Facilitation as a developmental exercise
As a result of the participants’ analysis and discussion in a well facilitated assignment, actions are put in place that increase the overall effectiveness of both the individuals, their unit and the organisation as a whole.
This article explores the benefits of facilitation, but focuses on the development of the individuals – what new attitudes and behaviours the participants learn and will continue to use having participated in a facilitated event.
In a facilitated event, we are all working together within a strict structure towards goals that have been well defined. Everyone knows why they are there, where they are in the process, how to contribute and what will happen next.
Certainty in the process creates trust – individuals are more open to the contributions others can make. This encourages the development of ideas, the building of discussion and an atmosphere that encourages listening.
Individuals learn to listen better in the deepest sense of the word. They realise that, if they want their point of view heard they, in turn, are expected to listen to the point of view of others. You will see participants increasingly seeking out what others think. They spend less effort in defending their own opinion or denigrating the others’ point of view or, even, personal attacks on others.
Individuals recognise quickly that all contributions will be accepted and none are discarded. They respect the principle that they all have a right and an equal opportunity to express their ideas.
Your idea may not be pursued by the group, not because it is bad or wrong, but because the group agrees that other ideas take priority. It’s the principle of “You don’t have to blow my candle out to make yours appear brighter.”
All participants have the opportunity to contribute in a way in which they feel comfortable because the event uses a variety of processes: small group, creativity, write on a card, plenary, controlled discussion, analysis, prioritise, plan.
It is a building process and all can see how every individual suggestion contributes to the end result. This is a liberating experience – for most people, normal meetings (normal? ha!) are a fight for air time or to conduct assassination attempts.
Disagree but collaborate
You will have experienced many discussions that adopt the typical binary approach:
Views become increasingly polarised, stances entrenched. People refuse to move, they concentrate on criticising the viewpoint of the other. What started as a discussion, an exploration, has descended into irreconcilable differences and argument.
A facilitated event that engenders trust, listening and the acceptance of disagreement, leads to collaboration. Participants work together towards a shared objective. They build toward that and are prepared to acknowledge differences but seek similarities.
A well facilitated event is a model of good behaviour and demonstrates the creation of a basic human group such as a family, neighbourhood or team.
Having a strict structure and a closely controlled process means participants are focused on one topic at a time.
One of the greatest faults with meetings is topic leakage – discussion heading away from the current topic and onto a separate issue.
Having a strong agenda, with clearly worded questions, clear objectives and a sharp facilitator, prevents this. Experiencing this disciplined approach improves future meetings. Participants become aware of the focus needed to participate in a satisfying event.
If the process has certainty and focus, this aids analysis. Each agenda item has a separate objective eg idea generation is separate from evaluation; “our strengths” separate from “what we are less effective at.”
You should expect some finger pointing, complaining and blaming – these are the norm in most organisations. But the design of the event encourages people to focus on facts and analysis.
Participants appreciate that the end result will be action. For this action to be effective, they need to analyse and agree exactly what is happening.
Confidence and responsibility
The facilitator builds the confidence of the individuals by accepting them for who they are and where they are. All participants and all their contributions are valued.
Participants see how their ideas contribute to the identification of priority issues and then work on those. They recognise that they have addressed the items that are the most important and will have the greatest impact on their effectiveness.
Finally, no one is telling the participants what to do; the facilitator is there to provide a structure and a process to help them to take the responsibility to create their own plans to enhance their effectiveness.
The focus is their live issues – not theory, not case studies, not role plays. Yet, the participants have learned new attitudes and practised new behaviours that transfer directly to their work.
In short, they have created their own future.