Category Archives: Facilitation

Facilitation Uncategorized

Pitting Outcome against Process is Pointless


POP Purpose, Outcome, Process

POP for meetings, h/t to Beth Kantor, original source


People talk about Outcome and Process as though they are in opposition to one another.

Today, I (again) argue neither works without the other.

First, take a moment to reflect on how you approach your every day. Like eating breakfast.

We all have low-process default solutions — habits — for outcomes that are part of every day. I eat the same breakfast every day, and I include the ingredients on every shopping list. Habits are a form of very light, often unintetional process. Breakfast requires process — thinking and planning — only when there’s something unusual, like feeding company, or I didn’t make it to the grocery store.

Some parts of life always justify intentional process. Resolving a family conflict. Seaching for a job. Finding a new place to live.

The same thing is true in our work. Process may be a default habit, or something explicit and intentional. I’ll use examples from my days coordinating Minnesota Green Communities to illustrate how outcome always comes first, and process exists to serve outcomes.


Matching Outcomes with Process

A primary initiative goal was to ensure all the homes that received affordable housing subsidy met a doable, robust level of environmental sustainability.

aeon_ripleygardens_g3-800x540As collaborative affordable housing partners, there was ample good will and general agreement that green affordable housing was a good idea. Relying on existing relationships and trust, it was fairly simple to get all the key partners on board. We held joint meetings, discussed a few details (costs!), and soon funders adopted the Green Communities Criteria as a requirement for new construction buildings. This was our “habit” process.

Extending the Criteria to substantial rehabilitation projects was more complicated. Because these project are less predictable, the policy discussion needed more process. With a greater number of meetings and much more discussion we got there. Using our habitual process was again successful. Now, all the housing funded through public and philanthropic partners in Minnesota met the Green Communities Criteria.

Then, Minnesota’s affordable housing context changed.

Preserving existing affordable housing became a major funding priority, one driven by contracts expiring and financial arrangements rather than major capital needs. That meant a quickly-growing number of projects with limited construction budgets. How we’d adopted our policies meant no environmental sustainability requirements applied to these projects. If we wanted all the subsidized affordable housing to be “green,” we needed a new approach.

We (Minnesota Green Communities) did the obvious thing: we repeated our expeditious, low-process approach of the past. Based on existing personal relationships and long-standing partnerships, we advocated for extending the Green Communities Criteria to these projects.

This time, it went nowhere.

Our partners — for good reason — were resistent. It was too expensive, it was too much to ask of developers, it introduced too much uncertainty into the funding process, it required a complex waiver process, a workable policy was too messy.

IThe Minnesota Green Communities team got it. When the main driver of funding is financial structuring, implementing the full Green Communities Criteria is somewhere between a hard sell and nonsensical. We were at a stalemate on how to address environmental sustainability in a BIG portion of subsidized affordable housing in Minnesota.


More Complex Outcomes Require More Process

We took a step back with our partners. Our purpose was to require reasonable, minimum expectations for energy and water efficiency and health when providing subsidy for affordable housing. To define those expectations, though, we needed a more intentional process. The first step was to understand our partners’ specific concerns and where we had agreement.

We found some simple areas of agreement — water efficiency was a slam dunk. The cancer-causing risks of radon made mitigation obvious. Energy, however, was a different story. Because each project is very different, creating a workable, cost-reasonable policy felt impossible.

That listening process was key to identifying what we needed to solve for. We now had our outcome: an energy efficiency policy that was cost-effective for moderate rehab apartment building projects and protected resident health.

The Minnesota Green Communities team proposed a task force process to solve the messiest parts of the problem. Highlighting the purpose, we pitched co-convening an eight-month, four-meeting task force to a trusted energy efficiency expert (and past partner) who had worked on multifamily rehab projects and to Minnesota Housing. I offered to handle coordination of the co-convener team and the logistics to make saying, “Yes,” easy. We set clear expectations for what participation would require. Once they said yes, we collaboratively developed an inclusive stakeholder group, and set to work.

You don’t need the details of the whole process. It was shaped around the purpose and outcome, with iterative cycles of defining agreement and areas lacking clarity, and then digging into the questions that remained. There were a couple of small work groups, and some technical cost-effectiveness modeling — all aimed at getting to the outcome.

What matters is that we did get to our outclme, this (highly technical) policy recommendation from the group. And, the policy was adopted by the funders for moderate rehab projects.


About Process

That was some serious process!

This much process makes sense only when the purpose and the outcome demand it. It makes sense when the question, the challenge is technically or politically or socially complex. It makes sense when there is risk of significant unintended consequences. It makes sense when something can succeed only through widespread ownership of the outcome.

I think process gets a bad name when we skip the process because we don’t recognize its value. In our personal lives that might be exercise or sleep or investing time in relationships.

In work we often skip people-parts of process, especially when we have a sense of urgency. We’ve all been in meetings, or with friends or family, where we’re running a little late and dive right into the business of the meeting, or making dinner, or the plan. And at some point, things are off — someone isn’t focused, or is distracted, or upset. In forgetting to check in, something more important than the business of the moment got passed over, and that’s interfering with the business of the moment.

That initial process of checking in — really checking in — matters to the purpose of getting through the agenda, having a pleasant dinner, or enjoying the plan. Skipping it in honor of productivity and effectiveness, because we think there’s urgency, turns out to undermine the outcome we actually care about.


It’s not outcomes versus process. It’s about the right process to achieve our outcomes.



Facilitation Network Weaving

Activating Informal Leadership Across a Network

Jessica and I facilitate (Image credit Kristin Johnstad)

Jessica and I facilitate (Image credit Kristin Johnstad)

Yesterday, Jessica Conrad, Community Manager with the RE-AMP Network and I shared some of our experience fostering leadership within RE-AMP and NEWHAB. We facilitated a discussion with a group of Twin Cities network weavers about why emergent, shared leadership is so important for high-performing networks, what conditions foster self-organizing leadership, and how to begin creating those conditions.

One of our activities was to create a Eugene Kim-inspired spectrum showing what success in a network looks like when it:

  • Has failed to create the conditions for informal leadership.
  • Is moderately successful at creating the conditions for informal leadership.
  • Is epic-ly successful at creating the conditions for self-organized leadership.

The failure descriptions started with burnout, festering conflicts, and nobody shows up. The epic success ended with momentum, new resources, inclusion, and sustainability.

Epic Failure

Epic Failure

read more »

Facilitation Network Weaving

My Networks Care for Me, Too

blank wall

The agenda for an Open Space Meeting. Also, a description of what I knew about Open Space when I decided I wanted to use the technique in a workshop.


A couple weeks ago, I was prepping for a workshop. I knew I wanted to include a modified Open Space session at the end of the day. The catch was that I’d never facilitated or even participated in an Open Space session, and I was nervous about faking it in a room with 30 people who were looking to me to make the day worthwhile.

I happen to be part of a very loose network (a google group, really), of network support consultants, so I reached out to them asking for guidance.

I’m planning to use a short, possibly modified version of Open Space Technologies to close out a full-day workshop with a goal of giving people space to engage in topics that they are passionate about and/or which they want to learn more about after the rest of the day.

I’m wondering whether someone is willing to spend 15-30 minutes on skype or google hangouts with me to talk me through my framing and logistics.

Within a day, I had EIGHT people offer to help me. I worked with two of them. The online Open Space descriptions I found were mostly for much larger contexts than I had — multiple days of sessions. Thanks to their advice I felt comfortable I was scaling my instructions to my context, and framing my questions in a way that would lead to valuable conversations. Because my network supported me, by the time I was in a room with my participants, I was ready.

This week, I’m reviewing the evaluations from that session. 60% of the attendees listed the Open Space session as one of their favorite parts of the day. It’s time to thank my network for taking care of me, too.

Facilitation Network Weaving

Surprise! I Love Failure

As we design our new network, I’m very focused on learning. I’m reading books, reading blogs, asking friends, piloting ideas on groups where I volunteer, hiring a coach, and discussing challenges with colleagues.

Because we are inventing something new, I also want to learn from what we do. I’m encouraging activities that move our work forward, using structures that have short cycles so we can iterate and continually improve how we collaborate. To learn from and improve on every iteration, we need to instill a habit of reflection with everything we do.

For the last year, we’ve had “work groups.” The first ones didn’t go so well, so when they ended after a few months, I reflected on the challenges they’d had and redesigned for work groups 2.0 This round went much better.

I also requested an explicit reflection conversation at the end the second round, a half-hour conversation with each set of co-conveners. You can see some of their very rich reflections in this earlier post.

There was one surprise bonus I hadn’t expected from these conversations.

Creative Commons License, credit OtakuAnna


While I was very pleased with how the groups had gone, it seemed a few co-conveners felt they hadn’t lived up to their commitments. As the conversations began, regret or apologies rolled quickly off of tongues. The tone changed when I asked them to name what they were most proud of, list what had worked well, offer tips for others who would follow, and advise me on how I could better set up leaders.

After they named things like successful webinars, they offered something really valuable: what they had learned. What started out feeling like going to confession turned into contributing to NEWHAB’s success.

Sure, the content of the conversations will make the 3.0 version even more successful. But to my surprise, the most valuable lesson from these conversations is that taking time to learn from whatever happened transforms (perceived) failure into an important contribution to the network. People feel good leaving that conversation. And that’s a good place to begin building a network.

Facilitation Network Design Network Weaving

I Asked a few Questions; Wisdom Appeared

Lessons Learned

Credit: Kathy Choh of Management HQ

As we develop NEWHAB, we’re using short cycles of doing followed by reflection to quickly try out strategies and either make them better or decide they aren’t the right ones for us. Six months ago, we started our second round of “work groups,” having learned from some struggles on the first set.

When I solicited co-conveners then, I shared a summary of expectations:

  • approximately monthly work sessions with work group members,
  • share agendas for work group calls prior to meetings,
  • share notes, relevant information, and deliverables from work group sessions,
  • identify specific outcomes or deliverables for the work group (shaped by co-conveners in partnership with the work group) in the first month,
  • in the sixth month, suggest possible next steps for the conveners who will follow you and sharing useful information with them.

At the end of the six months, to reinforce the importance of reflection and learning from experience, I also asked each pair of co-leads to do a short phone call with me. I had a short list of questions.

  1. What was the most useful thing I did to help set up your group?
  2. What is your most proud outcome?
  3. What have you learned? What tips would you share with future group co-conveners?
  4. What could we (the network supporters) have done differently to be more helpful?

The conversations were wonderfully rich — and offered bonuses beyond the learning (I’ll share more about those in a future post). There were four big themes that emerged in all the conversations. read more »

Communication Facilitation

Seeding Good Network Habits

Supporting networks, or volunteers, or project teams, I find it’s critical to teach people how to use the tools we have effectively. I try to sneak tips into e-mails and to model good habits — hard when you’re in a hurry!

I’ve been leaning on Kathy Choh of Management HQ to help me with this. She provides admin support to NEWHAB. Today I’m sharing the tips we co-wrote last week. This one focused on effectively contributing to and getting the most out of NEWHAB’s Google Group.

Janne & Kathy

Janne & Kathy


This is a good introduction to how we use the Google Group if you are brand new to the group, and a helpful reminder if have been a part of NEWHAB since before it had a name.

First, the purpose of this Google Group. This is our main communication tool for the Network for Energy, Water and Health in Affordable Housing.

FRIENDLY WARNING: There are well over 100 people who receive these e-mails, so please be respectful of others e-mail inboxes when you broadcast to everyone.

OPPORTUNITY: There are over 100 experts who receive these e-mails, who want to know what is going on and connect with NEWHAB, so please take advantage of this list to share and solicit expertise as well as to connect with one another.

Tips: read more »

Facilitation Network Weaving

Just Get Together, Already!

Credit: Minnesota Social Impact Center

Gathering in Minneapolis (Credit: Minnesota Social Impact Center)

Something I love about networked working is that it’s enough to Just Do Something. Almost anything. Preferably in person.

It’s human to want to plan things out, to get them right. It’s so easy to wait until we have time to do it right to do anything.

Luckily, there are plenty of examples around of just jumping in and doing something together and then seeing the value of connecting emerge when people meet. Those examples inspire me, and they remind me to just schedule something.

In the last three weeks, I’ve been a participant in two gatherings of people leading collaborative networks. They were totally different events. In San Francisco, extending an invitation for coffee or a drink to Eugene Kim transformed into an excuse to convene  15 people, drawn by a pitch that “Janne’s going to talk some about her work and her interests.” (A more prominent role than I’d expected, and I got great ideas in exchange for being willing to serve as case study!)

read more »

Facilitation Network Weaving

Using Events to Close Triangles

I’m supporting an emerging network, one focused on energy efficiency, water, and health in affordable apartment buildings. Recently, we had our first big in-person gathering of network participants. Because networks consist of personal relationships, we incorporated connecting activities.

The Closing Triangles Drawing, an idea I got from Beth Tener, was the run-away favorite.

First, a 101 on Closing Triangles. A network weaver closes a triangle by introducing two unconnected people. This is valuable when those two people gain mutual benefit from knowing one another. Skilled network weavers share the value of the introduction, and even name the small first step to take. You can read more here, or here.

We wove the Closing Triangles Drawing throughout our event. My goal was to create two network norms:

  1. Mutual curiosity about our work, assets and needs
  2. An expectation everyone makes connections

We began by explaining the concept of closing triangles with stories of meaningfully connecting people in the room.

Stories of Making Triangles

Stories of Making Triangles

We placed forms to enter the drawing in registration packets. The forms required the name of the connector and the two connected people – and prompted people to name what made the connection meaningful. read more »

Facilitation Network Weaving

How “Thank Yous” Build a Network

I often talk & write about building trust within the networks. Today, I want to take a few minutes to tell you one Thanksgiving-themed thing I’m doing to increase the level of trust in my corner of the world, and I invite you to take five minutes to do it, too.


As I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving, I’m thinking about my mom’s training in writing thank you notes (as well as her stuffing). I’m also remembering the out-of-the-blue thank you note I got from an neighborhood acquaintance, Erik, couple months ago.

That note from Erik did two things.

First, it made my day! I had been doing my advocacy thing feeling pretty much on my own, behind the scenes for a couple of years. I was happy to do it, but figured it was invisible to the world. Knowing that someone who I hadn’t talked to for three years had noticed it, appreciated it, and bothered to send me a note made me feel a lot less alone in that work.

Second, I felt closer to Erik. We hadn’t spoken in years, and had never been close friends or colleagues. Despite that, simply by telling me thank you, I suddenly felt like I could call him up and ask him a small favor, or ask his advice. I trusted him more.


Remembering that experience, I’m sending personal (email) thank you notes to a few network colleagues, sharing specific things I have noticed and appreciated as we build our connections.


Thank you!

Facilitation Network Design Network Weaving

Structuring Chaos to Create Action

Novice volunteers got 100 people to Bikes and Brewvies - despite snow

Novice volunteers got 100 people to Bikes and Brewvies – despite snow

All-volunteer organizations are tough.  There is often a small core of volunteers ABSOLUTELY committed to the project, wanting help, and wondering where the help is.  That certainly applied (and still applies) to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition where I volunteer.

We’re working to engage more people, and we ARE engaging lots more people.  Of course, with more people we are more ambitious so we still want more help.

Last winter, the Coalition wanted to organize more events — rides, happy hours, tabling — places where we could connect with new people and engage potential supporters and members in new ways.  Of course, none of our existing volunteers had the time to make things happen, so I decided to try and Make Something Happen. read more »