The supreme accomplishment is to blur
the line between work and play.
A close friend and I once attended something called The MillPond Festival in Bishop, California, that featured a rather eclectic blend of musicians from all over the US and Europe.
One of several inspirations we received at this concert was presented by the Laura Love Band. Their level of skill to deliver on the promise of the evening…great music…was undeniable. Each musician in the band was obviously a master.
What struck us about this band, in contrast to their great music, was the fact that they had to be the funniest and goofiest performers we’d ever seen! Laura herself was completely uninhibited. She acted like a child with her yelling, cackling, and joking in the midst of their musical magic. One could actually view an aspect of their behavior as very unprofessional…if one wanted to.
What I saw was a group who made play of everything, from the introduction of a new song, to the introduction of band members, to creating drama on stage to get the audience participating. They used lyrical and poetic language in their discourse with the audience …everyone loved them and didn’t want them to leave the stage!
This band connected with their audience like none I’ve ever seen. And they were just having a whole lot of fun being their creative selves…being like children and practicing their craft. Being playful AND being professional…what a concept! Maybe it’s just me, but polished and professional facilitators or presenters have seldom left me with any lasting memory.
Get that “lightening up” is a mark of the real pro
So what’s the facilitation parallel? I’ll have to admit that I have fallen pray in my past to a concern about looking professional while on stage. And by the way, just what the heck does being professional mean anyhow? We say it so often, I felt compelled to seek out a definition:
Professional: Conforming to the standards of a profession. Having or showing great skill.
Stop acting professional, be professional and act alive! I doubt anyone would disagree with the fact that a great facilitator will have mastered a certain breadth of skills in the management of people and processes. What can trip us up though in our desire to be professional and skilled is trying to act professional. Modeling the act of being real is one of the greatest gifts a facilitator brings to their group. After all, when was the last time that someone being professional inspired you to do more, think more, be more, relate more?
What does a real pro look like? The real pros I’ve witnessed have found their authenticity and it shows. They tend to be most comfortable being their quirky, sometimes crazy, selves. They can let go, have fun, and help others cut through their serious masks to see that every problem has at least one solution, and that solutions can be had such that everyone’s needs are met. They see the world through their own eyes in a fresh new way, resisting the pull of group think or conventional wisdom.
To be or not to be…professional. We’re not saying that you should just show up to your groups unprepared and unprofessional. Get to know your group, do your homework, and be prepared so you can let go and really hear your group, and enjoy them and the process.
Aim for results, not just professionalism. Some clients, professional as they are, have called you in to help them with problems their professionalism hasn’t touched. Some groups who pride themselves on their professional nature also take themselves too seriously. They operate with a lightness deficit, operating in a mode which I will technically refer to as Standard Operating Paradigms Paralyzing Effective Direction (STOPPED). Sometimes a lighter, more serious point of view opens the door to the creative insights that can help us better see and solve our problems. Sometimes we need to get crazy to cut through stale thinking.
If you ask most clients what kind of facilitator they’d rather have, one that seems professional or one that can get them the results they’re after, I think you know what the typical reply might be.
Story of a Professional Facilitator
by Susan Smith
About 15 years ago, the college where I worked was going through quite an upheaval. Everyone was upset about something, including feeling unheard by the administration. I had just been to a conference on shared governance which were the buzz words at that time. There was a fellow (a professor from Stanford University) there that gave a memorable talk about how to help your college develop a structure for creating shared decision-making between the administration, faculty, staff and students. I excitedly returned to my campus and carefully shared this great opportunity with the college President. It took many sessions listening to his fears before he was willing to commit to an all-staff meeting to first deal with everyone’s gripes and concerns. It took several more of my listening sessions to get his commitment to hire an outside facilitator to further work through the staff’s issues.
I immediately thought of this fellow I heard at the conference and who I knew had the expertise to help us. He ended up visiting our campus several times to facilitate all-staff meetings. On his first meeting I was a bit hesitant. After all, we were a small community college in a rural area and he was from a large elite private university. My fears were immediately put to rest as he came in the door in his shorts and sandals and wild Hawaii-style shirt. He was so funny and friendly and put everyone at ease, especially the President. We couldn’t get enough of him. We had more FUN getting very important work accomplished for the college. Staff got out their concerns, they had their fights, he had us yell at each other, cry, get frustrated and resolve issues.
After he finished with us, we were ready to create our own shared governance model. It wasn’t easy, but we had worked through a lot of our roadblocks because of his ability to get us to laugh at ourselves. By the way, I soon found out that this silly, funny man, was as professional as anyone in a three piece suit with briefcase in hand…he brought his Facilitators Tool Kit instead.
How do you view being professional? How does being professional rank with being real for you? How can you have lots of fun AND be professional at the same time? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience on this matter in the comments section below.