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Don’t Just Sit There

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

a small group demonstrates their learning using theatrics while other participants enjoy the energy

Unfortunately, I’ve sat through meetings and workshops where the facilitator seemed to rely on coffee breaks to fuel participants’ learning. Long bouts of one-person speaking can lull a group into a passive state where - if you watch - you can literally see people’s body language demonstrate how they've left the room. It’s tough to witness, and a poor use of time to be in space that depletes your capacity to do your work - when it doesn't have to.

One of the great learnings from my adult education training was to recognize that any sign of “it’s time for coffee” was less a call for caffeine, than an indicator that participants had been sitting, or disengaged, for too long. So, whenever I facilitate, I set a golden rule of no more than 50% of our time be spent in a large-group discussion format.

pie chart showing the time allocation so that no more than half is dedicated to large group discussion

Even with a great slide presentation and questions from participants, a large-group-discussion format can drain the collective energy in the room. Simultaneously, it can limit everyone’s learning capacity.

Introverts are less likely to speak, and those waiting for their chance to speak are less likely to listen. Visual learners might benefit from slides, but as the pace of conversation moves along, they might not find ways to retain. And kinesthetics learners…. well, they might simply feel relieved to get through the session without walking out.

Because adults rarely walk out of a boring or engaging meeting. It might feel like a waste of time, but if it is work-related, they are being paid to be there. But, when you facilitate sessions with children and teenagers - who are generally there out of personal interest - you quickly notice they will not sit still if you are wasting their time. And one person going on and on, is rarely a great use of time.

So, not only do all participants benefit from a mix of group dynamics in longer meetings, but creative delivery beyond the spoken word accesses different learning centres in the brain. This can include improv, mime, drawing, collage and even singing - which, if carefully orchestrated is literally laugh out loud: LLOL.

More than simply being creative for creativity sake, these activities shift people into the realm of …play. And “Play-deprived adults are often rigid, humo(u)rless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options.”* And fun learning is not trivial.

Playfulness enhances our willingness to be open to innovation, change, and differing perspectives. It reduces the energy around conflict and “that’s how we’ve always done it”. So, if you are going to invest time and money in planning a strategic planning meeting or team building workshop, don’t just sit there, bring in someone who knows that designing and delivery are both active processes.

Within the last two years, we've brought Arthur Orsini in for three strategic planning sessions. Often with only a few short phone calls to determine where we were headed, Arthur put together a series of activities and resources that resulted in creative and useful outcomes. He is prepared, adaptive and always seems to have a fresh activity or approach to rejuvenate our conversations when the group settles into familiar habits. I would recommend Arthur if you want to help your team work together in new and interesting collaborations. I have been pleasantly surprised in how he has led our Board to both deeper insights and consensus.

Derik Wenman President - Board of Directors, HUB Cycling 2018-2022

*Stuart Brown, (2009), Let the Children Play (Some More). Quoted in The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide, by Dave Stewart & Mark Simmons, (2010), pg. xvii.)


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