As the Director of Jewell Facilitation, Helene Jewell's role is to help people have better conversations. In this interview, Helene talks about how she got into her industry after a stint working in Nepal and why the re-starting of in-person events brings new challenges.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I started my professional career as a Speech and Language Therapist, which led me to work in Nepal, training special needs teachers. I became interested in International Development, did an MSc, worked in that field for a while, and went on some facilitation training. I realised that this was most definitely my thing and, after a bit of meandering around a few different roles in different places and having two children, I decided that the only way to follow what I really wanted to do, was to set up my own facilitation business. So I did!
What kind of work does your role involve?
I help teams to have better conversations by facilitating team development sessions and workshops. This involves working with a team leader to find out what the team needs, setting objectives, then creating a process (full of activities and tools) that forms the backbone of a facilitated workshop. I also facilitate strategy sessions and multi-stakeholder workshops where people from different organisations or individuals come together to discuss something. In either case, my job is to keep things on track and help the conversations be productive. I either work online using Zoom and lots of digital tools or in-person with my Stickywall, paper and pens.
What gets you excited about your industry?
When a conversation turns up unexpected things in a workshop and great connections are made, there is a great collective untangling of things holding the group back. I love the energy that a group can create when people spark off each other. I love good questions, and I get very excited by a brilliant process when you can see that the right selection of tools and activities will get the group where they need to be. I love it when people really "get" facilitation and understand that it is not training but something quite different.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Measure twice, cut once! Which basically, I take to mean pause before you do something that you might not be able to undo. This is good advice if you (like me) can be a bit impatient and just want to get on with things.....sometimes, slowing down and having a bit of a plan is the way forward!
What, or who inspires you?
People who really want to do something know it's going to be a struggle but get on and do it anyway, because, well, if you don't try, you'll never know....
And my children who are still young enough to not understand the idea of "why not?" and aren't scared of failing. Yet.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I am chair of the International Association of Facilitators (England and Wales). Part of my role means keeping on top of what is going on by connecting with other facilitators and making sure we as a Leadership Team promote the power of facilitation and support our members and others with an interest in facilitation.
There are loads of IAF meetups, and I try to go to some and host one every month. We also have a podcast that I co-host and a Slack channel to share ideas. Oh, and I spend way too much time on Twitter! I listen to other podcasts, read books and other people's blogs and go to other related networking meetings when I have the time. I am an RSA fellow too, and they have some great information and events.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
I feel like I am experiencing it right now! Having spent the last year doing all my workshops online (which was actually a challenge in itself at the time to change to online), I am now booked in to do an in-person workshop in a couple of weeks. Where once this was fairly straightforward (especially when the client has their own wonderful venue like this one), there are now so many extra dimensions. I have to do risk assessments, work out what I can achieve in a Covid Safe environment, and create a process that includes everyone whilst making sure they are 2m apart. So far, it has involved a lot of extra steps.
I'll let you know how it goes!
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Honestly - probably go on a big holiday, buy a bigger house with a giant garden, give loads away to friends and family and loads of good causes.
But, I'd also like to buy a large plot of land and create a lake for swimming, that has great facilities, isn't expensive and is inviting to all kinds of swimmers. And I'd employ loads of enthusiastic swimmy types to run it so I could put my feet up after my swim! Maybe learn a new language - I'm fascinated by different languages but don't have the time (or the need) to learn a new one.
And I might do a bit of facilitation here and there!
How do you switch off after a day at work?
When I get the chance - go outdoor swimming, or maybe a run (but I'm not really very good at running!). I also like reading books in the bath, or watching foreign language crime dramas!
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
That there was an easier way for facilitators just starting out to actually get work. So many people love facilitation and just want to go and do it, but it's not always easy to get started. I think we need a better marketplace where people know they can hire a facilitator and where facilitators can have an active presence, connect with prospective clients, and collaborate with others. Maybe I will invest some of my $10 million in creating a funky app that can do this!
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
A book I read recently that I rather like is Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende - it appeals to the part of me that likes doing the opposite of what I am told to do. There is a follow up which I haven't read, called How to Be More Pirate, which is on my list to read next.
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