Last month, I facilitated a train-the-trainer workshop for the faculty of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, a program of California Lutheran University.
It’s a lively network of skilled consultants, academics, and nonprofit staff who support and train their peers.
For the icebreaker, I used one of my favorites – the continuum exercise. I instructed people to stand in a semicircle and asked them a series of question to learn more about the group. For example, “How many years have you been affiliated with the Center?”
By talking with each other and comparing notes, they created a continuous line from low to high. It’s a fun activity, because people walk around and interact.
Depending on the questions you ask, it can also be pretty revealing and even provocative.
A question of preparation
I’ll let Rebecca Merrell, one of the participants, describe my next question, quoting from an email she sent me this week.
You asked us to form the continuum half circle concerning how much preparation we were comfortable with for public speaking. Did we like to speak off the cuff, or on script, or somewhere in between?
I placed myself closer to the ‘be prepared’ end, and I noticed a couple of my colleagues were at the extreme opposite end of the curve.
Picture yourself participating in this exercise. Where would you stand? Why?
When a training exercise turns into real life
When the three workshop participants gathered the next day, the value of the exercise became immediately clear. Her email continues,
The following day, three of us who attended the convening were on a panel. To my great amusement, one came without notes, one had notes scratched on the back of an envelope…and I came with typed notes in order of priority with back-up charts.
Clear demonstration of the continuum! We all laughed about that.
Because peers don’t always work the same way
Now let’s imagine the three of them were tasked with designing and co-facilitating a workshop or planning session. Based on what you just learned, take a second to consider all the challenges they could face in trying to become a functional team.
Wouldn’t it be better to know, at the beginning of the process, where your colleagues stand in relation to this question…and probably several others?
In this way, the continuum icebreaker can be adapted to nearly any group or situation to help build a stronger, more transparent team. It’s all about the questions you ask.
Preparation for trainers – the toolbox
If you’re a regular reader, you may recall that we’ve touched on this topic in the past. Check out these favorites from our blog. (Based on the titles below, you can probably guess where we would stand during this continuum exercise.)
In Praise of Non-Planning. Planners vs. non-planners, with a surprise ending.
The Value of Being Wrong. Why it’s good to try out new stuff that you’ve haven’t perfected yet.
Training Prep: How Much is Too Much? Who’s working harder – the trainer or the participants? (Hint: it shouldn’t be the trainer.)
Co-Training: How to Work Effectively with Another Facilitator. If you have different styles for working with groups, embrace that.
Intuitive Training: Knowing When to Abandon Your Agenda. Because sometimes you need to go where the group wants to go, even if it’s not part of your plan.
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What are you learning as a facilitator, trainer, or group leader?
What are your greatest challenges – and how are you addressing them?
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