Video and transcript from Solomon Masala’s talk at Austin’s 2nd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

This is part of the 2020 Control The Room speaker video series.

In February we hosted the second annual facilitator summit, Control The Room, at Austin’s Capital Factory. We launched the summit last year in partnership with MURAL to create a space for facilitators to gather, break down the silos, and learn from one another.

The three-day summit is a rare opportunity to bring together an otherwise unlikely group of highly experienced and skilled professionals across various industries and crafts—from strategy consultants and negotiators to Scrum Masters and design thinkers.

Anyone interested in deepening their knowledge on how to successfully facilitate meaningful meetings and connect with other practitioners is welcome. Together, we dive into diverse methodologies, expand upon perspectives, and learn new insights and strategies that enrich our expertise.

This year we had the pleasure of welcoming 24 speakers, all innovation professionals, who shared their insights and strategies of successful facilitation.

One of those speakers was Solomon Masala, the founder of the Source Consulting Group, a team-building organization that helps companies build skills experientially to change behavior by being directly involved in the learning process.

 Solomon spoke about his experimental approach and broke down the seven elements of operating experientially:

  1. Objectives for skills: Skills that make your team better.
  2. Practice behaviors: Be accountable for consciously practicing the actions that lead to success.
  3. Total immersion: Be engaged via intellect, emotion, and physical immersion.
  4. Doing the learning: Examine the access channels for learning.
  5. Risk, failure, and safety: Failure is part of the experience, high perceived risk is a powerful way of engaging and should be inherent, but the emotional and physical safety should be ensured.
  6. Wisdom gather: The debrief. The time to synthesize and analyze for relevant use in skill development and behavior change, and transfer the learning from the experience into the real world.
  7. High fun potential: Keep it fun, but above all, keep it safe.

Watch Solomon Masala’s talk “The Seven Elements of Operating Experientially”:

Read the Transcript

Solomon:

Beautiful, thank you. Good morning.

Audience:

Good morning.

Solomon:

Speakers will often start off by saying something like, “It’s such a pleasure to be here. It’s such an honor to be here.” And I’ve mean it for real. I mean, I think about the group of people that I got to meet last night, all the speakers that you’re going to get to experience today and the amount of wisdom and capacity and heart and generosity of spirit was so truly inspiring. And I know that that’s what’s happening in the room here again today. So, to be able to be asked to be in front of you all, I intend that I’m able to share something that makes you feel like that was really worth my time. So, thank you all for coming and thank you for the opportunity. Let’s start off by having you do what I call a team breath. Without going into too much science, I just want to invite you to just take a deep breath. So, let’s do team breath.

Beautiful, we are embodied human beings. So, for anybody that is in this room, you have what’s called a central nervous system. That’s how you happen to be here this morning. And so, my experience of embodiment is part of what drives the work that I do. And for me, the word experiential takes it from just that sense of the head learning into the full body learning, which I feel allows us to have this depth of capacity. Things are moving without me. And I see here, what’s allows me to have this depth of capacity because of the neurological experience that I’m having as a human being. So, thank you, chair. Appreciate that. What I’d like you to do is turn your neighbor and say to them, “It’s great to be learning with you here today.”

Audience:

It’s great to be learning with you here today.

Solomon:

Thank you. I want you to turn to your other neighbor, and after you’ve gotten a name, at least. Are we working now? Beautiful. And turn to your other neighbor and say, “You’re going to get the best of me today.” So, in the spirit of what Douglas mentioned about conditioning, that’s the whole point of the sematic process, is I become who I practice being. What am I practicing in this moment, right? If I’m practicing that sense of generative connection with someone, I’m wiring and firing those neurons. If I’m practicing that sense of taking a breath and being able to come back into my genius mind, I’m wiring and firing those neurons.

So, I want to talk about what I call experiential evolved. Meaning, why are we doing this experiential stuff, right? It’s been around for a long time. It’s a way for people to engage trust falls, which I actually feel have some relevance somewhere, even though they get a bad rap these days, right? But it’s beyond just let’s do an activity. So, what I’d like to do is go through seven elements that I feel really bring the high points of why we want to bring experiential in and how to do it in a way that it actually impacts the people you’re working with in a generative way. Generative i.e., the opposite of degenerative. How can it bring that sense of thriving? How can it bring that sense of vitality in? How can it bring that sense of learning because we also have objectives that we need to bring when we’re working with our clients, cool? Let’s take a team breath.

So, the first thing is, when you design an experiential process, when you’re choosing whatever that activity is, it should support the people in the room in the experience in overtly practicing specific skills. It should surface very specific learning objectives. Now, that being said, one of my mentors is a gentleman named Carl Ronckys. If anybody’s here is familiar with experiential education, he’s just one of the godfathers of that. And there are times where you can do what’s called FUNN, F-U-N-N. This is based on what he says, functional understanding not necessary, right? And that’s when you’re doing what I consider a group builder experience. That’s just to get the neurology tuned, get people in the room, let the amygdala relax and say, “I’m safe amongst these human beings in this place.” When it comes to selecting the activity, though, it’s got to have very specific and focused learning objectives that emerged from the experience.

Secondly, when you design, what you want to do is ensure that the experience allows people to practice the behaviors that are part of that objective. Now, we know that because of the complexity of human beings, multiple behaviors are going to emerge, but you want to ensure that at least they can see overtly again, that behavior was something we kept working on in the process for it to move us forward in the experience.

Next, we move to then immersion. I love to do my best to create experiences in the activity process where the learners are so immersed in what it is that they’re doing, that they’re bringing their full self to the experience and sometimes have to even pull them back out and go, “Remember you guys, this is just an activity,” right? The more I can do that, the more what I’m doing is engaging the sematic elements of learning.

I’m also allowing them to pull who they really are into the mix so that we can talk about, okay, you all saw the behaviors that emerged there. What do we want to do about those? You all saw how we succeeded or didn’t succeed, or almost succeeded with that experience. We were all there. We saw what caused that. Now we can have a real substantial and robust conversation about what we need to do to shift that. So, immersion. There are so many elements of learning and what you see up here on the slide, when human beings are engaged in doing all of these things, learning is starting to come in at all the various channels. So, I’m a big fan of Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences. To me, I like to call those the access channels for learning. And so, if the experience that I’m creating allows the learners, the participants, to access various channels, it means I’m trying to at least cover the basis for how people are taking in information.

Let’s move to the next one. All right. It’s important in designing this to ensure that risk can happen in the process. And that failure is part of the experience. That being said, I want to make sure that it’s physically and emotionally as safe as possible. High perceived risk, by the way you all, is a powerful way to engage learning. Perceived risk, not actual risk, but perceived risk. When I can weave that into the experiential processes, and again, I call from the adventure learning elements of things. So, we have processes where people are standing up on just a cement brick. A cement brick’s only this tall, but when they’re in the middle of the experience, it’s like, “Oh man, whoa,” right? All of a sudden their behaviors that will be triggered in the real life experience emerge. We can then talk about them. We can then create interventions that the person can physically do inside their own mind and neurology. So, high perceived risk is a really great teacher in the process of creating experiencial modules.

Let’s move to the next one. In what we call the wisdom gathering. Most people call that the debrief. I always say the activity is only as good as the debrief. I can never assume that because they did the experience and I heard them talking about some stuff that the learning is present in the room. I’ve got to be a master or as much as possible endeavor to be a master at asking the right questions. And for me, those are open-ended questions. The how questions, the what questions, the why questions to help the learners, the participants, emerge. I did that behavior. Why and how did that impact the outcome? I did this particular behavior. Why and how did that impact the outcome? We watched the team do this as a group. Why did we do that? What else could we do instead?

All of those questions help to generate that sense of, I want to transfer the learning from the experience into the real world. This is again, one of the elements of experiential programming is, it’s not just, “Well, wasn’t that fun? We had a good time. We moved some energy in the room.” That’s great and how can we use the learning back out in my life? How can that happen? So, I want to ensure I do that by asking the right questions when we’re gathering that wisdom. Let’s take a team breath. All right. The last one then is how to create a sense of fun. It doesn’t always have to be fun you all and I’m okay with it not being fun, as long as I’m able to support the safety in the room. And that’s key because breakdowns might happen in the failure, and this is powerful learning for a group of individuals.

And so, if I’m able to, first of all, be comfortable with that if they fail, because part of what we’re going to do is gather that wisdom and then try it again in the process, then it’s okay. I just want to make sure, though that as much as possible, there is some element of fun, why? Because that does something to the amygdala that reminds me I can trust, I can connect and I can work with these individuals. Not guaranteed, but as much as possible, I want to have it in there.

All right. Let’s move to the next slide. Thank you so much for your help. I would like to have you turn and talk to your neighbor for about one minutes on all the stuff that I just talked too much about. All right, you got one minute turn and talk to your neighbor or neighbors. What’s sparking for you?

In keeping with the experiencial element of this, I had all kinds of ideas of what I was going to do with the group today, and then was very quickly informed that, “No Solomon, and you cannot take the group out into the lobby to do something,” which I totally understand. So, we are going to move forward with our activity, because if it’s experiential, we got to get experiential with it to see if I really stayed true to my seven pieces there of information. In a moment, what we’re going to do is dive into, these two are the goals and the goal and the objective that I have, right? So, I’m wanting, as I said, when I design an experience, here’s my goal. This is the first experience of the day. We want to have a sense of bringing some more connection to the group. Specifically, I’m wanting us to explore ways that communication will help us bring us together even more.

So, that’s my objective. So, now I got to create an experience that lifts and overtly allows us to practice those skills. Now, of course, I’m imposing this upon you, right? If I were working with a group, obviously that would emerge from what it is that they say they’re wanting, but I want to be true to that in the process. So, in order for us to do our activity, what’s going to happen is I’m going to have you get into groups of approximately 12 people. All right. So, hang on a second. When I say go, that’s, what’s going to happen. You’re going to get into a group of about 12 people. Probably, it’s going to be easier for you to gather around a table with your 12 folks. If you have 13, that’s totally fine, right?

You’re going to gather with those people around the table. Because we’re in the room that we’re going to be in and when I explain the activity in a moment, just be aware of your surroundings as you move through the process. There’s going to be a lot of movement happening, right? So, we’re taking good care of each other as we go. We’re about to explore. And this is actually the tool that I would have brought for token trading. So, I brought a bunch of them here today. We’re going to do an activity called moon ball. How many have heard of moon ball before? All right. In some way, you’ve probably engaged in moon ball.

When you get in your circle, your task is going to be to get the highest number of taps in a one minute time period. Let me explain what I mean by tap. That’s a tap. That’s a tap. That’s a tap. That’s a tap. Those are all taps. This is not a tap. That’s a catch. We’re not doing catches. We’re doing taps, right? Now, you have to tap to your team, your circle. I cannot tap like this, one, two, three, four, five. That doesn’t count nor can I go back and forth with the person next to me. One, two, three, four, five. That doesn’t count either. The ball has to be tapped by at least two other people before I can tap it again. What questions do you have about that rule?

Okay, it’s not the only time you can ask a question by the way. All right? Your task then will be to get the highest number of taps in a one minute time period. We will start off with a little bit of conversation before I ask for you to send the delegate here, to get a ball. Step one is going to be, we got to get into our circles of 12 to 13 people. Let’s start there, go.

Raise your hands once you are in a circle. Raise your hands. Beautiful, if you’re walking down the room without your hand raise, join one of these circles. Fabulous, all right. So, again, being aware that the balls might move, they might fall under tables, they might fall into another group’s experience, right? So, just being aware of our space as we go. Great. First step before we get the balls is I would like you to have a conversation in your group about what you feel you’re going to need in order to be most successful. What do you feel as a group, what do you feel as a team you’re going to need in order to be most successful? You’ve got about one minute, go.

Here’s something that I noticed. As I walked around and listened to the initial planning process that was happening, I was hearing a lot of strategy, tons of strategy. “We need to be closer. Your taps needs to be… No one said how high they need to be,” or “I can hold on to it while everybody taps it,” which is you can’t do. Sorry, it was a good idea. I love the creativity. I love the creativity that’s happening, or “We need to get close. What about the table?” I was hearing so much strategy, which tends to happen. Now, remember my objective is to create a sense of belonging. So, what I want to surface in this moment is, I didn’t hear anybody say if you hit it too far, it’s going to be all right. If you’re the one that misses it, don’t worry about it. No pressure. If you hit it way over, or you hit it twice, we’re not going to come down hard on you, right?

So, we talked a lot about the what we’re going to do, but not the how, the behaviors, which is so core to what we’re trying to do when we’re facilitating culture. And where do behaviors come from? The internal experience of me as a human being, right? So, I’m going to give you 30 more seconds to talk a little bit about your culture. How are we going to treat each other as we do the thing we’re going to do? You got 30 seconds, go.

That’s it, good. All right. So, we’re about to start. We’re about to start. So in a moment, not yet, when I say go, you’re going to send one of your team delegates over to the front, to get a ball. A couple of things I needed to clarify that I forgot to clarify. If the ball hits the ceiling and you can play it, play it. If the ball hits the table and you can play it, play it. If the ball hits the floor, it’s a dead ball. And you start again in that one minute time period, you might still have time to keep going, right? If it hits the floor, you start back again at zero. But you can play it off the table. You can play it off the ceiling. You can play it off the walls, cool? All right. When I say, go send a delegate over to get a ball. Go.

Let’s take a team breath. You have one minute, go. 30 seconds remaining. 30 seconds. All right. All right teams. When I say oh, you say, yeah. Oh?

Audience:

Yeah.

Solomon:

Oh?

Audience:

Yeah.

Solomon:

Let’s take a team breath. That was round one. That’s round one. All right, you got a certain score. And what I’m going to have you do at this point is let’s have a conversation. What are you learning? We just gathered some data. What are we learning? What are we learning? And what are we learning about how we’re creating more belonging in our process? We’re going to move into round two, round two. Let’s take a breath and go. Round two.

Beautifully done. Before we get to our last and final round, here’s what I’d like you to do. Choose three, I should say three people, three people from your team who are going to be delegates, who are going to go wisdom hunting. And what that means is they’re going to leave their circle while the circle continues to talk about strategy and behavior, and they’re going to go to other circles and find out, what are the best practices? What are you guys doing that’s working? What’s helping you? What’s supporting you in both culture and strategy in the process of it, right?

You can have about a minute to move around to as many teams to gather wisdom as you can, and then come back to your team for the final planning round before we do round three, all right? So, take a moment to choose three delegates and send those delegates out. Go for it, delegates. Move around the room. Gather wisdom.

You have about 10 more seconds. 10 seconds. Start heading back to your home team. Start heading back to your home team. And once you get back to your home team, start sharing what you learned. What did you gather? What wisdom did you gather? Last round. We’re starting with round three. Round three. You’ve got one minute and go. Five, four, three, two, and one. Hold the balls. Hold the balls. Hold the balls. All right. So, celebrate with your team in whatever way you want to. Celebrate with your team. Celebrate with your team however you want to and head on back to your tables.

How much wisdom is in a beach ball? My goodness. All right. So, let us take a big team breath. And let’s take a moment to just check in at your table. So, this is going to be table talk. What behaviors did you bring or you saw somebody else bring that created belonging through the communication process? How did you or somebody else communicate that you felt created a sense of belonging in your team? Go.

Let’s move on to another question. How could we, you in your team, personally, and as a team, how could you have created more belonging through communication? How could you have created perhaps more belonging through communication on your teams, go. One more round of table talk. How did this activity help you feel more of a sense of belonging or not in the group process? How did this activity help you feel more of a sense of belonging or not? Go for it. Thanking your table for the dialogue, and what questions, comments, concerns do you have as we wrap up my portion of this, the first experience of Control the Room, 2020.

Speaker 3:

You has the records?

Solomon:

Was waiting for that question to emerge, right? So, I see a number here. I see 225. So, one of the things that question surfaces is in the facilitation of this. You noticed not at any point did I say, “All right, let’s hear some scores.” I might do that. It depends on what my objective is. But my objective today was what? Belonging. So, if I start throwing scores and winning into the mix, all of a sudden that does something different to our physiology. So, that wasn’t important for me today. Of course, people are going to keep track of it though. That’s part of the coopetition piece that starts happening in the room, right? We want to stoke that up a little bit. All right. Thank you all so much for having me here this morning. I appreciate it. Looking forward to the learning with everybody. Thanks you all.