Author Archives: Renee Fazzari

Practicing Silence

When reflecting on power dynamics last week, one thing that stuck out for me was the power of silence.  I sometimes find myself in situations where people move into group think too quickly and we don’t get to hear the diversity of opinions in the room.  I’ve seen the power of silence to get people centered in their OWN thought/opinion before entering into group discussion.  Turning to your neighbor to discuss before entering the group can have the same impact.

The challenge is that I am a space-filler.  I don’t like awkward silences and I tend to keep talking if no one else steps in right away, sometimes even half-answering my question to others before I give them a chance to speak.  So my practice this week was to give time for reflection and to be comfortable with silence.

This was hard.  I am on a LOT of conference calls (7 in this last week!) and I’m all business – we have a lot to do, we’re all busy, if there’s silence I think of it as wasted time and I just hop in and drive the conversation forward.  There were a few moments of serious antsy-ness, where I decided to sit back and let someone else be first to answer or comment, let someone else volunteer first.  To be honest, I don’t feel that by holding back, I really changed the dynamic in a positive way.  I like that I drive things forward and I think people have come to expect it from me.  Along the lines of the David Kantor framework Eugene mentioned, I have a role that I play in the groups I work with often.  I often see the path or the direction early and I like that I play that role.  This is one of my strengths and it felt awkward to shy away from it.

That said, I can DEFINITELY also see where the role I take on could be unhelpful.  Just because it didn’t happen this week, I’ve caught myself in the past blabbing when I don’t have any special insight to share or adding preamble and context just because a question might be difficult.

Overall, it’s a great thing to be aware of – both as a strength and as something to watch out for.  And given that I know this about myself, it’s good to be intentional about silence, especially when I’m in a group (having patience and giving time for slower cookers to reflect and bring their best without me setting the frame) or one-on-one when I really need to understand or make room for another perspective.

Last, the practice this week made me realize how darn fast I’m trying to move at the moment – efficiency is queen in my world as a new-ish mom with limited time leading a bunch of projects at once.  I couldn’t leave time for silence because I just didn’t have that time!  It would be good for me to keep practicing this and testing that theory… is the way I jump in actually moving things along faster or could another approach achieve the same or better outcomes?

Some Principles for Collective Visioning

The goal of my focus project is: To co-create a vision with my grantees and a funder partner that takes our collective work together to the next level. Ultimately, I hope to develop a new investment strategy for my program based on that united field-funder vision.

So for homework, I asked three people the following questions:

What is the best experience you have had getting multiple organizations to work together on a common vision (or project)?  What made it great?

I had some great diversity in my group of three outstanding women – one was an environmental activist, another a consultant running a broad multi-state reproductive justice initiative, and the last helped a large network of California schools develop common reform principles and a shared learning culture over a period of 6 years.  The last person happens to be my accomplished mother-in-law : )

As I think about my own attempt to get my grantees to work more closely on a shared vision, several important reflections came up:

  1. People need to feel a sense of ownership over both the process to get to the vision and the content of the vision.  They need to come in at a point where things aren’t already baked.  One person said they didn’t invite partners to a “pre-determined outcome” but rather asked people to co-create something that everyone could get excited about.
  2. The impetus of all the groups coming together was a set of shared values – they all really cared  about what they were doing and could align on values, even if not on exact policies or workplans right from the start.  One person mentioned how critical this values alignment has been in the face of conflict or challenge to keep the group together.
  3. At the same time, collective planning processes only get you so far.  One person noted how important it was to take the values, principles, and brainstorms of a broader group and have someone step up and lead by putting a plan on paper and getting people to react to it.  Trying to write the plan collectively was frustrating and catered to the lowest common denominator.
  4. In the 6-year process, there was a LOT of evaluation, feedback loops, and learning opportunities and people were encouraged to take things out of weekend retreats, go back to their work environments and try things out, then return to the group and share what worked but also what didn’t.  This created an important culture of learning critical to the project’s success.  To encourage learning, group work was very well documented so that participants could keep building on progress, and keep tweaking their vision, goals, and practice.

Points 1-3 I have thought about before and it was great to be reminded of them right at the start of my own project.  Point 4 is something I haven’t spent much time thinking about and I think it’s absolutely crucial to my success (it’s also very resonant with the principles of Bootcamp!).  To accomplish my goal, people will have to change the way they work and change takes time and it takes practice.  It made me realize just how long and involved this process will be and that a 2-day retreat could be a great kick-off, but to accomplish the goal, we will need a community of practice that is constantly experimenting, trying new things, and coming back to the group to process, learn from each other, and design the next experiment.  This requires a lot of time, commitment, and passion for what we’re doing. We’ll have to see if that appetite really exists.

Last along these lines, I loved this quote: “the lightbulb doesn’t have to turn on for everybody at the same time”.  The process has to allow space for people to “get the bug” for this work on their own timeline.  And what better way to get people bought in than by seeing positive real-world results when they experiment with some of the principles the group is devising together.

Equity- vs. Strength-Based Facilitation

I had a great aha at Bootcamp last week that I wanted to share.  We were discussing group dynamics, different learning styles, and facilitation and Eugene mentioned something about the potential flaws of facilitation that strives for equity.  Often, facilitators feel they need to be equitable in who gets “floor time” and so they might try to draw “slow cookers” out in ways that can make them uncomfortable.  Slow cookers by nature need to process before jumping in to group dialogue.  By calling on them, you may get uncooked ideas and make people feel more self-conscious and cause them to further retreat.

This method is also not playing to the strengths of the group – some people are fast responders and/or need to process out loud.  Their verbal processing can help slow cookers in their silent pursuit.  I’m an out-loud processor and I tend to jump in quickly and speak often.  I’m self-conscious about this and sometimes intentionally sit back to make room for others.  This is very important at times.  But our discussion made me also understand this as a strength.  By doing what I feel comfortable doing – jumping right in – I make room for people who need to process more slowly.  I can help set a framework and a slow cooker can come in and add critical insight later in the conversation.  Both approaches are helpful in different ways.

Of course, there are times when people dominate the conversation and facilitators should shut that down and look for places where someone is trying to speak and is interrupted or can’t get in.  At the same time, needing to hear from everyone could be inappropriate and forced.  AND there are probably times when slow cookers DON’T need to hear out-loud-processors talk, talk, talk, but actually need silent reflection to formulate their thoughts.

I was thinking about this in the context of my organization’s board meetings and it made me realize that board and staff could use some skill-building in this arena.  But taking the lessons from Changemaker Bootcamp, perhaps rather than bringing in an expert, we could do an exercise where as a group we come up with best practices for facilitation – using our own wisdom and past experience as a guide, and determining a framework for what works best for our group.

The Importance of Asking Why

Hello!  I’m Renee and I am going to admit this is probably my first ever public blog post.  Yeah, not a blogger.  So Bootcamp is a great way for me to push my boundaries and practice being more transparent without the need for as much polish.

I am a Program Officer at the General Service Foundation, an awesome family foundation committed to social justice grant making.  I manage a portfolio to build a strong, multi-issue progressive base in Colorado by strengthening a set of core civic engagement grantees and connecting them via infrastructure innovations.  I work with a large network of other funders and organizations to inspire similar local infrastructure efforts and innovations in other states. You can read more about my program here.

I signed up for Bootcamp to gain tools and practice supporting groups (of grantees and funders) to create and achieve collective vision.  The organizations I work with increasingly intersect with each other to create a network – whether intentional or unintentional – in service of similar goals.  I find myself often leading processes to illuminate the shared purpose of the network, make it more explicit, and get people working more collaboratively toward an agreed-upon outcome.  Along these lines, here’s the project I’m focusing on at Bootcamp:

To co-create a vision with my grantees and a funder partner that takes our collective work together to the next level. Ultimately, I hope to develop a new investment strategy for my program based on that united field-funder vision.

In our first Bootcamp session, Eugene asked us to think of all the questions we could about our project and post them in clusters.  I came up with a ton of “HOW” and “WHAT” questions about the process I had envisioned in my head.  Interestingly, the one that provided the most insight to me was one I didn’t ask: “Why would we co-create a vision?” and a follow-up “Why would we take our work to the next level?”

This was a great reminder about generative questions.  I have talked to several stakeholders about my project and I tend to ask “Should we do this… (e.g. co-create a vision)?” and usually they answer yes, it’s needed, feels important, etc. especially because I tend to make a pretty compelling argument for it before I ask the question : )  Oh, and I’m their funder so of course they’re going to say it’s a great idea!  But just by shifting the frame of the question, I can get so much more insight into what THEY are thinking and find ways to design a process that will meet THEIR needs too, not just my own.  This is key to one of my priority questions: “How to build buy-in from the participants ahead of time?”.

So how will I go about answering these questions?

I already have plans to interview key stakeholders before the meeting but Bootcamp is helping me rethink the frame of my questions to a generative one so I can really tap the knowledge and insight of everyone else, rather than relying on my own brain to design it.

I also will be working with the fantastic Rebecca Petzel from Groupaya on a co-creation process for this project that will include representative stakeholders in the design phase.  I’ll try to break my habit of coming to these design meetings with my ideas fully fleshed out and instead allow for generative work to happen in the design phase itself.

Can’t wait for my next workout!