How Strengths-Based Facilitation can Improve the Results of your Workshop with Murray Guest
Working to our strengths seems like something of an empty statement – it’s not as if we’d intend to work to our weaknesses.
But that is what many of us have to do in our workplaces and even in our workshops.
Well, that is unless you are in one of Murray Guest’s workshops.
Murray is an expert in strengths-based facilitation, helping teams collaborate in ways that complement their individual and collective strengths to produce meaningful outcomes and lasting change in the workplace.
Myriam invited Murray onto workshops work to learn more about strengths-based facilitation, how the practice can be applied, and where many of us – facilitators and participants – fall down when it comes to our strengths.
What strengths-based facilitation is and isn’t
Murray learned about the Clifton Strengths Framework in 2012 and “really connected with the approach of looking at what is right with people, rather than fixating on what’s wrong with them.” This tool is the point of reference for all discussion of strengths and their definitions and applications in this blog post.
“That”, Murray explained, “is what strengths-based facilitation is about… an ongoing process for myself and for the people that I help to understand what it means to know your strengths and how they help you, and also how they hinder you – how they can get in your way when you overplay them.”
It seems counter-intuitive that strengths-based facilitation would take time to talk about why our strengths can be a hindrance, but focusing on our strengths means focusing on all parts of them – not just the good.
Murray used himself as a helpful example for understanding this better.
“Communication is one of my top five strengths. I love to talk! But, sometimes, I need to keep my mouth shut and listen as well.”
He elaborated, “with my enthusiasm, it may come across so much that I just want to talk and talk and talk. Or I’m so keen to talk about something the words will come out of my mouth in an order which doesn’t make sense. That’s the weakness of my communication.”
This point in particular chimed with Myriam and caused her to reflect on her own practice.
“It’s a thin line between suppressing my excited energy and enthusiasm because it might disrupt some of the participants, but still remaining authentic. I try to control myself… then I change something in me and my energy and that will equally disrupt and impact the group.”
Murray was also eager to point out that “the strengths language is just the very start of understanding someone. It’s like knowing the name of the town where someone lives, but not their street and not their house.” Knowing somebody’s strength(s) doesn’t tell you anything about “what that looks like for them, how they use it, how it helps them, how it shows up.”
“The next step is to unpack that and explore it in the workshop.”
How to apply strengths-based facilitation in workshops
Strengths-based facilitation applies to the facilitator as much as the participants, so there are two perspectives to include when we consider how strengths-based facilitation can be applied in our workshops.
“In a facilitation point of view,” Murray explained, “I think about, if I’m at my best when I’m using my strengths, how do I consciously tap into my dominant strengths and how can I show up as my true authentic self and use these consciously to create an environment that’s engaging, supports learning, and allows me to be my true self?”
As for participants and their strengths, Murray explained that “if I know their strengths, I know that they’re going to see the world and the activities and content tools through a lens of those dominant strengths.”
Murray elaborated, “you might have someone who is high in competitiveness, so how can they bring that competitiveness in a positive way to what we’re doing?”
“As a facilitator running strengths workshops, I will have people complete their strengths before the workshop and look at those so I know the very short descriptions of their strengths. However, I’m very mindful – and I think this is good for anything we do as facilitators – about holding my assumptions loosely.”
Myriam agreed, noting that our assumptions can only help us to a certain point and that we especially need to learn “how to deal with this instinctive judgement when we’re confronted with a person with traits or characteristics that we cannot directly relate to.”
Continuing, Murray noted that he will “make some assumptions about what these strengths might mean, but I’m not going to hold on to them so tightly that it’s going to put blinkers on the way I see those participants because they’re still people and everyone’s different.
What I want to do is have those assumptions” and use them “to help me understand how they may respond, or how I can best serve them in a workshop. And then validating those assumptions that I’ve created, through the workshop, discussions, and activities.”
Strengths as a means or an end?
Myriam wanted to explore how Murray uses the extent to which participants strengths can structure a workshop, asking “would you design a workshop based on the participants’ strengths?”
After taking a moment to think, Murray decided “no – I would design a workshop based on the outcomes we’re trying to achieve, based on conversations with the client. I’m really passionate about strengths, but I don’t want that to blinker me to think that’s the panacea or the answer for everything.”
Strengths are not a silver bullet, Murray wanted to stress, and achieving the results the client wants is the priority.
But working to a team’s strengths means you make it so much more likely you will achieve the results you want.
“There’s value in people knowing their strengths and the strengths of others and that’s more often than not one of the core elements in the content of my workshops. Strengths are really valuable, but we’ve got to be mindful that it’s about the outcomes and what needs to come into the discussion to help achieve those outcomes.”
In that sense, strengths are a vehicle for achieving the outcomes our clients desire, but they are not the destination.
Much more in episode 67
Myriam and Murray talked in far greater detail about strengths-based facilitation and its application for facilitators and participants in the episode of workshops work this article is based on.
So, if you’d like to learn more about:
- What strengths-based facilitation is and how Murray practices it
- Why strengths-based workshops are at their best when they are flexible and responsive
- Why embedding learning is the only way to truly deliver lasting results
- How enforced remote work is helping and harming teams, and what we can do to shape a new normal that is healthy and productive for everyone
- Why challenges and care are interlinked, and are blunted without each other
You can listen to the show on your favourite podcast player, searching for “workshops work” or stream the episodes on www.workshops.work.
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