A Career in Facilitation – Episode 34

In this episode, Beth Cougler Blom talks with facilitator Barbara Pedersen about her 30-year career (so far!) and what she’s learned along the way.

Beth and Barbara also talk about:

  • the phases and cycles of a facilitation career
  • confidence, humility, and fear
  • challenging ourselves
  • how to get training in facilitation
  • learning foundational facilitation frameworks
  • ‘bread and butter’ work and keeping work flowing
  • transitioning into ‘rewirement’

Engage with Barbara Pedersen

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Connect with Beth Cougler Blom

Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth Cougler Blom
Hello, thank you so much for being here. This is Episode 34. On this episode, I talk with Barbara Pedersen. Barb is a facilitator, a conversation host, and trainer and she lives in Calgary, Alberta. Barb and I met online first through our social media profiles and then we were able to meet again in a virtual room at the NeverDoneBefore festival that Myriam Hadnes runs. We have stayed connected and I’m really pleased that she wanted to come on the show to talk with me about her long career in facilitation, which is not over yet by any stretch of the imagination. Barb and I, in this episode, talk about the arc of her facilitation career and a lot of the lessons that she’s learned along the way.

It was very joyful for me to have this conversation with Barbara. She’s a wonderful conversationalist. I think whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the business for a while, like Barb and I, you’re going to appreciate and enjoy this conversation. You know, sometimes people tell me that they really like this podcast because it feels like they’re just in a café overhearing two facilitators talk about their work. I think this conversation is kind of like that. [smiles] I hope you enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
Barb, it’s so great to see you. Thanks for being on the podcast today.

Barbara Pedersen
I am so pleased and honoured too, Beth. I discovered your podcast and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and very excited to listen to your latest one about timing. So thank you.

Beth
Oh, thank you. And thanks for what you put out to the world. I mean we haven’t met in person yet. We’ve met online and a couple of times in virtual spaces and since I’ve met you online I’ve so appreciated the things that I see you post on social media. You’re just such a great sharer of things that you’re doing in facilitation. So I’ve been so excited about this conversation to dig in a little bit more to what your full career has looked like and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Barb
I think it in a way it’s funny because we both live in Canada. We are one province away. I’m in Calgary, Alberta and you’re in Victoria, British Columbia – which is where all Calgarians fly to in the winter for a break! So I keep thinking, ‘I am going to meet Beth in person’. And I think, you know what, obviously that’s always an appeal when it’s someone who’s from your own country. What I really love about when I I discovered you, is the combination of facilitation and the learning design. Because although my core is process facilitation, and has been for my 30 years of my business – yeah, June 1994 I started – I’ve always had the interest in learning design and experiential learning, and there’s so much correlation and overlap that I’ve really enjoyed learning from you. So thank you. Right back at you.

Beth
Oh, thank you. It’s like going to be a mutual admiration party today [laughter].

Barb
Until we disagree! [laughs]

Beth
I know you’re going to ask me questions but let’s talk about you first and then we’ll see how we go (OK). Barb, we’re going to focus on your career and lessons you’ve learned along the way. But tell us first, what has your career looked like? Have you always been a facilitator or did you kind of find it somewhere along the way?

Barb
I found it. I’m still looking for the person who started as a facilitator, and I think that’s coming. Right now all the colleagues that I talk to had a beautiful wavy journey. I grew up in a rural farming community and I want to credit that because there is a sense of community which I recognize has gone through my entire life and led me into, and helped me, in my career. I was in very involved in the 4-H Youth Clubs and took public speaking, and again the foundation for facilitation is amazing and the whole concept of being a team through the club. I then took recreational leadership training, both in high school and in my university degree – career. So I graduated with a degree in Recreation Administration and worked – oh my gosh I think it was 16 years in municipal government recreation departments. I had the great privilege of working with community associations, community volunteers, and therefore started moving into community engagement, community development, group formation, operation dynamics. The facilitation slowly started.

I had then the opportunity to train as the facilitator of strategic planning through a government program all while I still had my full-time job. And that very much was facilitation training and started me on the path. Then I had one of those moments where the entire recreation department was dissolved by the council at the time in 1994, and I went: ‘what am I going to be now that I have this new opportunity?’ And you know through just the love of facilitation, I decided to start my own business with full support of my husband. Because you’ve got to mention those supporters in your life [laughs a bit], and really it started there. There’s a lot of things that happened in the 30 years. I think we need to get into that. But just really wanted to honour the roots of recreation that got me where I was.

Beth
I love that you’ve told us that – that’s a long time to spend in that. You had that whole career almost in recreation. And I love that you mentioned that you were from a rural community. You know, so was I. I grew up in a small village and my grandparents were farmers so it’s interesting that we’ve had – and then I got into eventually volunteer management and had worked in a municipal government too. It’s funny that we have these little ties between maybe how we fell in, but where we came from as well. I love that.

Barb
I do too. And I did not realize that. So volunteer management absolutely moves into the facilitation and the training world.

Beth
Absolutely. So when you jumped – when your recreation leadership job ended –you jumped full-time into the facilitation work. I mean, you didn’t have the anchor job kind of supporting you along the way. You made a full leap.

Barb
I did. Yes.

Beth
And how was that? [laughs] You know that’s my next question.

Barb
It was scary. It was exhilarating. I remember a dear friend gave me a book called Even Eagles Need a Push. I can’t remember the author, but of course it’s on the concept of baby eagles are pushed out of the nest to learn to fly. I remember reading that and thinking: OK this will work. I also – I mean, I was fortunate of course because I left my full-time recreation work with a severance which helped me establish. I have a partner – my husband who was working. So there was this sense of OK, I’ve got a year to sort of figure this out before financial worries start. Throughout my career I have always had to make money, and I’ll talk about that later. So this wasn’t a moment of years of doing what I love. It is – but it’s also a business. So that’s always in the back of anything you do.

I have these sort of phases that I was thinking about when I was looking back at the arc of my career. I would say the first phase was of course that whole start-up. That was probably three years. During that time I very much called on everybody I knew. That’s one of the lessons – you simply, simply, simply must go to your contacts. Go to the people who are your friends and that’s often the ones we forget. I lost some work – I didn’t have the opportunity to get some facilitation work because I didn’t talk to my friends. You go to all your colleagues, you go to everybody you worked with. At that time I remember just phoning and saying, ‘I’m doing this’. So that helped in the first three years to just get some initial interesting contracts. One was from government and one was from municipal colleagues. So that was great.

I remember in those first three years is when I think I really confirmed who I am and what I do. I had started with a little broader range; I was doing consulting, which I define as giving expert advice and recommendations to organizations, and I was doing it in a facilitative manner. Yet at the end of the project I was to give recommendations. I discovered that I really did not like that. I very much believed in the group themselves being able to reach their decisions – that they knew much, much more about their organization, their community, their business than I did. And no matter how much I researched, engaged, facilitated with the expectation that I could recommend, I could never match their knowledge.

I then started to say, ‘my core service is as a facilitator, a process facilitator’. It’s something – when we talk about one of the lessons learned, that’s one. Be authentic. Know who you are, what you are, why you do it. And it takes some time. So that’s great. That became very much: ‘I’m a process facilitator. That’s what I’m looking for’. What about you? Just curious about when you started, because you’re over 15 years, right, Beth? I just to confirm that with you in your company?

Beth
Yeah. Well 12.5 in my company – but I’m just trying to think, when did I start facilitating? Twenty to 25 years, it’s somewhere in there. Because like you, I was coordinating training and I was managing volunteers – sorry, in two different jobs. I managed volunteers at a health unit and started to get up in front of groups to do recruiting presentations, basically, for foreign trained healthcare professionals. So I kind of started on the presentation/training side and when I went to the volunteer centre, I was training in volunteer management. Then, in those years I worked at the volunteer centre, I think I went from a trainer to a facilitator. I’ve talked about this in the podcast before, so I don’t need to go on at length, but just I made the shift from being more behind the scenes in the administrative side to realizing, ‘oh I really like working with groups, and I really like when I shut up and I let groups talk and work together, and so on’ [laughs]. Right? So that kind of shift from trainer to facilitator. Then I eventually just tried to find more jobs where I was doing that and became the learning designer as well. You know, got a learning design or an instructional designer job and just grew both sides of my role over the years in different roles. But I always liked having the facilitation or the teaching side because it helped my learning design side, and vice versa. I don’t really want to have one or the other. For me I like both because then I learn – every time I get up and work with a group, I learn [chuckles] about what I should have done differently in terms of the design or helping others with that decision as well.

Barb
I love the learning design, as I said because it informs facilitation design, and so many of the models or approaches, experiential learning, etc., you can pull into it. So I hear, and I’ll check with you, I think you are a facilitator, you’re also a trainer in a very facilitative manner, and you are a learning designer. (That’s right.) Am I correct?

Beth
Yeah we have those three prongs of our business. And honestly, the language – the terminology is difficult because I don’t like the word ‘training’ or ‘train’ (um-hmm) and on my website I have to kind of say that, but I want to just say ‘I facilitate learning and I facilitate process’. And those are two different things. But they use – they draw on a lot of the same skills, don’t they? But one is a workshop and one is a meeting. And so I kind of futz around a little bit in the language. And then learning design is more for behind the scenes of creating courses and workshops. But yeah, those three things.

Barb
A couple of comments is that on our websites we have to put words that are going to pull in business. (That’s right.) And what do people typically put in? And they’re probably going to type in ‘training’. And at the same time we can have the other words as you talked about: you’re facilitating learning, you’re facilitating process. So we slowly start giving those messages out. (That’s right!) But I need to have on my website: strategic planning and team-building or team development, because that’s what people will type in. I definitely do group facilitation and I distinguish between training and facilitation as in training in some way, I would be giving content – and I don’t. And there’s many, many facilitative trainers so I’m very careful about that because I still hear and see people who talk about facilitation when they are facilitative trainers. That they are conveying some content. I also do – I do a little bit of what I call ‘boutique training’ [laughs] – that word – but I occasionally will have organizations ask me to train people in facilitation. I don’t have a package around that. I do it as a one development specifically for that organization. That would be maybe 20%. It varies from year to year. I just did a lot in the last year of training organizational staff in facilitation. It’s a much smaller part. And I say no to consulting work where I’m making recommendations [laughs].

Beth
It sounds like you’ve had such a confidence, maybe even right from the very beginning, and you noticed things that were happening I think in your work and you learned from that. You noticed that you didn’t like the consultation side. You kind of eliminated that. It didn’t sound like it felt right for you. Do you feel like you were always confident? Like that is a challenge for some people, that confidence piece I think. Don’t we – I’m going to ask you a leading question – don’t we need confidence [laughter] to be able to have a business like we do?

Barb
Yes, we do.

Beth
That’s the right answer!

Barb
I hope that’s the answer you expected. [much laughter]

Beth
Tell me what you think. Did you have it?

Barb
Confidence is fascinating because I need to be incredibly confident about my skills, knowledge, belief, attitude – as a facilitator, and in the business. I also am always humble, a little anxious about it. I was thinking about this – I was thinking about our talk and in 30 years I do a lot of – so what do I feel? Beth, one thing I’d written down was – I think I’m a – and feel – that I’m the best facilitator I have been through – and hopefully you would feel that way. Now, that’s that based on 30 years of learning, 30 years of observing others, 30 years of working successfully. So I am confident that I can be in a situation with a group and through pulling on my mindset, my training, my beliefs – what I call facilitation foundation, which we won’t talk about [laughs], I know I can help that group of people even if I have to say: ‘I have no idea what to do now’. Sometimes that happens! ‘Let’s design this together. What do you want to have come next? Alright, here’s what I think and feel would help’.

So definitely that confidence and yet also the awareness that I am humble in every situation I go in with. Always I have the feeling of ‘oh my gosh can I do this? Am I able to design a process which is really going to work for them?’ And I have the – the email comes in or the phone rings about a new project – facilitation, whether it’s a one day or three day or six month process. I am equally as excited as I was 29 years ago. I know what I am going to say no to. I have one right now that called to do it and I’m just going through ‘what do I do about that? Do I partner with someone?’ I know by trusting my body more than anything else. If I get the squiggles up the back – I’m squirming now. Beth can see me [laughter]. If I get that knot in the stomach I don’t ignore it. And so I no longer take on something that I simply know I’m not right for.

However, I challenge myself. I think that’s another one of the lessons learned is reaching the place where ‘let’s have a little bit of a challenge’. And in the first five years of a business, I think you do that because every situation is new. ‘Can I go in and help this team which is being called dysfunctional and what am I going to do about it?’ Well first of all I won’t call them dysfunctional! It’s a different kind of uncertainty or questioning now for me. And different being in the first five years, I may have been too scared to do it or I may have said, ‘well I’m just going to try it because I want to and I need business’. Now it’s a very deliberate working through what do they need first and foremost, the group – because to me it’s about the group first. Then how am I best to help them. And then making a decision from that.

Beth
Well you added in the piece about being humble and I don’t know if it’s two sides to the same coin but it seems like it has served you and it would serve all of us, isn’t it, that we have to have the confidence to say ‘I can do this’ but then the humility to say ‘I’m not sure I can do this; I need the group’s help’ – or I don’t know, that there’s just a little bit of usefulness there, to still remain humble even after having been in the field for 30 years. That you still have that but you’re balancing it with you’ve been around the block a few times and you have that confidence that pretty much anything a group can throw at you probably these days [chuckles] you know what to do o you know when you need to ask for help from the group. Because you don’t (Yes.) – you need to turn to them, you said, yeah, you turn to them most of all.

Barb
It doesn’t change the preparation, the design, the really working with them to identify, clarify, articulate what they want to achieve. So this is something I think it took me – I don’t know, I mean, 5-10 years to truly, truly understand that what happens before the facilitated event – whatever that is – meeting, workshop, retreat – what happens before I is, I used to say, is equally as important as what happens in the room. And now I say it’s more important. It’s the entry phase before you’re actually there is so critical and to get that correct – and it is that outcomes clarification. It’s learning as much as you can about the group. And I would say 60% of the time I still go in with having had maybe one or two meetings. And that’s just my client base. They can’t get together. The best we can do is get on Zoom, and I’m going into that room having heard perspectives of maybe a third of the group, which I – that’s well something makes me uncomfortable – and needing to do something right away. Yet that pre-work is so, so, so incredible. That’s a lesson learned, I would say. If we’re going to get into lessons learned! [laughs]

Beth
I think I had the same one. When I was writing my book, at some point I had to title the darn thing, right? And I had to sit with myself and ask people, and I had a bunch of crowd sourcing going on, but I really had to sit and go, ‘well what am I really trying to say here?’ I think the big message was – I mean, it’s called Design to Engage, that it’s in the design stage that we make all of those intentional decisions, whether it’s facilitating process or facilitating learning – that design stage, as you say, maybe it’s 60% of the work, right? If we can spend and give it the effort it deserves, give it the time and attention and thinking that it deserves, the rest of it kind of works out. I mean we’ve thought it all through. So when we get in the room you can throw a lot at us and we can handle it because we’ve thought it all through.

Barb
I agree. I say that I prepare extensively, design the process extensively, and then can be in the room – and I’m talking online or in person – and completely switch. Just do that at – and yet, I am not comfortable with going in without any preparation. I’ve done it. Sometimes you just get called and that’s when I go, ‘OK I have my core facilitation beliefs and approach, and if my mindset is good, focussing on them, I can do it’. Yet my preference is to definitely do the preparation ahead of time.

It leads into some fascinating conversations with – what do we want to call them – the people you talk to from an organization – representatives I suppose is a term – because you’re facilitating. I mean I’m facilitating those conversations all the way through and it’s to recognize that. As someone who’s just starting out, let’s say, internal facilitator or external, with being an entrepreneur like we are, you are facilitating from that very first contact.

Beth
I really love that you said that because I almost realized another thing just in the last couple of weeks. I’m doing some work with a business strategist and I realized one of my current failures [laughs] – so to speak – is that I’m not using enough facilitation skills in my early meetings with clients to use some of the things that we do in a facilitation situation in those meetings where it’s just two of us or three of us or whatever.

For example, I know group agreements. I can facilitate those with a group and I know how to set those and with the group and maintain them and blah, blah, blah. But then I wasn’t using it in learning design conversations to say, ‘OK well let’s think through. How are we going to work together on this project? What’s important to us [laughs] as we work together on the project? What if something happens and someone doesn’t do the work on the project? What are we going to do? How do we like to communicate with each other? What’s the best way to reach out to each other?’ And I had this a-ha moment with my strategist going, ‘oh my goodness I know how to do this’ and I wasn’t doing it as well as I could have. And that’s after – I mean I’m 50! [laughs] So I’ve been kind of doing this a while and just had that a-ha moment, right? So you’re right, you’re so right. We can use facilitation skills in the big room and in all those little small rooms as well.

Barb
If we can show them who we are and what we are and how we do things and why we do them, right from the beginning, it’s going to reveal whether we are a good match or not. I have this great story that you reminded me of, Beth. Way back, probably in my first five years. I had this fabulous opportunity to facilitate an 18-month process with four cultural organizations that wanted to amalgamate. I was meeting with them every two weeks. And you know you start with all the – just getting acquainted – and 18 months later I was at the point where all I was doing was taking notes. So I said ‘I’m finished’. [chuckles]

However, I was interviewed and they told me afterwards that at one point in the interview I said to them, ‘so what are all the things that you think could go wrong?’ They said right from that moment they knew I was the one to work with them. It it wasn’t because it was negative because we had talked about the optimistic viewpoints, etc. They said it was the acknowledgement that there are many, many perspectives, and many sides, and many truths to everything, to the process we were going to go on. So I thought, ‘oh good’, that’s a good question I have to remember. [chuckles]

Beth
I like that they gave you that feedback. It’s so illuminating and hopefully for people who are listening to this and they’re not yet the big ‘F’ facilitator, and they’re working in an organization and they are having team meetings or whatever. I mean, you can facilitate with your colleagues, can’t you? It tells me we can start to develop those skills while in other types of groups when we’re not really even called the facilitator. And that just opens up – the answer to that common question of ‘how do I learn how to do this?’ Like, how did you learn – this is the question everyone gets – how did you learn how to facilitate? Did you do it just by osmosis? You just got up and started doing it and learning from it? Or did you reach out, did you take training somewhere? What did that look like? And what does it look like now, I guess too. Two-parter.

Barb
OK. So if I had to do my top five tips. One of them is to get training. Get training in facilitation and get a training that is what I call facilitation foundation. So what does that mean? Seek out the type of facilitation training that is based on philosophy, values, beliefs, core approaches – methods that reflect all of that. So, pet peeve…I have a few pet peeves after 30 years [laughs a bit]. One is people who come in to facilitate the only have techniques. It happens. You start with ‘how do I do this?’ And that’s fine. Go and get the training that is about beliefs and attitudes. I have this little model that I call BASK: beliefs, attitude, skills, and knowledge. People often start with a little bit of the knowledge and the skill, yet they need to have beliefs of principles, and they need to have the attitude or the mindset.

I was lucky. I said I had a little bit of exposure through this training in facilitating strategic planning. That exposed me to some method. That was a little bit of training with some reading and observation. Then in my first year on my own business, I discovered technology of participation, which is a worldwide method of facilitation and approach of facilitation. I started doing training. I’m doing a call out here, Beth. [chuckles] I started doing training with ICA Associates out of Toronto, Canada. That became my foundation, because they had everything in terms of beliefs, philosophies, approaches. There are 8-10 courses. There are books that have been written. I believe as a facilitator, we need to have this facilitation foundation, a core which we go to when you are in any kind of a situation. You are designing, you are in an inquiry conversation, you’re in a moment in the session where you are just taken aback – something happens – someone yells, someone stomps out of the rooms – this has all happened to me. A person who’s drunk comes in. People disagree. People say, “Barb, I don’t want to do this.” What do you do? What is your foundation you go to?

Mine is what’s called the focus conversation or the ORID, a technology of participation practice. ORID stands for objective, reflective, interpretive, decisional. I use it as a design method, and I use it as a tool. I just simply take people through a conversation with objective information, reflective, how do you feel, what responses do you have, what does it mean – interpretive – and what are we going to do about it? And I also do that in the moment. I have that conversation in my head in three seconds when something goes awry because I can go: Objective – What is happening? Reflective – How do I feel, and what do I observe that I think of the people are feeling. But really, what am I feeling? Because if I am uncomfortable, if I’m scared, if I am being triggered, what does that mean? Interpretive – What does it mean? And then Decisional – What am I going to say to the group? And I can do that in three seconds in my head and know what to do. And it absolutely has saved me over and over and over again. The other quick one, because I really want to mention it, is Roger Schwarz, The Skilled Facilitator. I trained through his company, too. And he has what he calls the ‘mutual learning cycle’, which is very similar. There is an inner conversation and an outer conversation, and the inner conversation is observed: What do I see? So like the objective. Make meaning of it, and this is all in your head. So the ‘make meaning’ to me is about the reflective and the interpretive. And then choose what you’re going to do, in your head, decisional. Is this worthwhile to bring to the group? Then if you say yes, you take it to the group and you can test. ‘I see that people are moving back in the chairs, leaning in…’ Whatever. You state what you see, you state what you think it means, and you ask the group: ‘now what do we do together?’

So that’s the sort of things I talk about that are foundations. And if you only go in with a technique you don’t have that. And when you know something happens, [laughs a bit] we know what hits the fan. Or even just a moment of celebration, you know, how do you deal with that? I’m going end really quickly, but there’s different facilitation foundations. There is the Circle Way. Amazing. There is again Kolb’s Experiential Cycle of Learning. I always mix it up when I say it. That can be used as a foundation. Appreciative Inquiry can be used. The What, So What, Now What? – anything that is based on those beliefs and principles and approaches. There. That’s my number one thing for people. Get trained. The training is out there. Just make sure it gives you a core and it gives you beliefs, attitudes, skills, and knowledge.

Beth
So many great resources there. We’ll get them in the show notes for sure, because people are going to want to look them up. I’ve heard of ORID and I don’t have that in my own brain myself, but as you were going through that particular framework, it made me think of the Ladder of Inference and then – wait, Ladder of Influence? Ladder of Inference.

Barb
Inference, which Roger Schwarz does a very wonderful training about it, too.

Beth
Yeah, all of a sudden I questioned myself. Ladder of Inference. And then you mentioned, What, So What, Now What? – Liberating Structures has that in it, and that that’s the ladder of inference model, isn’t it. It’s so reflective, isn’t it, that the more you have drawn from these, or grounded yourself I should say, in these concepts, methods, techniques – I mean, they are within you, and then you can – you said, three seconds – you can just really draw on them really quickly, reflecting on your own thoughts and beliefs and then try to figure out what to do [chuckles] and then ask the group. I mean, you go quite quickly into, ‘alright, well here’s kind of what I’m seeing, what do you think?’ is how I might put what you said too. I’ve done that too. Because we can’t make those decisions for the group, can we, based on just what we think. And I think those have been some of the most powerful moments – maybe they have been for you as well – when I didn’t really know what to do, [and] all I could do is try to ask the right question – to the group – about what needed to happen next and say, ‘well here’s kind of what I’m seeing here, and it wasn’t what I thought I was going to see, and so what do we want to do about that?’ And they go, ‘oh yeah Beth, thank you for saying that. Oh blah blah’ – some truth comes out, right? (Absolutely.) I mean, have you found those – is that a real –That is a really key thing for a new facilitator – and even those of us who have been doing it for a while – to keep remembering: turn to the group. (Yes.) Have those been some of your most powerful moments?

Barb
Oh absolutely. It’s about us. It’s not about them and me. I consider myself, as the facilitator, as part of the group. In a specific and a little more – let’s just say – neutral or objective role, yet the minute I go into a group I am part of it in some way. And I’m going to influence it. So, you know, I recognize that and see that I am invited into their space and we create something together.

So I can invite them very, very much to co-design, to ask the next question. Somebody is leaving in tears and I can just say to the group ‘this might be a time to take a break. This might be a time to just sit and reflect. What do you want to do?’ And they’ll tell me. It does not allow us – we as facilitators – to give up our role of designing some sort of discussion, conversation, and helping them reach a decision. We just do it in a way, knowing that they’ve got the wisdom, and we are helping to make their wisdom visible and let them decide what to do about it.

It takes a long time. I mean, what are analogies? Learning to drive a car is always a really good one. You remember that moment, Beth, where you just stopped thinking about everything, and you kind of went ‘oh how did we get from here to here? And yet I know I was driving extremely safely?’ And it’s just that magic – for all of a sudden you know how to drive and you’re kind of at one with your car and your surroundings [laughs]. I think facilitation is the same.

I remember a colleague who started about nine years ago, and we talk and work together, and she said ‘I all of a sudden realized I was no longer thinking of that process I had designed, or the next steps. I was facilitating the group yet I was also ‘do I shoulder check – have I put my signal on – the next step in this is to have them break into small groups and write this down’. And she said it just flowed. And I think that’s a very beautiful – now where does that come in a career? Going back to phases, stages. There certainly is a learning stage and then that stabilizing stage where I’d say that comes into it. And then what I found is I just went back into exploring an adventure and learning and I would think that’s probably where I’m in now.

And I think Covid, the pandemic, really made a massive difference. So I would’ve been – just because we’re thinking of years – oh my gosh, like all the last year – that I would’ve been 25 years into my career at the time when Covid arrived, and without a doubt it revitalized me in many ways. Just that whole online was so exciting for me and high, high, new skill learning. And yet, I realized within a month that my attitude, my principles was still all there. I just had to learn new techniques. The other thing it did was it let me discover this incredible global world of facilitators.

So again, what’s the message? What is the lesson learned? Those cycles of starting, stabilizing, exploring, adventuring, the sense start, a renewal – are coming all the time through the career.

Beth
Yeah, I love how you’re giving those names to the phases. And I want to draw like a little loop with my hand that we’re ‘stabilizing and exploring and adventuring and we’re stabilizing and exploring and adventuring’. Because it does sometimes get hard, doesn’t it? And then you have to kind of re-energize yourself somehow. Have you had those hard moments?

Barb
Oh my gosh, Beth. I have this vivid re memory – and the year is with me: September 2014. So 10 years ago? I was pacing my living room, I have a home office, I was pacing my living room going ‘I have one contract…’ And you know, and I call contract very loose. I mean, it could be a year long, it could be half a day. OK. Most of my work would be the equivalent of a day to two days, with some that expand way out. And I remember the fear. Because, for one thing we need money. I’m never, ever forget – what’s the #5 tip? If you are an entrepreneur you are running a business. And so you need to remember that.

I remember thinking, ‘what am I going to do?’ Because the issue I find is that as I’m very busy, it’s hard to market and do that deliberate looking forward. I don’t hire people to market for me – so at some point we need to talk about scale of business – this could go on forever of course! (Beth laughs.) There is a great deal of the trust that something is going to come. I found that in the first three to four years, it was kind of every three months I was into ‘oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?’ And then kind of at 6-12 months. Then with – I don’t know what it was. We had a big economic downturn in Canada, certainly in like kind of 2011 to 2014. So maybe it was coming out of there. There was a significant impact at 9-11 (September 11, 2001). And what saved me is I had a few ongoing projects that continued and some colleagues that pulled me in to do some community development work. So in 2014, all of a sudden, you know, three emails came in and it was, again, repeat customers and a referral from a close friend to what became a year and a half facilitation contract.

And right now I’m probably into the six month cycle, looking ahead booked. Probably the best year ever. So there. For the people who go ‘what happens when you’re in here for 30 years?’ You can have the best year ever. So they’re going to happen.

Just a very quick little comment though to help about that. There are down times and then how are you going to do what you love doing and make a difference and make money? I believe in what I call the ‘bread and butter’ contract. If you can do something that brings in revenue on a continuous basis – so some people will write a book and – so, so many congratulations to you. The book is still on the to-do list for me. So wonderful that you wrote the book. So, you know, you could write a book. You could have – some people say I’m doing training workshops and I have to run one a month to be able to have – for money.

I had an opportunity to do a project with two organizations in my second year, to do what they called community development work and grant proposal writing. I’m still doing the proposal writing. That became – I don’t do it for others – it’s like 10% of my work? Yet that was my bread and butter. After Covid, they had so much work, like the first six months of Covid where we were all learning how to do it online and getting customers online, these two organizations had so much work because every funding body was giving grants. I was able to get money from there. So, you know, a lesson learned if a person starting out can – you know, decide what your core services are and then get what I call that bread and butter, ongoing, ‘money’s coming in and I love doing it’ work, that makes a difference. Do you have a bread and butter type of contract or – again, I’m thinking of your book – but is there something that you know the money is coming in to some degree on a regular basis?

Beth
Well, yes. I was going to ask you about feast and famine and so maybe I can kind of answer it first and I’ll turn it back to you. People always say when they hear that I work for myself and I’m an entrepreneur, they go ‘oh! Feast or famine, right?’ And I go ‘Nope. It’s always feast’. I’ve been really lucky [smiles] and we can talk about luck and hard work later, but because I have the learning design side of the business – that is a lot of our work is learning design and the contracts can be quite small, they can be sort of just 10 hours, or consultative kind of stuff, DIY where we’re sort of helping an entrepreneur do something and they go off and do it. But the ones where we’re really engaged in building, designing, and developing the course, they take months and we work with clients over long, long periods of time. So those really are my bread and butter, although it’s different every time, different clients every year. That always has been the anchor for me and my business.

Then the facilitation – the two types of facilitation – just kind of pepper throughout the year depending on who comes our way, really. I always have had the benefit of a lot of work and that’s why I’m growing the team. But you’re right about when it’s busy it’s hard to market. I mean, I really try to remember to keep pushing – not push, that’s not a great word – but just how do we keep sharing what we do and being valuable to the community, and talking and exploring and deepening our networks? You know, communities of practice, like I’ve led a community of practice for a dozen years now. So I’ve always done things to give, give, give.

I mean the book is kind of like that too. I don’t make a lot of money on that book – although I’m so happy I did it – and now I have another idea for another one – but I guess that’s maybe my advice: keep giving to your community and developing relationships with people, friends in the field that do the same thing, great relationships with clients. Like you mentioned you got repeat business, a client came back to you and kind of saved you at a time you needed more work. So just, I don’t know, there are all those relationship building pieces that help me with the feast and famine kind of periods. And so we don’t really ever see famine because of all those groundwork pieces that I’ve laid.

Barb
Well, that’s wonderful.

Beth
Yeah. What do you say about feast and famine? You’ve gone through a little bit of that, but mostly I think you’ve been quite ‘feastily’ successful?

Barb
Yeah, it’s without a doubt more feast than famine with just a few times, as I said, where you’re walking in the living room going ‘what is going to come next?’ Just a few comments. The marketing. It used to be all word of mouth, repeat. In the last 10 years without a doubt it’s much more online through the website. I don’t have a fancy website. I don’t do a lot great stuff on it, yet when people search – whether it’s facilitation, strategic planning, teamwork, focus groups for heaven’s sakes – I’m in the top five even without a fancy website. So 50% at minimum of my work is now coming in through there.

So the marketing, you have to adjust. And you also need to, as you say, become part of communities, become part of looking out and reaching with others. I belong to four facilitation or team-building communities now and before Covid it would’ve probably been maybe two. Maybe I belong to five now. It’s not that I get work through there, but I just seem to get exposure. Because people follow you on LinkedIn and Instagram and so that just helps the feeds into your website. It’s really keeping aware that there are little changes you can do online for the business. And again, the famine is you build your business – I’m putting money into the business. So I’m 30 years in. I’m 69 years old. Am I going to retire? It’s there in my mind. It’s not that ‘OK, I am planning it out now’. I am absolutely excited because opportunities are coming to me now, which is amazing. I’ve always wanted to do more corporate work. You typically work out of the field you come out of. So non-profit and government has kept me busy with a little bit of corporate. I recently became an associate with a leadership development group, and I’ve never been an associate because I’ve never felt comfortable. This one I felt totally comfortable with, and a lot of their work is facilitation within corporate. So, I mean it’s happening. What I had hoped to have at some point is definitely happening. I want to explore that. I’m getting great work. I’m testing and refining different approaches than what I may be comfortable with, if it’s going to suit the group. So there’s still this great enthusiasm and passion.

The big difference [chuckles], Beth, is that at my age, I very much need to be thinking about tax implications because our governments have all these things that happen as you age. And so, you know, my accountant is – and financial advisor – is saying things like: ‘you can’t make this much money, Barb. It’s time to – what are we going do about this?’ And I’m not ready to go there yet. And yet it’s there in the back of my mind that a transition is coming into what I call a ‘rewirement’ into something else. The only desire I feel is for, let’s say that, the change of time is that I would spend more time with my grandkids. But as you know, with our schedules as entrepreneurs, we have a lot of flexibility. When we aren’t available, we aren’t available. But then I can work at 8:00 pm and be with my grandkids at 4:00 pm after daycare. So more flexibility and I would like to do a bit more camping, travel – which we – again I could be much more deliberate about that.

The big impetus for me thinking about any transition into retirement is it’s not passion, it’s not the work. I love it. It’s as I said the tax implications! [laughs]. Darn. Because I have to think about that!

Beth
That is a ‘darn’ situation. Yeah. Why would a government do that? You know, we’ve got a healthy, vibrant woman here who is 69, and you’re clearly so energetic and joyful and passionate about your work. I don’t want you to stop [laughter] just because the government’s telling you that you’ve got to do some tax planning and thinking and manoeuvering. That’s kind of sucks, frankly, in a way, doesn’t it? [laughs]

Barb
Yes. And again – we didn’t talk about this – but at some point if you are an entrepreneur – because we’re also sharing this with internal facilitators and they could take it from what do I want my role to be – you need to decide your scale of business. I am a solo. I contract certain services yet not to the degree that you would, or some of my other colleagues. When my children who are, you know, they’re adults now, in their thirties. When they were in junior high and high school, I hired them to do a lot of the bookkeeping and typing up the Post-it Notes and all of that kind of stuff, which helped them and helped me. Again, you have to remember that you’ve got to figure out the scale of your business and I decided I wanted to be – and I managed – I was a leader and a manager in my recreation work and I loved it – yet I decided I want to be in the room with the people. I don’t want to be coordinating others to be in the room. So then that’s all part of that first stage of exploring, discovery, and moving into stabilization.

Beth
I’d like to ask you a question. Sometimes I listen to the podcast called How I Built This with Guy Raz. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that one?

Barb
No, but I’m going to go look it up.

Beth
It’s about entrepreneurship. So it’s businesses around maybe most of the States and maybe some beyond that you’ve heard of and otherwise, about what their entrepreneurial journey has been like. And so I thought of it this morning because he always asks the same question to the people at the end of the episode, and I want to ask it to you. Because I always think it’s sort of neat that he does this. Here’s the question. Barb, how much of your success is due to your skill and hard work, and how much is due to luck?

Barb
80% is skill and hard work, because of everything I said – establishing your reputation from the moment you live, through all my experiences in 4-H, in recreation, moving into facilitation. I am my reputation. So to me that’s skill and hard work. Being ethical, being authentic, being honest. That’s skill and hard work. Then the beliefs, the approaches that I talked about all roll into that.

The luck is somebody – again, is it luck? – somebody refers you for something, and you kind of go, ‘like how did that happen?’ So you feel lucky and you think it was just serendipitous. Yet I think if we go back into what led to that, it’s back to skill and hard work. I might even go a 100%. Because what’s the luck? A random encounter with someone? That’s happened kind of once to me, and we’re talking, and I just talked to this person, and ‘oh you’re a facilitator, well I need a facilitator’. Normally there’s some story behind it that led to that luck. Is it lucky that after 9-11 I had a friend in a job that needed some help that got me through the downturn after 9-11? In a way, yet I had established my credibility with her. Beth, what about you as we finish here? [laughs]

Beth
I like what you’re saying and I probably think the same. Sometimes we think things are lucky, and I certainly feel lucky in a lot of things that have happened to me and my career and to us as a company and so on. But then I do have to peel the onion a little bit and go, ‘well wait a minute. I mean I laid a lot of groundwork to make that kind of thing happen’. Or, you know, sometimes you can see the direct connection to why a thing came your way. But, yeah, I work pretty hard in my work and try to create – I don’t know I just try to do good things and put some good karma out there and then it comes back.

I liked what you said earlier about – I forget how you put it – but I just kind of have to tell myself that good things are coming my way. (Yes.) And I don’t really know what they are yet. And they are. There’s a certainty there that helps me with some of those pieces where I go ‘oh what am I going to be doing six months from now? What’s the company going to be doing?’ And I just have to go: ‘something good is coming my way and I don’t know what it is yet’.

Barb
Beth, it’s a beautiful way to conclude, is that that’s exactly how I feel. And it’s in those moments of worry that something comes. And why does something come? Because we’ve laid the foundation. And sometimes you have to give it a little nudge, you know? So you make a phone call, or you send a little email and ‘just thinking of you, we worked together last year, how’s that project coming?’ It is absolutely, in a way, magical based on the foundation we laid that the work just keeps coming in. Yeah. Even after 30 years, Beth, even more so after 30 years [laughs].

Beth
I just got chills – just kind of ran up my spine – because I feel so grateful for this time. This has almost become a [chuckles] two-part episode, Barb, because there’s so much. (Oh gosh.) I mean we could keep going for sure because you’ve had such a rich career. But the most hopeful thing for me is that you’re not done yet. You are not anywhere near done yet. You still have so much joie de vivre, [laughs] so much joy for your work and your explorations around it. So thank you for spending time with me. It’s been a joy for me.

Barb
Oh thank you. It’s a delight to have a conversation with a colleague and friend who just speaks the same language and the feelings. So I appreciate this so much.

[Episode outro]
Beth Cougler Blom
Well, again, it was such a joy for me to talk with Barbara about her career in facilitation. As someone that is 20 years behind Barbara in her age and where I’m sitting in my career, it was so hopeful for me to think, ok, she’s 20 years ahead of me almost and she’s still passionate about the career. She’s still renewing herself in the career. I love the term ‘rewirement’ that she’s using instead of retirement. I think that’s a fantastic thing for those of us who are facilitators to think we could be doing this for a long time but we’d be going through these various cycles that she talked about to keep reviving and renewing ourselves in the work. And maybe making changes along the way and challenging ourselves in new ways. I think you will have heard that hopefulness and passion yourself as she talked about her whole career and where she still sits and looks forward to what’s coming next. That was so wonderful.

The other thing that jumped out at me as I listen back to this episode is how many resources Barb shared when we were talking about those foundational facilitation frameworks that she draws upon and she recommended that you and I go and find for ourselves as facilitators. And you probably have some of those things that you’re building for yourself, you’re drawing on already if you’ve been doing this thing for a while. But if you’re just starting out in your facilitation career, go and take some of those types of trainings that she’s talked about to ground yourself in some of the frameworks. There’s many, many different frameworks out there. She named a few, there are many more. And just keep asking your communities of practice – the people within it who do facilitation – what kind of frameworks and foundations helped them get started and helped them propel themselves in their career. And I think it’s great advice for all of us who’ve been doing this for a while as well to keep going back to training with other facilitators to revive and re-energize ourselves and to keep deepening our learning in the field as well. So thanks again to Barbara Pedersen for sharing with me so honestly about her long career and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next in her work from this point forward.

On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to share some of the inner dialogue that I have with myself while facilitating. There are always so many things that go through our brains while we are facilitating – either learning or meetings – and I’m going to share some of the things I think about while facilitating to make facilitation-related decisions. Join me next time for Think Like a Facilitator. I’ll see you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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