As a Sports Consultant at Vicsport I am often required to host and facilitate meetings, working groups and workshops of various sizes for a broad cross-section of the sporting industry. In an effort to develop my skills and unearth some new tips and techniques for leading these conversations, I headed off to a three day program titled ‘The Art of Social Inclusion through Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter’ (also known as ‘The Art of Hosting’).

The program covered four core methods that can be used to engage attendees: The Circle, World Cafe, Open Space Technology and Appreciative Enquiry. In addition to this, we also looked at some of the underlying theoretical and psychological basis for engaging conversations such as Meta Skills, Organisations as Living Systems and the phases of Divergence, Emergence and Convergence, to name a few.

Attending the program and the subsequent time to write this piece has provided me the opportunity to reflect on two key points:

  1. The importance of ongoing professional development (and how little of it we sometimes do)
  2. How much more effective our work could be if we truly listened and engaged with each other.

A professional development opportunity, be it a few hours or days, is a significant investment on behalf of both the individual attending and the organisation for which they work. There is no doubt that at times it can seem difficult to justify the costs associated with developing your skills as an individual and industry professional. These costs come in both the actual opportunity cost (i.e. a course price), but also the cost to an organisation in staff time (wages and time out of the office).  As someone who has been on both sides of the equation in attending and providing opportunities for professional development, I can’t advocate for it enough. In the case of ‘The Art of Hosting’ program, I was fortunate enough to have two half day workshops the following week to facilitate with my Vicsport colleagues so I was able to attend the course and be thinking about how I could immediately apply these skills and techniques in both situations.

When we do spend the time to invest in ourselves, do we truly engage? How often do we go to meetings or workshops and find ourselves thinking about another project, an approaching deadline or what’s on after work that day and in doing so, only half listen to what is being said? An interesting exercise we undertook in groups of 4 during the program was that of Reflective Listening. In doing this, 1 group member told a story and the other three were required to listen for one of three things: feelings, values or facts. This technique is normally used when we don’t fully understand or think there may be more to what is being said or to summarise, verify or validate an individual’s message. For me, it also highlighted just how much we can miss in a conversation and the subsequent implications for our work and relationships.

So what did I learn from this experience beyond the practical techniques and methodologies to employ in the future? On reflection, quite a lot:

  1. Invest in Yourself, Take the Lead: We don’t invest in our own skills set enough, frequently citing cost, time and workload as barriers. Don’t expect your organisation to source and pay for everything. Apply for grants that can assist financially and/or contribute yourself. Seek out the opportunities – this is your career.
  2. Be Timely and Choose Wisely – Where possible, time the opportunities you attend so that you can apply your learning’s straight away. At the same time, it’s important to stay up-to-date in key topic areas, but mix it up by attending opportunities that are applicable what you do on a practical level as well.
  3. Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone – Where possible and applicable, seek opportunities for development outside the sport industry. Not only does it extend your network, but it opens you up to new ideas and different ways of thinking.
  4. Truly Listen – Take the time to truly engage and listen to what others have to say. If you are in a group situation, ensure everyone has the chance to speak and offer an opinion, you never know who may come up with the answer to a key question.

Fiona Jones
Sports Consultant

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