A Facilitation Case Study: Change from within

Zenergy Stage 2 Graduate Karena Kee talks about how she integrated the learning’s from her Zenergy training into her team at Auckland Council.
I’ve been working for Auckland Council for the past three years, an organisation which officially came into being in 2010 after the amalgamation of seven districts and one regional council.  This incredible logistical feat included setting up new structures and establishing newly formed teams across the organisation, all the while trying to establish a shared organisational culture.  My own team came into being less than 4 years ago.

As a new team, with a new role in the organisation, our formative days were mostly focused around embedding our role in the organisation while learning on our feet, creating new guidelines and processes as we went. As the team evolved however, it became characterised by quite extreme competitiveness, low levels of trust and the formation of factions. It was the experience of working in such a challenging environment that served as some of the impetus for signing up to the Zenergy facilitation training. My modest hope was the training would help me to survive in such an environment, at best I hoped I might be able to share my learnings with my team and shine a light on a way forward.

The simpleness of focusing on purpose and culture, as I learnt in the Stage 1, Art of Facilitation training, was quite profound. I felt excited and hopeful that these new tools could make a difference for my team, but quite full of trepidation about how I could introduce these concepts and that anyone would even be interested! My opportunity presented itself quite soon after my return.  I was scheduled to chair the upcoming monthly meeting and after discussion with my team leader agreed that I would lead a session with the team around the purpose of our monthly meetings.  Simone Maus, one of the Zenergy Programme leaders worked closely with me, providing support as I planned my first facilitation session with my team.  The session went well, the team came up with a meeting purpose which brought a more a strategic focus to the monthly meeting.  The team also agreed that all future meetings would state clearly the purpose of items or activities on the agenda. Simone skyped with me afterwards, guiding me through self-reflection on what I had done well and what I would do differently next time.

Some more time passed and again, after discussion with my team leader, I introduced to the team the practice of checking-in with each other at the beginning of each weekly meeting.  Checking-in was a way to help the team become present to the meeting and of providing an opportunity for everybody to have a turn to speak.  Simone worked with me to frame up how the check-in worked and what the purpose of it was.  Given some of the hostility that still existed in the group, how the check-in was introduced and framed was quite important.  I felt that it was a risk and that some in the group might be suspicious and reject a new initiative like this. My intuition on this was close to the mark, however with the support of the team leader it was agreed we would give it a try and that no one was compelled to participate.  As the weeks passed and we continued to do check-ins, those that had seemed hostile to begin, started to participate and before long had embraced them enthusiastically.  Over a year has passed and the check-in is now a highly valued part of our regular meeting.

A few months ago the opportunity presented to attend the Stage 2, The Essence of Facilitation programme While I had learnt a lot from the first course, I was excited to take it to the next level and still felt I needed to ‘find my legs’ as a facilitator.  One of the most powerful sessions I experienced from the course was around finding my voice. So much is communicated in how we say things, and as facilitators our voice is one of our most powerful tools. Are we speaking from our throat or with our whole being? I have become much more aware of how I am delivering what I say, understanding that if I want the groups I am facilitating to have confidence in me, then I need to first have that confidence in myself.

As with most learning, I realized it wasn’t enough to just know it, I had to demonstrate it.  Challenging myself to confront some of my fear around the negative power of groups I decided to rise to the challenge of facilitating my team through a culture session, something I previously couldn’t have contemplated doing. One of the things I have loved about the Zenergy training has been the ongoing coaching and support that I have received since completing the courses.  It was great support to have a Zenergy mentor helping me with planning and then with debrief of my sessions. Once again Simone provided a sounding board as I planned out the session. In the first session the team came up with a draft list of 6 key values’ A month later, after some time to reflect, we returned to the task, reassessing the values and taking a deeper dive, exploring what each one of them meant to the team. The result was agreement on four behaviors to go with each value. It was a very rewarding and satisfying session. The team was able to safely explore a number of issues that had long presented challenges to us being an effective team; as well members were able to express their desires to create a more caring and supportive culture.

The work of carrying our new culture forward is still ongoing, however already a couple of members have put their talents into creating a team charter.  The charter has been made into a puzzle, when the puzzle is put together the words around the outside make up the teams purpose. Another team member has decided to incorporate one of values as a theme for our next monthly meeting. For myself, I feel a great sense of completion (even though the journey is just beginning) and gratitude to Zenergy and their amazingly dedicated facilitator/coaches for helping me and my team realise my best case scenario.

By Kareana Kee

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