • Does this serve an existing client?
  • Could this turn into repeat business?
  • Is this a service you CAN provide or WANT to provide? (There's a difference: the answer to both questions should be a strong yes.) 
  • Is the price right? 
  • Is the right person available?
Example of a Decision Model

There's two best practices in the example above. One is a buffer, which is a statement that provides an air break between the request and the response so that you can check with the team and decide together if this is something you should support. Check out Essentialism by Greg McKeown for more ideas on managing time.

The other practice is a Best Athlete chart.

Core Values

Once your team has worked together for a while, establish your Core Values.

Core Values serve as guiding principles for behaviors of a team of high-performing individuals. In general, they govern how individuals present themselves, how they relate to each other, how they manage work, and how they build their practice. They are short statements that begin, “We (verb.)” For example:

  • We own the outcome by finding and filling gaps.
  • We assume noble intent.
  • We hold the space for others to be successful.
  • We practice abundance, sharing our time, talents, and knowledge freely with others.
  • We co-create from our strengths.
  • We ask “why” and “what if” questions.

Core Values tap into individuals’ most personal motivators. They should touch the nerves of those that write and read them. They are profoundly meaningful to those that share them.

Unlike other group processes, there is no clustering, categorization, or conflation. After carefully framing the conversation, participants look within themselves and simply write statements that are deeply meaningful to them on individual stickies. They read the Core Value, then place them on a common wall. In doing so, they are tacitly agreeing to hold themselves accountable to the behavior implicit in the Core Value. Others likewise agree to exhibit the same behavior. Core Values aren’t polished or edited, but remain exactly as they were written so as to maintain a connection with the writer, who becomes the advocate of that behavior.

Core Values aren’t for forming teams. They are for teams that have already had some time functioning together. When I facilitate this exercise, I can tell what kind of team I’m dealing with based on how they handle it. Those that debate each other on Core Values are still forming. Those that silently nod their agreement and accept the standards of the Core Values are the high-performers. 

The best way to bring Core Values into practice is for each team member to keep them in a place where they are immediately “zero-click” accessible. That way, they can serve to guide decisions through ambiguity and uncertainty. In practice, when Core Values are being used, teams realize that most tough decisions and wicked problems have already been decided by the Core Values.

Core Values are living documents and should be revisited whenever the team resets itself. A Core Values exercise can be facilitated in less than an hour.

Space Matters

Visualization needs space. Ideally, several spaces.

Facilitation Space: This is the most obvious, but it can be the hardest to come by. It's difficult to get a space that works for all the different kinds of engagements you'd want to have AND is permanently assigned to you. If the facility doesn't have a permanent facilitation space, get used to using portable walls. 

The best spaces are flexible, modular, and open, with long, uninterrupted walls for your paper. Think: racquetball courts... with carpeting and better acoustics. And hopefully not as smelly. With chairs and tables on casters, you can reposition the room as the agenda calls for. 

My favorite layout has a circle of chairs for plenary sessions (no tables) AND elsewhere in the room, pods of tables with seating for 4-to-6 for breakout groups. 

Board room-style conference tables are the WORST. They're big, heavy, immovable, and are horrible for group breakouts. Participants can't even see each other on a board room-style conference table. 

Storage Space: This is a stuff-intensive business. You're going to need to store complete and work-in-progress charts, easels and portable walls, new rolls of paper and flipcharts, other materials like ink and markers, plus all the stuff for participants, like stickies, pens, and activities. And have plenty of bookcases for all the books, binders, cards, and other materials you're sure to collect.

Studio Space: A place for you to work digitally and on the wall. I like a studio to have my desktop computer with a ridiculously-sized monitor (or monitors), an 11x17" printer and scanner close by, a light table, and room to at least prepare a 4'x10.5' chart.

Photo Space: The cheapest way to digitize charts is to photograph them. Most visual practitioners photograph their charts on the spot. I find that lighting on site can be uneven and a struggle to correct. I have a large wall dedicated to photographing charts, with movable lights to minimize drop off. Nothing fancy: it's just two 4' fluorescent shop lights suspended from the ceiling and aimed at the chart wall. It's low tech, but it works. Eventually, you might get to the point where you can justify a chart scanner, but those suckers cost upwards of 16k.

Video Space: Specifically, for action sketches. Simple is better. I like to draw on paper as opposed to whiteboards, so my set up is smaller than most. One of my 4' shop lights pulls double duty here, illuminating a drafting table. I have a camera attached to a lighting stand above the table. That's it.