The Business Side of Facilitation – Episode 5


In this episode, Beth chats with guest Tara Jaskowiak from Groundwork about the business side of facilitation, focusing on planning and communications strategies that facilitators can use to support their success. This look behind the scenes will be valuable for either people who own a facilitation-related business or who do facilitation work inside an organization.

Beth and Tara also explore:

  • Tara’s Five Elements of Communication
  • Using storytelling skills to make connections with others
  • Reflecting on and replicating strategies for success
  • Getting clear on and communicating boundaries
  • Using values to drive business/organizational decision-making

Engage with Tara Jaskowiak, Groundwork

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with Beth

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Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
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
Hello, thank you so much for being here. This is Episode 5, and in this episode I talk with a guest about the business side of facilitation. I don’t about you, but I convene and co-convene a couple of communities of practice for facilitators, and one of the things that I see my colleagues getting really excited about in the field is talking to other facilitators about behind the scenes stuff about facilitation. Sometimes we facilitators want to get together and talk about those things with other people who understand what it is to do our work. Because, hey, I’m sure we all have friends and family members who have no idea what it is that we actually do! I know [laughs] that has been a problem for me in my career, where not everybody actually understands what learning design is, what instructional design is, and what facilitation is, or facilitating learning. And so I need to talk to other facilitators about those things that we all care and know about and also have questions about. Well, I’m happy to tell you that that is the conversation that I am going to have with today’s guest. Her name is Tara Jaskowiak and her business is called Groundwork. Tara and I have known each other for many, many years. She’s actually one of the people that I interviewed when I was interviewing 30 facilitators to write my book, Design to Engage, and I had such a great conversation with Tara at the time that I knew she was someone I wanted to go back and check in with and see what she’s thinking about now. And what she’s thinking about now is her business, which is all about helping entrepreneurs grow and build purposeful businesses through things like strategic planning, having conversations strategically, using storytelling techniques, thinking about values, thinking about boundaries. And these are some of the things we dive into in our conversation that can really help you, if you’re a facilitator especially who owns your own business, but also if you work in an organization. There are always things that we can do outside of the actual work in the room with participants to grow our facilitation skills and to grow our facilitation practice, whatever that looks like for us. So, have a listen to Tara and I as we discuss the business side of facilitation. Enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
Hi Tara, I’m really looking forward to our conversation today. Thanks for joining me.

Tara Jaskowiak
Thanks for having me.

Beth
I know you’ve been a facilitator for many, many years and you were facilitating when we met years and years ago, but tell me the focus of your business now, and how you support people in their work, whether they’re facilitators or not, actually. What are you doing right now?

Tara
Yeah so about three or four years ago I moved from the non-profit, community sector world and started my own consulting business, called Groundwork, and I work mainly with small-based businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-profits every now and again, mainly focused on strategic planning with those folks. The folks who come to work with me are people who are generally feeling really overwhelmed and/or they’ve got an opportunity that they want to explore and they’re not quite sure if it’s a good fit. So, I’m really a sounding board for them. And all of the work that I do with clients is really based around planning, so I usually start with a big picture brainstorm session where we put sticky notes all over the wall and help them get all of their thoughts out so we can start to organize and piece together where they’re going, what they want to do, what their opportunities are. And then really figuring out how to action all of that, and how to implement that plan. So, not tied to this plan, not really even looking at five-year plans, but just helping them get a handle on their business and move forward. And really it comes down to them putting the time in to do that hard work that’s not often very exciting. And to have somebody outside their business to support them with it.

Beth
I think that’s so great, and I know that I’ve benefited from hiring that kind of person in my own business. Like, you know the people that can really work with me behind the scenes and help me kind of put the brakes on a little bit and figure out what are the things I’m doing, what do I want to do, where am I going with this, and just get that one-on-one support. Especially because I’m a solopreneur, but even if you had a few employees or subcontractors or whatever, this kind of taking the time is so important, isn’t it, for our work?

Tara
Yeah, no absolutely. And I’m finding lately I’ve been working a lot with either mother/daughter business owners or partners that are running a business together that really benefit from having that facilitator in the room, helping them navigate all those big conversations. Especially if they have, you know, a relationship other than just business owners. So, that’s been really exciting. I really love working with folks who see the value of bringing somebody else in and can really utilize it, you know, like really take advantage of having that third person there.

Beth
Exactly, especially if it’s a family-based business as you were saying. I can imagine mothers and daughters or fathers and sons or whoever it is would really benefit from that third person as you say, helping them just kind of fly up a little bit, you know at the broader level and help them out.

Tara
Yeah, and it’s really like, for most folks, helping them see the forest for the trees, right? Like they know everything that they need to do but so often they are working so hard to run their business or to, like, look for funding for their non-profit that they can’t actually see and can’t actually take action on what they know. They have the skills, they’ve got the resources, but it’s just the time. And just having somebody like affirm what their thoughts are, or help them just say it out loud so they can move forward.

Beth
Absolutely. So, one of the things I know you work with people on is around communication and you know, talking with the people in their business, whoever they are. I mean for facilitators we might have clients we’re talking to or of course we’re working with participants, might be co-facilitators. So, are there communication things that, you know, when we’re working on our business that you really propose to people to think about and use?

Tara
Yeah. This always come up. It doesn’t matter who I’m working with or what their business or organization is. Communication affects everything, right? So, I always give my five tips for communication. And if you can think of working with or talking to the right person, place, time, tone and content. So, if you can aim to have all of those things bang on, your conversation will most likely go flawlessly. So, if you’re talking to the right person, you know if you’re co-facilitating with somebody, and maybe there’s things happening with participants and things are going a little awry and you need to talk about it. So, making sure that you’re speaking to your co-facilitator, so the right person, in the right place. You’re probably not going to do it just off to the corner, maybe give the participants a break and you go outside the hallway. So, thinking about the right, most appropriate place to have the conversation. The right time, so when in the day is going to be the right time? Is it going to be trying to nip it in the bud in the morning break, to have a quick chat so you can set the afternoon on? Is it, maybe it’s not a huge issue, maybe it could be something you could do in a debrief afterwards. So, thinking about when the most appropriate time is to have that conversation. Thinking about your tone. So, tone comes through differently in different ways, right? So, are you going to be emailing them about it, are you going to be texting, are you going to have a conversation, is it a phone call? Is it, you know, going out for coffee afterwards? So, thinking about all those things but also your tone and what’s the purpose of the conversation can often help inform our tone, right. And then the big piece is the content, what are you talking about? What’s the most important thing that you want to get across, what’s going to be most valuable? And again, thinking OK what is the purpose or the intent of this conversation? And basing your content around that. So, person, place, time, tone and content. If you can even get like three or four of them [laughs] the conversation is going to go OK, but really strive to get all five, and yeah it usually works out really well.

Beth
Those are great tips. I almost want to look at them on my five fingers, you know, to help me remember it, I’m sure. We can post something probably that you’ve got around helping people remember those five things in the show notes I think as well. But I know I really…time and tone stand out for me because I’m a morning person. I’m probably at my most creative in the mornings, morning meetings are great for me. But if I schedule a 4 o’clock meeting, especially on a Friday or near the end of the week I know that’s not a great time for me to actually have those conversations with particularly a new client that I’m trying to be at my best with or that kind of idea. So, time really resonates with me. But tone as well. If I can get people in Zoom sometimes to meet me, as they are trying to figure out if they want to hire me, and we can have that tone together and try to use it as a basis to build a relationship on, you know often we can make a connection through how we communicate and how we use tone. But I’ve also seen it the other way around where the tone maybe someone’s taken with me tells me that they actually don’t want to hire me. [Laughs] You know, I have that feeling right, that it’s not really going to go anywhere.

Tara
Yeah, you can vet their tone as well. You know, if you can get in person. Or body language is another thing that you can see in these conversations. Like there’s so much you can grasp and take that into consideration when you’re looking to hire them, or work with them, definitely.

Beth
Yeah, or seeing if it’s going to be a good fit, or yeah, there’s so much. And you’re helping us think more intentionally about some of those things and planning a little bit for them too, it sounds like.

Tara
Yeah, and I use this in my personal life. Like, I try to lean on these five things all the time, right? So, it’s not necessarily just with clients. It could be with participants, it could be with co-workers, it could be with family and friends. And then you’re intentional about your conversation as well, too, then, right? Not meaning that every conversation you need to be like OK which are the five things, I gotta remember. But it’s those ones that you have any worries or concerns about or maybe big feelings about. It’s really important conversations, you really want to lean on these five things.

Beth
I’ve actually chuckled with other facilitators sometimes about how we use facilitation skills with our families. You know, kind of planning those intentional moments with our children or our partners or whoever. You know, it’s not a sneaky thing, it’s just – as you say – it’s a great communication kind of thing to use facilitation skills one-on-one like that.

Tara
Yeah absolutely. Myself as a facilitator and my husband who is a teacher and an outdoor educator, our kids are facilitated often. [Laughs] Birthday parties are very well facilitated. Yeah, it’s just the way we are.

Beth
Yeah, I’m sure my daughter would tell you I’m always looking for the teachable moment. Maybe I get a little eye roll in return or something like that. Now let’s talk a little bit, this is a communication thing too, but storytelling is something that you think a lot about and work with your clients around. Can you comment on that, and how we can use storytelling to talk more about what we do and how we do it, and I guess who we do it for, all those things?

Tara
Yeah, so I grew up in Cape Breton, which is an island in Nova Scotia and it’s very rich in storytelling. And my family, like I grew up listening to stories all the time. It’s just what we did. Family would come over, aunts and uncles, and there was just stories, like in between card games. But there’s always stories. So, it’s very much a part of who I am and what I know. And I just find that if we use stories to connect with people and this could be like when you’re working with a client, and you’re trying to get a point across. It could be when you’re trying to attract clients through your marketing. If we use story, then people like have an instant connection with you. And they start to pay attention and if they hear more stories that can relate to them, maybe they can start to get to know you or you’re at top of mind, they can relate and think like oh, I remember when they said that, oh interesting. So, you’re kind of at top of mind versus just if you’re selling a product or a course, you’re not just like this is going on sale this week, we’re launching this week, it’s 50% off, you get all of these bonuses. But if you can use story that stands out a bit and it connects to people’s individual self. And I often will talk with clients about not being too worried about getting specific. Sometimes clients say, well I don’t want to be too specific about this story because what if somebody doesn’t relate to that? Well, they may not relate to that specific story, but they can make a connection, right? So, I was working with a client who is a therapist and wanting to work with front-line workers and folks experiencing burnout through the pandemic, and so you know we identified that parents are like, parents in this generation who have small generation and aging parents, they’re experiencing a lot of burnout, a lot of anxiety and using a story about for example reaching to that audience, saying like talking about therapy services…you’re dropping your child off at summer camp while waiting to pick them up, you’re trying to figure out what long-term care home to put your mom in that’s going to feel best for you. You’re carrying all of the load, you’ve got to figure out when the dental appointments are. Like using stories like that to really connect them and then talk about how you know therapy services may benefit to be able to talk through these big issues. Now I don’t need to have an aging parent going into long-term care or a kid in day camp to feel what that is, right? I know like, oh I have aging parents and small kids, yeah. I get that.

Beth
Yeah, as you say it’s a real connection point. It’s an empathy-building kind of activity, isn’t it? There’s someone out there that has had a similar experience. Or they’re kind of drawing a connection maybe that you never even intended but there’s something in that feeling or presence in that story that people can connect with.

Tara
Yeah, and then if it’s genuine like that, you know, often my clients – this has come from a place of passion and not necessarily sales right – so they feel, sometimes come to me feeling like icky about selling their services. And so I always try to flip the script on that and saying you’re not holding people down and swiping their debit card, you’re offering them an exchange. You’re offering them a service that could benefit them. And if it does then that’s great. If you continue to tell stories about how it can help them, you’ll be at top of mind when they’re ready and when they’re feeling like they need that extra support.

Beth
I think that’s great advice and I don’t know if it took me a while to get to that point, I can’t really remember some of the early days of my business but I certainly have felt that for a long time that, you know, I meet with clients and tell some stories about some of the things that I’ve done with other clients, confidentially keeping those things safe and stuff of course, but just here’s me and here’s some of the things that I’ve done and I’ll tell you some of the stories and if it works for you, great, and if it doesn’t I’m sure there’s another wonderful person out there for you. So, just knowing that maybe it’s someone else’s story that they’re looking for and that’s ok too. I think it’s very freeing to have that, isn’t it, in your business?

Tara
Oh my gosh, absolutely. You know part of that comes from confidence, like, feeling confident in your offer. And you know scarcity mindset, all of those things, there’s so many layers to it. But I think if you take away the, like, the stereotypical slimy salesperson right? Like used car salesperson who is trying to like take every bit of money you have. Like we have those thoughts of those people when we talk about sales. But if you can really – that’s a lot of the work that I do – is just really helping people understand the value of what they have to offer. And that is it’s what it is, it’s an offer, it’s something that you can put out there and you know, once we start using stories that eventually comes a little bit more natural. To some people, not to everybody for sure. But yeah, I think it’s a great way to showcase what you can offer.

Beth
And we can use that inside a workshop or course and outside of it, too, can’t we? So, we might be facilitators or trainers that think, OK there’s a great story here, I’m going to tell this in the workshop and this is going to really explain my point, or you know the thing. But then we have to remind ourselves to use it outside of, you know, behind the scenes in our business as well, and use it as a connection point that way. Because it could be something that people just kind of gloss over or don’t remember to do.

Tara
Yeah absolutely. Yeah.

Beth
So your business is a lot about helping people do planning effectively and taking the time for that. But reflection is part of planning as well, and I know that you help people around reflection. Can you say something about the value of reflecting on our business and what we’re doing?

Tara
Yeah, so that’s another one where it’s not like the most exciting piece of the work right? You’ve done the big thing, you’ve just you know hosted a daylong event, and people were really thrilled about it and now, you know, you want to get off and start planning the next thing. Like leave that conference room and move on to the next thing. And I think a lot of people do that really successfully and they just carry on and carry on. I think the value of budgeting in that time when you’re planning your week or your quarter or whatever you’re planning into, giving yourself some buffer time between events, between meetings even, to really think about how that went. And it’s tricky because it’s go go go and emails and notifications are popping up and all those things are happening. But if you can, when you’re at the beginning stages of planning your event or your workshop, to budget in that time and whether you do that on your own or whether you call a friend to debrief it with, or whether you’ve got some of your own kind of questions that you can ask yourself, and just build it out. If you can do that that can help you plan for the future. So, it’s one of the main things that I do with clients as well, because it’s so hard to do, so if you’re paying somebody to help you, this is often the time that will make you sit down and do it, right? It’s hard to do it on your own. One activity that I do often is think about some successes you’ve had recently. And it could be something really big, like oh I had my best year yet or 82 people signed up for my live workshop, it was amazing. Like think about some successes like that. And then think about, what is the evidence of that success? So thinking about like what was I feeling when that was happening? Or, what did I hear people saying? Or you know how were people interacting during it? So, thinking about, like, OK that felt like a success. These are the things that demonstrate it was a success. And then I will nudge people to think about well, what strategies got you there? So why was that 82 people showing up to a live workshop, how did that happen? And thinking about well I really reached out to my networks and advertised on this place, and I reached out to these people, and I made it really clear what the workshop was, and how it would benefit people. And there’s this magic thing that happens when you have to list more than seven strategies, because you have to go below the surface and you have to really start to think. And oftentimes with clients, the things that happen are, oh the time of year that I did it was really helpful because my schedule was not as full, or my kids were back in school so I had more time to think during the day. So, some of those personal things. Oh things were really jiving with the organization, like everyone was well rested, communication was really good. So, you think about those strategies, then you can use those to plan your next event or product or meeting or anything like that.

Beth
Yeah, and taking the time to actually do that because you’d probably miss a lot of those things if you really just raced on to the next event or the next workshop or whatever it is that you’ve got in your schedule. So, taking the time to help tease those things out. I like how you’ve said, kind of get to seven or beyond seven and you maybe get some juice there in some of those great strategies to replicate.

Tara
Yeah, and then when you do it for a couple, like maybe this is something that you do every six months even. Like it doesn’t necessarily have to be right after. You can start it now and you can think about the last six months or the last year, what were some of those successes? And then if you can start to see any trends in those, that’s what you want to really look out for. So, if you see like these last three successes, I’ve been really taking care of myself. I’ve been in a really good mental space, I’ve been going for a walk every morning. OK so that’s important to the success of what you do. So, this is maybe what you want to focus on, making sure that you get out for a walk, making sure that you’re really working on your communication skills. Like all of those things that come up.

Beth
Yeah, and really using them as touchstones or something to keep coming back to, going OK right, when I was walking every morning I felt more at my best and whatever, whatever follows on from that, yeah. Now what about, one of the things I like to do, and actually I’ve done this for a long time, is at the end of every year I look back on my successes of the year and try to kind of note what those are. But I also look back on my so called failures. And I think OK what were my learning moments? There always are some of course. And really think about why those failures happened and what am I going to do about that? So, what do you say about reflecting on failures with your clients?

Tara
Yeah, I often get this question when I’m chatting with potential clients and explaining this exercise and I see them sort of like glossing over, like oh she’s just looking at the most positive. Like, is this going to be a toxic positivity thing? Like, I’m really struggling right now, this is why I’m calling you. I always make sure to mention that even in this exercise when we’re focusing on the positives, there’s always going to be the challenges that come up, right? So, you can’t ignore them. I was actually just chatting with a friend who, to use a little mountain biking analogy, she said she wanted to try these jumps all summer long and last night she finally did it. And she fell off and she really hurt her knee, you know, scratched it up. And she said, oh what a failure! And I said, well it would have been a failure if you had spent the whole summer not trying but you actually tried it, so that’s not a failure. Like you actually tried your thing and now you know, like can we get some knee pads? [Laughs] Or make sure to go a little bit faster to make it over. So, I think the biggest failure is not identifying what it was. That’s huge if we just skim through and only look at the positive and we’re never identifying, OK yeah when things were going well or when only four people showed up to my workshop, like what, kind of reverse it, you know, what was happening? Oh, like things were really busy, I was multitasking all the time, or I was trying to do it off the side of my desk, or all of those things.

Beth
I think a lot about curiosity and diving into those moments, going ok well that didn’t work out so well, and let’s get curious about it and think about who was involved or what was I doing, or what did I ask for or not ask for? You know, sometimes it comes down, or often I kind of laugh with myself, and a friend and I who also has a similar business, we always laugh about boundaries, because we go oh, there’s another thing for the boundaries workshop! We’re never going to teach a boundaries workshop, but we laugh that we will because it comes up so much in our business, just setting and maintaining boundaries of some sort. And I know that’s come up for you in your work too. What do you say about the importance of knowing boundaries or working with them, you know, in any kind of work that we do?

Tara
I love boundaries but I joke sometimes that boundaries are my love language! [Laughs] When you know what they are and you can sort of implement them and, I always hesitate to say enforce them but use them, it makes it easier for everybody, right? Like we all know, you know we have these great expectations of things and we get there and they don’t live up to the expectations. Well, it’s maybe you didn’t have enough information to figure out what they were, right, like maybe that just wasn’t lining up because you didn’t have that information. So, it’s similar with boundaries. Like if you don’t know my boundaries, if I’m not communicating them with you, then there’s probably going to be some miscommunication, some frustration even. And it’s a hard thing because it makes people…people can sometimes feel vulnerable when they’re expressing their boundaries and we have a lot of societal and cultural layers that go with that, especially you know often, as women, expressing boundaries looks like being a bossy person, or … so there’s a lot a lot of layers that come with boundaries. But there’s really healthy ways to do it as well, right? It’s thinking about how to communicate the boundaries, knowing what they are. So oftentimes our boundaries, we identify them after the fact, right? We experience something and realize, oh wait a second, that doesn’t feel good. How am I going to make sure that that doesn’t happen again? Yeah, boundaries are so important. And sometimes it takes just talking them through with people, right, talking through your experiences and maybe chatting with a close friend, sort of feeling affirmed with what your thoughts are around those specific boundaries can be helpful.

Beth
I do that a lot with the colleagues that I have, especially women I mean, and not that I don’t have male colleagues that are wonderful as well, but maybe we women tend to gravitate towards each other and share that kind of thing a little more easily. But just to go, this happened to me and this is kind of how I felt about it, and you know has it happened to you, and let’s talk about that. And we can kind of riff off each other’s feelings a little bit. I know one of the biggest boundaries I’ve had, especially several years ago, or that I realized I guess along the way was I wasn’t really communicating what my role was in the contract, you know. Say it’s a learning design contract and we’re building a course of some kind and I, you know in the middle of the contract, I go why do I hate this project? [Laughs] To myself. And I realize, oh, right, because I never actually explained to the client what my role was, but what the expectations were that I had of their role and what they needed to contribute to the project in terms of their subject matter expertise. So, all of a sudden, I was kind of working on it alone, and I’m like, well I don’t know anything about insert content here, right, like whatever the content was, I don’t want to say. But that thing that I never communicated up front, it really bit me in the end. And so I have definitely learned some hard lessons looking back on not setting boundaries and not being clear and communicating those to others.

Tara
Yeah and definitely we see that with clients who don’t have client agreements or you know contracts or things like that at the beginning of a relationship, right, whether it’s a client or whatever it is. Like making sure if it’s a collaboration or a partnership with somebody, it really is beneficial to take the time at the beginning to kind of lay out that groundwork and do that work so that you can move through that experience. And not to say that OK we did that, we talked about our expectations and boundaries, there will still be things that come up or people that get close to our boundaries. But if you have that conversation at the beginning you can have that as a way to remind or this is, remember when we talked about this, I’m really not comfortable answering emails on the weekend. Do you remember we had that chat at the beginning? And you can have that conversation versus oh I really am frustrated at 3 o’clock on a Saturday when I’m trying to just go to the beach and I’m getting an email from somebody. Or maybe they can email you on the weekends but with the knowledge or understand that you’re not going to look at it until Monday. So having those boundaries, whatever works well for you. And it comes with experience, it comes with knowing what your own boundaries are and trying to figure out what it is for you. Boundaries are similar to policies in that they’re often created once they’re either stepped, things are stepped on or come close to, right?

Beth
I think so.

Tara
So, you can anticipate some things, like what are my worries and concerns? OK I’ll put a boundary up or create a policy. But oftentimes it’s like OK that didn’t feel so great, next time going forward this is my boundary.

Beth
Exactly and maybe write it down for yourself so that you remember and kind of can hold yourself accountable in some way, like even if you have a sheet. What would you recommend? How do people remember the boundaries that they’ve tried to set for themselves, are there any tips you have around that?

Tara
Yeah, I mean I will, I have a template for a client agreement and I’m constantly updating that. [Laughs] So, I go straight to my template and put that in, whatever it is that’s been what boundary I need, whether it’s, it could be anything. It depends on how important the boundary is to you. I think some you’ll just know, like OK that did not feel good. I’m just innately now going to have that up. And if it’s not important to you it totally depends on the context I think. But if it’s like an agreement-specific thing, I say you know update your agreements. You could put, I mean I love sticky notes. You could put a sticky note up in your office. If it’s about emails you could put an auto responder on, reminding people that I don’t check emails on the weekends. Or I don’t check emails after 5:00pm, you could do things like that.

Beth
One of the things I hear people saying in our field, you know if we think of you as a facilitator and always will be kind of thing as well as the work you do, is the difficulty of saying no. So, it’s another type of boundary and it’s whatever the reason is for why people want to say no. No to the type of work, or no to I can’t help you because I’ve got other work planned for a while. There’s always that fear of if I say no then maybe no one will ever ask me to do this again or I won’t have enough work to do or I hear people and I’ve experienced that myself in the past too, a little bit of discomfort of saying no because of the worries that come after it. What do you say about that?

Tara
Yeah, I had that experience last year where I was presented with what looked like a really amazing opportunity and it was to be able to facilitate participants at a national and throughout North America around startups and things like that, and that was a big decision I had to make. It would have been a great revenue stream, it would have been consistent work, it would have been practicing my skills. And I had to sit with it for a while, and I had to create like a way to make that decision for me. So, I came up with a decision-making formula and it really just came back to me figuring out what my values were and what my vision was going forward. And I just had to be really honest with myself about what I wanted. And then it turned out that the values that this opportunity just weren’t aligned with how I want to show up in the world. And not to say that they’re wrong or they’re not good, they’re just not in alignment with how I want to show up. So, once I really got honest with myself and figured out how do I show up, what do I do, how do I present myself to the world? And then had to think about my vision of where do I want to be, what do I want to be known for, what is my connection to people? How do I want people to talk about me? And so, once I got really clear about that and reminded myself about that I was able to make a decision. So that’s how I got through that decision, and I’m really happy with it. I had those moments afterwards like oh gosh, was that the best decision? But in the end, it was a mindful decision, right. It wasn’t just oh I’m scared to think about that, no thanks. And it wasn’t agonizing over things that maybe didn’t mean a lot. Like it was a really mindful decision. I got my sticky notes out, I wrote things down, I went for walks, I thought about it, and that’s how I got to it.

Beth
It sounds like such an intentional process that you went through, and you were supported by this formula that you created for yourself, what does that look like? Is that a Word doc or was it with the sticky notes, or how does that look for other people if they want to try the same thing themselves?

Tara
Yeah, it’s really just thinking about those two things, and for people who, depending on I think how far along you are in your work, like when you think about your values and you think about what’s really important to you and you think about how you want to show up in the world it’s really a lot of just imagining and thinking. You can certainly like write things down and take notes, or you can write a script or write a story. It really depends on the individual, I think. But you can list out the values that you hold and see if they align. And then the vision, just thinking about like in five or ten or fifteen years, what do you want your work to look like, to the outside world? So, it’s just a lot of really like hard work of thinking [laughs] and being honest and really truthful with yourself. There’s no real magic formula other than doing that hard work. It’s tricky.

Beth
Yeah, but so worthwhile. You know, to stop, put the brakes on, you know, go for those walks, whatever it takes to just have that time with yourself, and go back to those pieces that hopefully you’ve thought of before or then, if you haven’t you’re going to do it in the moment. You mentioned the values piece. You know there’s all those values kind of wheels and words and so on that you can pick from. How do you help people determine what their values are in their business, if they haven’t really done that step for themselves yet?

Tara
Yeah, it’s really just conversation. And sometimes I don’t even talk about values when we’re having those conversations. Because sometimes people can feel like deer in the headlights, like oh gosh, I don’t have like…you know, when I think about values I think about working at an outdoor centre when I worked at the Y and they had four core values and they named them core values. And that was the first time I had heard that. I grew up with really strong values but my parents never said, oh these are our family values, we’re going to talk about them. They just demonstrated them for me, right. So, it was service to the community. Like my parents were founding members of the volunteer fire department. I was a junior fire fighter. We were always down at the fire hall. We never talked about it being volunteering. It was just helping out down at the hall, right? So, you don’t necessarily have to identify as having a core value but you have them, they’re who you are. They’re what you believe in. So, with clients, if I can tell that they’re struggling with decision-making, we’ll often have conversations about what’s really important to you. So, you know, working with the local café, where the food comes from is really important to them. You know, staff happiness and their quality of workspace is really important to them. So, they would never really identify that, they never identify that as like some of their core values, but when they need to make big decisions these are the things that they have to come back to, right? So, if they’re thinking about expanding a space, they want to be really intentional about thinking about what the layout of the kitchen is, for example. So, values often will come from just having conversations about what’s important to them, what comes up for them a lot. And then when you think about values, I often try to get them to think about not having, you know, fifteen core values, but if you can narrow them down into like themes of like, oh, all of these are surrounding food security, maybe that’s something that they’re really invested in. So maybe all of these things around here are quality of work, maybe all of these pieces can be kind of under the umbrella of quality of work. So striving to have sort of three or four core values, so that they’re not muddled in with all of these things you need to remember when you’re making decisions.

Beth
It reminds me of, I think, if I can get this right, in the Liberating Structures world, which are these activities basically that you can use in meetings and learning events, they talk about too many rules, we’re not really saying that they’re rules, but too many rules would, they can hamper us, and kind of tie us up in knots. It sounds like a similar thing, that if you have this list of 15 or 20 things you’re always trying to find in your work then that’s going to be difficult, but if you have these, like a short list, they call them Min Specs in Liberating Structures, don’t they, so it’s like that short list and just really key, core things that if you have those, you’re good. Like you’re working to your best, I suppose.

Tara
Yeah, and they can really inform how you show up, how you train your staff, how you engage with partnerships or advertising, like all of these decisions that you need to make. If you can lean on those core values, they can be really helpful and helping you make, you know, if there’s a radio station that plays or has like really controversial guests that are, you know, not in line with how you want to show up, then maybe that’s a no for that really great advertising spot, right?

Beth
Yeah, absolutely, it can be that decision-making point. I just saw someone that is in my network posting on social media the other day and she was saying that she’s realized that she needs to learn something new every day, and I thought, oh yeah, you’re talking my language lady! So, that kind of lifelong learning, whatever it is that people really hold near and dear to themselves, their core, that’s great to know. And sometimes we see it in other people and go, yeah I really resonate with that, and maybe that helps us figure out what our values are too when we see it being expressed by other people.

Tara
Yeah, yeah absolutely.

Beth
The last thing I’d like to ask you because I know that you talk a lot about purpose, and you know I called this podcast Facilitating on Purpose, and I saw the tagline on your website, Tara, it’s actually “Helping you build and grow your brand with purpose,” so I wanted to ask you, what does it mean to you to facilitate on purpose? Because you’ve been a facilitator for a long time and now you’re helping people with this purposeful planning, intentional kind of work, so what does it mean to you to facilitate on purpose?

Tara
That’s a really great question and I think for me it just comes down to the people in the room. You know when I think about gathering people and facilitating, you know, obviously it’s about the people in the room. It’s about the purpose or the agenda for the day. But it’s really about, you know, honouring why they’re there, making the most of the time that you have together, leaning on the expertise and the stories of the people in the room. Like when I think about purposeful facilitation those things always bubble up for me. You know, it’s clearly, yeah I think all of your listeners know it’s not the person who is holding the meeting that has all of the expertise and experiences and things like that. So being really able to move conversation and being aware of more than just the words that are being spoken in the room. So being a purposeful facilitator, I think you’re observing the dynamics that are happening. Not just during the time but like at the break or you know how people are walking into the day. Are they looking a little flustered, are they feeling rushed? Noticing all of those pieces so that you can tie in that into your day. You know, so being really observant and noticing that if it’s mid day and people are feeling a little tired or low energy, being able to pull a back pocket game out or doing something like that. That’s what it means to me, is being really aware of the people in the room – whether it’s virtual or in person.

Beth
That word was coming up for me too when I was listening to you say that, that it’s just the awareness. And so we’ve been talking a lot about behind the scenes pieces, and that’s about awareness too, isn’t it? It’s just kind of drawing attention to the whole part of our business. Not just the time we have in the room, whatever the room looks like, but those other preparation and behind pieces that are so needed and just drawing our awareness to those. Thanks for helping us think about that today.

Tara
Yeah, you’re welcome.

[Upbeat music playing]

[Episode outro]
Beth
I really enjoyed my conversation with Tara. It was so great to connect with her again and, as always, just like my conversation I had with her when I interviewed her for my book, Tara this time, too, just impressed me with the conscientious and values-based approach she takes to her work, and to her support that she provides to her clients. One of the things that Tara said that I really loved was when we were talking about storytelling and telling the stories of our work, that she said we have to come from a place of passion and not necessarily sales. I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that they couldn’t do what I do being a self-employed facilitator and learning designer because they couldn’t sell their work. And if that’s you, I get it [laughs] you’re not alone, a lot of people feel that way. But I think Tara’s advice, that if we tell the stories of our business and the good work that we’re doing, no matter what kind of a thing we’re teaching or we’re creating for others…if we tell the stories in an authentic and genuine way then that’s just us sharing our great work with the world. It’s not being sales-y, it’s not being smarmy. And if you’re not right for me you are probably right for someone else. So let’s bring an abundance mindset to our work. We’re all in this together. Now, speaking of sharing the stories of our work, in the next episode I’m going to be talking about learning from our mistakes. And I’m going to tell you two stories of mistakes that I’ve made recently, what happened, what I’m thinking about them, and what I’m doing about them to be able to learn from my mistakes and to keep growing in my facilitation practice. I’m going to go deep, my friends [laughs], as my friend Ame-Lia Tamburrini would say on her podcast, Circle of Change. I’m going to go deep, I’m going to be vulnerable and I’m going to talk with you about how to keep doing that, to show up vulnerable, to show up brave in our facilitation spaces. 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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