Interview with Julia Apple-Smith, Manager of Employee Development at Sauer-Danfoss Ames, Iowa about Facilitation Skills:
Q: Would you tell me a little bit about the culture at Sauer-Danfoss?
Julia: About nine years ago, Dave Pfeifle, President and CEO had a vision for us to change our culture. We, at one time, were part of the Sundstrand Corporation, and as such, over time, had evolved into a company that was fairly autocratic and not very customer focused. It was not only Dave's vision for that to change, but it was also a time when our customers were beginning to let us know that if that was the way we were going to do business, they were going to need to find other companies to provide the same type of product that we provide. Dave's vision then became what is now known as Reaching for Excellence. It is not a program. It is our company's vision statement. It represents our philosophy of who we are. There was not a training program here at that time. Part of Dave's vision was to have a learning base to help promote and support that kind of cultural changes. It's really been an evolutionary process over the last eight or nine years. It is something that CMOE has played and integral part in.
Q: How did your relationship with CMOE begin?
Julia - One of the first things we did was to preview the Coaching Skills Workshop in California. We decided that it was a class that we wanted to bring in-house. That class and a Customer Awareness Class, that I created, were really the cornerstone classes for what now has become one of our core courses in the whole training program. As time evolved, we continued to build on that foundation of learning with other classes such as Teamwork I and Teamwork II and other types of learning. So there was a lot of internal training going on.
Q Can you tell me about how Facilitation Skills came about?
Julia About five years ago, I was getting feedback from team leaders, facilitators (supervisors), and when I sat in on meetings, it was clear that we were still struggling. We had structured ourselves into teams throughout the organization, but we struggled, when we got people together, to make those meetings as effective as possible. From (my) observation and from feedback, it was very clear that we needed to be doing some thing to build on the Coaching Skills training to give these people some skills on how to facilitate a group. Coaching, I think does a superior job of giving people skills for one-on-one coaching situations. You can even apply a lot of those skills to a group session, but we really wanted something that was more specific to facilitating groups. So a couple of managers went with me to Des Moines to preview a two-day class on Facilitation Skills, and we found that it was pretty typical of what is out there in the industry. We wanted more of what I would call the soft side or the behavioral side of group facilitation. In other words, when people were facilitating groups, they wanted to enhance involvement, help to focus the group without directing the group, how to help the group feel good about what they were doing and actually have fun with it, while helping the group be more effective and efficient.
Even as we started to develop this Facilitation Skills program with CMOE, we struggled. Early on, I remember getting on the phone with Steve Stowell to just talk out some of the issues because it was so different from anything either of us had seen in the consulting industry. Steve and I continued to struggle with how we should put this course together, and what it should look like, because for me, it is really on that soft side. It is not a skill. It's being able to use your intuition and read a group and read the dynamics in a group and know how to react to the flow of what is going on in a group, and pull people in or help to redirect other people if they are not contributing in a positive manner, again without controlling the group.
Q So is there just not a lot of material out there on Facilitation Skills?
Julia There is a lot of courses out there on Facilitation, but nothing like what CMOE has created. If you look at what is out there on the market they don't have the same focus that CMOE's course does. A lot of what we were seeing out there under the name of Facilitation Skills is really meeting management. There is a big difference. This is really more facilitating group interaction or 'high performance' facilitation.
Q What is the target audience for Facilitation Skills?
Julia The plan was that it would end up being for everybody. The original goal was to first give the skills to management, and then give it to all employees. When managers were first going through the course, the feedback we got was that it would be extremely useful for the team members to have the same skills. It would make facilitating the group so much easier if everyone understood what was going on in terms of task, climate, and behavior.
Q Can you see any improvement in your facilitators as a result of being committed to the Facilitation Skills Workshop?
Julia Absolutely! The people that were in the first class have definitely noticed an improvement in their facilitation skills. We haven't done any structured observations, but just from our ad hoc types of settings where they are leading the group and I am a part of the group, I have definitely seen an improvement. I think it plays out, not only in terms of a structured meeting, but also in how they go about doing their jobs on a day-to-day basis, because the principles that are taught in Facilitation Skills, as with Coaching, go beyond just the structured setting. Yes, I have seen a lot of improvement in those people, and it mainly has to do with their confidence level.