Facilitators  | 5 MIN. READ

Facilitators Unplugged with Michael Campbell

ExperiencePoint, July 18, 2016

(5 min read)

Based in Austin, Texas, Michael Campbell is Senior Faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, where he is responsible for the creation and delivery of leadership solutions for organizations. We caught up with him recently to chat about his work as an ExperienceChange facilitator and how he’s helping people get “unstuck.” We also learned that we might just want to pick his pocket.


Name: Michael Campbell

Home: Austin, Texas

Organization: Center for Creative Leadership

Number of Experiences: 155 ExperienceChange experiences...and counting!

Email: campbellm@ccl.org

What do you love most about your role and being an ExperienceChange facilitator?

The reason I enjoy doing this work is because I care about people, and I care about helping others. If we can help people feel more excited and experience more joy at work—that’s what gets me up in the morning. As a facilitator, I find myself going  back to the definition of the word: it’s to make things easier. I find that people are so busy, and they’re so smart in the domains in which they operate, but what we do is help them slow down and think about things differently. We give them a way to draw their own conclusions, and we provide a little guidance and some tools, but then they take it forward.

When it comes to ExperienceChange in particular, what I love about the simulation is that it sounds exactly like the real conversations you have when you’re interviewing real leaders or real teams. So you don’t have to do any selling, and it doesn’t get in the way of the learning. People resonate immediately with it, and they want to go deeper and understand it.


Why is teaching others how to lead change and innovate important to you?

I shared with you a research study that we did on change, and what was interesting is that it wasn’t originally about change. We framed it as: What are the challenges that you’re facing? But when we looked at the nature of what they said they were dealing with, even though no one said “change” specifically, all of it was change. Particularly at higher levels of leadership, almost everything you’re dealing with is about going from some current state to some future state. This is important to me because I see that we can provide a process and steps around change as well as some predictability about what’s going to get in the way, the barriers and how to address those going forward.


Can you share a particularly impactful facilitation experience you’ve had?

It’s always impactful when you bring together an intact group and you see them getting “unstuck” with something that they just didn’t understand how to address. I recently did an ExperienceChange workshop with a relatively intact group that was trying to lead a major IT/HR systems overhaul. That one was cool because we got them to hit the pause button on their issues and go through the simulation, and then we used that as a mirror for what was happening in their world in real time. We took them through some of the tools as part of the simulation, and they realized just how hard this is and all the different dynamics that are involved. Even after only a day, we were able to get them talking about their issues, and they left feeling a little less stuck.


Do you have any rituals that you engage in prior to a facilitation?

One of the things I’ve learned is that you’ve got to keep things simple and use plain language. People need frameworks, but if you don’t present it in a way that’s really practical and down to earth, people feel like it’s too theoretical. So for example, I was doing some interviews trying to understand the culture of a particular organization. There are lots of ways you can get at that, but I just asked them, “What do you like about the culture, and what drives you crazy about the culture?” And so we were able to report back very simply: Here’s what’s driving people crazy. People really resonated with that. Leaders understand it, and they feel like it’s real and practical.

The second one is a website I use called Liberating Structures, which is full of different ways you can get people into better conversations. It helps me as a facilitator in a very practical sense by giving me clear ideas of how to engage people, up the energy in the room and get better outcomes.


If we could peer into your facilitation bag, what might we find?

Lots of questions. I’ve tried to come up with simple and compelling questions that you can ask given different scenarios that might come up. Because I find that oftentimes it’s the compelling questions that get people to stop and think, and that’s how you know you’ve landed on something important.

The other thing is something we call “pocket data.” These are really a collection of frameworks that help you simplify tough concepts with clients, and you can bring them out as needed when the situation calls for it. When you’re working with a group that’s feeling stuck, you can pull out this pocket data and show them, for example, what the research says or how other groups have handled similar situations. It’s like having a metaphorical library of books with you, but just the one relevant page that you need!


If you could magically gain one quality or ability, what would it be and why?

My 13-year-old son and I are always thinking about these things, and lately we’ve been talking about the idea of being able to heal yourself, like Wolverine from Marvel comics. You’d become relatively indestructible, but the point isn’t to be indestructible just for the sake of it. You experience the pain, but you learn from it and then you heal from it pretty quickly, and it makes you stronger going forward.


Who’s a mentor or influencer you’d want to spend a day with?

Frankly, the colleagues that I get to work with every day at CCL are the ones that I like to work with. In fact, I wish I could work with them more. Now that I’m in a remote office, I miss the daily interactions of popping in to someone’s office and never knowing what’s going to be on the whiteboard, or talking over lunch and figuring out a problem together. I’m one of those lucky people who enjoys and gets a lot of value out of the people I get to work with!


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