Those tumbleweed moments

Tumbleweed – or moments of silence which feel longer than expected or less comfortable.

It’s something we’ll all have experienced as facilitators and participants, worried over, and it’s something facilitators often ask me about:

🤔 How do I cope with those long moments of silence?

🤔 Does tumbleweed mean I’m not engaging with the group?

🤔 Does silence mean I haven’t asked the right question?

🤔 Does tumbleweed mean the group aren’t engaged?

It’s interesting how what can feel like an achingly long tumbleweed moment to one person, can feel like a gorgeous moment of silence to someone else.

So are tumbleweed moments (silence) just awkward to us as facilitators – do we need to shift our perceptions of what silence (or tumbleweed) might mean.

Or is it a sign that we need to do something different?

Here are some common reasons why we might experience tumbleweed and how to handle them:

💡 The group are really happy, they just need more space and time to ponder that brilliant question you’ve asked.

👉 Step back (out of their eyeline too if you can) and give them lots of lovely space.

💡 You’re facilitating a virtual session, where time moves differently – the rhythm groups develop for sharing and listening to each other, can take a little longer to grow.

👉 Let the group know it might feel different virtually, and they’ll find a rhythm as the session develops.

💡 The group are giving you a sign that they need something different from you – greater clarity, time to think, a deeper level of trust, a chance to share in a different way.

👉 You might want to test this out by re-phrasing the question, putting the group into pairs and seeing if conversation returns or pausing for a moment and asking the group to capture individually a couple of things which have stood out for them so far.

💡The tumbleweed is a symptom of existing dynamics in the group.

👉 There could be a lovely opportunity here to reflect your observations back to the group ‘one thing I’ve noticed over the last 10 minutes or so is….how often does that happen when you’re together?

💡The tumbleweed is a reflection of insights which are emerging (not always comfortable one’s).

👉 In this situation, I might say “sometimes in session like these, we notice or realise stuff that we haven’t been aware of before, and that doesn’t always feel comfortable or easy. My role today is to help us with that – think about what some of those things might mean or what you might want to do with them. We have lots of choices, so perhaps for now, just capture for yourself what you’re noticing, feeling or experiencing”

I’d love to hear what you think about tumbleweed, silence or these ideas for handling those moments.

If you’d love to be able to learn more about these things, or just have the chance to chat about them, look out for events taking place in The Facilitation Space.

For more information, message me or find me on LinkedIn.

Beginnings and Endings

We often talk about where things begin, yet less about where the beginning ends. At which point the beginning drifts steadily into something more familiar; if it drifts at all.

Perhaps the beginning ends when the book we’re reading falls open naturally at the page we’ve turned to more than once; or when the anticipation of a lyric we love is more delicious that the curiosity of whats to come.

Perhaps its when the paint on a fresh canvas begins to find its own path, settling into the grooves and ruts cast by paint which has come before; or is it the moment we stop noticing with annoyance the stain on our favourite recipe and instead feel the rush of warmth when we remember that moment, that meal.

What mark in the road do we pass which signifies that the beginning of our journey has now ended, that we’re now immersed in rhythm and movement, where sounds are familiar and we’ve found our groove.

And if we’re trying to determine the moment at which the beginning ends, where does the end start to begin?

Maybe it’s when a partners laughter grates rather than delights; or when our legs feel heavy with exertion, and the thought of rest holds more appeal than the beauty of the view ahead.

Is it that moment when we can feel the comfort and ease of clothes, now worn in, which settle into our shape and form, softly holding not restricting.

Or, perhaps its when the rush and noise of the city which felt like glorious anonymity for so long, now just feels like loneliness.

Maybe every beginning is the first step on the road to the end. Yet if this were true, surely every ending is a step on the road to a new beginning.

Perhaps we need to think less about where things end and where they begin, and instead enjoy the gentle quiet of just being.

This piece was written as part of a Write Nights word bath, a glorious 90 minutes hosted by Julie Dryborough.

A collective breath out

A few weeks ago I was struck by a comment from a nurse working in the NHS who said:

‘I haven’t breathed out yet’

It’s stayed with me vividly since and I often think about it, wondering what it will be like for those in health and social care when they finally get a chance to breathe out. How will they transition back to a more everyday kind of work life – will it be with a huge sense of relief; a sense that things have changed so much, there can’t be a return to a pre-covid way; or any number of iterations inbetween?

What about those outside of healthcare – who’s work and life has been directly or indirectly affected by Covid? Can we neatly step back into a more normal version of our working life or has too much happened to do that? For something that has been a rare collective event, our experience of it and its effect on us will have been intensely personal and individual.

What about if in organisations we had a metaphorical decompression chamber – a transition space where people can re-settle, re-orientate and take a collective breath out. For some people it may just be a short visit, for others they may need to spend a little longer in there, but its recognised as an important and valuable part of the return.

I think the space in between transitions aren’t talked about enough in our eagerness to leave behind, get somewhere new or return somewhere familiar.

I really encourage organisations and leaders to think about this space, especially when the push to move back to a more recognisable way of working builds momentum.

To think about how we might we need to support those who have experienced traumatic events during Covid.

To actively and purposefully explore how to balance the needs of those who welcome the return and feel excited about it, with those who have little desire to return to ‘what was before’ because they’ve experienced something different.

To encourage conversations around these things and to listen to the responses not just hope it will resolve itself.

There’s so much opportunity for reflection, conversation and growth. I hope we have the courage to create a moment of pause and to allow others to do that too, in whatever way feels right for them.

Reflections on Optimism

I’ve been reflecting over the last few weeks about where I’ve grown or shifted this year as a business owner, a facilitator and coach, a person. During this process, five words have kept resonating with me

Courage, Optimism, Uncertainty, Instinct, Hope.

Here’s what Optimism has taught me this year:

It’s tightly connected to my ideas, creativity and drive.

To me, optimism is that belief that something positive is around the corner; that a risk will pay off; that I ‘can’ do the thing that feels like a massive stretch of my abilities.

It helps me grow and move past what I think is possible, to feel more fearless.

It’s me at my most energised and I’m at my best when I have it in abundance.

It can run out if I don’t nurture it

There’s been times this year when I’ve called on my optimism and it’s fell silent – all I’ve heard and felt was worry and doubt.

Things that would normally be an exciting   ‘stretch’ were overwhelming and I became increasingly and unfamiliarly risk averse.

This year I’ve learned to nurture my optimism. To rest and reflect where I can,  so I can hear its voice more clearly. To see and value it as a strength (which benefits from maintenance and attention) rather than a given.

This year optimism has helped me:

  • Approach situations with energy and openness, trusting that I’ll get something from them.
  • Step into uncertainty and help my clients feel comfortable and confident to step into it too.
  • Stay true to myself and my business values and approach, even when I sometimes feel ‘less’ on social media.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of optimism.

Kirsten x

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

Reflections on Courage

Courage 1

I’ve been reflecting over the last few weeks about where I’ve grown or shifted this year as a business owner, a facilitator and coach, a person. During this process, five words have kept resonating with me

Courage, Optimism, Uncertainty, Instinct, Hope.

As we approach the end of the year, I thought I’d share my reflections around each of these words – where I’ve noticed them, what they’ve meant to me and what I’ve learned from them. I’d absolutely love it if you would share your stories and reflections around those words too.

Here’s what courage has taught me this year:

Courage can be quiet and momentary.

It can show itself when we least expect it, and disappear from sight when we most expect it to be there.

It’s mostly internal – others won’t often see or feel those moments when courage is present for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not being courageous. Courage isn’t always on show.

It’s important to me, and makes my personal and professional life richer.

Here’s how courage has played a part in what I do:

Feeling comfortable to take a risk and confront feelings and emotions which are fizzing in the room when I’m working with teams, but which no-one feels able to mention.

Sitting with discomfort for a while until it feels more comfortable, and when it’s right, helping others to do so in my facilitation and coaching practice too.

Acknowledging earlier this year, that I can’t do something I’ve promised to because I’m not well enough, and accepting this is the right thing to do, even when it feels wrong.

Asking myself questions I’ve been avoiding for a good long while and being ready to listen to the answers.

Courage emerges so often through the support, love and help of others, and that’s certainly been true this year. To all of those who have helped me feel and be more courageous.

Thank you. 



Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Are you brave enough to truly look at your culture?

Last night I took part in a great discussion on Leaders Hour* part of which was around inclusiveness, climate and messaging. I think there’s often a mismatch between what’s said formally:

“we value challenge here”

“we’re a progressive organisation

… and what’s felt:

“Ok…so now I’m being left out of that discussion? It seems it’s definitely not a good idea to challenge here”

“let your colleague speak first and pave the way for you, they know how it works around here”

Leading a team or an organisation isn’t just about saying the right thing, or having a policy or a poster that demonstrates your commitment to it. It’s about big and small choices each day, week and month.

It’s about what happens in the canteen as much as the boardroom. It’s about what happens when the business is under immense pressure and when everything is going brilliantly.

It’s about how you respond to challenge, or differences of opinion. It’s the assumptions and judgements your business, leaders and people hold – sometimes without even realising.

That’s when you see the culture or climate of an organisation. That’s what tells you how well or not you’re doing.

Will you be brave enough to truly look today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts & experiences

*Leaders Hour is a weekly twitter chat.

Putting the soul back into meetings

‘How can we have meetings that are productive and uplifting, where we speak from our hearts and not from our egos?’

I love this quote from Frederik Laloux (Reinventing Organisations) – it reminds me what it’s like to be in a really bad meeting; and what is possible when you’re in a superb one.

Meetings are often the only time a team has protected time together – a time to come together to discuss, debate and decide on important issues. Yet too often they don’t feel like that, they feel soulless, dull, scary, intimidating or just a waste of time.

Instead of conversation, there are statements. Instead of collaboration, there’s competition. Where encouragement could be offered, there’s challenge. Where challenge needs to happen, there’s passive agreement or silence.

So what goes wrong? The first thing thing is to look at whether your meetings are input or output driven.

Input driven meetings

These focus primarily on process, agenda and information sharing. I call them state and inform meetings – where to a greater or lesser degree, people run through a list of what they’ve done. One by one. In turn. Then the meeting ends.

At their worst, meetings like this are a competitive battle, a place for team members to present themselves in the best light in front of colleagues or stakeholders. Listening only to find opportunities to reassert strength, disagree or demonstrate greater knowledge.

At their best, meetings like this are places where people say their bit, then stay quiet and hide for the rest of it. No eye contact, doodling as if their life depends on it and wishing it was over so they can get on with real work.

Input driven meetings tend to occur because relationships aren’t fully formed and trust is low. The overriding tone is likely to be one of fear, apathy or exhaustion.

Output driven meetings

These focus primarily on what the meeting delivers for you as a team/organisation, they’re about providing you with – clarity to make good decisions, confidence, chance to debate difficult issues and challenge each other constructively, encouragement, strength.

Meetings like this give teams and organisations the capability to strengthen and accelerate their performance. They’re spaces where trust can be built, ideas and ambitions can grow, cross-org relationships can develop, points of commonality (and difference) can be found, where failures and successes can be discussed and learned from.

Output driven meetings tend to occur where relationships are strong and trust is high. The overriding tone is often one of energy, collaboration and purposefulness.

So how can you move towards an output driven meeting? It’s about small steps which will help you to build relationships, develop trust and encourage listening. Here are 3 things to get you started:

1. Think listen, learn and discuss instead of state and inform

This approach shifts the emphasis away from speaking as a means to defend, challenge or block; and towards asking questions, learning and discussing. Something as simple as moving from ‘this is what I’m going to tell you’ to asking the team ‘what would you like to know’ makes an enormous difference.

2. Share information beforehand

Meetings are about discussing, exploring and deciding; they’re not about reading. Share critical information beforehand and keep it brief and succinct, so that your meeting is about what you do with that information rather than just sharing it with each other.

3. Debrief a success

This can be a great way to move you away from state and inform and to encourage free flowing discussion. Use the first half of a meeting to debrief something that went brilliantly (product, service, team collaboration etc.). Have a cuppa, stand up rather than sitting at tables if you would do normally, and ask yourselves…

• what was integral to our success?

• what was surprising?

• what was noticeable about how we worked together?

• what could we learn from this?

Notice what happens when you have conversations like this, and think about how you can encourage more purposeful discussion in future meetings.


Thanks for reading,

If you’d like to bring some soul, energy and focus back into your meetings, get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.

You can reach me through LinkedIn, Twitter @kirstenlholder or through my website –

Photo by Ricardo Resende on Unsplash

#meetings #teams #leadership #business #communication #collaboration #motivation

How it all began….

So this is it. The story of how my business started 12 years ago…

In 2006 i sat down with a months salary, a business name and a very empty diary!

“I’ll take away all the safety nets I thought” – pushing away the safe and gradual route to self employment that was on offer – “if I go all out, I’ll have to make it work!”

I didn’t have a business plan or a sharp suit, an elevator pitch or a mission statement, but what I did have was an idea. I wanted to help people (and businesses) have more of those days where they feel confident, capable and energised. I wanted to help people understand what creates those days; and how they can create more of them.

Over the last 12 years I’ve worked with businesses, leaders and teams across so many professions and businesses, from Nursing to Marketing, from Factory Leadership Teams to Occupational Therapists, from Software Engineers to Entrepreneurs, from HR to Librarians – and so many more in between.

I’ve still got the determination, energy and enthusiasm I felt at the beginning, and I still get a huge sense of satisfaction from seeing people progress, develop and feel more confident in what they do.

I wonder what the next 12 years will bring?

#business #businessowner #selfemployment #coaching #facilitation #leadership

Leadership lessons from Bletchley Park

On Sunday I visited Bletchley Park for the first time. An inspiring, moving and humbling place filled with exceptional stories of determination and commitment.

In the main house rooms are laid out as they would have been originally, including Commander Denniston’s office who was the Head of Bletchley Park. Aside from the historical atmosphere created, what really struck me was this poster (and in particular the section I’ve highlighted) which talked about Commander Denniston’s style of leadership and management.

In the most stressful, intense and critically important situations imaginable he managed the codebreakers with patience and fairness. He recognised the value and need for motivation and encouragement to get the best out of the people who worked for him; and realised the importance of relaxation & recreation in difficult and demanding jobs.

80 years later I think we still have a lot to learn.

The greater the pressure the lighter the touch

It’s tempting to equate increased demands, expectations, workload or pressure with the need for more control:

‘I’ll just check’

‘Could I just have a look before you send it’

‘Have you made sure the report contains…’

‘Remember this client is really important…’

It may be a well intentioned need to reassure ourselves that things are on track, but inevitably it interrupts and disrupts the normal flow of decision making and action.

If we find ourselves wanting to step in to encourage and push for greater speed and efficiency, that’s often the very moment we need to step back and let people get on with their jobs.

Creating an environment where people have space and are trusted to do their best work isn’t a luxury for a quieter time when things are going well, its essential now.

It’s the pauses between activity that creates great performance

Dennington recognised that intense cerebral work needed to be offset with relaxation and recreation; that the best work, ideas and insights came when brains had space to breathe.

This was a balance; there were crucial times when there was no option but to work through the night and sleep on the floor, but when all your work is critical (and at Bletchley each day required them to break or decode a new cypher) there has to be some light and shade.

Although we’re in a very different place in 2018, it got me thinking about how often our brains and bodies have space to breathe in the workplace today?

How many opportunities there are for people to come together (from the same or different functions) and talk, share, laugh, rest their brains and restore their energy?

Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a significant reduction in these opportunities and I think we’re worse for it.

This isn’t about days out, big events or initiatives that cost lots of money, it’s about informal ways to relax and restore – for 10, 20, 30 minutes or longer; alone or with others; quietly or actively – and the recognition that this is important; vital to us doing our best work in the short and long term.

And as leaders this starts with us.

Dennington was fundamental in helping to make relaxation and recreation an important part of what they did at Bletchley. It’s not necessarily about explicit permission but implicit action and role modelling.

Its holding your nerve during a busy and stressful time and encouraging your team to take a leisurely lunch together. It’s helping a tired team to feel it’s ok to go and have a cuppa together outside in the sun. It’s finding out what helps your team relax and laugh and building those things in through the weeks and months. It’s leaving on time; more than once.

We’re human beings not assets or resources. We need light and shade, sustenance, space, time to rest, relax and re-energise – and sometimes, I think we forget that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this,


Photos taken during Bletchley Park visit and from Bletchley Park website.

Sticking Plaster Smile

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to write this post – it’s one that’s been in my mind for a while, but after seeing the above image (acknowledgements to @avogado6 on twitter) and watching others talk openly about their mental health struggles, the timing feels right.

For over 20 years, depression (and to a large extent OCD) has been a companion. That makes it sound like something warm and friendly doesn’t it? It isn’t. Its an exhausting, energy sapping, confidence shattering, questioning, demanding companion. At its worst my own brain slowly dismantles everything that feels hopeful, lovely, positive and light and just leaves an empty hole.

I countered (and still counter) depression with excitement, enthusiasm, optimism and energy – my natural state is all of those things; but trying to switch them back on whilst in the grip of depression can be overwhelming and exhausting.

I was always really proud to say that my depression had never affected my ability to work (I met all my commitments, got good feedback etc), and whilst I think that was largely true, it was most definitely affecting me. It takes an enormous amount of energy to become ‘me’ when depression is at its worst, and the physical and mental toll of doing this for any length of time can be significant.

It felt so acceptable to excuse myself from commitments when I broke my collarbone or ruptured ankle ligaments – but I still find it an enormous challenge to offer myself the same level of compassion when my mental health needs some time to heal; I’m learning though. Learning to spot the signs earlier, and listen to them. Learning to accept that sometimes there’s a limit to what I can do and that’s ok.

Over the last couple of years I’ve started to talk a little more about my depression and OCD with close work colleagues. I’ve drawn courage from others who have shared their stories, and feel grateful that the way that society is talking about depression and mental health is changing. So it feels right to share a little of my story, not for sympathy, but for anyone else who might be walking through life with a similar companion – you’re not on your own.

Kirsten x