150 Thank Yous





July 1, 2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday, and the 20th anniversary of my consulting business. It’s time to celebrate and give thanks.

Thank you to my wonderful family for their unconditional support: Gary, Lise, Alexei, Danielle, Dwayne, Mum and Dad.

Thank you to consulting friends who are also colleagues, clients, and mentors:

  • Barb Burton
  • Belinda Austin
  • Brad Harper
  • Brad Nykyforiak
  • Brenda Spilker
  • Bruce Klatt
  • Catherine Heggerud
  • Dan Delaloye
  • Eric Breitkreutz
  • Gail Aller-Stead
  • Gail Cook Johnson
  • Heather Duggan
  • Heather Rutkowski
  • Jack Middleton
  • Janet Hyde
  • Julia Melnyk
  • Leah Von Hagen
  • Margery Knorr
  • Marjorie MacRae
  • Patty Schachter
  • Robyn Baxter
  • Sam Hester
  • Sandra Anderson
  • Sandy Chipchar
  • Stella Cosby
  • Susan Flaherty
  • Susan Robinson
  • Yvonne Beatty

Thank you to my behind the scenes team who help my business grow and thrive:

  • Michael O’Brien, Chartered Accountant. AT Advisory Services Inc.
  • Randy Goertzen, early web design, http://bluebanana.ca
  • Ian McDonald, Lawyer, retired
  • Harold Sookman, remote technical support extraordinaire, http://simplidata.com
  • Doug McLachlan, current web design and support

Thank you to Dave Mowat, CEO ATB Financial for a long and treasured consulting relationship and to his extraordinary right hand person, Doris Stoikopoulus.

And thank you to all my clients who give me the opportunity to learn and support their success:

Ode to 2016

lionDecember is a great time for, as Jim Clemmer would say, “a checkup from the neck up”. I am grateful to my clients and colleagues for the opportunities to learn together. Some of my greatest learning opportunities this year came from unexpected sources:

  • I was invited by the Refugee Sponsors’ Coalition of Calgary to design and facilitate a workshop where sponsors could share learnings and resources. The planning team and participants opened my eyes to the challenges faced by refugees and sponsoring groups alike in this humanitarian work.
  • I completed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Igniting Your Everyday Creativity. This was my third MOOC and I am thrilled with this mode of learning. In particular, I am energized by the opportunity to interact with students from around the world, giving and receiving feedback on our thinking and projects. If you have not explored the world of MOOCs, visit Coursera or EdX to see the breadth and quality of free courses available.
  • My husband and I travelled to Namibia for three weeks in November. It was a new experience in so many ways from navigating the country on our own to seeing the impact of drought on people and animals to witnessing a new (1990) democracy. We will be processing our learnings from this trip for a long time.

2017 will be a special year as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday and I celebrate 20 years of consulting.

Thank you for your interest in my business and blog. I wish you all the best and a healthy and happy 2017 for you and your family.

Because It’s 2015

When Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was asked why he appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, he replied succinctly, “Because it’s 2015”. In other words, it’s time or well past time for change to occur.

In simple ways, 2015 has reminded me that my clients and their expectations are changing, and with it, some of my facilitation practices. Here are some examples:

  • Jeff Chase (@Chase_Jeff), urban planner and Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor Nenshi, tweeted that “parking lots” to capture off-agenda discussion items were “so 1990s”. Others jumped into the conversation and said they used terms like “conservation area” or “community garden” instead. As a result, I now use a “Bike Rack” flipchart, a small step to help me be mindful of the language I am using AND promote thinking about different modes of transportation.
  • For a December planning session, I proposed to one client that I include Christmas trivia questions throughout the day. She rightly reminded me of the cultural diversity of this team, and as a result, we used a rich mix of questions on multi-cultural holiday traditions and Calgary.
  • For many years, I felt that “groundrules” for meetings felt too parental. Jo Nelson (@JoFacilitator), a global hall of fame facilitator with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, instead uses “Working Assumptions” which I have adopted. This way of beginning meetings feels much more respectful and collaborative.
  • As an INTJ, I know that I am more process and closure oriented than many of my clients. As a MBTI practitioner for over 25 years, I understand the different types of work preferences but sometimes I forget and default to what is natural to me. This year, I became aware that there are times where it is necessary and good to leave things a bit messy and organic, as that is where innovative ideas can germinate.

These are some of my “Because it was 2015” learnings. 2016 will be a new palate. Thank you for reading my blog, and best wishes for the New Year.

Facing My Fears In Mongolia

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work in Mongolia. This was my first trip to Asia and I was determined to enjoy every moment of this new cultural experience.

My client prepared me with orientation materials on the history and culture of Mongolia, business etiquette and security. As a new democracy since 1990, Mongolia is a country of contrasts -skyscrapers adjacent to Buddhist temples and gers, new Mercedes dealerships and orphans living in the sewers.

I was warned that crossing streets could be a life and death experience as Mongolians drive like they ride their horses, hard and fast. And, as you would expect in a country of “have’s” and “have nots”, there are gangs and organized crime.

I arrived in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, excited but jet-lagged. I checked in at the Bayangol, a tired hotel built in the Soviet regime of the 60s. My room was comfortable but the internet service did not work. The only working WIFI was in the hotel lobby, so it was there I went early in the morning and late at night to catch up on emails.

The first night in the lobby was an eye-opener. About a dozen big, burly men were sitting around and shouting to each other in, what sounded to me, a rough Slavic language. They looked bruised and tough. Strangers came in off the street though the open hotel door, made phone calls at the pay phone, and gave mysterious envelopes to the front desk, before abruptly leaving. I kept my eyes down and tried to shrink in my seat. I reached the frightening conclusion that somehow I was seated amongst members of the Russian mafia. However, they did not seem interested in me, so I continued my furtive trips to the lobby each night.

One night, as I got back in the elevator to go to my room, two of the men rushed into the elevator just as the door was closing. My heart was pounding. Then one of the men took my hand, kissed it and in perfect English said, “You are a great lady”. Shocked, I then noticed his jacket embossed with the Olympic rings. He explained he was the coach of the Georgian Judo Team, and the men in the lobby were Georgia’s Olympic team. They were training for the London Olympics. “Would you like to join us for a beer some night?” he asked.   I am not sure whether I even answered as I stumbled out of the elevator dizzy from my paradigm shifting experience.

I had not met the mob. I had been in the company of elite Olympic athletes. I was not in danger.

From that night on, whenever I felt fear or worry about footsteps behind me, I would shake my head and laugh out loud at my false assumptions. I learned my lesson. Be prepared, not paranoid.


Facilitation as Improv

I am so thankful that my parents were never concerned about what I would do with a drama degree. Theatre, specifically improvisation, has turned out to be the perfect foundation for my career as a facilitator.

Each time I facilitate, I have an audience (participants), a place to perform (meeting facility) and a loose script (agenda). But then, the magic happens as I attune myself to the energy in the room, and work off unplanned inputs and events. Success depends on me being fully present and in the moment.

The rules of improv easily apply to facilitation. For example, consider how facilitators could apply these Commandments for Improv:

  1. We are all supporting actors.
  2. Always check your impulses.
  3. Never enter a scene unless you are NEEDED.
  4. Your prime responsibility is to support.
  5. Work at the top of your brains at all times.
  6. Never underestimate or condescend to your audience.
  7. Trust… trust your fellow actors to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself.
  8. Avoid judging except in terms of whether a situation needs help, what can best follow, or how you can support it imaginatively.

Canada is blessed with great improv institutions such as Second City in Toronto  and Loose Moose in my hometown of Calgary. The benefits of learning improv include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Improved public speaking skills
  • More comfort in social settings
  • Refined brainstorming abilities
  • Improved listening and observation skills
  • Enhanced creative-thinking abilities
  • Improved decision-making skills

So improv artists, a second career in facilitation awaits you. And facilitators, improv can help deepen your craft. As they say in the Green Room, go break a leg.

Fingerprints On My Work

My expertise as a consultant is the result of all my experiences and learning. I owe so much to those who influenced and coached me along the way. Here are some of the strongest fingerprints on my work:

  • Lee Pulos

Early in my career, I managed the Old Spaghetti Factory in Ottawa’s Byward Market. This chain of restaurants was owned by the Pulos brothers. Dr. Lee Pulos is a psychologist and pioneer in the human potential field. He provided my first training programs in leadership and self-awareness.

  • John Jones

John, now deceased, was the co-founder of University Associates, the organization that produced the Annual Handbooks for Group Facilitators. I had the privilege of co-designing a weeklong leadership program with this giant (figuratively and literally) of the training and organization development world. I learned a tremendous amount about group dynamics and the elegance of great design for learning events.

  • Training Certifications

My first training certification was with Development Dimensions International. Other training certifications with Zenger-Miller, Achieve Global and Covey followed quickly afterwards. These certifications gave me a foundation in adult learning and behavioral modeling.

  • Quality

In my years with TELUS, I learned a great deal about total quality management through training from Deltapoint, attendance at quality conferences and participation on process improvement teams. I also had the great privilege to attend training delivered by Dr. Edwards Deming himself. This training forever changed my views about systems and measurement.

  • Facilitation

The Quality world also exposed me to the work of great facilitators such as Ingrid Bens and Peter Scholtes as well as organizations such as Interaction Associates. Their pocket guides and tools became indispensable to me.

  • Dialogue

From my first experience in a dialogue session facilitated by a member of the World Business Academy to training in the Art of Hosting by the Berkana Institute to formal education in Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement from Fielding University, I learned how to facilitate and participate in “conversations that matter”.

Of course, I have also been tremendously influenced by my colleagues and clients who have been generous in sharing their approaches, tools and insights. I am grateful for the fingerprints they have left on my work and my life.

Setting the Stage for Dialogue

I first experienced the power of dialogue at the hands of an expert facilitator from the World Business Academy. The facilitator was hosting dialogue sessions with diverse groups of employees as part of an intensive corporate culture change effort.

I called my first experience “a waterslide” conversation. Within minutes of the facilitator sharing the groundrules, I felt myself plunge into a stillness of deep listening, genuine inquiry and fresh insights.

Hal Saunders of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, defines dialogue this way:
“Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn. Each makes a serious effort to take other’s concerns into her or his own picture, even when disagreement persists. No participant gives up her or his identity, but each recognizes enough of the other’s valid human claims that he or she will act differently toward the other”.

Here are some groundrules used to set the stage for dialogue:

1. Speak to the center of the circle rather than to any person.
2. Really listen. What does the dialogue bring up for you?
3. Speak only when moved. Be “economical” with what you say.
4. Leave a space for silence after people speak. Don’t think about what you are going to say. Digest what was said.
5. Speak in “I” statements and only on behalf of yourself.
6. Do not use any evaluative comments – neither supporting nor disagreeing. Simply make your own statement.
7. Ask questions to the center of the circle. Do not direct questions to any one person.
8. Everybody is responsible for following and ensuring everyone follows the rules for dialogue.
9. Speak in a way that others want to listen, and listen in a way that makes others want to speak.

For more information on dialogue, I recommend William Isaacs Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together.

The founders of the dialogue movement believe we can change the world by changing how we talk and listen. I believe and hope that is true.

Start and Finish Well

It seems simple, but many people underestimate the importance of starting and finishing meetings well. Have you been in meetings with ragged starts or where people were unsure if the meeting was over? Effective facilitation at these critical times can dramatically improve the tone, energy, participation and follow-through after a meeting.

To open well, here are a few processes I consistently use:

  • Start on time, or acknowledge why you have not started on time and commit to start soon.
  • Have the host, organizer or project sponsor open the session with a welcome and short remarks to provide context.
  • Have participants briefly introduce themselves, or if everyone knows each other, use a short icebreaker such as sharing one piece of good news (regarding their company, their department, the project, or their personal lives). The intent is for every participant to speak to the large group as early as possible in the meeting.
  • Review the 3 Ps: Purpose of the meeting, Payoff or desired outcomes expected at the end of the meeting, and Process or agenda to achieve the payoffs.
  • Review groundrules (expected behaviors) for the meeting.
  • Review the role and responsibilities of the facilitator (or chair).

Investing the first few minutes of a meeting in this way creates an inviting, participative and focused environment.

To close well, I consistently:

  • Summarize next steps, clarifying who will be doing what and by when.
  • Evaluate the meeting. I often use a Plus/Delta format. The “pluses” are what worked well and made the meeting effective. The “deltas” are the changes or improvements that would have made this meeting more effective, or could make future meetings more effective. The key is to continuously improve meetings based on participant feedback.
  • Last words by the host, organizer or meeting sponsor.

Ending meetings well ensures clarity, commitment to follow-through, and a sense of accomplishment.

IBM used to offer a tool to measure the return on investment for meetings. Their approach was to tally the salaries for time people spent in the meeting, and compare that cost to the benefits achieved. Starting and finishing well significantly ups the odds of a positive ROI.

What’s in a facilitator’s toolkit?

Have you ever wondered about the “tools of the trade” used by a professional facilitator?  I use the following list as a checklist before I head to a client event.  I no longer trust hotels and other event venues to provide even the basic facilitator tools so I travel with my own.

My toolkit is a Jack Georges bag. It is large enough for all my materials as well as the inevitable rolls of flipchart paper I bring back from each event.

I always travel with:

  • Markers, usually Sharpies or Mr. Sketch
  • Masking tape, green painters’ tape or Blu Tack
  • Packages of Post-It notes in various sizes and colors
  • A small clock

I often add:

  • Small toys such as palm sized footballs or stress balls
  • Hard candies
  • Tibetan bells
  • A talking stick
  • A camera

In terms of paper, I sometimes add:

    • Extra copies of the agenda
    • Handouts
    • Wallcharts
    • Questionnaires
    • Psychometric instruments
    • Evaluation forms

In the past few years, most of this material is distributed electronically.

And then, depending on the icebreakers and other experiential activities I am planning to use, I pack:

    • Blindfolds
    • Egg timers
    • Rope
    • Bolo Bats
    • And other eclectic items

One thing I do not travel with, but intend to, is a selection of upbeat music that can be played during breaks.

In addition to the physical toolkit, I travel with a toolkit of models and processes in my head that I can bring forward as different situations require. Early in my career, I was privileged to take a workshop from Jim Weber, and receive a copy of his “toolkit”, a binder with hundreds of frameworks  which he later published as “Facilitating Critical Thinking in Groups” .  His binder became a model for how I built my process toolkit.

So there you have it- a peek inside one facilitator’s toolkit.  I don’t leave home without it.





Rock It: Design Tips for Multi-Day Sessions

In a time pressured world, offsite courses and retreats are rarely longer than two or three days. When you are fortunate enough to have this time, it takes extra skill as a designer and facilitator to maintain participants’ interest, energy and learning. Here are a few of my favorite design tips for these occasions:

1. Create a “sub-plot” of secondary activities that complement the objectives of the program, provide variety and create an opportunity for participants to see each other in action.


  • At the beginning of the first day, assign each participant to one of the following teams:
    • News, Weather and Sports Team which is responsible for opening day two and three with a “talk show” format of things to inform and entertain the participants.
    • Energy Team which is responsible for planning and leading activities at scheduled points during the day to raise the energy and fun level in the room.
    • Recognition Team which is responsible for observing and recognizing participants for helpful behaviors at the end of each day.
  • As prework, identify Harvard Business Review articles that are relevant to the objectives of the program. Have each participant select an article and prepare a 5-minute presentation on the key ideas. Schedule the presentations throughout the session.

2. Design in variety.


  • Ensure the agenda appeals to all learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic).
  • Build in a mix of solo, pair, small group and large group activities.
  • Change the seating arrangements each day or half-day.
  • Bring in guest speakers, customers, organizational leaders, etc. for cameo appearances.
  • Add an outdoor experiential activity, artistic venture, or volunteer activity for the community.

3. Use a visual roadmap.


  • Line a wall with paper. Use graphic facilitation to depict the key activities and learnings each day. Start and end each day with a review of the journey so far.
  • Post and review the session objectives, shading the ones that have been completed.

Multi-day sessions are a huge investment in time and cost. Design well to maximize the return.

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