Most of us are actively creating and supporting ways for young people to connect, create and collaborate with each other but are we doing it in our own work? This post focuses on creating with our colleagues.

A few years ago I learned some techniques that, quite literally, saved me from myself. I hadn’t been managing staff very long and wasn’t very experienced in supervision. I tended to think that if staff had a problem, it was my job as a supervisor to fix it for them rather than helping them address – and find a solution for – the problem itself. Many of the supervisory classes I had taken focused more on a “the boss is in charge/don’t question it” style of management – and that just didn’t feel right to me. I was moving into a new position as a co-manager of a large library in our system and knew I needed some new techniques in my toolkit.

Our library is a county department and the county had just started a facilitation network – to train internal staff to facilitate on behalf of other departments in the county – believing, rightly, that this was a cost saving measure – and also believing that there was great value for everyone in making meetings run better.

I had taken basic facilitation before – and like all of you – had learned – from YALSA in many cases, how to run a meeting, what it meant to co-chair, how to prepare agendas, etc. But this training was different – I learned techniques to help groups work through tough topics – to talk together about a difficult issue – to reach group consensus, and to plan a large project with a diverse group of stakeholders.

Since that time almost four years ago, I am in love with facilitation and group work. We have embedded many of the techniques throughout our county, and even more seriously, within our library system.

It is becoming quite rarer that you attend a bad meeting – and even if the person running the meeting isn’t a trained facilitator, there’s usually at least one other person who can help get the meeting back on track.

We’ve really dug in the Technology of Facilitation (TOP) work, which was created by the Institute of Cultural Affairs. I’ve trained all the Senior Youth Services folks who are doing system-wide work, and we’ve done mini-trainings for work groups and for supervisors. Their easiest-to-learn and most critical technique is the Focused Conversation – examples of which you can find all over the place even without taking the training — but I highly recommend the 2-day training.

More recently in our system, we’ve been experimenting with the Appreciative Inquiry framework, which I haven’t really dug into yet – and our county change management folks recently shared some additional resources so that everyone can contribute – from Liberating Structures that we’re going to be trying in the next month with staff.

Tools like these – and others, too, make it possible for everyone’s voice to be heard and for decisions to be made. What other ways are you creating with your colleagues?

About Maureen Hartman

I am the Division Manager for Strategic Services at the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota and a former Board member for YALSA.

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