Facilitathon – A truly collaborative learning experience in the spirit of NOW

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What happens if you put 9 facilitators together in a room for a whole weekend? We tried it out in mid-June in Zurich at the world’s first Facilitathon – a blog post by Jana Holla

The group of facilitators that met on Friday evening on June 10th at the Impact Hub Zurich brought together various degrees and kinds of experience in facilitation. Yet what they had in common was their wish to experiment and improve their facilitation skills in a safer environment.
Among those nine, were Elis and Rahel from NOW and myself, traveling in from Cairo, to create this new kind of learning environment. At first, the three of us were doubtful if six participants would be enough to create the learning we wanted to see. However, soon it became clear that the number allowed for much more in-depth personal feedback sessions, which turned out to be one of the primary benefits of this event. Not to mention the group dynamic magic that was just right!
The overall approach was in the tradition of non-formal education with strong experiential learning elements, especially in the “learning by doing” department (as opposed to the more traditional formats of top-down formalized cognitive learning) and peer-to-peer learning.

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How did it work?
As core facilitators, we put together the overall agenda of the Facilitathon. After building a frame on Friday evening (with the welcoming, the intros and other necessities, such as distribution of tasks), the next two days were almost fully in the hands of the participants. They all chose a session to facilitate, and each session was followed by a group feedback round facilitated by the core team. One of the primary aims of the Facilitathon was to provide a safer space for the participants – fellow facilitators – to try out new tools and formats, and/or push themselves to (re)discover their facilitation style and limits. The result went beyond what we could hope for: they not only tried new things and played with and adapted their preferred tools, but often explored their non-facilitator backgrounds (be it work, hobbies and other knowledge & experience) and incorporated them into their facilitation reality. Within 48 hours, we danced like Mick Jagger, dived into the world of Jewish European emigrants, and attended an improvised – and truly hilarious – evening event. And most importantly, we cared for each other’s learning and engaged in honest and powerful feedback sessions.
The weekend also allowed us to highlight a couple of core areas of facilitation: from how to run a debriefing session, dealing with resistance among participants to creating the right atmosphere for a session and collecting feedback on an event. All of this, building and reflecting on the participants’ sessions.

Anything else you should know?
Besides working in a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, given the packed agenda, we shared some excellent meals that we mostly prepared ourselves and we nailed the Beers& Prep(aration) session. It worked really well on Saturday evening: think beer – and other drinks, good people, a bit of work and lots of professional & some personal sharing in the very cozy and comfortable hang out space!
It’s not that I hadn’t expected it –yet I’m still surprised with how much learning I am going back home to Egypt. Thank you everyone for a wonderful exchange at eye level!
And yes, we are already planning more editions! And not only in Zurich. Be on the lookout for a Facilitathon in your region/backyard!