Last week I spent a few hours a day attending AORTA’s Facilitation Skill-Up Intensive! course. I’m a huge fan of everything AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource + Training Alliance) does. I love their approach to facilitation and the insightful trainings they offer. Even their cooperative organization structure is something to admire! I recommend all of their very popular courses, offered on a sliding scale to accommodate all budgets.
Their introductory anti-oppression facilitation course, Facilitate for Freedom Fundamentals, inspired how I approach leading people through introspection and learning. I knew I wanted to improve my skills in their week-long intensive. One of the many things I learned last week was about finding your niche as a facilitator.
Facilitation is an art and a craft that demands authenticity. This is true whether you’re a solo consultant like me or someone in an organization. AORTA offered the class one way that we could find ours.
For a couple years in my career, I wanted to pivot my career towards program evaluation. I loved evaluation, so I thought. What I really loved was helping people draw conclusions with meticulously-collected data. I realized my niche was closer to visionary leadership. But I didn’t need to be an evaluator to champion them. In the role that fit me better, I could insist that we include evaluators at the beginning, not the end, of a project. Finding my niche helped me thrive while improving how my team worked, too.
describing your gem
Bex and Jenna, the facilitators for my training, instructed us like so. Take a sheet of paper and draw a horizontal line and a vertical line to create four equal quadrants.
- In the top left quadrant: write 3-5 activities or interests you have
- In the top right quadrant: write 3-5 archetypes, or characters, you are often cast in
- In the bottom left quadrant: write 3-5 descriptors of your identity or how others perceive you
- In the bottom right quadrant: write 3-5 unique group environments you’ve experienced
From those lists, find 3 phrases that connect back to how you approach facilitation. Of those 3, choose 1 to lean even further into. Create a session activity or even an entire agenda based on 1 of your facets.
Through this exercise, I noticed these roots in my facilitation practice:
- My love of wordplay is one interest of mine that shows up in everything I do
- An archetype I inhabit is someone with a lot of passion and energy for topics that mean a lot to me
- My identity as a person with mixed heritage and brown skin informs how I approach my work
- Many of my formative group environments were working in coffeeshops and restaurants. These environments are where I first worked to inspire change, solidarity, and cooperation
Clarifying these traits in myself helped me hone in on my niche. I see how each of these facets inform my approach. The training prompt asked me to design an activity for people meeting to discuss reproductive justice actions. I wanted to design a session where participants could express their passion for the issue through journaling, small-group interviews, and large group storytelling.
When I lead a training or session, I want to offer a framework that is unique to me. Plenty of people are successful at the things I’m successful at. But nobody else can do what I do the way I choose to do it. Nobody else can do what you do, either. With this or another exercise, try to get good at finding what makes you unique. What insights or directions could you unlock that nobody else can? Lean into those strengths and find out!