Word Cloud: fun engaging interactive collaborative

How to develop your facilitation skills

This brief how-to assumes you’re already familiar with the value of facilitation, but just in case you need a refresher, here are two useful primers on that: One from the International Association of Facilitators and a longer-form one from Martin Gilbraith (who you’ll meet again further down).

A question from the Align community


Absolutely Rich – here are some quick ideas:

Absolute beginner

In person

Learning is facilitation is best done live. Why not start out by coming to an IAF Meetup (even if you’re not a member). Here’s a link to the London group / South East group, but there are many more around the world.

On the page

Next you’ll want to do some reading. Here’s are the core books I draw on regularly – take a pick. That said, I’d start with The Art of Focused Conversation. Whilst I mainly use the Technology of Participation (and the Small Groups Method built on that that Martin and I worked on introducing at the RSA back years ago), I am always interested in other approaches.

For example, here’s a swift intro five-slide to Appreciative Inquiry:

At some point you’ll want to do some formal training. Martin runs regular courses in London and Brussels. You can find his schedule here (which also includes a number of free webinars).

Also, as you’ll be helping groups of people deal with sometimes difficult challenges, get your head around the ethics. We live in a time when people sometimes want to make it contentious. That said, don’t be paranoid.

Also, here’s a list of kit in case that’s useful.

Experienced practitioner

The way to continuously improve is through deliberate practice. We’ll talk more about that in detail another time, but in a nutshell it is about:

  1. Being clear about what you want to do – and improve
  2. Trying it out in practice
  3. Getting feedback, including from third parties – including other experienced facilitators
  4. Reflecting and adjusting … and then rinse and repeat

Also, if you’re already a an experienced practitioner you’ll want to work toward becoming an IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator. Here’s more about that from the good people at IAF:

Advanced / expert

Get out and share! Consider pitching to run a session at an IAF conference. Or write an article for the Global Flipchart and other facilitation-focuses publications. Or both!

Good luck – and do share resources you think should be included above as you progress.

So you’ve moved to London, eh? Part II – Longer term…

I might be leaving [thanks for everything London!] — But you may just be arriving… So I put together a two-parter with resources for IABC  peeps. Specifically for recent London arrivals – but others might find it useful too. Part I here, Part II below. Feel free to share.

Longer term

Meet interesting people in general

If you’re going to be here for a while, you might as well find yourself a local pub. Try the pub quiz and all that to get some banter going. And take a course based on interest beyond work – and keep an eye out for what’s coming up on londonist.com/

Brits themselves don’t tend to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. For culture-shock resources, head back to Part I of this guide.

Find a place to write & think

You’ll be learning a lot. We all sometimes need a quieter space to sit and think for a while. All these institutions offer affordable memberships – and have ‘member rooms’ where one can sit and work away for a while. It is also useful for when you need to meet people both privately and professionally. In other words, whether you’re based in-house or freelancing.

British Library Handy as it also has the nation’s biggest library attached. £80+
Tate Modern Access to three different rooms – two at Tate Modern, one at Tate Britain. £80+
British Museum I’m told it is supposed to be good. The crowds might get in the way though. £60-80+
South Bank Handy view of the river and a bit quieter than floors below. £60+
The London Library ‘With more than one million books and periodicals in over 50 languages…’ £510+

You could also of course splurge on one of the private clubs – Soho HouseHospital ClubQuo VadisGroucho etc. etc. you’ll probably need to find somebody to do an intro for you though. But that’s what those network relationships are for!

Participate in civil society

100s of free lectures, debates etc. every year – usually several a week:



Go for a walk. Here are some timeless ideas.


Bookshelf with lots of books

What we’re reading – January 2018

Once a month we round up the top reads and recommendations from our community. Got one to add? Let us know @alignyourorg.


Olivia Gadd.jpg
Olivia Gadd

Olivia Gadd is reading Daniel Pink’s latest book. As she says, (working the title in nicely):

“Rather than the what and the how, it focuses on When.

A refreshing and different take. Provoked some fresh thinking”.


Stephen Welch
Stephen Welch

Stephen Welch tells me he is enjoying On Form by former England Cricket Captain Mike Brearly. The book sets out to answer: “What is being on form? How does it relate to feeling ‘in the zone’?”.
Topical for the Bushcraft for Communicators session at #IABC18 which Stephen is co-presenting with Mike (below).

Do also look out the for the Snakes & Ladders-themed Masterclass he’ll be doing at #IABC18 in Montréal with Casilda Malagon. Here’s how that went down in Singapore earlier – and this time it’ll be even bigger.


Mike Pounsford
Mike Pounsford

Mike Pounsford has been working through Designing the Purposeful Organisation by Clive Wilson  – Mike says: “thoughtful and interactive guide to building purpose; lots of questions to get you to reflect…”

As a companion read he recommends On Purpose by Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan.

Upcoming opportunities to catch up with Mike:


Ginger Homan
Ginger Homan

Ginger Homan is ramping up for the 2018 IABC Leadership Institute and has been reading Simon Sinek‘s Leaders Eat Last.

When we caught up she also reminded me of a handy hack – using the index page from The Coaching Habit as a fast reference. It summarises the core questions in the book. Because understanding and connection are built one great question at a time…

Elephants & Framing

Andy Gibson.jpg
Andy Gibson

Andy Gibson is revisiting George Lakoff’s classic Don’t think of an elephant as a reminder that language shapes our reality, and the messages we choose to repeat – even in outrage – we also choose to amplify.

And last but not least, here are of my favourite reads from this last month…

The Mind

Book Cover The Mind Manual Andy GibsonAndy has a book out himself called The Mind Manual: Mindapples 5 a Day for a Happy, Healthy Mind – and it is worth both reading and amplifying.

Concise, practical, actionable.

And useful for all of us whether 15, 55 or 105. And indeed whether starting out, the Chief Exec or the Board Chair.

Big Data & Black Boxes

Book cover - Cathy O'Neill - Weapons of Math DestructionWith The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force across the European Union in May, Big Data is now truly a board-level issue. The fines for GDPR non-compliance will be swingeing – in some cases metered out as a percentage of worldwide turnover.

Combine that with the risks of unintended consequences to third parties – let alone your own organisation’s reputation: this topic needs your board’s attention.

In this context I’ve found Cathy O’Neill‘s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy incredibly useful. If you’re serving on a board and your organisation uses technology, don’t take “it is too complicated to explain” for an answer. Make sure your Big Data efforts are done in clear alignment with your organisation’s vision, values and strategic intent.

In addition to reading this book you may also want to tag along to the London GDPR briefing organised by IABC (and hosted by KPMG) on the 8th of February 2018.


Book Cover Bobette Buster How to tell your storyTopical as it is  this week. I collect books on this topic and the most recent addition is Bobette Buster‘s short-and-to-the-point Do/ Story/: How to Tell Your Story So the World Listens. Practical and actionable advice made memorable.

And if you haven’t got time to read, then why not keep an eye on Stuart Maister‘s regular snippet-short videos with storytelling tips. Follow him on LinkedIn to get them in your feed.

And before the week is out, maybe you can squeeze in a storytelling event too? See all the events being put on by the Society for Storytelling.

Book Cover Kazuo Ishiguro Nobel LectureThe real value of a story is through the shift in understanding it can create. And the action a good story can encourage. To that end, my final recommendation this month is Kazuo Ishiguro‘s recent Nobel Lecture. A slim volume currently in all good bookshops. It is called My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs – and it is both edifying, and beautifully told.

Got one to add? Let us know @alignyourorg. And if you want can’t wait until the next month for more ideas, follow me on Goodreads

Westminster Bridge Sunset by Michael Ambjorn

So you’ve moved to London, eh?

A two-parter with resources for recent London arrivals – compiled for IABC UK where you can also find a copy of this post. 

So you’ve moved to London, eh?

Once you’ve sorted out the essentials (visa, bank account etc. etc.) here are some ideas for a quick start.

Quick start

Get ahead of the culture shock

(Even if you don’t think it’ll happen to you):

— And whilst it is intended as humour, this cuts close to reality… Anglo-EU translation Guide.

Adapt your pitch

Review and update your CV – correct spelling as appropriate – and remove anything that doesn’t have a result attached to it. Think through your portfolio stories (Situation, Task, Action, Result – or STAR for short) and practice them. Then make sure your LinkedIn profile matches. Yes, people do look you up before they meet you.

Build your network

Join your relevant professional body: IABC, CIPR, CIM, IAF etc. and attend events. The networking bits are always a great place to practice your STAR storytelling skills.

That said, doing a lot of listening first is never a bad move. You might want to read this book as a fresh take on that topic. Don’t be fooled by the cover.

And … look out for interesting MeetUp events beyond that – meetup.com/

Find a headhunter

Before you approach them, be absolutely clear about what you’re looking for (something that interests you; you’re good at; and others will pay for). Respect their time.

The Japanese call it Ikigai and the World Economic Forum has a useful article on this with a beautiful Venn – but I digress. The point is: cement your personal Venn with STAR stories. That alignment will make all the difference. And having interviewed 100s of people in the last 20+ years I can confidently say that following this format is the key to impressing any interview panel.

Senior gigs in general – a selection of firms

Spencer Stuart, Green Park, Penna, Veredus, Gatenby Sanderson, Perrett Laver, Odgers Berndtson etc.

Comms specifically

VMA, Ellwood Atfield Harkness Kennett etc.

Don’t just send your CV. Call them up. Get an appointment. It is a people business.

+ Also, check out the aggregators (to name a few):

Do your due diligence

If a listed company, read the annual report and listen to the latest investor call. You’ll be surprised what is hidden in plain sight – useful for the interview process. If it is privately held, look them up: Companies House. Or if a charity, use the Charity Commission website. And you may want to check out Glassdoor and Crunchbase too – and if you’re willing to spend: a service like DueDil. If not, general Googling is useful – including news.google.com/

Land the job

Work through Slate’s Negotiation Academy + We Have a Deal early in the process. You might also want to use a Negotiation Canvas. Temper all that advice with the cultural insights from your reading of the resources mentioned up front. Or if you want to comprehensively overthink it, have a look at the Empathic Negotiation Canvas

Good luck! And look for the next in the series which focuses on how to settle in long term – and also has a set of useful ideas and resources for those freelancing.

In the meantime, follow @michaelambjorn and @IABCUK for ideas in-between – and be sure to come to the next IABC UK event and meet your peeps!

A few online learning opportunities to kick off the year…

Whether starting out; a strategic advisor; or at board level: here are some professional development ideas for the year ahead.

Foundation level

The good people at Clore Social Leadership have launched a new super-affordable Discovery course for those new to leadership. So popular that it is sold out – but sign up to be notified when they open up for their next cohort.

Strategic Advisor / Facilitator

If you missed Mike Pounsford‘s recent webinar on how to Align People with Purpose – then it is not too late. Register and get the replay here.

More ideas for the Strategic Advisors and those interested in facilitation:

Board member

Women on Board’s Directors at-a-distance webinar is a two-parter: ‘designed for anyone considering their first board role or seeking to add a new NED role to their portfolio‘.

You’ll also want to follow them on Twitter:

Mike Pounsford

Aligning people with purpose

Our friends at IABC EMENA are putting on what promises to be a useful free Webinar:

Mike Pounsford

Aligning people with purpose
17 January 2018 at 1 p.m. CET

Join IABC EMENA’s guest speaker Mike Pounsford, as he discusses the importance of purpose and approaches to alignment in the webinar Aligning people with purpose.

The webinar will combine input, illustrations and responses to questions raised by participants during the session.

In this session, you will learn:

  • Understanding why purpose is important to provide a sense of meaning for work and a strategic perspective
  • Exploring the role of leadership groups at different levels and why their ownership of the purpose conversation is still critical
  • Exploring different approaches to how purpose can be developed; who to involve and how to involve them in the process
  • Exploration of one approach to help leaders increase “line of sight” – linking strategic goals and individual roles


And then help spread the word:

Michael Ambjorn speaking at #IABC16 World Conference Conference Hilton Riverside June 6 2016

Timeless gift ideas for the non-profit Chair in your life

Whether starting out, or a masterful Chair, many tools of this craft are the same. And one can always use more of these…

That said, if you have a bit more to spend, there are a few even more valuable ideas right at the end.

The three essentials tools for good Chairing




A good fountain pen need not cost a fortune. Take note. This one looks smart in both the boardroom and on the front line. And yes, you might need those notes says a16z: ‘The Most Boring Yet Valuable’ 20 Minutes‘. Beautiful Danish design. Arne Jacobsen no less. Practice balancing on three legs. Or as Archer & Cameron call Governance, Operations, Behaviours: the foundation of successful collaboration: (see book below).
Image courtesy of Republic of Fritz Hansen. ANT™ 3100, chair, coloured ash. Designer: Arne Jacobsen.

A Chair in action

2016 Leadership Institute Main Session: A Rapido Recap from Michael Ambjorn on Vimeo.

Scaling your intent: personal & professional development for non-profit Chairs




Get inside your head to transform how you work. How to build relationships, handle conflict and share control. Give membership of the relevant national body, for example the Association of Chairs (UK) or BoardSource (US).
Andy Gibson: A Mind For Business David Archer & Alex Cameron: Collaborative Leadership

Association of Chairs logo - https://www.associationofchairs.org.uk/BoardSource logo - from https://boardsource.org/

What’s missing? Got other ideas? Share them. Tweet @alignyourorg.



Timeless gift ideas for the Facilitator in your life

Whether starting out, or a master facilitator, many tools of the trade are the same. And one can always use more of these…

That said, if you have a bit more to spend, there are a few even more valuable ideas right at the end.

Fill out those flipcharts



Mr Sketch

Safe, permanent, choice for (almost) any surface. Comes in lots of colours. Wise choice for whiteboards. Less useful for paper… Water-based – and with a scent. Martin Gilbraith’s preferred – and I can see why. Participants love them.

You can see Mr Sketch pens in action above – and get yourself some facilitation training here.

Gather those ideas




Bigger than your usual office Post-Its. Handy for small group facilitation. The last and largest Post-It note (unless you count the wall charts). Often hard to find, but incredibly useful on the go for slightly bigger groups. For large group facilitation – for 3m & 5m (or repetitions thereof), use ICA Stickywalls. Match with 3M ReMount spray – and stacks of colourful paper
#ETF20 - celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation

ICA Stickywall in action

Flag, dot and whatnot




For when you need a clear indicator. Small, but handy when you need lots. The cheerful option. And it is all good.

Flagging in action

Scaling your intent: personal & professional development for facilitators




Get inside your head to transform how you work. How to build relationships, handle conflict and share control. Give 1, 2 or 3 years of membership of the International Association of Facilitators.
Andy Gibson: A Mind For Business David Archer & Alex Cameron: Collaborative Leadership

IAF - International Association of Facilitators

What’s missing? Got other ideas? Share them. Tweet @alignyourorg.


2016 #IABCLI leadership advice on paper airplanes

Timeless gift ideas for the Communicator in your life

Whether starting out, or a master communicator, many tools of the trade are the same. And one can always use more of these…

That said, if you have a bit more to spend, there are a few even more valuable ideas right at the end.

Three quick ideas for the Professional Communicator




A good fountain pen need not cost a fortune. Looks great in the boardroom – and can easily be refilled. Stenography might be out of fashion, but handwritten notes are not. A chat over coffee is one of the fastest ways to #createconnection. Check out the merch from IABC…
IABC Merchandise - Coffee Cup - 'What to say when comforting a communicator: there, their, they're

Pen and paper in action – fuelled by coffee

Scaling your intent: personal & professional development for professional communicators




Get inside your head to transform how you work. How to build relationships, handle conflict and share control. Give membership of the International Association of Communicators.
Andy Gibson: A Mind For Business

David Archer & Alex Cameron: Collaborative Leadership IABC Member Logo

What’s missing? Got other ideas? Share them. Tweet @alignyourorg.


Couravel's Big Conversation @mikepounsford

A Big Conversation Q&A – aligning leaders using pictures

What’s the next best to attending an event? Seeing the effect of it afterwards and being able to ask questions.

Case in point: I recently missed the prototype of an exciting new facilitation format. Pioneered by long-standing collaborator Mike Pounsford, a Certified Professional Facilitator. The aim was to help leaders align around a shared challenge. 

To make up for it – we caught up over a coffee. Here’s the Q&A:

Q: You brought 15 leaders together to solve a complex issue – using a fresh approach – what was it?

A: We developed a visual narrative and added some killer questions. This enabled us to explore how our organisations need to respond to the changes. Challenges coming at us as a result of disruptive technologies and digital transformation. We literally created a Big Picture! We could then use it as a platform for engaging, open and challenging conversations. Deliberate dialogue about what the future holds for us as individuals – and for our businesses.

Q: Alignment using pictures – interesting! Can you sketch out how this idea came about?

A: We have known for years – since our time in the caves – of the power of pictures and their role in illustrating great stories. Our brains process visual information at a much faster rate than the written word, and stories activate more parts of our brain.

Storytelling is often seen as a communication tool to be used by leaders to influence an audience. But some of the most powerful applications of strategic storytelling involve groups of people from all levels and disciplines. How? By sharing their stories and linking these to a higher strategic narrative. Global organisations such as the charity Oxfam; New Look – the fashion retailer; TUI – the travel company; GSK – the pharmaceutical giant and BAE Systems – the defence and engineering business – have all developed meaning and purpose for their people by encouraging people to tell their stories to each other.

Q: How did the leaders respond?

A: The feedback was fantastic. And so was the learning because we recognised the potential to help each of these leaders to engage with their colleagues and peers. The issue is often not working out what to do but working out how to build and sustain momentum to make the changes. That is the secret of this approach. Watch the video to the end!

Nice work. Here’s a brief video setting out the flow:

You can learn more about Mike’s work at couravel.com, follow him @mikepounsford and connect with him on LinkedIn.