Man fishing at a river bank

Continuous Improvement blogFishing and Facilitating

Having worked in continuous improvement for a number of years now, I frequently find myself applying it to other areas of my life, for example using the principles of 5S to organise my kitchen cupboards!

Recently, I went on my first ever fishing trip.  I’m an avid fan of ‘Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing’, although in truth, it wasn’t the fishing aspect of it that had me, pardon the pun, hooked.  It was the relationship between these two long-time friends, and their general outlook on life.  Watching the show is like getting a warm, comforting hug.  That said, the more I watched, the more I fancied giving fishing a try.

River Ure, Boroughbridge, YorkshireAs luck would have it, I happen to know a lifelong fisherman who is a fountain of knowledge, so, with my brand new Aldi wellies in tow, we packed up the car, and with me as the Bob Mortimer to his Paul Whitehouse, we headed down from Glasgow to Yorkshire for a weekend of fishing.

I had some preconceived notions about fishing.  As much as I was keen to give it a go, deep down I suspected I might find it to be a bit boring.  Sitting on a river bank for countless hours doing nothing? In January?  What was I thinking? Little did I know there would be plenty to do.  Casting, re-casting.  Baiting your hook.  Catapulting bait to the spot you’ll be fishing.  Casting again, and again. Did I mention casting?

By now you may be wondering what this has to do with continuous improvement or indeed, facilitating.  At the time, I would have said nothing.  I was on holiday, not thinking about work or anything work related.  Having had time to reflect, however, I think there are some comparisons, particularly with the skills required to be an effective facilitator of improvement workshops.  It’s so important as facilitators that we try to avoid any preconceived notions about the current state of a process or function, and keep an open mind.  This ensures that we can help those participating in the workshop to consider every step, option, or possibility, as it can be incredibly easy to overlook what may seem like something small, but is in fact pivotal.  It also helps us to avoid the possibility of jumping to solutions without fully considering the process.

My trusty guide, fishing at the river bankWhile there is plenty to do when fishing, there also are long periods of sitting quietly, although these can fly by as you are so focused on watching the tip of your rod waiting for a bite, or keeping an eye on your float in the hope that it’ll be pulled under the water. This does of course require an element of patience. Patience is another key skill of the effective facilitator.  Continuous improvement and process change can take a long time, often with outcomes taking months to come into fruition.

Sitting quietly staring at a float creates a unique opportunity for self-awareness and reflection, and I found I was quite comfortable being alone with my innermost thoughts (‘when am I getting a sandwich?’ being my predominant one).  As a facilitator, increased self-awareness is important.  It helps you to be able to challenge your own assumptions and to listen objectively.  It’s also a good idea to take some time to reflect after each facilitation session and consider what went well, what could have gone better, and what might you do differently next time (in the case of fishing – bring sandwiches!).

I can assure you I was certainly no expert on the river bank, and I found myself asking questions all day – ‘why do you use a certain type of bait?’; ‘what are you looking for when you’re choosing a spot to fish?’; ‘how do I stop getting fish hooks in my fingers?’; ‘why didn’t we bring any sandwiches?’ etc. As facilitators, we are not the subject matter experts, and we will therefore have some distance from said subject matter. This allows us to question everything in a way that those close to a process or function rarely do.  Using open questions can frequently get to the root cause of a problem or issue

Susan Hillis holding a carpIf you’re interested, we caught nothing for two days, however on day three everything changed and we caught some roach and some carp, with me landing the biggest catch of the day!  We’re friendly fishermen though, and there’s a unique satisfaction in gently placing a fish back in the water and watching it swim off on its merry way. Will I go fishing again?  Most certainly, provided my trusty guide doesn’t mind me tagging along with my incessant questioning, and of course, sandwiches!