Video and transcript from Rachel Ben Hamou’s talk at Austin’s 3rd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Recently, we hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our sponsor MURAL, but this time, it was virtual. Instead of gathering in Austin’s Capital Factory, 172 eager learners, expert facilitators, and meeting practitioners gathered online for a 3-day interactive workshop. Our mission each year at Control the Room is to share a global perspective of facilitators from different methodologies, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, and ages. We gather to network, learn from one another, and build our facilitation toolkits. 

This year’s summit theme was CONNECTION. Human connection is an integral component of the work we do as facilitators.

When we connect things become possible. When we are disconnected there is dysfunction. When ideas connect they become solutions. When movements connect they become revolutions. 

Control the Room is a safe space to build and celebrate a community of practice for facilitators, which is paramount to learn, grow, and advance as practitioners and engaging in a dialogue that advances the practice of facilitation. We must learn the tools and modalities needed to foster connection and be successful facilitators in the new virtual landscape. 

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” —Peter Block

This year’s summit consisted of 18 expert facilitator guest speakers who presented lightning talks and in-depth workshops, where they shared their methods and activities for effective virtual facilitation. 

One of those speakers was Rachel Ben Hamou.

Rachel Ben Hamou, Director of Talent Development at PeopleStorming, and Andre Ben Hamou, Co-Founder of PeopleStorming, explored how to develop processes and criteria (that they will genuinely use) that allow facilitators to evaluate exercises and activities at speed. They taught participants how to ‘Yes And’ the great resources they discover, without things becoming unmanageable. By using play and creating a toolkit, we can embrace both the face-to-face interactions as well as creating a space that also includes our virtual interactions as well.

“Since everything has gone virtual, the internet is a treasure trove AND a landfill of every process and exercise humans can imagine. How do you sift through all that noise to find activities that will help YOU facilitate well?”

Watch Rachel Ben Hamou’s talk “Onboarding Without Hoarding” :

Read the Transcript

Rachel Ben Hamou:

Hello everyone and happy Thursday. I hope you’re doing well and really enjoying the conference. It’s time to celebrate. We’re coming towards the end. And so yeah, welcome to Onboarding Without Hoarding. It’s such an honor to be on the agenda with so many amazing people and I’ve just been learning so much. I’m Rachel, I’m one of the co-founders of PeopleStorming and my partner Andre is also here. So he’ll be lurking in the chat during the talk. At PeopleStorming, we’re fascinated by the way that progress is made in the modern work environment. We obsess about communication, collaboration and culture and our aim is kind of for people to close those gaps and those areas so that they can deliver on their mission in a sustainable way.

So as facilitators, we have to be really adaptable in our engagements because they can vary a lot. And this means having both a comprehensive toolkit and also confidence in our ability to improvise. Now since we’ve given quite a few talks about applied and organizational improv in the past, we thought for control of the room, we’d focus more on the toolkit building because this is foundational stuff that I think is valuable for all of us to revisit. So even before the pandemic, the internet was filled with team building exercises and decision-making methodologies and reflection questions and all of that stuff.

And now since the pandemic has forced even more of us online, a lot more materials have popped up. And as with anything that you search for online, you’ll find the web as both a treasure trove of goodies and simultaneously, there are a lot of poorly thought out or ill-fitting ideas. So the question is how do you sift through all of that noise to find activities that will help you facilitate well? Our talk and our workshop today will aim to answer this question with your help and we’ll focus heavily on the development and the use of helpful sifting criteria.

So I thought I’d share a little bit more context on the idea for the talk and the workshop. It started with a funny conversation that we were having about the different ways people shop at the grocery store. So when my partner shops, he’s laser-focused on getting just the items on the shopping list, the rest of the store just might as well not exist. It’s kind of a blur or stuff that he goes past on the way to the things that he wants. And whereas I on the other hand tend to take more time. So I look at alternative brands, I’m looking for inspiration, for new meal ideas, ways to use my new crockpot. I also take a little time to process special offers and coupons just to make sure that I understand that I’m getting good value.

So you could imagine shopping with the two of us is kind of an interesting experience. So in other words very broadly, he tends to hunt and I tend to gather. And both approaches have their upsides and their downsides. We’ve also noticed these tendencies when we work together as well. I’m good at gathering the details and lots of sources and building an open creative space for our projects. And he tends to be the one that leans deeper into analysis and the highly focused portions of all of that.

Now although I don’t have access to the chat today, Andre does and so when I’m in the audience for talks like this, I always find I can learn a lot from other attendees. So if I ask a question today, pop your answer in the chat box and we’ll see what insights can be generated. So my first question then is regarding hunting versus gathering. What’s your style and how does it change from one situation to another? And I’m just going to pause for maybe 30 seconds whilst you share your thoughts on that.


 So how does all this relate to the talk and the workshop? Well, we realized that there is something approaching optimal shopping behavior for facilitators. Not for tomatoes and laundry liquid, but more for the exercises and the activities and tools. So our premise is this. You need to be somewhat adventurous in exploring the tools that will increase your value as a facilitator. If you play it safe, you may only have value to a limited set of audiences and that value might diminish over time. Conversely, if you constantly experiment with whatever’s shiny, you may not be able to make commitments to clients that they can rely on. So you may compromise your ability to have predictable value.

So if that premise is correct, then we need to be deliberate about two things. How do we assess the potential value of new activities and tools for all the different definitions of value that matter to us and our clients and how much time and energy do we spend on finding, assessing and incorporating those new tools and activities? So if you come to our workshop today, those are the fundamental things that we’ll be exploring together. Specifically, you’ll be building up set of criteria that you can use to compare the relative value of new activities. And everyone’s list will look different because everyone’s experience and skills and domains and clients are all different.

We will also want to help you build muscle around using that criteria so you can assess new ideas rapidly and confidently. So we also have an activity hunt as part of the workshop. Then we’ve included some time for self reflection and coaching so you can think about when and how you incorporate new ideas. And we’re also going to help you harness that wisdom of the group from each other with some Troika Consulting, for those of you who know what that is and those of you who don’t, will have to come along and find out. So speaking of ideas, it’s useful to understand how new ideas will fit into our existing mental structures.

So when we boil down some of the tools, exercises, processes and activities to their essence, we can see that they are a method of enabling the group to do a particular thing. We might call them phases at the meta level. So for example, let’s just consider a sort of classic session structure. So you start with a game or activity to get people’s heads in the room and their spirits high, you energize. Then you use a method to carve the group into smaller teams on the fly, you scatter. That’s what we call it. And those teams then need a way to discuss and share their ideas, you ideate. Then you give them a way to make sure that they can record their inclusions, you capture. And then the teams reconvene and have a way to share and coalesce their ideas, you gather. And then there’s a period to process what they’ve heard, you reflect and so forth.

Now you will undoubtedly have your own set of phases that may or may not look like ours and for the kinds of activities that you do and a sense for when you’ve used them in the session. So that’s phases. Now within those phases, you have a myriad of choice for the exact exercise or tool that you’ll use. So it helps if we can have a way to carve up the choices and this is something we’ll explore more deeply in the workshop. So I want you to give you a taster of that right now. We often ask ourselves whether we’ve squeezed as much value as possible out of the activity choices on the basis that each choice meets the goal that we’ve defined. So it’s either reliable, fresh or efficient.

And when something is reliable, it consistently works well and almost always gets a great result. And so you might call these things old faithful. When an activity is fresh, it means we’re trying something that almost nobody in the group has done before so that they have a fun shared experience or challenge. And it opens up their brain and generates energy. It’s like the workshop equivalent of extreme mining. And then the last one is efficient. When an exercise is efficient, it will tend to break down the boundary between the phases that we just talked about, energize, ideate, capture and get multiple things done at once like riding a bike whilst talking on the phone and eating pizza, which I don’t recommend.

When we build workshops, we typically incorporate activities that meet these goals within one session. And this allows us to deliver reliably and efficiently on the purpose of the session whilst also throwing in a little surprise and delight something to make the session more memorable. And typically, we’ll do the surprise and delight through something playful. I won’t begin to tell you how much I value play as a tool because this is meant to be a lightning talk and I would talk all day. But prior to running PeopleStorming, I had a company called AgileImprov, where we provided organizational improv training to companies.

And so spending nearly a decade in the improv world means I have collected and developed just a wealth of games and resources to draw upon, particularly when it comes to energizes. So to illustrate those goals that we just talked about in practice, let’s take a phase from the previous six I listed and I’ll go with energizes and explore the three goals through that lens. So first off is reliable and energizer that we can rely on to warm up a group, whether it’s virtually or in person is a Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament and feel free to put in the chat, whether you’ve tried that or not and if it’s one of your favorites.

It’s a reliable game because essentially everyone seems to know how to play it. I haven’t actually met anyone so far who’s never played rock paper scissors. It has a lot of energy because it’s played so that the winner from each pair goes on to play the winner from another pair and, and this is the crucial part, all of the losers up to that point become the winners biggest fan. So ultimately you end up with two people playing around a rock paper scissors with roughly 1/2 the group cheering on each one. And yeah, we’ve never seen it fail to energize a group of almost any size.

The second goal is freshness and you can take this to mean new creative, innovative, your own interpretation. So an example of an energizer that is fresh to many groups that we work with is the Danish Clapping game. Say yes in the chat if you’ve played that. The possible exception obviously is if the group has Danish people in it because it actually does originate from Denmark. So I was going to say from Danish, that makes no sense. So like rock paper scissors, this game also runs in pairs facing each other and it works like this. So you both slack your thighs in unison and then you do one of three moves at random. You go left, right or up.

And here’s where it gets interesting. If your moves match, let’s say we both choose up, after next thigh slap, we high 10 each other instead of doing the left, right or up. Then we go back to the normal cycle starting with the thigh slap. So basically the high 10 just replaces one of the three standard choices during that beat. And if that made no sense to you, just check out the video that’s on the MURAL. It’s so much easier to understand through a two person demonstration. So if you haven’t tried it before, definitely give it a go. Find a friend who’s COVID free or a family member, be safe and obviously when we’re back in the real world again, see whether your groups enjoy this.

 And so we always have so much fun playing this, particularly because the speed keeps increasing. And speaking of going faster, what about the third approach? Picking something for efficiency sake. So let me tell you about a game called Enemy-Protector created by the Brazilian theater practitioner, Augusto Boal and feel free again, put in the chat if you’ve played that. In this game, everyone starts by standing in a clear space that they can move around in. And each person is secretly going to choose one enemy and one protector. When the host shouts go, everyone has to obey three simple rules. One, keep moving, two, keep the protector between you and your enemy because they’re your shield and three try very hard not to kill or injure anyone which in practice means just keeping things to a brisk walk, no leaping or jumping.

Chaos rapidly ensues and people usually start laughing inside of 10 seconds. People also focus so much on the game that they become less worried about things like personal space, which is something we’re all hyper aware of right now. That’s why this is a great energizer in non COVID times. So why am I talking about this game in relation to efficiency? Well, we realized one day that not only is this game enormously energizing, but by its nature, it randomizes people’s position in the room. So instead of people standing with their friend or standing with their team, you can have them play this game, freeze people at some point in the game, then carve out clusters of a certain size. And so the game becomes an energizer and a scatterer. And this can save time and it also makes for a more fluid transition.

So from that energize step to that first team activity. So their energy is high as they get started. And it’s like a two for the price of one. So that’s exactly the kind of thing that we have in mind when we’re trying to create efficiency in our gatherings. So with that quick tour under our belt. So I’d like to invite you to just spend 30 seconds thinking about an exercise that you currently like to facilitate that satisfies each of those three goals that we’ve talked about, something reliable, something fresh and something efficient. And so put those in the chat and let us know which approach each one signifies. Andre’s there now and I’ll check it out after I’ve finished this talk. Something reliable, something fresh and something efficient that you like to do.

So we’ve had a little bit of time here to talk about phases. So energize, scatter, gather, ideate and goals that we can use to subdivide those phases, reliable, fresh, efficient. And these are just a couple of the lenses that we can use to analyze and choose from our collection of potential activities when we’re designing sessions. And speaking of design sessions, in our workshop, we’ll be going deeper on the methods and the criteria to select the exercises. So you’ll be sourcing lots of new ideas and then you’ll be collaborating with the other participants. To kickstart your thinking, we have some questions for you to consider. These are also on the MURAL board as prompts.

 So the first one is where do you find activities, tools, and exercises? So we’re regularly watching Twitter feeds participating in Slack and Facebook groups, reading books and newsletters and chatting with other facilitators like you. And we particularly follow certain keywords on Twitter and Slack like workshops facilitation, leadership development, agile training and we’re continuously building on our own experiences to create new activities or ways of doing some of those things like the Enemy-Protector one that I mentioned.

So the second question is how do you know a good, useful or valuable activity when you see it? Well, we already mentioned our phase and goal lenses. There are so many others that you can use. Do you have any criteria that you use instinctively? How do logistics like group size and available technology affect your choices? Does activity selection vary by how playful your clients are? And then the last question is where or how do you gather together or store your activities?

We’ve had to scale to hundreds of activities, tools and processes and we’ve ended up building a specialized database with classifications that worked particularly well for us. Maybe you have a Google Doc or an Evernote, whatever you use, you need to be able to quickly access the right tool for the job so that you don’t get option overload or decision fatigue. Again, these preliminary questions and some other useful links are on the conference MURAL. So feel free to check that out.

And we’re reaching the end of the talk now. So if you have questions, I’m just going to tell you how to get in touch with us in case you can’t make it to our workshop. There are so many good ones to choose from. We would love for you to join our twice a month community newsletter and we’ll send you five coaching and facilitation tools this week if you do that. We post our ideas and our thoughts and some coaching questions daily on LinkedIn. And so we’d love to connect with you there. Thank you so much for coming along today. This was awesome.