Saturday, July 05, 2014

11 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Guiding the Group Process and Knowing When to Hand it Back to the Participants

Our last post in this series of Suggested Facilitation Strategies is on ensuring that you valuably and dependably guide the process and the group; and that still hand over to the group, fostering ownership and self-reliance. This is a critical skill for any Facilitator.

Consider the following:

(1) Checking-in with the client and group is key.  Help them reflect on what they are achieving and how they are progressing with their outputs as well as their hard and soft outcomes.  

(2) In some cases you might like to introduce models (such as Tuckman’s Theory of Group Dynamics) and ask them where they think they are at the start.  Then see if they think they progress towards different stage(s) during the event.  

(3) Design activities towards the close of an event that have increasingly less presence of the facilitator, such as a session using a self-facilitation technique (such as a ‘talking object’ which is passed among participants by participants, or a ‘Samoan Circle’ in which participants control who is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the speaking circle at any moment).

(4) Conclude events with the group determining its own next steps and summarizing itself the progress made (rather than helping them with this), as well as reflections to one another in a ‘closing circle’, heightening group identity.

General conclusions

Continue to think into and work on your learning edges.  Write these down.  Consider the strategies suggested here and others you can identify upon individual reflection or conversation with peers about learning to best improve your facilitation practice - using your personal preferences to the full where they strengthen your practice and managing your preferences where they entail risks.

Return to the start of the series > 1 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies: Me, My Behavioural Preferences & My Facilitation Practice

10 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - As the Facilitator, How to Work With Your Personal Desires for Harmony or Debate

As the Facilitator, how to you make sure your desire for harmony doesn't skew the process when debate may be beneficial / necessary? Or you might be just the opposite - how do you make sure your desire for debate doesn't hinder agreement and moving forward?

Here are some things to consider:

(1) Explore potential areas of conflict in advance.  Check with the client what is likely to be contentious and why.  Inform yourself as much as possible about the potential conflict, and determine with the client what conflict needs to be carefully avoided (e.g. careful wording so as not to aggravate sensitivities) and where it is essential to address the source of the conflict in as safe a space as possible. 

(2) When debate and potential conflict is on the cards, design for it using great techniques for exploring contentious issues whilst maintaining a generative group process.  If people aren’t provided with an environment to share contentious issues, they will likely emerge nonetheless - and if they feel the process is repressing the emergence of issues they may throw out your process providing you with little room for manoeuvre.  It’s safer to design for it.

(3) Co-create principles for your time together, and hold people to these (e.g. making sure comments are constructive and solutions-oriented, listening to one another and trying to understand the perspective of others).  Giving these a number, you could then task everyone in the room with the job of ensuring adherence to the principles, asking people to hand a card with the corresponding number on it if ever there is an infraction.  (This takes the pressure off you being the only one in the room trying to manage the conflict.)

(4) Challenging participants to think with different ‘hats’ - exercising / flexing different thinking muscles and showing their intellectual dexterity.  (De Bono’s Six Hats is a great example, others include using tools from Systems Thinking, and methodologies such as Thiagi’s Point-and-Counterpoint activity.) ‘Externalizing’ thinking is central to many of these techniques. 

(5) Use techniques to ‘externalize’ thinking.  This helps participants move from an emotional state where it is about me and my issue (versus you and yours) to ‘an issue’ which is a little more ‘out there’... something happening in the system, amongst many other interacting things happening.  Getting all the information ‘within’ or ‘held’ by participants ‘out there’ - and especially written somewhere for posterity - is a great way of re-assuring people their concerns are being heard.  It also opens them up to better hearing what others are saying, and they look at the system of interacting bits and pieces (‘variables’) with a more objective perspective - as can others.  This often creates an environment for more generative conversation to follow.  Such techniques may be getting people to draw what is happening in the system as a series of causal loops.  Or use sticky dots to respond to statements and then stand back and look at results, and explore reasons for those results (rather than stating one’s own position).

(6) If conflict does emerge unexpected, have a break taking people ‘offline’ and rethinking how to proceed.  Determine whether resolving the conflict is essential to achieving the desired outcomes or not (sometimes it is between just two people on a related but tangential matter), and plan accordingly.  Note: in some instances, you can create a sub-group for people to debate a specific point or resolve a specific conflict, whilst the rest of the group work on something else. 

(7) Remind people from the start of the event of why they are in their room and the commonality of their objectives.  Keep coming back to shared objectives.

(8) If you are a subject matter expert who likes to debate, this aspect of the facilitation role may be particularly challenging. Not only do you need to maintain your neutrality; you also need to know when to stop debating (which may be something only a few of your participants are doing anyway) and to move things along.  Again, remind people of why they are in the room, coming back to shared objectives, and how the process is going to get you there.

Related blog posts:

Practicing Creating Conflict: