So, I got the most ridiculous job imagined. I was low on morale. Everyone on campus knew who to blame if this MAS happened to be the worst.
What should I do?
At times like this, it’s best to give in ask help from the Mightiest of them all. I am a man of faith, although not as strong as most of my friends I knew. I mustered what I could and prayed.
But I know for sure just praying would not give me a miracle, I knew I needed to do something.
This is part two of an ongoing series. Here, I will share how I personally prepared myself for #MASJAN15 , and what I did to cater the Training of Trainers Session, and help assembling a ragtag group of people into a solid dream-team of facilitators. Hopefully my personal anecdote would help any would-be leaders who found trouble to get their team, or themselves, together.
Humility & Empathy
The first I did was to actually just go home. And I did that by the humblest way possible: public transportation.
I walked out to the gates from my room located at the further back of the campus (V5), a good 2km walk, only to be stopped by some juniors hanging out at the mosque, where they took on a bike and dropped to me near the front gate. Yes, they kept calling me ‘Head Facee’. No pressure.
My point doing this? I need to feel and be humble. My biggest fear is that I would control the whole programme according to my own vision only, discounting others. I need to learn to listen to other’s advice when needed. I know this was the one I need to work on. I remembered a feedback I got in May13 that I was too ‘poyo’, too self-centered. It took me a good while to accept that criticism. And that should never happen again, given the responsibility I had.
Another would be empathy. A good facilitator should be able to relate to the problems and struggles the new students are facing. Not just shrug off the lofty requests by nagging they are too pampered or whatnot. We are facilitators. We facilitate. We don’t show the whole process A-Z, this is what made people feel facee work is tedious. We just point them where to go, and encourage a bit.
And what better to do so by travelling like I used to back in my foundation days, the time I was still a freshman.
And here’s a snippet of what went in my mind during the journey back home.
Do note: I was low on morale at the time, a bit depressed, maybe. So, the tone of my writing was reflected as such.
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After hearing the news I've been selected as part of the facilitator's team for the last time, I feel the need to head home. And what better to that than doing it the old fashion way: using only public transport. Hopefully this journey will make me reminisce on the past, the time during foundation studies, to get me in the mood of helping a new generation of students after this.
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I guess it was almost 4 years since I took a bus to Ipoh. I was looking for the classic green/red bus but to no avail. Having no clue what to expect, I popped my phone out and decided to waste time with it. A bus appeared. Barely stopping. I rushed, but took my time as, hey, they always stop for people, right? First lesson learned, the uncle gave me a scolding – "next time stand up and wave. Don't expect me to graciously stop and invite you in". Ouch. Learned my lesson, apologised and sat at the seat nearest to him. Hey, you never what kind of stories you can get from a 30-year experienced bus driver, right? Yeah, so we talked about people carelessly losing bus tickets and don't mind buying another? ("RM3.50 you could buy lunch. Why waste and buy another ticket?"), how banglas survive here despite tough working conditions and low income ("the smart thing is, they ask first, if I take rice, a piece of chicken and some veggies, how much? Us? We eat first then pay. Even if it is RM7 for just rice, chicken and veggies!"), the floods and evil corporations. Hope that helps mend the bad first impression I made.
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See that black rectangle that uncle is tapping? Yes, it's an Android tablet. These tablets are powering the ticketing system. Just tap a location a customer is heading and boom, ticket is printed. It even has a local database, counting all the fares for each trip and how much money was made. Even better, since it's Android, almost everyone in Malaysia would have no problem operating it. And I was sceptical on how Malaysians would adopt to technology when I was in foundation studies, not confident enough that a degree in IT would do anything beneficial here. No game industry. No healthy 3D animation industry. No startups. I was even contemplating to change to a different university once PETRONAS did not select me for scholarship, or most of IT students from my batch for that matter. Glad I stuck with it. ICT and BIS folks, your job prospects are everywhere.
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Kind of forgot to finish up my travelog. Ahha. This landmark building in Ipoh lies its train station. What not many know is that there used to be an old school cheap motel here. On the day before my educamp interview 5 years ago, the whole family stopped by Ipoh to find a place to stay. Dad was not sure where in the world is Tronoh at the time- and it was a time before google maps are ubiquitous and available literally at the tip of most people's hands. But UTP provided shuttle services from the station. We rushed. At 9pm we were scouring a nearby jusco just to get clothing for the interview, rushing before the store closes. Then we shoot immediately from Seremban to Ipoh. I was roughly asleep, but manage to glimpse some familiar places- hotels dad used to take us when we are visiting there. Little did I know that dad had going around all the hotels he knew and could find- yet there wasn't any vacancy. Out of luck, dad just parked outside the station. Might as well just sleep in the car, all 6 of us. And what do you know, there's a small old hotel there, with vacancy! Alhamdulillah. It was 4 in the morning, dad rested and mom asked if they have an ironing board so she could iron out the newly bought clothes. And the rest, is history. While it's good practice to not dwell too much of the past, but remembering the past once you've age a bit gives you more unique insight and perspective. That's why there are past tales and history recorded in the Quran, as history is meant to be learned, so we may not repeat past mistakes, but continuing past victories. At that moment I would just be grateful to be selected to study in such a prestigious university. Now I regret of taking for granted the sacrifice my family has made, and not pushing hard enough in my studies. At least I learned my lesson. And hopefully, you too.
All the throwbacks made me felt better by a bit.
Another moment of throwback happened at home too. I was locked from the inside of my home toilet. Now I know how it felt to be on the other side of the door this time.
Allah was definitely teaching me something during those days. And it was what I really needed most: humbleness, and empathy. He did listen to my prayers, alhamdulillah.
Yes, being trapped in the toilet taught me empathy. Who knew? God works in mysterious ways.
Back home I occupied myself with chores, helping my family around. I also got to finally get hold of the new PS4. I knew it would be tough journey, so I took time to relax and do what I knew best- play videogames. Since we have a PS4 in the house, dad then given me the permission to grab the high-spec laptop my little brother used to have, since he now has the PS4.
Immediately I installed Dragon Age Inquistion. And at high settings, it was pure bliss. Before this I had to resort to indie games and Football Manager with my previous laptop for my gaming fix.
(Full Disclosure: I pirated it, with the intend to purchase when the price is right, like Dragon Age: Origins before it, bought it for RM9 something)
A lesson I learned the hard way is not to wait for others to appreciate yourself, and forego rewarding yourself in hopes that you close friends would do. Unless you have a group of friends that are able to do that on a consistent basis (lucky, you should be thankful) then start developing your own method of rewarding yourself. Did something remarkable on a personal scale, like writing a blog? Then go treat yourself some Chicken Chop or a Mars bar. Never underestimate the power of self-motivation. Note: I do love my friends. And friends make mistakes, for that I have long forgiven them.
It’s wise to not judge a book by its cover, but it’s human nature to have first impressions, so why not present a decent cover for an already good book?
With this wisdom, I went to YouTube and binge-watched TED talks, just to see how to show yourself as confident, self-assured and even how to pose, use gestures during public speeches, and to understand body language. A leader should look like one, so they can command respect. Respect, as I learned in the circles of Smart Group as thiqah, is not gained by authority, but to be earned from those around you.
And with respect, you can gain trust. So the words you speak would be listened, and garner more impact.
Also, I look really horrible when asked to pose for a photoshoot. Photogenic I am not.
Learn From the Past
A famous quote appeared prominently in History text books, and Civilization V shown here, that I always took heart. So I consulted the last three MAS’s head facee for tips and advice. Each and everyone gave a different advice, and shared to me very different circumstances and scenarios each had faced. But I took notes nevertheless.
Meet the Team
In case you did not remember or recognized who was part of the team, here’s a copy of the database, with all personal info removed, of course.
(You might want to check who’s in the registration department- it’s the guy that went viral for a while.)
Here comes the problem.
Remember that most of the facees are inexperienced and some of the more experienced had to turn down the offer? We faced a serious problem to quickly recruit two people for very important roles. One of them was quick, but not without some misunderstanding.
The story was, a dude just drops in TOT- where no other students are allowed to join, as a ground rule. He was brought by a facilitator who had not shown up until then. I assume the guy was the replacement we had selected, so I let them join in the TOT. He wasn’t.
Never assume. Note to self: never ever assume when you can just ask.
Eventually, looking at his application, we agreed to take him into the team. If it happend to be his application form was unconvincing, I would not let such thing happen. It was not favouritism, or cronism in fact. We were desperate for manpower. And remember, it’s still exam week, so to call someone to give time for TOT would take more work. But’s the guy is there already.
From that moment onward, I made a commitment to myself to memorize all of the facilitator’s name, and greet them at least once. This has made some of them who arrived late a bit surprised, as I somehow correctly guessed their who they are even without ever meeting each other yet, and do a silly introduction for them to anyone nearby so I would further remember their names. It worked.
Turns out the guy we picked did very well, although as a member of department he may be lacking a bit of technical know-how, but as a facilitator, he gets top marks in my book. A good call, but a risky one. Some of the new selection committee were stressed out during the whole situation.
Another was for the all-important position of secretary. We narrowed down to four, then two, candidates. Looking at the application forms, I was surprised. These two candidates had the same course, similar experience, almost similar CGPA, even looked pretty similar. It took me long while to decide between the two. I joked to my close friends I’m having a hard decision about choosing between the two women, sending them this (which is about how similar the two of them are, in Malay):
Immediately they thought that I was choosing a candidate for a wife. It’s our little inside joke.
Which is relevant, as I have had bad experiences on choosing one before, it never turned out well. Therefore I decided to relinquish the decision making to my assistant who could do a better job for this. I knew my weakness, so I delegate it.
I knew I needed an ice breaking module for TOT to get the facilitators comfortable with each other.
And all I could think of was Spaceteam.
Sometime ago, I watched a video series called ‘The Gauntlet’ , a game show that’s about, well, playing videogames. And one episode has the theme of teamwork.
What you do is a team of 2-4 players, on thier respective Android and iOS devices, have to complete instructions as instructed. The trick is, the instructions may or may not be for you, so you have to work together as a Spaceteam to accomplish that, and see how far could you go. It’s basically a game about communication.
However, I had doubts though, whether it will turn out to be a ‘logistical nightmare” or not. Should the guys and ladies team up? How many of them using iPhones or supported Android devices? Can everyone download it on the spot?
It was risky, but I assured myself, this MAS has already have many weird new things, why stop there? Besides, I don’t think no other Head Facee would ever do such a thing, so I took it as an opportunity.
Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) January 07, 2015
Alhamdulillah, the stars aligned just right. Turned out we have WiFi access around the block of the training location (although slow). And only one person was a Windows Phone user. We decided to make groups based on how many devices we can get running the app, and let them take turns to play. And the groups just form themselves. The ladies who I suspect might not be comfortable to be so close together with guys grouped together. I just let them be, as some other ladies do mingle around.
Everyone one was delighted with the experience. Surprisingly, the ladies are the ones who not only got the best results, but the most eager to play again. Who says girls don’t game?
Later on, we even played the game with the students, with mostly positive feedback.
I believe that to get the best results from the facilitators, I need to ensure they are all in the same page, and understand the job they have been given: facilitators.
So I give them some hard hitting questions to ponder:
First: What is a facilitator?
(I was a bit bummed out that no one tried to google on the spot, or go “OK Google, define facilitator”. But I digress.)
This is just so they knew what exactly their main job was. If the focus is just on the technical tasks, then MAS is just like any other event. It isn’t.
Second: Why be a facilitator?
I also showed this video, about passion.
The key takeaway here is you need passion to do the best job, and passion derives from love.
Why I ask? Realistically, there must be a reason these people – including me, on why they want to be facilitators. So let’s tap into that. And I made it clear cut, if they’re here for the certificates, they’ll just get that. If they were into the food coupons or sweet UTP merch and swag, that’s all they get. If they go bigger things, like learn something, then they’ll learn something.
I was indirectly referring to the first hadith of the famous 40 hadith compiled by Imam Nawawi, about intentions. (Heh, Islam can be preached in various ways, and no, I don’t want to convert people doing that, I just want to share the values, which can be universally applied.)
And I want them to really do their job, not out of specific goals they have, but for the sheer passion, the love, to do so. That would ensure they will be delivering their best. I also shared to them why I did too, and it is something along the lines what I have written in Part 1.
And maybe shed a manly tear or two while doing it. Maybe.
I also would have shown this video, about empathy. The follow-up question would have been “How to be a facilitator”.
The answer would be empathy. Put yourselves in other’s perspectve, not to symphatize and agree, but to understand and help.
Sadly, time was not on our side. The third question was never asked.
It turned out those pep talks worked. After our resident councilor and MAS Advisor Tuan Haji Jalil came in for a short session, he was impressed with the answers the facilitators gave when he asked some simple questions about MAS. He was testing our readiness, awareness of the situation, and whether the High Commitee- especially the Head and Assistant Head Facee did anything to help the preparation. Some had even quoted the points I was rambling in the talk.
It was humbling. But secretly, I was fist bumping, and wished a Final Fantasy Victory theme chimed in, or an Achievement Unlocked pop-up appeared.
Also, knowing the doom and gloom situation we are all facing, never did I show sadness, or frustration in front of the team. When someone was frustrated, I listened, and ensure them positively that things will be alright. ( even if I do actually share such concerns, or have no idea how a bad situation can turn to be good) Gotta stay positive, so everyone around me stays positive.
Listen, Listen, Listen
An interesting moment happened when I first met our Head of Logistics. I didn’t push authority, or even introduced myself as Head Facee at the time. He just arrived and missed the first session of TOT. Instead, we just talked. He vented on me on how terrible the situation of the hostel registration, which really is a pain to him and his pals. He was frustrated, and the next session of TOT was about to start, but I decided to just listen, and try to understand the situation he faced. It was a good choice, and from that point on we became fast friends afterwards. Turns out he was playing Dragon Age Inquisition too.
If I didn’t played it humble, the conversation would have change dramatically.
Be wise when choosing your dialog options, you might missed out on valuable info.
Understand the Circumstances
Empathy is a recurring theme here, and here it appears again.
Tuan Haji to something really important, something that is agreeable when I share it to those who joined in as Undergradutes.
These students joined in as Undergradutes, so it implies that these people have already undergone some preliminary studies for tertiary-level education. It could be A-Levels, Diploma, or other equivalent qualifications.
These students may not be the high achievers that is usually associated with foundation students. These people have history. Some are high potential students preparing for overseas studies, only to fall a bit short and didn’t make the cut. Some may failed before, but eventually rose back with a Diploma. And the spectrum of all these circumstances are huge- not the normal Get Straight A-> Go Straight to University we all used to.
With that epiphany, I asked around those who entered UTP as Undergraduates for opinions on their MAS experience.
It was bad. Too strict. Treating them like schoolkids. Some would downright skip the whole thing. It was not enjoyable.
And by this time, I realised most of the case studies shared by the previous head facees do not reflect in any way for the current situation. Irrelevant. However, all did not go to waste, as I actually picked up something more crucial- how their thought process were when coming with decisions, and how it influences the decisions.
Thus, I have to understand the current circumstances first, and not just continue with their decisions. One focused more on fairness, giving proper punishment, even to himself, if the facees are not up to snuff, for instance.
So I had to make a decision, given the circumstances, how we approach the students, and how are we going to monitor them?
With that in mind, and acknowledging feedback that some facilitators have not enough wardrobe- as they haven’t settle with their rooms and unable to bring all their stuff just yet, as well as the lack Discipline Department, and no ‘authoritative’ figure among us- someone we respect, and strict on rules and regulations, we decided to loosen some rules on attire.
For the first time ever in the history of any MAS, I allowed all the guys to not tuck in their shirts.
Although jeans are still banned, for professionalism purposes (blue denims just scream ‘casual’), yet jeans that can pass as black slacks, are permitted.
Why? I don’t want both the facilitators and students to be burdened by more things. The facees had a tough TOT/exam week already, and the students may not be at the highest of morale.
Thus, the super lenient approach the High Committee had agreed upon.
There’s one principle I followed at the time: If facilitators can do it, so should the students. So for any part when we asked students to follow or adhere to, same goes to the facilitators. That’s why all facilitators are (supposedly) good at doing Dungga. We had intense Dungga practices with our resident Dungga Expert.
From there, we discussed on what can be done or loosen up. I want everyone to be happy with the decision, and hopefully, since this is what everyone agreed and wanted, no infringements of discipline was done by the facees. We don’t have the Discipline department, and I nor the rest of the High Committees would want to police and monitor this, we’ve got other things to cover.
We also decided to NOT treat these people as ‘freshies’, a term I intentionally avoid and never said throughout this MAS, it gave me bad vibes being called that 5 years ago, and it was supposed to be freshmen, not that. Instead, we will treat them like friends. Why? their age would be much older in theory, and some might even join together in classes together.
It’s true, some of the coming students are of my age, and we have a facilitator just starting 1st year, together with the new students.
How long is this post again?
This is would mark the end of the second part. I would go explain how important to have good chemistry with your second-in-command, but that would be saved for the next post.
My main job here is to ensure throughout the Training of Trainers session, all facilitators have been given enough training (obviously) on the modules, games, and even songs that is to be instructed to the students, prepared with the knowledge if the students ever ask something about the University, and getting the team gel together so that everyone is comfortable with each other. And this all translates later during MAS. How far are they committed? How well they did their job?
Tune in to find out.
(P.S: It’s 3580 words long, including the lines down below.)
Next in Part 3: A Personal Post-Mortem on Interesting Events Happened Throughout MAS, Why the Dream Team Deserve an Applause, Why There Wasn’t Any Gimmicks for the Intro, But There’s One in the End, and How Strong Can We All Stay, Given the Currrent State of UTP