Picture the scene. You drop into a leadership training session for elite graduate recruits, in which they are clearly having a good time. It’s an activity in which they pair up to link arms and walk around the room, commentating on an imagined shared trip to Japan.
If you just walked into the room and saw this spectacle, how would you know – fun aside – whether or not this is a worthwhile exercise for them? And how much can we reliably judge the facilitator’s skills from just this slice?
Well, we hope the tutor has good reason to include each activity. In this case we see it’s physical, with everyone out of their chairs, which is good for variety and generating energy. It’s in pairs and the quality of each pair’s result depends on how well they collaborate, so we can tell that it’s a skills practice in creativity and teamwork that’s offering them immediate feedback. As pairs make progress together, so they bond, getting to know their partner’s strengths and preferences.
To the extent that it’s enjoyed and participants succeed, guided with appropriate support which maintains their physical and psychological safety, we know that they are gaining comfort with the uncertainty and challenge offered by the activity. Even better, if the trainer contextualises the game with a clear explanation of its purpose. Here, they explain the relevance to leadership of teamwork, managing uncertainty and accessing your creativity. Each activity needs a clear connection to the bigger topics of the day.
We can also observe if the tutor is coaching well, looking after the people while they work, and whether or not they debrief skilfully, encouraging participants towards insights and takeaways – that is ensuring they are deriving value from having done it beyond the immediate experience of doing it.
Many of the critical variables we’re observing here about selecting and running activities show the extensive overlap between improvisational and facilitation skills. We can see aspects of improvisation in the pacing, in choices of when and when not to side-coach or intervene, and in precisely what the facilitator chooses to say in their conversations with individuals and the group.
So, yes, you can assess the extent to which a facilitator has improvisation skills, by observing their interactions during an activity.
To develop your own facilitation and improvisation skills – including choice, design and coaching of suitable activities, sign up to the waiting list of our forthcoming ‘Inspirational Facilitator’ online course (commencing September 2022) for priority booking: https://bit.ly/3I02pUj