“Land them gently,” a colleague once said to me, “and all the good work will pay off.”
Facilitated workshops and meetings unfold in a similar way to a great story. They get off to a good start by creating connection, build to a crescendo of activity and land well.
A strong end to a workshop ties things up, leaving participants enriched and feeling like they’ve achieved the purpose they set out with.
A gentle landing is a bit like good housekeeping, you often don’t notice it until a time you find yourself unsettled by the space you are in. Yikes, this is a bit messy.
One type of rocky landing you may have encountered is the five-minutes-to-five syndrome. Something clunky or confronting gets tossed in right at the end of a session, just as you are about to check out.
Whoa, how did that happen? you find yourself thinking. Often it’s because we as facilitators have unconsciously allowed the group to keep piling on fresh thoughts and ideas when we should have been winding down. Space for reflection and evaluation is the bedrock of a gentle landing.
A five-to-five moment happened to me recently. Head thumping with a headache, I lost concentration and allowed a heated discussion to run into check-out time. The group was throwing in thoughts at a rapid pace and I hadn’t noticed the clock ticking.
My Wise One kicked in and I apologised, but some damage had already been done. Some people looked flustered; others had withdrawn as the heat quickly rose just as we were about to leave.
When we picked up at our next session, I made a point of checking in with people, mentioning I had let things get a bit gnarly. We continued the discussion in a better frame. Lesson learned.
There are other occasions when endings are important – not just when a session draws to a close. Any time there has been heightened energy or tension, we need to ensure we land the group safely. Some examples:
- A thorough debrief after a passionate role play
- When we have engaged with conflict or heated discussion
- When an activity has been affected by challenging behaviour
After an energetic role play, we need to follow a debrief process that ensures people have had a chance to touch base with what was going on for them in their role. We can then safely move into discussion of learnings.
Landing gently after tension or conflict might involve checking in with the group, How are we feeling about this? We may need to ensure everyone is OK. Trust your instinct on this.
Or we may need to use the noticing and naming microskill, I notice that some people are looking upset or confused. That was a big moment for us … When the group is functioning well and trust has been built, they will let you know if they need to process stuff.
Catching these moments is part of our job as facilitators. Endings are as important as beginnings in group work.
As Shakespeare famously wrote, all’s well that ends well.