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Schülke & Mayr




National Training Awards





Cultivating great group facilitation


Stuart: I was establishing a network of discussion groups, to build stronger links between dairy farmers and their buyers, and between farmers too, so that they could share best practice. More than ever, they needed to become shrewd business operators and not just producers, so it was a great idea, but our team of extension officers needed training and confidence to properly facilitate.


Jo: I'd worked with U&I before, attending a short workshop, and I thought they might be able to help. So I put Stuart in touch and we've not looked back!


Stuart: We did a trial run with U&I's core facilitation workshop, and it was a great start but it showed us how complex good facilitation could be! We asked U&I to follow up with an assessment of our facilitators at work, so we could identify common issues and design new workshops around them. One of the early ones we did was around using feedback, so we could be responsive to the needs of each group.


Jo: Asking for feedback isn't easy because you don't know if you're going to like what you hear, but this programme has really helped our confidence. We learnt to think about our meetings differently, planning carefully and asking 'what's in it for our members?' really helped to keep us focused. It's been a complete change of mindset for us, but we've found that the more we understood about facilitation, and the more we saw it making a real difference, the more we wanted to learn so that we could be even better!


Stuart: I felt like that too - seeing results can be addictive! I began taking one-to-one coaching sessions so that as the project's manager I was making informed choices and had confidence that we were doing the right things.


Jo: And when all of the extension officers get together each month, we can share our learning and Stuart's there too. We've just had some really interesting discussions about handling conflict - we find that as a group we can come up with the answers. It's great too, remembering how when we started, we looked at what our U&I facilitator was doing and all thought 'I can't do that!', and now we do, and it comes naturally. I feel confident I could work through any of the challenges I'm likely to come across.


Stuart: One of the best things from my perspective is that we're developing this common way of working. Over the course of the programme we've developed a model of facilitation that's all ours, and will allow us to be self-sufficient in taking on new facilitators and keeping up that quality of work. It's invaluable when you're a growing team, which we are, and it means that there's a strong, trusted framework for new team members.


Jo: I think our skills spread beyond our team too - one of the most rewarding things for me is seeing our farmers 'self-facilitate'. In some of the groups that I work with, I really just have to keep a handle on things and steer the meeting. We're passing on some great skills and encouraging simple actions, like listening. We might have faced some resistance at first, and I was a little self conscious but you can't argue with the feedback we're getting - in most of my groups, almost everyone is telling me that they're leaving the meetings with at least one thing they can take away and put to good use at work. That's exactly what we wanted - to help people improve though sharing information - it's not been immediate - but the results are so inspiring.