Part 1 – My journey into Virtual OD Facilitation
I have a long history of facilitating others in their work – over 25 years. My skills and competence were initially developed through informal learning – observing other leaders and consultants. Between 2000–2007 I began to formally develop my facilitation skills and started my Organization Development learning on the Roffey Park OD Practitioner Programme (2008), the NTL OD Certificate Programme (2009), and MSc in Consulting + Change at Hult Ashridge (formerly Ashridge Business School) in 2013.
Like many, I was suddenly immersed into the world of virtual facilitation and virtual OD, early in 2020, at the start of the global pandemic. During that year I led a piece of OD consultancy work which was highly participative in nature. This project involved over 600 people across seven different businesses, using co-creation and participatory approaches, and was entirely designed and delivered virtually.
For this project to be successful I needed to quickly learn how to design and facilitate virtual workshops and meetings. I learned in four key ways:
- Self-taught experimentation with colleagues and my client
- Online workshops run by other facilitators
- Social media posts/blogs
- Conversations and shared experiences with my professional OD network
Part 2 – What is Virtual OD Facilitation?
A standard definition of facilitation describes the facilitator as a person who makes a group process or task easier. The facilitator guides the group through a process that helps them work towards desired outcomes in a structured manner. They design this process by using a range of facilitation techniques and methods that enable the participation and collaboration of everyone present. A typical facilitated workshop or meeting might explore a topic or situation through dialogue-based techniques to develop shared understanding, engage in discussion around complex questions, generate a range of options, make decisions, and move to action to achieve useful outcomes.
Virtual OD Facilitation is a relatively new specialism that has fully emerged during 2020. Facilitators have predominantly worked in live face-to-face settings, although prior to 2020 more organizations and teams were becoming remotely distributed with a resulting growth in remote meetings and online training programmes. The seismic shift in working patterns and the necessity to work from home caused a rapid growth of virtual OD facilitators around the globe.
The definition of facilitation and a facilitator, outlined above, still remains valid, although the means by which it is brought to life and delivered is different in virtual facilitation.
Virtual OD Facilitation is the ability to design and implement constructive group conversations entirely online through a virtual or digital platform. These group conversations might be in the form of a workshop, a meeting, an ideation session, an event, or any other name given to the container that gets created and the facilitation of the group conversation that takes place. There are some specific competencies and unique considerations in successful Virtual OD Facilitation. These are outlined in Part III below.
Part 3 – What are Virtual OD Facilitation competences?
In my book, From Physical Place to Virtual Space: How to Design and Host Transformative Spaces Online (2021), I share the Transformative Spaces Online framework. This is based on key learning about virtual facilitation from my consulting project in 2020.
The framework captures the elements of ‘Preparing The Virtual Space’ and ‘Mastering Virtual Consulting’. Below are the six core requirements taken from the framework that are needed in order to demonstrate a good standard of competence in Virtual OD Facilitation.
These competencies are a high-level summary of the content from my book. Greater detail and examples of how these can be used in OD projects can be found in the book, which is available here: https://amzn.to/2LWwTjf
|Element||Key considerations||Signs/signals of competence|
|Preparing the Virtual Space|
|Designing Virtual Spaces||
Creating the high-level architecture for a virtual OD program of work
Adjusting the ‘frame of participation’
Design Options for virtual workshops
Mastering your chosen digital delivery platform
Working with others
Digital collaboration tools
|Mastering Virtual Consulting|
|Virtual Presence + Impact||
Getting yourself ready
Facilitating and hosting a virtual workshop
Encouraging Active Participation
Our role as virtual facilitators is to create an environment where attendees are able to fully participate in the conversation and the process to achieve their outcomes.
|Virtual Group Process||
One of our roles as OD practitioners is to notice what is happening while a group is working on their ‘task’, to follow (track) the group’s process/ways of working and share with them what we’ve noticed (intervene). We share what is helping and what may be hindering the progress of the work they are doing (task) with the intent of improving their effectiveness.
This group process work is equally relevant when we are working online, what changes is the range of data sources we draw from to notice, track and intervene.
|Making Virtual Interventions||
Making interventions relies on acting with what you have been noticing and tracking. At best they are swift and immediate, bringing attention to what is happening ‘hear and now’. There is an intuitive aspect to the choices we make in those moments, the choice to speak up and intervene, or stay silent and continue to notice and track. Silence itself can be a powerful intervention.
Part IV: Routes to developing competence and some resources
If you are interested in developing this specialism, I recommend any of the following approaches:
- Practicing and experimenting with support
- Formal Learning
- Creating opportunities to learn and develop
‘From Physical Place to Virtual Space – how to design and host transformative spaces online’ Gwen Stirling-Wilkie
Available on Amazon https://amzn.to/2LWwTjf
I did the majority of my self-learning online and found the following to be the most helpful
- There are many videos and tutorials provided by the virtual platform and digital collaboration providers (Zoom, Mural, Miro etc)
- YouTube has many videos available through their search engine
- Virtual facilitators on LinkedIn often post articles, blogs and videos, and some offer free workshops.
- Howspace have a great free resource – Virtual Facilitation Playbook www.howspace.com
- Session Lab have lots of resources and a free virtual facilitation guide www.sessionlab.com
2. Practicing and experimenting with support
Create your own ‘practice group’ with others interested in developing their virtual facilitation skills. This is a safe online space where you meet and practice something you want to use with a client. They can give you feedback and help refine it, and together grow your skills and confidence.
3. Formal learning
Many training and development programs are emerging in this space.
A Hybrid Approach to Dialogic OD + Transformation
This is the current online program that I offer, based on the content in my book, and now adapted to include hybrid approaches to OD and facilitation. Future program dates can be found on my website: www.seedsoftransformation.co.uk/events
Here are some other specific programs and organisations I recommend:
- Institute for Experiential Learning offer a program that I completed in 2021. Facilitating Experiential Learning Online details can be found here https://experientiallearninginstitute.org/programs/programs-and-courses/
- Institute of Cultural Affairs www.ica-uk.org.uk run training for virtual facilitation
- Virtual facilitation www.virtualfacilitation.com
4. Creating opportunities to learn and develop
Work with more experienced virtual facilitators and volunteer to be their technical producer or support facilitator.