Anna Birch: Bringing Balance and Clarity to Executive Retreats
An entrepreneur, respected executive facilitator, and experiential trainer, Ann Birch has founded and led several businesses all rooted in organizational dynamics and human change. Her most recent venture, Polaris Institute, engages the truth of neuroscience to activate sustainable human change in top performers and their teams.
A CREATiON Companies facilitator, Anna says her superpower “is gaining immediate rapport and command of a room, creating outcome-based experiences that connect, inspire, and invite leaders into action.”
We recently sat down with Anna for a conversation about her passion for facilitation.
1. What experience do you bring to your role as a professional facilitator?
My career as a facilitator began in the outdoors creating experiences where individuals felt challenged, safe, and accomplished simultaneously. In the last three decades, I’ve built several companies while maintaining a growing practice of facilitation. I've trained and facilitated thousands of business owners and their leadership teams, ranging from experiential keynotes for large groups to small group strategic planning or professional development facilitation.
2. What makes a great meeting or retreat?
Atmosphere balance and clarity. One of the key aspects of atmosphere is natural light. Depending upon the group size and content of the meeting, it's also important to explore the changing dynamics you'd like to create. For example, if we want to break into smaller working groups, is there physical space to do so and will the acoustics support multiple conversations?
The greatest retreat or meeting experiences have an intentional approach to the balance and flow of the content and experience.
3. How does having an outside facilitator help a meeting or retreat?
A professional facilitator helps the group get around its “entanglement” which can exist in many forms as a team or group prepares and conducts a meeting or retreat. Some examples include hierarchy, past or pressing decisions that impact status, the history of how the team functions, and elements of the team beliefs and experiences. A facilitator has a singular focus — to guide the group to the outcome agreed upon in advance. With skilled facilitation, the team is often able to move well past the limitations that leadership dynamics imposes on the process. The facilitator owns the process and keeps the room on track, allowing all attendees to focus on creativity, planning, and engagement versus the space that could be absorbed by leading a meeting or retreat.
4. How do you ensure everyone is engaged and actively participating?
I find that diversifying the methodology is the most effective way to ensure participation. Spending time in varying group sizes, getting up and out of seats, lightning rounds to get quick input, using post-its or other methods to get the group writing and preparing their thoughts, etc... I've also gone to great lengths when a room had an exceptionally dominating personality. At times, I’ve had the individuals write down their responses to the inquiry at hand and give this to the person next to them to read aloud!
5. Tell us about a hobby or life experience that has made you a better facilitator?
I love rock climbing and whitewater kayaking. In both, maintaining a clear head and calm are critical ingredients to safety. I realized recently that groups rely upon a facilitator to lead with clarity and calm and resist the temptation to be drawn into negative or unproductive forces in the room. I sometimes get asked how I deal with difficult personalities in a session, and I realized that it takes a lot to throw me off. Often the difficult personalities are disarmed as they realize they will be heard but don't need to battle with me.