I’m Tom Romito, a facilitator in Cleveland, Ohio. I became a facilitator when I realized that what other people have to say is more important than what I have to say. I discovered that I enjoyed and was good at getting them to do that. Here’s how I got
I’m Tom Romito, a facilitator in Cleveland, Ohio. I became a facilitator when I realized that what other people have to say is more important than what I have to say. I discovered that I enjoyed and was good at getting them to do that. Here’s how I got started.
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
In 1991, I was a civilian employee of the Ninth Coast Guard District Headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. I administered a program called the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, which is an organization of volunteers who assist the Coast Guard on the Great Lakes by educating recreational boaters in safe boating. That year, the Ninth District decided to hold the first annual conference of Commanding Officers and Officers-in-Charge of Coast Guard units throughout the Great Lakes. This conference required a cadre of facilitators to manage input from the people attending the conferences. The Ninth District sought out people on the Cleveland staff to take on the job of serving as facilitators, in addition to their regular duties. I was one of ten people who accepted the challenge.
In the summer of 1991, I spent two weeks in Washington, D.C. undergoing training from Organizational Dynamics, Inc., a Boston-based consulting firm. There I learned the mechanics of facilitating Quality Action Teams. When I returned to Cleveland, the Chief of Operations for the Ninth District, got us newly-minted facilitators together and planned our role for the first Officers-in-Charge conference, which took place at a hotel in Lakewood, Ohio the following winter.
About 100 Coast Guard men and women attended the conference. We assembled them in teams of ten people that represented mixed groups of the various kinds of Coast Guard search and rescue stations, aids to navigation teams, and vessels. Fortunately, I had already worked for the Coast Guard for five years, and I knew the jargon that Coast Guard people used. Then we gathered input from these groups using questions we had designed to learn their concerns about the support their units were getting from the Ninth District staff.
This is how I learned to conduct focus groups. I facilitated many other workgroups during my tenure with the Coast Guard, including human relations councils, civilian employee meetings, and meetings at conferences of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Discovering My Niche
I knew I had discovered my true niche when one of my Coast Guard colleagues said to me, “When you are facilitating, you are in your element.”
It just seemed so natural for me to stand in front of groups of people, bring forth what they were thinking, and organize it on flip chart paper before their very eyes. Another person who watched me do my thing said he understood what I was doing. This is how he described it: He said, “You get them to hand their brains to you. Then you reorganize their thoughts and hand their brains back to them.”
By the time I retired from the Federal Service in 2004, I had already begun facilitating workgroups in Greater Cleveland. I was in some of these groups and I noticed that they needed facilitation to manage group input, reach consensus, and make decisions. It was easy for me to establish myself as the facilitator of these groups and help them become more effective.
Here’s an example:
On the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland, there are man-made extensions of the shoreline jutting out into the lake called Contained Disposal Facilities. They are dump sites for dredging from the Cuyahoga River.
By 2000, one of them, called Dike 14, (now known as Dike 14: Cleveland's Nature Preserve) was full of dredge and becoming overgrown with vegetation.
Many conservation groups rallied around the cause of preserving this site from further dumping or development. These groups formed an informal committee and met regularly to discuss a strategy. They were totally unorganized and unfocused. I offered to facilitate them and got them to achieve consensus on what they wanted to do.
They were amazed that I got such a large and diverse group of people to agree on anything!
In 2005, I decided to specialize in helping non-profit organizations do strategic planning and team building. I began telemarketing myself to find opportunities to facilitate, and many came to me by word of mouth or referrals. In order to learn more about these subjects, I delved into two books, “Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations” by Michael Allison and Jude Kaye and “The Fifth Discipline Handbook” by Peter Senge.
I fine-tuned my style of facilitating workgroups and developed models for conducting a strategic planning process and team building. During the period 2005-2014, I conducted eight strategic planning processes and many team-building workshops with various organizations.
Most groups that I have facilitated have never come back to me for follow-up sessions. That’s probably an opportunity I could pursue. However, one group, Brooklyn Centre Naturalists, has come back to me for six consecutive years.
Every year, they want to update the strategic plan I helped them develop in 2008. It’s always fun to re-engage them because they know they’re in for a lot of work when they see me coming with my flip charts, and they always respond enthusiastically. This is a group that’s on the move! I love that they always say, “We can’t believe you got us to agree on anything!”
Tom Romito Facilitating in 2014
Present and Future
My most intrinsically rewarding work happened in 2014 when I conducted a strategic planning process for the Stockyard Clark-Fulton Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office (CDO). Megan Meister, then program director for the CDO, and Gloria Ferris, chairperson for the Community Advisory Council (CAC), asked me to help them focus their efforts in order to learn what the residents need in order to improve the quality of life in this community.
Over the course of 12 months, I conducted two four-hour workshops with the CDO staff and CAC, two external focus groups, and a survey of the residents. I also drafted the strategic plan based on all of this input. I am so proud of this work because I am a resident of this community and look forward to the outcome it will have.
What I would like readers of this blog story to know is that I have offered almost all of my work as a facilitator on a pro bono basis. At the prompting of my family and close friends, I am going to change this. I have engaged an expert in social intelligence named Betsey Merkel to help me market myself as a professional. I plan to continue this wonderful work in the future!
How did you begin your work? Are you a facilitator too? Post your comments in the comment box below, I'd like to hear from you!
Tom Romito is an interpreter of Native American Culture, a facilitator of organizations who want to grow, and a Reiki practitioner dedicated to helping people heal. Tom shares stories and skills to help you energize your world.