Back Where You Started

The shared experience of collaborative planning is a significant outcome in itself. It can build a sense of team, increase depth of understanding, build common vocabulary, and give people a touchstone on which to call in the future when a group starts to drift.

But is that shared experience enough? Don’t we also need to produce something together through it? What happens if our shared experience is one of seemingly landing right back where we started?

Terry Pratchett famously wrote:

Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. 

I have been a fan of this statement for many years. I’ve affirmed the importance of the journey, even if it brings you back to a familiar place. You arrive back in that place different than when you left.

But admittedly I’ve had a couple of group facilitation experiences lately that left me wondering whether we’d actually learned enough, produced enough, changed enough to justify the investment of time the process required. Perhaps the group had identified by midday the conclusions they ended up affirming at the end of the day. I left curious if the afternoon was actually worth it.

This is probably familiar territory for most of us, questioning whether a meeting was worth the time it took. But I don’t usually leave a decently-facilitated session with that lingering question (especially when I’m the one facilitating it! :)) Yet on these days I did, and I wondered how we can actually measure the value of shared experience. We met the stated objectives of the session, so we could tick that box by the end, but was our full time really well spent? Could we just have met for the morning?

I’m still thinking this through, but I’m ready to write about a few observations and lessons learned:

  • I prefer half-day meetings to full-day ones. No matter how engaging the material or activities, people are not as alert or productive after lunch as they were in the morning, or will be again in the evening.
  • Spending the afternoon “pressure testing” ideas from the morning is not time wasted. Validation is worthwhile.
  • Hindsight is 20/20 — often we can’t know what will prove to be most generative until we try a few things. Experimentation can also be time well spent.

But…

  • Sometimes we grip too tightly to our plan instead of letting it go. In one recent session, I probably should have suggested the group wrap up the session early and go kayaking instead of trying to do the last two exercises I’d designed. I wanted them to “get their money’s worth,” but did I really deliver extra value in that time?
  • The methods we use in the morning can shape what information is available to us in the afternoon. In one recent example, I had groups start with a deep dive into various topics and submit their notes to be compiled into a report afterwards. Reporting back orally to the whole group at that level of detail would have been cumbersome. Yet if I had built in a way for them to share their highlights in real time, we could have built on them more productively later in the day.

It’s all part of striving to be a reflective practitioner. Not 100% sure I should have done it differently, given what I knew at the time. But now I know more. Ready for the next adventure! I’ve ended back where I started, and it’s a good place to be. The place is the same, but I’m not.

One Reply to “Back Where You Started”

  1. I really appreciate your humility in this approach to constantly reflecting on and refining your practice, Rebecca. I, too, have always loved the idea that “coming back to where you started is not the same as never having left at all.”

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