What I learned as a facilitator from a Change Conference which transforms itself "​in the moment"​

It happened again! Being back home, it still wakes me up in the middle of the night. 3 intense days of immerse learning, connection, and emotions at the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Change Days Conference. Once more, I left this conference slightly transformed. I left with the feeling that I did a step forward regarding my personal growth. And this is for me the ultimate success factor for an event; you leave different compared to the way you entered.

This year I was there as a facilitator and I would love to share the gifts offered to me from this unique experience as a co-journeyer with the two other co-facilitators, Esther, Mary Alice and with the participants:

1. Don’t do it alone. Co-facilitate and host yourself at the same time.

When there is an intense process combined with an expectation for a rich outcome, no matter the duration of the event, a facilitation team is the best constellation in order to create essential transformation results. There were moments, no matter how present I have been in the “Here & Now” that I needed to breathe, even for a minute. I needed to host myself in a way that I find again my ground. But how could one host themselves and take a respite when they are in the middle of the fire? This happened to me only when I took the courage to turn to my co-facilitators and say: “Please could you take over my part for a minute? I need to breathe.” And it felt so appreciative for them to ask for their support. It may sound like a selfish act at the moment but I realized that a selfless care for the participants simply doesn’t work. It is necessary to include the nurturing of one’s self as a facilitator at the moment that is needed.

2. Creating and holding a safe enough space is heavily influenced by the relationship of the facilitators.

What a great learning! I was not aware of it until some participants approached me and said: “Yannis, we feel safer to open up as we experience the loving and nurturing relationship you have with Esther”. “The way you two facilitate the whole process creates an amount of trust that allows us to bring our courageous self in”. I was deeply touched by that and I reflected on how we as facilitators have created the strong bond of our relationship: Frequent meetings, hard work with appreciation to each other’s ideas, mutual respect, acknowledgement and honoring of our cultural differences, testing our courage edge together out in the real world beforehand, and creating a ritual about the way we meet in our diversity. All the above-mentioned provided a safe enough environment for us to operate. So, it seems like a parallel process has taken place: The moments of deep connection during the preparation time had informed our onsite facilitation practice and impacted the participants and the “space” accordingly.

3. Invite people to an impact-full social intervention related to the theme of your event (if possible). It is transformational in all levels.

Most of the times we go to a conference and we learn and experience onsite. There may be times that we invite externals, for example, organizations, to bring in their case studies and work with us together. But, how about taking the conference out of its 4 walls, to the city for example, and create a public intervention, even for a short time? This is what happened with Berlin Change Days this year. The theme was Courage and Corporate Activism so we offered participants an invitation and support to go out in the city of Berlin and reach or even overdo their courage edge. What happened was magic! 130 participants, self-organized in groups interacted with people in the area of Prenzlauer Berg in various ways. Deep listening hubs, stories invitation circles, inspirational panels, free group-hugs offerings, lunch box gifts, and much more. When participants came back we asked what happened inside them and what happened out there. It became obvious that for each one of them, a new part of Self was born and that the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood was not going to be “the same” anymore…

4.  Offer the Graphic Facilitator a voice; not only a pen and a roll of paper

Graphic facilitators are an indispensable part of an event if we want to leverage collective harvesting. They seem to work a bit in “isolation” in respect to the field of action, having most of the time, their back turned to the audience, however with attentive ears. This year at Berlin Change Days, Kristel Bodensiek did a fantastic harvesting. As most graphic facilitators, she worked “at the edge” of the space and the process, so her view becomes very important as she moves in and out of an imaginary boundary. We invited her at the closing of every day not only to “re-draw” and make us feel included in the flow of her scribing but also to speak out her perspective and embodiment on what was happening in the room. As the spot light turns on her voice and her artefact at the same time, participants have the unique opportunity to reflect on their learning paths from a different perspective as well.

5.  The place is an ally. Treat it with respect and it will pay back. 

The place where you operate and co-exist with the participants as a facilitator, plays a big role on how the process that you have designed will evolve. It may sound bizarre but the place has an identity, it “breathes” with you, it becomes sacred in times that participants open up from a place of vulnerability, it can be hospitable or disturb a process according to how it is “treated”. In one word it has a presence. For example, if you decide a circle for a set up (which is wonderful by the way and also accentuates the place), then try to avoid any “noise” in the room like, bags, coats, cups of coffee under or beside the chairs, food, etc. and ask participants to kindly contribute to that. Every morning, use a ritual in order to “clean” any concentrated energy left from the previous evening. If we consider that one of the circle principles is to take care of the well-being of the circle, then caring for the place that hosts it, becomes essential for a healthy process.

6.  Story as a priming of the field invites possibilities for further collective action.

Most of us have experienced in our lives the power of stories in terms of enhancing connections with others. Story works as a container and an enricher of our emotions. I also find pivotal to invite Story-Work in our professional initiatives as it further supports sense making and by that influences our decision making.

At Berlin Change Days, we introduced Story-Work during the first day, in the format of “Stories of Courage”, in order to prime the field for what was planned to follow the next day: The invitation to participants to go out in the city and act from a place of challenging their courage edge. During the storytelling process we invited the participants to step in the practice of deep, unconditional listening of the other, a rare quality in today’s organizational sphere. If a core quality of a facilitator is to be present and attentive, then story is the most appropriate vehicle because story requires and engenders presence. And if we think of love as a change model, then presence is integral as we can only feel loved in another’s presence.

Christine Erlach über die wahren Schätze: Communities

Christine Erlach mit einer kurzen Reflektion über die wahren Schätze – Communities of Practice:

Die wahren Schätze im Arbeitsleben? Das sind für all jene Experten, mit denen ich sprach, ihre Communities! Ich kann mich ihrer Meinung nur anschließen: Die Gewissheit, „da draußen“ Menschen zu kennen, die ähnliche Interessen verfolgen, Fachwissen und hohe Kompetenzen haben und die gerne und bereitwillig ihr Wissen und ihre Arbeitszeit einbringen, um einander zu helfen, ist in der Tat ein wahrer Schatz – dies gilt umso mehr in einer zergliederten Arbeitswelt, die uns einen Großteil unserer Arbeitszeit an Bildschirme und einsames Tippen in die Tastatur zwingt.


Wolfgang Tonninger – Heidelberg Connection #beyondstorytelling

Ich stehe am Gaisbergturm und blicke auf die Lichter von Heidelberg. Es ist 4 Uhr morgens und es nieselt. Der Wind, der noch vor einer halben Stunde mit den Blätterkronen der Bäume spielte, hat sich gelegt. Es ist ruhig. Ich bin ruhig. Endlich. Der Gedankenstrom, der am Ende eine einzige Gedankenschnelle war, hat sich gelegt. Die Vertikale ist wieder hergestellt und ich wieder verwurzelt. Ich bin wach. Aber anders als im Gedankenturm. Ich bin wachsam und höre den Wald in all seinen Tonlagen. Nicht die schlechteste Vorbereitung auf einen Workshop, denke ich. Über den Horizont quillt Dämmerlicht in die Nacht. Als es Zeit ist, gehe ich hinunter.

Im Zug zurück nach Salzburg lese ich, dass alle 85 Stufen, die als Wendeltreppe auf die Spitze des Turms führen, unterschiedlich geformt und orientalischen Spiralminaretten nachempfunden sind. Und dass das Mauerwerk des Turms aus Buntsandsteinquadern ohne Mörtel oder sonstige Bindemittel aufgeschichtet worden ist. "Buntsteinquader ohne Bindemittel aufgeschichtet und begehbar über 85 unterschiedlich geformte Stufen" - halte ich fest und muss an den Kongress denken, von dem ich komme.

BEYOND STORYTELLING war ein Geschenk in doppelter Hinsicht, weil nicht nur die Qualität des Angebotenen passte (mit wunderbaren Keynotes von Michael Müller, Mary Alice Arthur und Petra Sammer, kurzweiligen Workshops (zu denen ich auch einen Beitrag leisten durfte), sondern auch die Qualität der Aufnehmenden, Zuhörenden, Anreichernden und Weiterdenkenden (die Open Space Session zum Thema STORY JAMMING mit Johann L. Bota war mein persönliches Highlight in diesen Tagen, nicht weil einer so gut war, sondern weil wir miteinander, das heißt alle zusammen, in dieser Runde etwas geschaffen haben, das über unsere kleinen Erzählegos hinausging).

Mein Resümee?
Selten zuvor auf einer Veranstaltung gewesen, die so wenig Energie in Machtspielereien und Eitelkeiten vergeudete. Selten zuvor auf einer Veranstaltung gewesen, wo so viel Dialog auf Augenhöhe möglich war. Buntsteinquader ohne Bindemittel: Es war die Vielfalt der Menschen, die einen tiefen Eindruck hinterließ und es war die Einsicht, dass das beste Bindemittel für einen Kongress, der über das Erzählen von Geschichten hinausgehen will, die Menschen selbst sind.

"Beyond beyond" formulierte es der wunderbare Rik Peters in einer Kurznachricht am Tage des Auseindergehens. Der Möglichmacher dahinter heißt Jacques Chlopczyk, vor dem ich jetzt meinen imaginären Hut ziehe. Einen Hut, der mit einer Feder geschmückt ist, die ich vor 20 Jahren in Ceüsse gefunden und aufgehoben habe - am Fuße einer Klettertour mit dem Namen "Captain Dada". Finden und aufheben - das muss zusammengehen, wenn etwas passieren soll. Ich habe es immer gewusst, instinktiv. Jetzt trage ich es auf meiner Stirn. Danke Jacques! Danke Stephanie! Danke Christine! Danke Yannis! ...

Was bleibt?
Der Kongress ist zu Ende. Der Dialog geht weiter. Springt über. Jeden Tag. Der im Umfeld des Kongress gegründete ThinkTank Stories for Europe ist ein Beweis dafür. Damit wird es ein Leichtes sein, die Tage bis Hamburg zu überstehen. Am 8/9. Juni 2018 sehen wir uns wieder, wenn der Kongress BEYOND STORYTELLING in die zweite Runde geht. Und dann gibt es ja auch noch das Buch, das die eigentliche Triebfeder war, die den Kongressgedanken angekurbelt hat. Es ist pünktlich zum Kongress erschienen und wunderschön geworden.

Ich bin stolz, Teil dieser Community zu sein!


Coverbild des Gaisbergturms: Von Solaris2006 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0,