Facilitation Essentials #1. Why I upgraded from a clockwork cat timer to a countdown /stopwatch app

20121207-072758.jpgI’m feeling very modern this week. I’ve upgraded one of the basics in my facilitation box, the cherished kitchen timer. Yes it was a clockwork cat, although it’s previously been a mouse and the inevitable chicken shaped egg timer. For me the timing device has been a very helpful facilitation tool, let me explain.

Much of the facilitation I do involves lots of people presenting information or giving feedback. This requires a degree of organisation to make sure everyone has sufficient time to speak, nobody is excluded and we finish on time. Typically people are given a fixed time to make their presentation or give their feedback, and my job is keeping them to time.

That may sound relatively straightforward but it can be fraught with difficulties. In the worst case scenario this is how it goes:

  • Participant “I cannot possibly give this presentation/feedback in 5 minutes. I need a least half a day“. Some people really don’t like boundaries and rules.
  • Others just stay quiet and ignore the rules anyway.
  • The longer time they have available the more they get sidetracked into irrelevant issues and repeat themselves.
  • The audience gets bored and fidgety.
  • As a general rule nobody ever, ever finishes early.
  • When you give the ‘times up’ signal, people ‘look daggers’ at you, even if they are just about to finish.
  • A fair number say, “I’ve just got a little bit more to finish off” and carry on regardless.
  • They then still ‘look daggers’ at you when they finish with extra time.
  • Some even go as far as complaining or make pointed comments about being harassed.

The answer for me is the inanimate object. Something onto which people can transfer their angst and frustration, instead of me. The humble clockwork kitchen timer has made my facilitation days so much better. By following these steps I’ve seen some interesting effects:

  • Some people still complain about the lack of time upfront, they always do.
  • I place the timing device in clear sight of the presenter and move out of the way and watch what happens.
  • Most people will self manage their time by keeping an eye on the timer.
  • They tend to focus upon the important points and not get sidetracked too much.
  • The audience stay alert (after all it’s only 5 minutes).
  • They generally stop speaking when the ‘pinger’ sounds.
  • Most importantly, any angst or frustration they have is directed at the timer and not me. Hurray, result!

That act of transference of frustration onto an inanimate object might have something to do with my modern upgrade to an app this week. Once again my clockwork timer had been accidentally damaged (sabotaged). I’ve been through dozens of them over the years.

This left me with one option; quickly download an app and display it in front of the presenters. I was worried this was a step too far. Would the inanimate stopwatch be a bit too inanimate? Does a clockwork cat have more appeal than an image of a stopwatch on a screen?

The stopwatch image actually worked much better than the clockwork cats, chickens and mice ever did. The large screen, second by second countdown, instant reset and a nice loud ‘ping’ when time is up worked perfectly. I just hope that my tablet doesn’t end up on the receiving end of any presenter angst.

So, what’s the PONT?

  • Structure and time boundaries are likely to remain a substantial part of facilitation in the world I occupy (the utopian dream of all-pervasive ‘open space unconferences’ is still a long way off ).
  • An inanimate object (countdown timer) is a good way of depersonalising a potentially difficult part of the facilitation process.
  • Apps are taking over the world. My cherished clockwork cat timer has gone forever.

20121207-072748.jpgPicture: Jumbo Stopwatch app. http://appfinder.lisisoft.com/tag/jumbo-stopwatch.html

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

7 Responses

  1. […] new tools. Chris has recently upgraded from a clockwork cat timer to a digital stopwatch devise. In Facilitation Essentials #1. Why I upgraded from a clockwork cat timer to a countdown /stopwatch app Chris shares the impact this has had on his students and how it has helped to deflect any angst or […]

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