An experiential initiative is essentially a challenge that is proposed to a group or team. The challenge is ones that is unique to the participants so that no participant is an expert in the task. The focus then becomes on the process in which the group interacts together, rather than the specific task. The beauty of great experiential initiatives is that they initially seem nearly impossible to accomplish. Only through effective teamwork will the team be able to accomplish the task at hand. This transition from “This is impossible” to “We did it” offers great value in the overall perception of what the team can accomplish when everyone works together.
The Facilitators Role: Experiential initiatives involve a facilitator presenting the challenge by providing the rules, guidelines, resources and framing, or presentation, for the challenge. This often includes a specific timeframe for the challenge to be completed, and the consequences for not following the rules and guidelines. Keeping participants physically and emotionally safe throughout the experience provides the foundation for participants being able to participate fully. The facilitator’s job is to observe the team in action, listening and paying close attention to how the team interacts. Depending on the focus of the event, the facilitator will present the challenge in such a way that the activity relates the desired outcome.
For example, if the event is focused on fun and excitement and the experience of the group overcoming the challenge, the facilitator will present the experience with high energy and encouragement with a focus on keeping everyone engaged in the activity. If the focus is on team communication, then the activity will be framed in such a way that participants will focus their attention on how they are communicating with one another, and what processes lead to greater team effectiveness.
These challenges present an opportunity for the facilitator to provide a model, method or tool that will improve the collective team functioning. When the focus is on team improvement then the reflection period, also know as processing or debriefing, is an integral and important part of the initiative. During the processing participants discuss what they observed and how the team interacted and what lessons and actions are important to bring forth.
As the team experiences a lesson in process improvement the challenge is to apply those lessons in additional activities and practice what they have learned in an effort to experience better elements of teamwork, such as effective communication between team members, creating a shared mental model of the goal or team process or efficiently deciding on and evaluating the actions to take place.
This is where the skill and experience of the facilitator becomes very important. The art and science of effective facilitation is to be able to recognize the need for the right tool at the right time. This comes from understanding complex team dynamics and key elements of human psychology, experiential learning and business. The methodology is one of the Socratic method, where the facilitator uses questions to lead the group to their own insights and conclusions, thus increasing buy-in and ownership for the insights and actions as a result.
Often times collaboration is a key part of a team building experience. Experiential initiatives create the opportunity for participants to hold or share information, hinder or support the progress of another team, and to focus on working together verses competing. Our psychological make-up is typically one that is founded on competition. Our inner drive to get ahead of another person is based on our instinct and survival mechanisms. The art of creating collaboration is one that requires practice and a visceral experience of seeing the collective benefit through collaborative efforts.
Often times we refer to an “AH-HA” moment in experiential training. This happens when someone has an insight or breakthrough that allows for an individual to shift their beliefs or actions. When this occurs in a collaborative setting the shift in actions become readily apparent in future interactions in any environment.The benefit of experiential team initiatives comes from the fact that they are novel, dramatic, experiential, consequential and metaphoric experiences. Because participants are fully engaged physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally the retention of concepts soars high above traditional methods of learning.