Learn How to Strengthen Facilitation Skills

March 17th, 2014 10:15 AM
University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maine are offering a five-session spring workshop in Saco for people interested in strengthening their facilitation skills.

Sessions for Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills, Level 1 will be held 4-8 p.m. April 17, May 1, May 15, May 29 and June 12 at City Hall, 300 Main St., Saco.

The workshop features experiential learning, including a chance to practice facilitation skills and receive feedback in a safe environment. The $120 fee covers instruction, a resource notebook and light meals. Kristen Grant, who enjoys creating programs that build skills of individuals and capacities of groups, will lead the workshop. Grant has a background in providing interactive, educational programs and works extensively in team settings.

Enrollment is limited to the first 18 people who register. Registration is required and is open. To register, or to request a disability accommodation, contact UMaine Extension at 207.324.2814. For more information, contact Grant at 207.646.1555, ext. 115, kngrant@maine.edu or visit

UMaine Extension Facilitation Training Series Starts Oct. 8

September 10th, 2013 9:42 AM
SYFS participants

Participants in the SYFS, Level 1 Training Series have been placed in facilitation roles and are expected to help their groups produce results.

Registration is open for Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills, Level 1, which begins Oct. 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Penobscot County office at 307 Maine Ave., Bangor.

Sessions of the five-week series meet, in general, every other week until Dec. 3. They are designed to support learning and practicing facilitation skills in an experiential setting. There will be opportunities to observe facilitation challenges and receive feedback in a safe environment. The goal is more effective, efficient work within group meetings. A fee of $120 covers a resource notebook. Limited scholarship assistance is available for the workshop, which is limited to the first 18 people who pre-register. For more information, or to request a disability accommodation, call the UMaine Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-287-0274. Online registration is available at umaine.edu/ext-community/strengthening-your-facilitation-skills/level-1.

It Is Really Not About Work/Life Balance

August 14th, 2013 8:00 AM

Jane Haskell, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Blogs about work, life, and balance are a theme for me. A quest. I hear it is for others, too. I get asked to do workshops on work/life/balance. I wonder why since I feel like I am constantly struggling to make “it” work.

In my last “balance” blog, Balance: Moving toward? Status quo? Juggling?, I stated that moving toward personal balance constantly evolved. And, that I could “feel” balance in my heart. My heart felt a glow. And then, of course, there are the times that my heart does not get or have the feel good glow, but feels like a lump of, well, lead, making me paralyzed or wanting to bolt out of my skin.

And then I remember approaching the concept of balance in earlier blogs from a self-care platform. In Juggling? Or Balance? steps were outlined for creating a self-care plan. One person called this brilliant and wanted to pass it on. I hope he did. This was followed by Moving Toward Balance: Identifying Where You Are Spending Your Time, which outlined how to use your plan by reflecting, at four levels, on what the data reveals to you about you.

And now I feel I have evolved or shifted yet again. I can sense the glow in my heart, that is not overpowered, challenged or compromised my intellectual side.

I read a blog by Doug Silsbee who is a leader is presence-based leadership development. He talks openly about how we all experience frequent periods of overload and stress. Juggling? Or Balance? did not explicitly link the lack of self-care with personal health issues. However, the research certainly supports increased burnout, more negative health consequences and the lurking question (or statement) “what am I doing?” or “get me out of here!”

Silsbee points out that many of us turn to vacation to get back in balance, seeing it as the mythical Holy Grail for work/life balance… for the duration of the vacation. Then, back at work or home, the stressors jump out and ambush us – again! To make it worse, we know this will happen! Silsbee intimates that the restorative self-care we give ourselves has an amazingly short half-life.

There are problems, he says, with work/life balance – or in my case juggling/balance. He says the slash between the two words implies they are different, separate, or can be separated. If I look at my life spirit, work is only one part of my fully engaged life. It is not separated from home, family, volunteering, vacation, and so on. My life is an integrated whole, regardless how much I strive to compartmentalize it.

Then, balance begins to preoccupy my mulling about life. Silsbee says that balance implies stasis, an implication that there is a magic recipe to be figured out. How unrealistic is this? My life, as well as yours and everyone else’s, is filled with complexities that are shifting and changing as I write this blog. Consistency is not a component of a today’s world – at least not mine.

My heart is shifting (beginning to glow) due to a new perspective based on Barry Johnson’s life work in polarities. Silsbee says, let’s look at the life polarities of activity and rest. They are pretty much at opposite ends of my reality.  He suggests they can replace work/life balance. He even states that activity and rest contradict each other. And are ever so crucial in a well-lived life. If I focus on one, say activity, then rest can suffer. If I go overboard and focus on rest, then I get all idgity with lack of activity. The interplay or integration of both poles leads to a dynamic individual who can feel and project positive energy in their community – whether it is the community of family, tourist, work, volunteerism, or whatever.

To compound this realization is the insight that whatever ‘solution’ appears today will subtly or monumentally change next week or year, or even tomorrow or later today. Just as we are a dynamic living system that has varying needs for activity and rest, so do all those other uniquely-positioned human systems or group systems (filled with human, relationships, rules, histories, circumstances, etc.).

What I can do for my unique, dynamic, living system (Me!) is to pay attention when I am pushing up against a pole. Where I have moved into that pole so dramatically, that the other pole (usually rest) seems a distant memory. Silsbee suggests it is not choosing one or the other, nor finding a static balance between the two. Rather, it’s a matter of being present to the dynamic tension between the poles, and learning to work skillfully with it.

As I move into this new perspective, I have questions for myself as a worker, volunteer, family member, trainer, coach, friend, mentor….

  • What is leading me to be excessively in the activity pole?
  • When do I begin to ignore that both activity and rest are important? Not equally important, but together-ly!
  • Do I have warning signals or early warning signs of overuse of the Activity pole? Of the Rest pole?
  • Who do I trust to help me recognize the warning signals if I am not paying attention to them?
  • How do I make it safe to say, it really is not about the myth I call Balance, rather it is about the fluidity of moving between the poles of Activity and Rest?

During this next day, week, and month, I will take one minute to check in with my heart and ask, “Which pole am I in?  Am I excessively located in a pole? Adjustment needed?”  That moment of pause, builds my capacity and, consequently, the capacity of the community in which I work, volunteer and live.

For more information on effective facilitation techniques or training opportunities, go the UMaine Extension Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills website.

Balance: Moving Toward? Status Quo? Juggling?

August 7th, 2013 8:00 AM

Jane Haskell, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Moving toward personal balance that slides over into my work life is constantly evolving. I know I am moving toward balance or juggling [in a project] because I “feel” it in my heart. This is not an intellectual thought. I feel a glow.

I then push this warm, feel-good glow or the harsh, throbbing, heavy-blob-like glow into my brain to process, “What is going on?”

This data about personal and work balance becomes readily apparent when you are in a meeting, as either the designated or informal facilitator, designated or informal leader, designated or informal expert, trainer, or whatever “power” designation has been assigned before the meeting or, instantaneously, during the meeting.

The concept of balance or juggling was approached in earlier blogs from a self-care platform. In Juggling? Or Balance? steps were outlined for creating a self-care plan. This was followed by Moving Toward Balance: Identifying Where You Are Spending Your Time, which outlined how to use your plan by reflecting, at four levels, on what the data reveals to you about you.

I know my personal and work balance is being challenged when:

  • I would rather bolt from a meeting/discussion/question rather than staying.
  • I feel shattered by a meeting/discussion/question rather than feeling something is being built.
  • I fear the impact or direction being taken in a meeting/discussion/question rather than believing in the possibilities.
  • I want to reject or refuse or leave a meeting/discussion/question rather than accept that this is valid, relevant and necessary.
  • I feel drained by a meeting/discussion/question rather than being filled.
  • I sense that demonizing of people, processes, groups is present in a meeting/discussion/question rather than listening to understand.
  • I move to a panic mode in a meeting/discussion/question rather than being curious and listening deeply.

How do I know my balance is being challenged and compromised? I “feel” it loud and clear in my heart.  My heart wavers.  Not from excitement and anticipation, but from dread. Pain radiates from my heart. It is sore both inside and out. My body’s defenses take over and a wall is built around my heart, to harden it, to make it not feel, not listen, not dread, and send a distress message to my brain saying, “this cannot be happening … again.”

As the facilitator, how can I guide the group with balance and compassion if I want to bolt, reject, leave, feel drained, shattered or fear-full and allow or participate in demonizing? I cannot. I am not in balance. I am not helpful to the group.

As citizens in our communities we are often given opportunities to “build the capacity” of whatever effort is offered. How can we do this from a place of im-balance? I recently heard some of us try to maintain the status quo because it is “all we’ve got.” Status quo generally is not balance. Why would we try to maintain dysfunctional meetings? Meeting people dread attending? Meetings that we need to keep going because … well, we have to don’t we?

During this next day, this next week, this next month, take one minute to check in with your heart and write down what you are feeling in that group at that moment. In the next articles, I will invite you to step, then pause, with me, as we enter a moment of rest to consider how we can bring and use our balance as a meeting facilitator or participant … as a citizen of this planet … to improve our communities.

Questions and ideas like these surface in Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills facilitator training.

Moving Toward Balance: Identifying Where You Are Spending Your Time

July 31st, 2013 8:00 AM

Jane Haskell, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Last week in Juggling? Or Balance? I outlined the steps for creating a self-care plan which was, in fact, a personal affinity diagram. Having this self-care plan is an excellent step toward creating the balance you might crave.

Before creating actionable steps of how you might achieve goals, my colleague Gabe McPhail and I suggest you seek out a trusted friend, ask for an hour or more of time.   Deepen your insight about your plan.  Have your friend interview you!  We have found that using four levels of focused conversation gently sharpen our perspectives about our own plans!

If your trusted friend also has a plan, the gift of time can be exchanged in a mutual interview.

What will you need? 

  1. The self-care plan you created with guidance from the previous blog, Juggling? Or Balance?
  2. The following focused conversation questions
  3. A comfortable spot to work together

How will you do this?

  1. Give your partner the questions, we call Juggling or Balance Focus Questions
  2. Ask your partner to interview you about your self-care plan using a choice of the questions.  If your partner is familiar with the Focused Conversation Method, additional questions can be developed based on each level of focus.
  3. Allow at least 30-40 minutes for the interview.  When completed, if agreed upon, switch roles as interviewer and interviewee.
  4. For (optional) additional depth, and as a wrap up, as a pair, ask one or more of the following:
  • What insights did you gain about your self-care plan by focusing on the four levels?
  • Was any one level more comfortable or “easy” for you?
  • How might your level of comfort relate to your level of trust?

Juggling or Balance Focus Questions (Where are you spending your time?)

Objective Level – questions about facts and reality.

  • What are the main parts of your self-care plan?
  • What are some key things you have done in your plan you want to talk about?
  • What are some things you haven’t done?
  • What are you seeing?
  • What succeeded that you thought would fail?

Reflective Level – questions to call forth immediate personal reaction to the data, an internal response, sometimes emotions or feelings, hidden images and associations with the data.

  • Where were you surprised?
  • What delights you about your plan?
  • What challenges you about your plan?
  • What are some of your past experiences with self-care?
  • What don’t you like about your plan?
  • What aspects of the plan did you like?
  • What image comes to mind when you think about self-care?

Interpretive Level – questions to draw out meaning, values, significance and implications.

  • Why is self-care so important to you? Why bother?
  • How does committing to your plan affect you? Your job? Other aspects of your life?
  • If no attention is paid to your plan, what are the possible effects on you and the groups you work with?
  • What are your major questions about your plan?

Decisional Level – questions to elicit resolution bring the conversation to a close and enable the person to make a resolve about the future.

  • If you are off track with your plan, what are some things you can do to get back on track?
  • What changes do you need to make?
  • What are your next steps?
  • What will you say yes to? What will you say no to?
  • How can you make your plan more powerful and one you want to commit to?
  • What kind of support would be helpful?
  • How will you get the support you need to carry out your plan?
  • Who will you ask and by when will you ask someone to support you?

Adapted from: Stanfield, B. (1997) The Art of Focused Conversation. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: ICF Canada.

Juggling? Or Balance?

July 24th, 2013 10:10 AM

Jane Haskell, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

When you are the facilitator (or leader) of a group, it is important to realize how important you are in that process and structure. Let’s think about self-care in relation to facilitation and group leadership.

Sometimes we become so “busy” in our daily lives that having time to take care of ourselves can easily be overlooked if we are not disciplined in meeting our own needs. Often it can seem as if we are in a juggling competition. How many balls can we keep in the air at once? Is the answer in more masterful juggling? Or is it in finding greater balance between “work” and caring for the self?

Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. It is essential as the basis for healthy relationships, and if we honestly want to effectively facilitate or lead, it must be from a place of groundedness and “balance”.

We cannot effectively facilitate or lead from a place of exhaustion or preoccupation. As facilitators and leaders, we need to take care of our needs first, and then we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we facilitate from a place of mindfulness and fullness, we feel renewed instead of being pulled into the group’s work. We are better able to maintain our boundary from a place of trust, humility, honesty and compassionate detachment.

Self-care is the willingness to pay attention to and actively engage in what feeds and nurtures our spirits. It is something different for everyone. It may be yoga, reading, walking, writing, exercising, or simply eating three decent meals a day and getting enough sleep.

No matter what self-care looks like to us, across the board the one way that it looks the same is that it requires discipline. It’s like making (and keeping!) an appointment with ourselves. It is a commitment to not overlook ourselves as we juggle our way toward balance.

I invite you to make an appointment with yourself and practice with this activity:

Juggling Or Balance? Caring for the Self. What you’ll need is a quiet place, something to write with, small sticky notes (2” x 1.5”) and 10-30 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Juggling or Balance? Caring for the Self 

  1. Ponder what “feeds and nurtures” the inner you, your spirit. What are the components of a self-care plan you would like to implement?
  2. Write the components of yourself-care plan on sticky notes, one component per note. Think boldly, but realistically. This is a plan that is self-serving. It is for YOU. If you write down ideas you cannot realistically implement, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand, this may be an opportunity to implement significant change.
  3. Sticky notes should be placed on a sheet of blank paper. You can label it ‘My Facilitator/Leader Self-care Plan’.
  4. Do not limit yourself too much. Likewise, if you feel your current self-care plan is satisfactory, I encourage you to think outside the box and ask yourself, ‘What might I do differently? What might I add?’.”
  5. Sort your sticky notes by “like” components. Add a title to each cluster, column or cloud of sticky notes.
  6. Look at your plan and revisit step 4.

Next week, I will show you how you can use this self-care plan (which is a form of affinity diagram) with a trusted friend in a focused conversation to increase your commitment to your plan.

Beard Wins Gulf of Maine Council 2013 Visionary Award for Maine

June 14th, 2013 9:52 AM

Ronald Beard, extension educator with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant, was recently awarded the Gulf of Maine Council 2013 Visionary Award for Maine.

The award is presented annually to an individual or organization within each of the Gulf of Maine jurisdictions of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and recognizes innovation, creativity and commitment to marine protection, according to Bruce Carlisle, chairman of the Gulf of Maine Council for the Marine Environment.

Beard, who is based in Hancock County, focuses his education on community development through work with local organizations and citizens. He is also a member of the Marine Extension Team.

Facilitation Climate: Reduce Stress in Meetings

November 27th, 2012 3:02 PM

by Jane Haskell

Is cleaning the bathroom toilet or the yucky refrigerator shelf more appealing than putting up with ridiculous or stressful meetings? Maybe it is time to think about changing the climate of the meeting and at the same time reducing stress – yours and that of other participants.

As I engaged in a stressful eight-month period that included changes in my personal [family situation, moving (three times), divorce,] and work life [job relocation], I realized that I was the only one who could intimately impact my stress level. At work, I am in lots of meetings, as a trainer, facilitator and group member. I can reduce my stress, as the facilitator or trainer, by reducing the stress factors in meetings. I reduce stress factors by first becoming aware of the meeting’s climate and then changing it.

Meeting climate is sectioned into three general areas: physical, social and emotional, and cognitive. The physical climate involves the room type, size, organization of space, light, color, acoustics, ventilation, etc. The social and emotional climate impacts the group’s dynamics, trust, safety, support, meeting emotional needs. The cognitive climate approaches, respects, values and works with the diverse learning styles, cultures and abilities.

What can I do for me? In looking at all the factors impacting the meeting’s climate, there are many. Here are four easy things that I regularly do. [Note the word ‘do’ as opposed to ‘think about’ or ‘try to’.]

Move. As I plan a meeting, I sometimes can feel a block, a resistance. Move. Do not mutter, “It will work out.” In a meeting, the energy dips. Do not sigh and think, “It will get better or be over soon.” Move. As you are planning that difficult meeting, walk down the hall, out the door, up the stairs. Breathe in and out, concentrating only on that breathing in and out. When the energy dips in a meeting, move people, if appropriate, into small groups. Have them move from place to another. Call a break, if necessary. Have them move. Push against the static inertia.

Splash of color. You can control the space you work in – and meet in. You might not be able to change the color of the walls or the desk or the chairs you have been issued. You can make color changes in your work or meeting space in the color of the file folder, color of paper handouts, add one or more bright colored flowers, a brightly colored table covering, or colorful fruits and vegetables (full of antioxidants). Color can improve your mood and your productivity – as well as that of other group members. A combination of reds, blues, yellows and green is better than dull white, black and brown. One study showed that those muted colors made people duller, too, scoring lower on IQ tests.

Hydrate and nourish. Even time for a cup of tea, especially black, which is full of polyphenols, can reduce stress. So those breaks (that it is so easy to consider skipping) benefit everyone by providing time to move, stretch, hydrate, nourish and replenish chemicals that can reduce stress hormones in our blood and help the body shed tension. If you can, consider having a supply of water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and protein rich snacks for meetings that last more than an hour or two.

Laugh. When planning meetings, include time for non-work activity. That’s those breaks. If possible, include a time for non-traditional activity that stretches our thinking and provides a venue for a laugh. Laughing reduces tension and stress and provides an opportunity for different thinking. In one meeting I recently facilitated, I had people introduce themselves with a 15-word or less snapshot of what they did. Then as a group, I had them line up along a continuum that gave them information about how many were in administrative vs. non-admin roles, how far they commuted to work each day, which county they lived in, number of years served as a volunteer, etc. It provided movement, chances for lightness, and opportunities for laughing!

Managing your stress can make you feel better about yourself and what you do. It can also make those meetings more pleasant when they include movement, brightly colored snacks, humor and other climate altering techniques!

For more information on effective facilitation techniques or training opportunities, go the UMaine Cooperative Extension Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills website.

Credit: Material adapted from Jane Haskell, and Gabe McPhail, Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills, Level 2 Curriculum. (Orono, ME: UMaine Cooperative Extension, 2012) and Reduce Stress at Work for a Healthy Heart.

R3: Opening Doors to Student Success

May 23rd, 2011 12:43 PM

R3: Opening Doors to Student Success
2011 Positive Youth Development Institute
July 25, 26 & 27
The University of Maine, Orono

Building on the 2010 conference theme, R3: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships presents Educators, Parents, Out of School Providers, and Community Leaders exciting opportunities for engaging in Positive Youth Development.

For more information or to register, visit www.maine.gov/cabinet/syv.

Keynote speakers:

  • Karen Williams, Implementation of Adolescent Brain Research
  • Tony Wagner (author of The Global Achievement Gap), Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need — And What We Can Do About It
  • Nathan Eklund (author of How Was Your Day at School?), Improving Dialogue About Teacher Job Satisfaction

Good Meeting Facilitation Can Make a Group’s Job Easier!

February 4th, 2011 5:10 PM

We live in an increasingly busy world.  In addition, much of what we accomplish in the workplace or in our community is done with groups of people and in meetings.  Many of us have been involved in meetings that have been very effective at accomplishing their intended purposes.  However, some of us may have experienced meetings where our time could have been better spent almost anywhere else. 

To help you improve the chances that your next meeting will be a success, here are some points to think about.

Think back to a meeting you participated in that went well.  Consider that meeting and jot down your responses to the following questions.

  • What was it that made that meeting go well? 
  • What happened that made it possible for the group to accomplish its goals?
  • What did the leader of the group do that contributed to the meeting’s success?
  • How did group members positively contribute to the meeting?

Just as we may have been in meetings that have turned out well, many of us have been in meetings that have gone poorly.  Now, think back to a meeting you participated in that was not effective.  Make note of your responses to the following questions.

  • What was it that made that meeting go so badly? 
  • What made it difficult for the group to accomplish its goals?
  • What did the leader of the group do that contributed to the meeting’s failure?
  • How did group members make the situation worse?

Poor meetings have a way of draining our energy and squashing our enthusiasm for a particular project.  You, as a group member or group leader, can improve your facilitation skills – making your time in meetings more productive.

It is much more rewarding to be part of meetings that are facilitated well and where something is accomplished.  Consider the following questions. 

  • Now that you have considered a poorly run and a well run meeting, what skills do you think an effective meeting facilitator should have?
  • How can group members assist in making a meeting successful?
  • How can you develop skills to facilitate your next meeting more effectively?

Start a list and make a plan today to improve your facilitation skills. 

Here are a few tips to help strengthen your own facilitation skills:

  • Make sure everyone understands his/her roles and responsibilities.
  • In between meetings, practice your facilitation skills and support others as they practice theirs too.
  • Remember to establish ground rules or guidelines for you meetings, or remind your group members of what they are, before you begin each meeting.
  • If you are working with a challenging group, consider asking someone to be an observer at your next meeting.  Ask them to make note of how the group is functioning and how individuals are interacting.
  • Ask for feedback, at the end of the meeting, about how the meeting went.
  • Incorporate the feedback you receive into your next meeting, if appropriate.

Want to learn more about facilitating groups?  Check out:

  • Facilitation: What Is It?: Bulletin # 6101 from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publication Catalog at:

                    http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/PDFpubs/6101.pdf

                    or at:

                    http://extension.umaine.edu/publications/6101e/

  • Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills Curriculum: Item #6115 from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publication Catalog at:

                    http://extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu/

  • The University of Maine Cooperative Extension facilitation training schedule, available from jane.haskell@maine.edu

For more information or to comment on this blog, contact:

  • deborah.killam@maine.edu