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Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0380, Feb 10, 2009

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Yesterday morning was somewhat stressful, but enlightening. At 10 am, I began my popular five-day teleclass, Facilitating at a Distance with 20 people registered and eager to join the first class. At ten minutes past the hour and only half the class present, I noticed a string of emails from missing participants who can't get on the bridge line. This began a string of unexpected challenges that ended up teaching me a few good lessons. Read this week's article, Find Solutions in Mistakes to hear the rest of the story and to share in the lessons I learned.

The recorded version of Facilitating at a Distance is available here.

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The Point

Find Solutions in Mistakes
Prepare for contingencies and look for the lessons in what shows up.

Group Dynamics Skill

Yesterday morning was somewhat stressful, but enlightening. At 10 am, I began my popular five-day teleclass, Facilitating at a Distance with 20 people registered and eager to join the first call. At ten minutes past the hour and with only half the class present, I noticed a string of emails from missing participants who can't get on the bridge line. I had recently acquired an alternate access code for a bridge I share with a colleague and apparently, the bridge company had mistakenly set a limit of 10 participants on this line.

As participants introduced themselves, I was battling with whether to continue as planned with only half the class present, or attempt to redirect everyone onto a new bridge line. As many comments came in about the importance of the human relations element, often overlooked in virtual arenas, and given my stated goal for this first class, to "Develop an Engaged Learning Community," I quickly realized I had no choice. I had to interrupt and redirect the call to try to get everyone together.

So, I announced to the existing group that we would move to another line. Once there, we found my associate was using the bridge for one of her classes. So I announced a third bridge option. Once on that line, I asked a volunteer to go to the original bridge to redirect anyone who might arrive there. To do this, they put us on hold and music started playing in the background that made it difficult to run the class. So, I sent a second volunteer to relieve her and get us off hold.

Finally, most of the class arrived and we got introduced, discussed the key elements of a successful T/VM, and reflected on what we learned from this experience.


My big lessons, much of which came from participant reflections were as follows:

  • Test your technology, especially when a change occurs. I've led hundreds of bridge line calls and never had this kind of thing happen to me before. Still, it would have been a good idea to get a group of associates to call in to test the capacity and functionality of this line. Whenever your technology changes, testing it prior to a big event is a good preventative measure.

  • Have technology alternatives. Fortunately, I had a couple other bridge options in my back pocket. Had I not had the options, half the class would have missed the opportunity to participate. Definitely not a good start.

  • Embrace "mistakes" as learning opportunities. The "mistake" that occurred tended to bring the group closer together in a way I certainly hadn't planned. Since my stated objective for the session was to build a learning community, I went with what was happening and used the "problem" as an opportunity.

    The confluence of problems that showed during this event showed participants how they can be handled in the real world. Many students commented that being party to this problem as it unfolded helped them see that an event like this is survivable if it happens to show up for them in the future. So this glitch had great instructional value, independent of my curriculum design!

  • Sometimes "problems" can be solutions. As we were going through the initial participant introductions, numerous comments were made about the importance of building rapport, relationships, and camaraderie, with these being some of the greatest challenges in virtual arenas. The problem that occurred brought us closer together, improving rapport, connection, and camaraderie between us all in a matter of 10 minutes or so.

  • Don't take anything too seriously. Another comment participants made during this event was that they learned the importance of having good humor when things go "wrong." This helps everyone to lighten up and be flexible enough to flow with the changes in front of them.

The bottom line here for me is that flexibility, openness, and willingness to respond to what comes in the moment are some of the most important qualities facilitators can have.


Tell me, what have your experienced around using mistakes or problems in live or virtual environments as opportunities for learning? I'd love to hear your comments, questions, and experiences. Send them to me by replying to this email.

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