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.

From Moments to Stories – Chené Swart's Moments Portal

A constant in my work as consultant and change facilitator in the past months is a concern about „moments“. It was brought into my focus by Chené Swart talking about her work in the Masterclass at BEYOND STORYTELLING 2017 and in the many conversations that followed afterwards.

I believe that as facilitators, we want to create „moments that matter“, in which we can support the people we work with in their search for new meaning, sensemaking or transformation. In creating these moments I used an approach from Chené Swart to invite the remembrance of significant moments to create relevance.

Generating new meaning and making sense of a situation is a key ingredient for transformation. Often it is about discarding old assumptions and creating new meaning. Not only in cognitive terms but also emotionally. Working with stories is a powerful way to connect the emotional and cognitive aspects of transformation.

Sensemaking is one of the key uses of working with stories. Stories speak to our head, hearts and minds. The question is how we get to the stories that map the field in a way that is useful and relevant for the people we are working with.

Entering the moments portal – Relevance

In any setting that has the stated goal of stimulating transformation of some kind, one of the key questions is how a topic becomes relevant to the people we work with. I don´t mean relevant only in the sense that people say „Yes, this topic is relevant or important for me.“ Relevance, for me, in the settings I work in, is an emotional stance towards the topic. A concern with the topic and an engagement and commitment to find out what the topic at hand really means for the people and the community involved. In some cases we do have a sense of urgency in the room but this isn´t always the case. So how do we invite engagement and honour people´s presence and time?

If you are used to working in participatory settings a lot of different methods might spring to your mind that enable you to set in motion ways for people to engage with a topic and with each other. But even with some years of experience with different approaches to the design and facilitation of such settings, Chenés work with moment is a constant eye opener – both for it´s simplicity and the impact it creates. The key to this approach is asking people to tell about moments in which a topic or theme was / is / became relevant and important to them. And this works magic.

Working with the moments Portal on Trust During the Berlin Change Days 2017. Pictures by @miriaminchange

Abstraction and experience

As human beings we are bound to our bodies. In each given situation we perceive with all our senses. Going up the ladder of abstraction, we create meaning out of the different impulses we get from our senses. With each step up the ladder, our experience is enriched, filtered and transformed by our mental models and interpretation routines. We move from experience to abstraction.

By doing this, we don´t perceive the particulars of the situation but the commonalities it has with our pre-established modes of thinking and seeing the world. Both as a means to make sense of what is happening and in an effort to reduce cognitive load. This enables us to react swiftly and orient ourselves. Albeit this „fast thinking“ works in a lot of situations, it also carries the risk of missing important pieces of information and makes us prone to oversimplifying things.

In a situation in which we want to invite people to really re-think a certain topic, fast thinking often leads to a situation in which we either see a new topic through our well established frames of reference (meaning: there is nothing new) or that we engage but without linking it an emotional element that is necessary for true transformation. Our attitudes and belief systems are shaped by the experiences we make and systems of symbols (culture) we use to make sense of them. All this adds layers of abstraction and generalizations. The magic of asking for moments is that people are recalling specific situations or moments in which a topic has or had relevance to them. With this simple question, we invite people to strip away their interpretations and simply recall. Indeed, if we ask people to take us to the moments that mattered for them, it becomes even more than recalling, it becomes reexperiencing. 

The power of this way of working lies for me in the fact that there is also no abstraction needed to talk about moments. The cognitive effort is not focused on making interpretations or finding deeper meanings or patterns. The cognitive effort is low in that it entails „simple recalling“. Letting people talk about moments is – in a sense – making people listening to themselves anew. This also invites the emotions and feelings that made up the experience of this moment. Working with moments, the invitation is to step down the ladder of abstraction and get close to the „raw data“ of our experiences.

Emotional and cognitive effects of working with moments

On an emotional level, this work invites being a true witness and builds relationships and community. As listeners to the moments of others we move from interpretation to perception, as we see a situation metaphorically through the eyes of the other. This often creates a sense of belonging and intimacy. Not only towards others, but also towards ourselves. We are not only witnessing others but we are also listening to ourselves. We experiencing the moments anew through our recalling and retelling.

On a cognitive level, I believe that this work – revealing the „raw data“ – cracks open our interpretations of situations, moments and the experiences we made. By stripping away our interpretations and mental models, we are able to re-interprete these moments anew. This creates the possibility for new ways of looking at things and the opportunity to tell a story in a new and different way.

From moments to stories

I experimented a while with asking the participants to my workshops to tell a story in which the topic at hand was relevant. From my experiences with the moments portal, I believe that this creates a hurdle that is not necessary. On the one hand people ask themselves what constitutes a story worth telling in the specific setting we are in. It concerns people with what to tell and how to tell it. Instead of focusing on relating themselves to the topic and the other, they are concerned with style and form. That is not necessary. If you ask people about moments, they will tell a story anyway.

Reconstructing the story of an R&D Team through the moments portal. What story emerged? What do we learn about us as a team looking at these moments?

Reconstructing the story of an R&D Team through the moments portal. What story emerged? What do we learn about us as a team looking at these moments?

From a narrative standpoint, this also enables to re-write the stories that shape the actions, decisions and interactions within an organization. Stories are made up by moments connected by a plot outlining the landscape of action and the landscape of consciousness. These stories, once established, are easily triggered for the interpretation of a given situation.

„While some community narratives are quite direct, many well-known narratives are coded as visual images, as symbols, as stereotypes, and as performances of behavior so ritualized that we may be unaware of the narratives we implicitly accept and enact, [...].Underlying much of what we know, and can recall, are encoded stories indexed by certain cognitive handles. […]. They are cues to the underlying story.“ (Rappaport, 2000, S.5)*

By going back to the moments in which the themes and narratives emerged, these moments become free of these assumptions and pre-established storylines. They become building blocks that can be re-interpreted and re-storied in a different way. A story that is more in line with what is now required from the organization or community.

Constructing a story out of these moments is again a step up the ladder of abstraction. But this abstraction is not as abstract as a model or theory. It is still a story with all the elements that go along with that. More importantly, every step that follows in this meaning making process is fueled with the experiences and emotions of the people involved.

Because they became relevant through the personal engagement and through community in passing through the moments portal.

*Rappaport, J. (2000) Community Narratives: Tales of Terror and Joy. In American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 1.

More on Chené's work:



Mary Alice Arthur – 6 Perspectives How Stories Work – LinkedIn Pulse

A wonderful harvest by Mary Arthur Alice on linkedin. She reflects the 6 perspectives introduced during her keynote:

  1. Story as a leadership practice
  2. Seeing self and Story as positive Change Agents
  3. Story as a learning practice
  4. Story as a process partner
  5. Story as a resonance tuner
  6. Story as part of the art of practicing humanity

Enjoy the read and follow her on linkedin!


Das Open Forum als Dialograum

Konflikt als Hebel zu einem kraftvollen und kreativen Miteinander nutzen

Kreativität, Innovation und Transformation sind als Phänomene in jeder Organisation erwünscht. Sie entspringen der Auseinandersetzung mit Andersartigkeit und Vielfalt. Oft ist unsere Furcht vor dem ‚Anderen’ jedoch größer als dessen Reiz. Warum? Je stärker die Andersartigkeit, desto größer die Intensität der Spannungsfelder. Je bunter die Vielfalt innerhalb einer Gruppe, desto größer die Anzahl der Spannungsfelder. Und kraftvolle Spannungsfelder münden nun auch das ein oder andere Mal in Konflikt.

Ohne Frage, Konflikt ist furchteinflößend. Es ist der schwierigste Teil ein jeder Beziehung. Dazu kommt die Kraft des Konflikts Emotionen an die Oberfläche zu bringen, wohingegen wir unsere Gefühle doch sehr gerne ‚unter Kontrolle’ haben.

An der Stelle ist es wichtig sich bewusst zu machen, dass das längerfristige Verdrängen von Konflikten zu emotionalen Blockaden führt. Phänomene wie Nörgelei, Wutausbrüchen und/oder Depression sind die Folge. Das gilt sowohl für Beziehungen als auch Organisationen.

Je mehr wir Konflikte unterdrücken, desto mehr geht uns an Begeisterung, Kreativität und Miteinander verloren. Der Philosoph Byung Chul Han schildert diesen Zusammenhang in seinem Buch ‚Agonie des Eros’ und begründet eine entstehende gesellschaftliche ‚Depression’ in unserer ständigen Suche nach Harmonie, Gleichheit und Gemeinsamkeit.

Eine gesündere und nachhaltigere Haltung ist das ‚Ja zum Konflikt’. Wir können jeden Konflikt als Energiequelle und Wachstumschance begrüßen. Denn wird ein Konflikt erfolgreich ausgetragen - transformiert - setzt das kreative Energie frei und eine neue und bewusstere Form des Miteinanders kann entstehen. Das gilt für innere Arbeit, Beziehungsarbeit und natürlich auch in Teams und Organisationen.

Wie geht man mit Konflikten und Spannungsfeldern in Organisationen um?

Ende der 80er Jahre hat Arnold Mindell den Deep Democracy Ansatz entwickelt und zahlreiche Prozessbegleiter (‚Facilitator’) arbeiten seither sowohl in politischen Krisengebieten, als auch im westlichen Organisationsumfeld. Deep Democracy ist Modell und Methode und gibt neben der linear logischen Argumentation auch den nicht linearen emotionalen Aspekten in der Beziehungsarbeit Raum.

Für Führung und/oder Prozessbegleitung heißt das ‚Bewußtsein’ und ‚Eldership’ zu entwickeln, um in der Lage zu sein  

  • Verschiedenen Perspektiven Raum zu geben
  • Interaktionen zwischen verschiedenen Positionen möglich zu machen
  • Kreative Lösungen zu erarbeiten
  • Beziehungen zu vertiefen
  • Gemeinschaftssinn zu stiften

Eine konkrete Deep Democracy Interventionsform für größere Gruppen ist das sogenannte Open Forum:

1.     Es startet mit einigen vorbestimmten kurzen Rednerbeiträgen (ca. 5min), die eine Bandbreite an Meinungen aufspannen.

2.     Im nächsten Schritt wird der Dialog für dasPublikum geöffnet. Neben der Vielzahl an Meinungen werden auch Polaritäten bzw Spannungsfelder transparent.

3.     Dabei werden auch Stimmen laut, die im Allgemeinen in der Gruppe tabuisiert werden (sogenannte ‚Ghostroles’).

4.     Das Vertiefen eines oder mehrerer Spannungsfelder führt zu einem neuen Verständnis auf beiden Seiten.

5.     Die Rolle des ‚Facilitators’ ist nicht den Prozess zu kontrollieren, sondern ihn bestmöglich zu unterstützen, so dass Transformation möglich wird.

Foto: Open Forum zum Thema ‚Tutti a Casa’ in Lecce, Italien, Januar 2017

Foto: Open Forum zum Thema ‚Tutti a Casa’ in Lecce, Italien, Januar 2017

Am Ende des ersten Tages vom BEYOND STORYTELLING werden wir ein Open Forum veranstalten. Das Open Forum wird die Rolle von Storytelling in Zusammenhang mit dem aktuellem Zeitgeschehen reflektieren. Wir möchten Sie einladen, das Thema gemeinsam mit uns zu gestalten.

Über folgendes Link finden Sie erste Themenvorschläge und können Ihre Ideen dazu teilen :


Wir freuen uns über rege Teilnahme!

B-onfire! Let your Story Work!