I gained many valuable things during my
undergraduate and graduate years at Mason. Along with the treasured and lasting
friendships that began during those times and have developed over the years,
there's also one particularly noteworthy academic experience that made a
lasting impression. In fact, that experience taught me skills and tools I still
Every other Saturday morning during spring
semester 1991, 16 women gathered in Thompson Hall for a graduate-level communications
class with Ben Broome. The subject of the class--Group Approach to Complex
Problem Solving (or something like that)--sounds simple enough, but I do
believe at times Dr. Broome wondered how he was going to bring us to consensus,
for this is the technique he sought to teach.
The class mostly comprised individuals
interested in facilitating groups. So, as a group, our task was to answer these
questions: "If you were to teach someone how to facilitate a group or
how to be a good facilitator, what skills and abilities would he or she need to
learn? How would you teach each skill or ability? And in what order would you
teach each element?" One complex problem; 17 people, including Ben; one
semester; reach consensus to solve the problem. How?
Enter food. It didn't hurt the learning process
to start each class with breakfast. I particularly remember the orange blossom
mini-muffins--maybe because I was responsible for bringing them each time. But
I also remember the different kinds of breakfast foods, including pastries,
bagels, and flavored cream cheese. If memory serves me correctly, I'm sure we
grazed all day.
We did much more than eat, though. We read,
discussed, disagreed, negotiated, laughed, brainstormed, evaluated, argued,
supported positions, and introduced new ideas. We learned to introduce new
concepts articulately, speak more intelligently, involve all stakeholders,
reframe questions, see things from other viewpoints, respect individuals while
challenging ideas, define terms, set parameters, make compelling arguments,
support ideas with facts, and see the big picture without sacrificing the
importance of the pieces of the puzzle.
And, in the end, we did agree. We reached the
goal by reaching consensus. We were, in fact, a great piece of anecdotal
research in the making. The work product was good--applicable then and equally
applicable in today's workplace.
Periodically, I look at the map we created of
the route to becoming a good facilitator. It still holds value for me today as
an educator, and it always brings back great memories of a great class that
taught great lessons for life. And Debby Landis--are you still out
Nancy Woolever earned a B.S. in business
administration in 1983 and an M.A.I.S. in human resource development in 1993.
She currently serves as manager of education at the Society for Human Resource
Management in Alexandria, Va.