A Personal Journey of Growth, Connection, and Leadership
In 2015, I was promoted to lead change management and leadership initiatives for the regional office of a large international non-profit humanitarian and development agency. In my role, I collaborated with Lesley, a facilitator, to run strategic conferences and meetings a few times a year. My first encounter with Lesley was in Zimbabwe, where two opposing groups of colleagues could not agree on a critical decision for the company. Lesley expertly managed to get all colleagues into the space of better understanding the needs of the opposing viewpoints by getting everyone into triads, where one person was simply the observer, and the two opposing viewpoints would share their thoughts. The observer would then share their reflections on what they were hearing as needs from the two parties. From screaming matches and potential walkouts, I saw the teams move toward compromise and agreement and, later that day, toward celebration. I had never imagined that this stalemate would end!
Over the years, I continued to work to support Lesley as an Event Project Manager and learned some facilitation skills along the way. I was so taken with the possibility of this line of work that I dreamed big and even wrote in my gratitude journal in 2016 that I would find a way to one day be a facilitator too. With no idea how I would get to where I am today, I believed that I could do it. I loved seeing how humans connected to make decisions and how combining creative methods, such as treasure hunts in a hotel, with more serious annual log frame reviews could lead to a whole new trajectory of ideas for an organization. I had never imagined that we, as adults, could get back to being creative, having fun, playing games, and this would actually be beneficial to our work! As someone who identifies as quite ‘creative and colorful’, I finally felt like I could be my authentic self, and I could help others be their authentic selves, and that it was actually a strength to bring to work rather than something to hide!
As I learned basic facilitation from this master facilitator, I led much smaller meetings. Others at work began to notice that I had developed some basic skills and offered to pay for me to become a Certified Practitioner for the Herrmann Whole Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), which looks at how people prefer to think about how each of us might perceive information and communicate differently, and how this might affect how we work as a team. I was the first non-HR person in the entire company to be in this space! Things were going so well that they sent me around the world to run team effectiveness workshops.
After receiving my Executive Leadership Coach certification in 2020, I decided I had enough experience as a facilitator to start my own practice. I left my full-time job and founded K’enso Consulting Limited. Clients came knocking, and I facilitated lots of senior leadership meetings. I had a set toolkit, though I customized sessions for clients based on their needs.
“At first, I hesitated to hire Reshma as our facilitator, fearing bias and questioning her ability to unite my new team. I’d already vetted two familiar facilitators, and talking to her was merely procedural. But after our discussion and witnessing her skill on the first retreat day, I knew I had not only chosen wisely, but probably the best facilitator I’ve ever hired. Her ability to foster connections, maintain engagement, and facilitate open, critical dialogue is outstanding.” – Global Advocacy Director for a large INGO.
In 2022, I was starting to feel like I had a very limited facilitator toolbox and started looking online for resources. I needed to continue to innovate and be different. That’s when I came across Voltage Control and found some really great resources. After using some of their tools in some meetings, I went back to the website, and almost as if it was highlighted just for me, I came across the Facilitator Certification program link and, without further thought, signed up!
I have done a few certification courses before, so I thought I knew what the rhythm for this would be. But when I received physical copies of books to be read in the mail (sent all the way to Kenya from the USA!), I had my indication that Voltage Control was not just any other training institution but took every extra effort to make students feel welcomed, engaged, and valued from the very beginning. This was my first lesson in excellent facilitation, ensuring everyone feels included and valued by getting access to what everyone else can access in the same way or form. They could have easily just sent me Kindle links, but they wanted people to feel like they had a physical book to refer to. When I facilitate now, this is a lesson that sticks with me; even when running virtual sessions, I ask participants sometimes to use physical props, and that strengthens commitment and participation even further.
Get Our Facilitation Certification Portfolio Starter
Use this template as a space to prototype the beginnings of a professional facilitation portfolio and apply for the Facilitation Certification Program
Check your inbox for the free download.
One of the biggest lessons for me came as an AHA after discussing Priya Parker’s ‘The Art of Gathering.‘ Not everyone has to be in the meeting; as a facilitator, I can help my client realize this. That also changed the conversations in the room, and only the people who mattered to that specific outcome could have rich discussions. Many of my clients often have annual regional conferences and feel like they need to have representatives from all over the world; ending up with over 100 participants and four days to discuss the organization’s regional strategic direction with this group, of which only 40 people are directly involved in the region. Since reading ‘The Art of Gathering’ and discussing it during the certification sessions, I now deliberately ask clients to think about who is absolutely key to the meetings, who is nice to have and may contribute, and who does not really have any impact in the gatherings. While clients initially felt uncomfortable telling non-essential participants not to attend, they now find that the really rich, deep conversations and decision-making meetings with a smaller, more directly influential group are much more effective, save time, reduce costs, and are well worth the upfront discomfort. One client referred me to another department for this very reason.
In 2020, when I set up my company, many of my previous colleagues from across global departments chose to hire me as a facilitator because I had extensive experience in using Zoom and felt that my ability to run whiteboards, set up virtual breakout rooms, and facilitate virtual space was good enough for effective meetings. This was at the height of the pandemic when people were still getting used to working with Zoom, and so I was considered (and still am) a rare expert. Voltage Control introduced me to some great resources for virtual facilitation, including a book written during the pandemic, which really helped me understand the core need to ensure that people still feel a deep human connection beyond the computer screen. While the world has opened again, and I facilitate in-person meetings, I am still doing a lot of virtual facilitation with teams all over the world. Since going through the Voltage Control training, I have used human connection rituals in virtual gatherings to ensure that people are engaged throughout. I loved the practice that Voltage Control gave each of us by assigning participants to do a class opener and class closer activity so that we could practice some of these virtual connection activities. One of my favorite ones is getting people to do four counts of breathing in and out before we dive into the virtual agenda.
In today’s world, we have all become so used to just jumping from one virtual meeting to another that we don’t get time to just stop, breathe and take a break for a few moments. Every single group I have worked with has appreciated this small mini-reset at the beginning of the group session. Recently, I ran a virtual session for a new company as they were testing out my ability. They were very impressed, and I got some great feedback from their teams.
‘I consider it as one of the most useful sessions I have recently attended.’
Looking to connect with Voltage Control
Let's get the conversation rolling and find out how we can help!
I have always been conflict-averse, and sometimes, as a facilitator, I would be very uncomfortable holding silence and helping a team through conflicting conversations. I used to get very nervous when people started sharing conflicting opinions and getting agitated in a room. I would often try to change the topic or silence the loudest dissenting voice. Voltage Control helped me understand that I actually do have control and can choose to be firm but also to ensure that everyone is feeling heard because people often get more emotional when they feel they are not being heard. Rather than being nervous and trying to change the topic, my continued practice is making me better in ensuring everyone has an equality of voice and feels heard in the room. I had always recognized the inability to hold the room for diverging opinions and healthy conflict as my weakness, and some clients had also given me similar feedback. Recently, a client mentioned to me that they see the difference in how I facilitate now and are more likely to recommend me to higher-level leaders who might often deal with more complex conversations. As a result of holding space and having divergent conversations, the client was able to finally agree with who they considered their ‘arch-nemesis’ at work, and moved beyond their own agendas to agree on a specific advocacy approach to ensure food security for vulnerable communities.
A year ago, when I was asked to facilitate, I would rack my brain over how to show up as confident, unique, and engaging. Now, I’m confident I will be unique and engaging because Voltage Control has opened my eyes to so many methods and tools! One of my favorite tools is SessionLab, a great tool to plan and modify my agenda. Voltage Control also helped me to reframe. Rather than positives and negatives, we practiced sharing feedback with Plus and Delta, which made feedback feel well-intentioned. I also use this with my clients now when I help facilitate a feedback session.
‘I was pleasantly surprised to participate in group discussions rather than only listen.’
Voltage Control made me reflect on a few workshops I ran last year, and I learned a lot about myself – and where I can lean in further. I was also able to clarify my own facilitator vision that now rings true for me: I am a conduit for effective dialogue and decision-making. I create and hold a safe space for participants so that all voices feel that they can speak and be heard. Pushing my own boundaries, I also actively encourage divergent thinking, encourage generative conflict and differing viewpoints to be shared, and hold space for individuals to work through that discomfort towards then converging towards shared ownership on a decision. I aim for every participant to leave each session knowing their specific purpose going forward and feeling that they can get behind whatever decision was made, and feeling that they were fully included and validated. If I thought I was a good facilitator before doing the certification course, I now know that I am a GREAT facilitator because of what Voltage Control has taught me and the experiences they provided.
When I facilitate, I feel so alive. I feel like I am exactly where I need to be in my life, that I am in the flow, and that magic is being created in the space! From here, I only get better, and I am so excited to become a globally renowned facilitator working with social justice organizations to change the world! If you are reading this today and think you cannot be a good facilitator, then you need to speak to someone at Voltage Control today and take the first step toward becoming an amazing human connector and facilitator!
About Reshma Kahn
Reshma Aziz Khan is Kenyan and grew up in Nairobi, the Green City in the Sun. Reshma received her undergraduate degree from Calgary, Canada, and over the past 15 years, has worked in development and humanitarian aid in communications, leadership, strategy, and culture. Diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. She also led global leadership and strategy workshops for senior leaders, both in person and virtually. Reshma founded K’enso Consulting in 2020 to support social impact leaders in their conscious leadership through her leadership coaching, team effectiveness, and Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Dialogue facilitation work. Reshma lives her low-waste life in Nairobi with her husband and three dogs – she makes all her own body products and grows much of her own food in her commitment to doing better for the earth.