illuminating pathways to change

Category Archives: Learning & Development

Facilitators – read this before you “go shopping” for tools

I was in one of those mega hardware stores (Bunnings) shopping for equipment to paint the fence and gates at the office. Never having painted a metal fence before I really didn’t have a clue what I needed. I picked up stuff from the shelves, read labels and eventually made a choice. Loaded up with all manner of things including expensive paintbrushes I headed for the checkout. For some reason – perhaps a nagging feeling I didn’t know what I was doing – I sought the advice of a store assistant.

“Are these the best brushes? What other tools do I need?” “Well it depends” he said, “tell me what you are trying to do.”

 It became apparent that I really didn’t understand the task, nor did I have enough basic knowledge to help me make the right choice. I was thankful for his advice because I saved money and time. He told me that for my purpose cheaper brushes would serve just as well and gave advice on what else I needed to do and buy to produce the outcome I needed. Then I went on-line and did more research on painting metal fences and I learned there was much more to the job than slapping on expensive paint.

So what has this got to do with facilitation?

Whether you’re a cook, a podiatrist, an economic forecaster or a facilitator choosing the right tool for the job is vital. Check out the tools used by carpenters and orthopaedic surgeons (yes, you can go on-line shopping for these tools). There are drills, saws and clamps. They look remarkably alike. However the knowledge base and skills needed to use a carpenter’s saw as opposed to a surgeon’s saw are very different. A carpenter knows a lot about wood and an orthopaedic surgeon knows a lot about bones. You might be the best carpenter in the world with a great toolkit, but I still wouldn’t let you operate on my dodgy ankle.

There’s much more to your profession or craft than having a fancy set of tools. However some facilitators become enamoured with methods, thinking that’s all there is to performing the role. There’s a temptation for rookies to focus on their tool collection rather than focusing on purpose, skills, knowledge and attitude or mind-set. Perhaps that’s because tools are more tangible and so much of what we do a facilitators is intangible.

Don’t get me wrong. Tools are important – very important. Try cutting a piece of 4” x 2” with a nail file instead of a whiz-bang electric saw. An excellent tool doesn’t make someone a carpenter. However quality tools make all the difference to a well-trained carpenter who knows how to use them appropriately. Try reaching a consensus decision from 7 choices in a free-form discussion versus using structured decision-making tools. Good tools are essential to help groups reach robust and sustainable outcomes in a timely fashion.

This issue of choosing tools often comes up on facilitation forums when people seek suggestions for an activity or method without giving the context. It also comes up when I’m training and mentoring facilitators when I’m asked about the best method to use for their situation. My response is always to ask the person what are they trying to achieve (just as the store assistant in Bunnings asked me). Clarity on purpose and required outcomes is paramount.

Less experienced facilitators often develop a dependence on particular tools and methodologies – “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Using the wrong tool for the job is not only ineffective, it can actually cause damage. A case in point is the frequent misuse of dot-voting / dotmocracy as a prioritising tool resulting in poor decisions.

Go back to source and learn about the tools you use as a facilitator. One of the most powerful tools for working with change is a Force Field Analysis. There’s a lot out there on the web about FFA and much of it is misinformed, which again leads to invalid results. Go back to source. Who developed it; how and why does it work?

You can pile up your facilitator shopping trolley with tools but that won’t make you an effective facilitator. You need to have a collection of the right tools for the specific task and know how to use them properly in conjunction with all the other skills and knowledge needed to facilitate.

When Stephen Covey wrote about “Sharpening the Saw” as Habit #7 of Highly Effective People, he wasn’t talking about a physical saw but about preserving and developing the greatest asset you have – yourself. How you show up as a facilitator is more than turning up with a shopping cart of tools. To be an effective facilitator you also need to know why, how and when to use methods and combine this with ever developing skills, knowledge and self awareness.

If you are interested in developing you capacities as a facilitator, my next “The Essential Facilitator” workshop will be held in Canberra 7 & 8 December, 2017. More details and a PDF of flyer can be downloaded here

Melbourne is scheduled for 8 & 9 March 2018.

If you speak Mandarin then you may be interested in my next 4-day Holistic Facilitation workshop to be held in Hangzhou, China 19-21 April with simultaneous translation and in conjunction with Intents Consulting in Shanghai. Contact me for more details.

Up Close and Personal: On-Line is Face-to-Face

Screen shot of me on a video call – without Photoshop 😉

Like many of you I spend a helluva lot of work time on video calls related to work. On-line meetings, interviews, webinars and forms of virtual conferencing. We refer to them as “virtual” meetings presumably because we’re not in tangible contact. However many interactions on video platforms don’t feel at all “virtual” as the relationship is very real. Over the years I’ve developed many collegial friendships with people from around the world who I’ve never personally met – some due to a LinkedIn request to connect :-). If I do eventually encounter these people face-to-face – sometimes after many years of on-line meetings – it doesn’t feel like we are meeting for the first time. It feels like I’m meeting an old friend or close colleague – and in fact I am doing just that.

Nowadays, when I want to ask a colleague something I’m just as likely to make a video call as pick up my phone (and even then I’m just as likely to use a video call app).

When we talk on a video call our faces can be as large as my face is in this image above. How often do we get so close to people in normal conversation? Think about it. When we sit across a table from someone – even at a coffee meeting we are very rarely that physically close. Because we are focused directly on a screen there is less distraction from our peripheral vision and less averted gaze. We are literally eyeballing each other – up close and personal.

With video calls we tend to lean right into our screens/cameras. Maybe it’s to hear or be heard or read the chat box but we do come right up close to the camera and hence appear large on the other person’s screen. My face seen this close on a laptop screen is actually bigger than my real face. It’s magnified in all its agéd glory, complete with wrinkles, scars and imperfect teeth. That level of facial detail is usually only reserved for the most intimate people in our lives. I’ve started to wonder what this means for professional relationships. It is increasingly easier to work “wherever” and working across different times zones is increasingly the norm. Many of us now conduct on-line business meetings and interviews from our private homes / personal space. This gives us a more personal connection as we see kitchens and paintings on the living room walls behind.

We sometimes hear that “face-to-face is always best”. This is meant to refer to a physical presence always being best. In many ways this is true but I’m wondering if that maxim is rapidly breaking down. Is it always “best”? Apart from the technical elements and financial / time savings I’m interested in just what this increasing move to virtual really means to our personal business interactions.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Hybrid World Cafe designed to explore and learn how to run a Hybrid World Cafe. On a cold August Melbourne morning I joined about 25 people “in the room” attending this particular workshop at the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Asia Conference in Seoul, Korea. About 12 more of us joined the workshop virtually. 

The World Café was led by Kazuaki Katori from Japan who was “in the room” and Amy Lenzo who dialled in from San Francisco. It almost felt like I was in the room there in Seoul as I could see people I know on my screen who could see me on the big screen and we waved to each other. Technology support was brilliant and maximised a sense of inclusion.

Amy assigned those of us joining virtually to break out “rooms” for the World Café rounds (the joys of Zoom that allow this to be organised so effortlessly). In one round the 4 at our “virtual café table” were based in New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia and Australia. We became fascinated with the level and quality of relationship achieved so quickly in our virtual table group and wondered what contributed to this.

The 3-hour workshop went quickly and I was totally engaged throughout. Apart from being well organised, technology has come a long way since I first became interested in on-line facilitation. I learned a great deal about the nuances of running a “hybrid” World Café (i.e. some attendees in bodily attendance and others having a virtual presence). But the BIG thing was this emerging sense of how virtual can be very close and very real.

In some ways we can manage / manipulate our on-line image better than in face-to-face interactions. I’m not the only person who puts on lipstick and a nice scarf for a video session while wearing PJs and having the dog at my feet. I was once on a video meeting when a man joined the call with his video on. In his part of the world it was about 5 am. He was unshaven, bare-chested, his hair dishevelled and looked like he had just woken up. Then he saw he had his camera on. I’ll never forget the expression on his face when he saw himself. But somehow it made him more real, more genuine.

Now here’s a little story… As I began been writing this blog a person from one of the small Hybrid World Café break-out groups asked to connect with me on LinkedIn. She is from Japan and it transpires that we have met briefly face to face. Here is what she wrote:

I actually met you at the conference in Taiwan last year but did not have a chance to talk, so I appreciated the opportunity I had at the online Hybrid Cafe. It was amazing to find how well this style works for people whose cultural style is conservative. As you are forced to talk (in a good way), it is possible to have a deeper sense of inclusion.

We are moving to more and more virtual meetings and interactions. I’m very interested to hear your perspectives and experiences in relation to being “up close and personal” on-line. Comments welcome.

Thinking on your feet when you’re the only one who doesn’t speak the lingo…

You know how it is when you really have to think on your feet? Well, this was one of those moments…

I was prepared (or so I thought). Before I left Australia for Taiwan I was told 17 people had registered for my pre-conference workshop, but to bring 22 booklets “just in case”. Based on previous experience I’d anticipated a mix of nationalities and language groups from across Asia e.g. Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India and maybe a couple from Europe or the Americas. I’d planned the day based on what I knew at the time.

I turned up at the 2016 International Facilitators Conference (IAF) – Asia Region, in beautiful Hualien, Taiwan and discovered:

  • More had registered for my pre-conference workshop while I was travelling and now there would be 28 participants
  • 28 people spoke Mandarin … and then there was me
  • some participants from China didn’t speak English at all

What to do?

Facilitators need to be flexible at the best of times. I’ve had some challenging “think fast on your feet” moments over the years. Facilitators running learning workshops for other facilitators at a facilitation conference also need to model “adapting processes to changing situations and the needs of the group” (IAF Competency D3).

I quickly discovered we had a great group of facilitators and a helluva lot of experience and wisdom in that room. People came from Taiwan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia. All were keen to explore a systems approach through my Holistic Framework for Facilitation (the link leads to a short promo video for the workshop). The framework was designed with Process Facilitation in mind but it also works well for Training Facilitation.

Although the workshop was advertised as being conducted in English, I knew I had to adapt and adapt quickly if everyone was to get the most from the day’s learning (and what everyone had paid for). This called for some fancy footwork.

My preparations included:

  1. A workshop booklet with diagrams and content for each segment summarised in simple dot-points
  2. Laminated cards with the framework on one side and questions/consideration on the flipside *
  3. Instructions for activities pre-prepared on flipcharts
  4. The Framework for Holistic Facilitation drawn as a huge model across a wall.

These types of things have helped in the past when working with culturally and linguistically diverse groups. In this instance, it meant most of the content was written or presented visually so people could access it without depending on what I was saying.

* Interestingly the card includes the following consideration “StructureWho is in the room? If you change the structure and make-up of the group then you change the pool of knowledge, perspectives, voices, behaviours, influence, types of contribution and ultimately the outcome”. Apt when one considers the structure of the group at hand compared to what I had anticipated.

I’d planned to intersperse short presentations on the framework with activities such as story-telling to explore participants’ facilitation dilemmas and difficulties. Activities would be followed by reflection on assumptions and actions in the context of the model so that participants could gain fresh insights into their experiences and develop new approaches. That is exactly what happened BUT – it mostly took place in Mandarin.

Here’s what happened …

Those who didn’t speak English sat next to people who acted as interpreters during the introductory session, but as soon as we moved to small groups I noticed that most conversations were happening in Chinese.

The first plenary started off haltingly while we waited for comments to be interpreted back and forth for my benefit. This was going to slow things down so two participants offered to help with simultaneous interpretation close by my side. Thanks to Laura Hsu from Taipei and William Wu from Shanghai for stepping into the role. It was effortless and unobtrusive.

Before long the group was doing its own learning. The atmosphere alternated from high energy to quiet and intense when people shared stories in small groups or reflected in pairs. I didn’t understand everything that was said or even reported back to the whole group, but I didn’t need to. I’d hoped that by the end of the day the big model on the wall would be peppered with sticky notes indicating participant’s insights and ah-ha moments. The workshop was never meant to be a presentation from me. It was designed as a collaborative learning experience. I could tell all was going to plan when the wall began to fill up with individual’s insights – interconnected like a web, as any good systems model.

When “thinking on my feet” I decided I had to “let go!” I didn’t need to understand everything that people were saying during plenary discussions. Nor did I need to know what was on all the sticky notes. I certainly was curious but intervening for the sake of my curiosity wouldn’t have served the needs of the group. This “letting go” meant I could sit quietly and observe what was happening within the group. It also meant I could respond individually if someone had a specific question.

What about your “own think on your feet” moments as a facilitator? How did you adapt your plans and processes to meet changing needs or circumstances? Comments welcome. If you liked this blog you may also be interested in Facilitation and All That Jazz about improvisation in facilitation.

After I returned to Australia I received an email from one of the participants regarding delivering facilitator training in China and consequently in February I ran my 4-day Holistic Facilitation workshop under the banner of Intents Consulting in Shanghai. The Director, John Jiang was my interpreter. It was a great 4 days … one thing led to another and we have now formed a partnership. See my next blog When you’re the only one that doesn’t speak the lingo Part 2 for more about this experience.

I’ll be back in China this year to deliver the program again. If you speak Mandarin and are interested in attending the 4-day “Holistic Facilitation” course, September 3 – 6 in Shanghai please contact me or access the flyer here.

Cartoon courtesy of Kaamran Hafeez.

Off to China – and no, I’m not going near “The Wall”

As East Asia takes vacation to celebrate Chinese New Year I’m preparing to run facilitator training in China.

After the IAF Asia Conference in Hualien, Taiwan last September I was invited to by INTENTS Management Consulting to run a public training workshop for facilitators in Shanghai.

Holistic Facilitation will be 4 days of training (25-28 February) that brings together two Illuma workshops: “The Essential Facilitator” and “Joining The Bits and Pieces: Illuma’s Holistic Framework of Facilitation”. I’ve never done 4 concurrent days with simultaneous translation, so that will be my personal challenge.

The fish reference is because my model of facilitation apparently looks like the infamous Takifugu. Though we promise there’s nothing toxic about the workshop – on the contrary aspects of the program look at how to prevent and deal with some damaging group dynamics.

If you are thinking Shanghai might be a great place to do some training with me (and indulge your inner tourist and foodie) than I’m afraid it’s too late as I believe the program is booked out already.

On February 28th in the evening I’ll be running a workshop for the broader facilitation community in Shanghai. “Unlocking the Diversity Within” looks at ways of maximizing diverse thinking and preventing Groupthink in homogeneous groups. I’ve run this workshop at IAF Conferences in Geneva and Adelaide.

My flight brings me home via Hong Kong, so I’m taking the opportunity to spend time with IAF facilitator colleagues for a couple of days. On Saturday March 4 I’m running a workshop for the IAF Hong Kong Chapter entitled What’s Your Position: Using Space to Explore Different Perspectives.

The trip is about building bridges within and between groups and cultures …not walls 🙂

Facilitation? Pffft! How easy is that!

Some time ago I was having coffee with someone who said “I don’t understand why you put so much attention to facilitation. What could be so hard in getting a bunch of people to sit around the table to talk”. She then said: “Mind you most of the facilitated meetings where I work are useless, just people talking around in circles and nothing ever comes of it”. I could have choked on my coffee there and then. I’m pleased to add this person has never been involved in a meeting I’ve facilitated.

How many ineffective meetings have you been to? Why does the meeting so often go off the rails when people sit around a table and talk? Why do so many discussions go around in circles?

Anyone who has been at an effectively facilitated meeting at work knows there is much more involved than getting people to sit around and talk. Facilitation is purposeful; in fact, the nature of the purpose is what distinguishes a facilitated group event from other types of group gatherings.

Although there are some crossovers, there are important differences between the role of a meeting chair, a moderator and a meeting facilitator, because their purpose is different. Even the ideal physical space is different. A boardroom is fine for a chaired meeting but problematic for a moderated discussion and counter-productive for a facilitated meeting.

People’s understanding of facilitation differs which causes confusion. I’ve sometimes been asked to facilitate a meeting when what the prospective client really wanted was someone to act as a moderator. My role would be to ask questions of a panel, field questions from the floor and manage the discussion. I was happy to undertake that role but asked my client to refer to me as a moderator, not a facilitator.

During the course of a meeting a facilitator may move into a discussion moderator role when appropriate – but overall we’re there to do much more than lead a discussion. The groups I work with as a facilitator have been convened for a specific purpose. They have a task/outcome to achieve within a timeframe and they seek the support of a skilled “process guide” to do that. I’m called in to help groups:

  • Better understand a complex issue when different people hold different parts of the puzzle or have different expertise
  • Solve a problem where more than one perspective is needed
  • Explore possibilities or options and make a decision
  • Plan something together and commit to implementing that plan
  • Decide upon and agree a course of action

This may involve sitting in circles or small groups – but discussions are always very focused.The whole point is for people to work collaboratively, which requires a focus on both the task and the relationships of people in the room. You might need to clarify the former and develop the latter.

The higher the stakes for the people involved the trickier this becomes. The facilitator needs to be able to work within a specifically designed process yet know when and how to be flexible around that design. A process that works well for one context may be disastrous for another.

Most of my facilitation work is within organisational settings. Someone – usually a leader but not always – suggests an independent facilitator be contracted. They understand the value of having someone who is a specialist at meetings who can incorporate different methods at the right time to help the group achieve its task. They also appreciate having someone “substantively neutral” (Roger Schwarz, The Skilled Facilitator, Jossey-Bass 2002) who can manage the overt or covert relationship dynamics that can derail a meeting, particularly when the stakes are high.

Sandy Schuman ups the ante and refers to group facilitation as a superlative task (also – Sandor Schuman, The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation, Jossey-Bass 2005).

Pffft! How easy could it be? Well, perhaps a little trickier than my coffee friend thinks.

How much value could you add if you could break the meeting pattern of a one way flow of information or “people just talking around a table and nothing ever coming of it” and help the group achieve productive outcomes?

I believe that all leaders, managers and subject matter experts need at least basic facilitation capabilities to support others as they collaborate to solve problems and make decisions. The need grows as organisations become more complex and specialised. It is a useful skill for just about anyone working in group settings that require collaboration to achieve a task. That’s why my core facilitation training workshop is called The Essential Facilitator.

Contact me if you’re looking for an experienced and qualified facilitator. I also train and mentor facilitators. Illuma’s The Essential Facilitator workshop is conducted as a public program or can be run in-house. I am a Certified Professional Facilitator with the IAF and a CPF Assessor. For more information email me

Free Webinar

Briefing, scoping and contracting for successful facilitation outcomes

4 pm December 7, 2016 (AEDT)

Learn how to better engage with clients when taking briefings for facilitation assignments. The webinar is based on the “central spine” of Illuma’s Framework for Facilitation (see thumbnail below). Come with a case study in mind to connect with your own experiences.

We will also look at connections with core competencies with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).

Please book early as numbers are limited.

Register Here!

And the same webinar for Facilitators in China…

Rhonda will also be running the same webinar today (23 November) – hosted by the IAF Shanghai Chapter (for facilitators in China)

Flash Newsletter November 2016

Click here to read about –

  • Free webinar on scoping facilitation assignments
  • The Essential Facilitator – new workshop dates
  • Facilitation and All That Jazz – new blog
  • How to Refocus a Meeting After Someone Interrupts
  • What’s involved in becoming a CPF? (another free webinar)


Facilitation and All That Jazz

One day many moons ago, while I was preparing to run a facilitator training workshop I was also listening to an old recording of Miles Davis playing Bye Bye Blackbird. As I listened it struck me how much jazz and facilitation are connected. Ever since, I’ve woven that connection into my facilitation training workshops.

Playing around with the idea of jazz SCAT singing we use the term as an acronym to further examine the Skills, Conceptual Frameworks, Attitudes and Tools required for facilitation and for jazz musicians working in a band. (This session comes after we have explored the role of a facilitator).

Workshop participants draw correlations with Skills that are developed through practice such as: listening, dexterity, agility, being able to work collaboratively and more. Facilitators and jazz musicians need a Conceptual Framework that underpins and informs their work. For the jazz musician it is musical theory. For facilitators the frameworks include things such as group dynamics, systems thinking, conflict resolution and participatory decision-making. When drawing the correlations on Attitude (aligning with our values, mindset and “way of being”) one workshop group developed the following list:

  • co-creating live and in the moment
  • high tolerance for ambiguity
  • a willingness to go with the flow – someone else’s flow – and not need to know exactly what will happen next
  • respect for the abilities and contributions of others
  • preparedness to depart from the “script” while staying in key and in tune
  • knowing when to step in and when to step back
  • suspension of the need to be in charge or always in the spotlight
  • team work and collaboration
  • curiosity, openness to new ideas
  • a mindset of serving the group and what the whole group can achieve
  • recognising others know things you don’t and do things you can’t!

Tools? For a musician it is their instrument – knowing how to play it, what it can do etc. Facilitator’s tools are the processes and methods they use to reach appropriate and useful outcomes. These include “tools” such as process improvement methods, dialogue, consensus methods etc.

Then you put together the Skills, Conceptual frameworks, Attitude and Tools and practice – just like a musician. Always learning, reflecting and practicing.

You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
John Coltrane

To continue the connections between jazz and facilitation …

Musicians in a jazz band co-create the music and it differs with each audience experience– just like facilitators who co-create the outcomes with the meeting participants.

Jazz musicians improvise within a framework. The music is spontaneous and not specifically prepared but it still follows musical form. Facilitators are always improvising. Facilitation agendas rarely go tightly to plan. Sometimes we may need to abandon the original plan altogether and take a different path to get the group where it needs to be – there’s more than one road to the destination. We work within dynamic situations and make in-the-moment judgements about what to do when, but we do this best when we have a solid foundation in group dynamics, process design and more.

When observing a really good facilitator in action with a group it may seem like they’re making it up as they go along – but if this was the case it would be chaos. They are being spontaneous within a context and a framework – just like jazz. Even free jazz that stretches the limits of improvisation within a form still works within a set of rules while breaking them.

Here’s an interesting article on the adage “You have to know the rules before you can break them”. This clearly articulates my views on improvisation in any field of endeavour, not just the creative arts. The same principles apply to facilitation e.g. knowing when to break the rule about ground rules and not have ground-rules 🙂
Here’s the Miles Davis recording of Bye Bye Blackbird I listened to many years ago and still play in facilitation training workshops. Set aside 8 minutes of your life and relax as you listen to 5 masters collaborate. Then think … what other connections can you make between a jazz musician and a facilitator? Enjoy. Miles Davis on trumpet. John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. Red Garland at the piano. Paul Chambers on bass. Philly Joe Jones on drums.

My facilitation training has evolved over 4 iterations in 20 years. The Foundations of Facilitation was run 18 times from 2012 to 2016. I’ve recently rebranded it as The Essential Facilitator. From this page you can also download a flyer, view a short video on YouTube and download a document “Our approach to facilitation and facilitation training”.

I’m a Certified Professional Facilitator and an Assessor with the International Association of Facilitators. Over the years I’ve trained hundreds of facilitators across many countries and from many backgrounds.

The next program for 2016 is in Melbourne December 1 & 2. Earlybird closes this Friday 19th and you can book online via our website and click on store. Canberra is scheduled for February 23 & 24 2017.

Contact me for more information or to organise a chat to discuss if the workshop is suitable for you. We also run the program in-house.

Flash Newsletter September 2016

Click here to read about

  • The Essential Facilitator – rebranding our core program
  • Joining the bits and pieces – Illuma’s framework of facilitation
  • Cognitive bias and life in a bubble
  • When a workshop becomes an Oasis
  • Keep the canaries alive and singing in your meetings
  • Rhonda is now an IAF Assessor
  • Tips – WAIT, WAIS WATT and some humour



Cognitive Bias and Life in a Bubble

I’ve just returned from the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Asia conference, held this year in beautiful Hualien in Taiwan. Great conference 260+ delegates from 17 countries and a fabulous program.

One of the workshops I attended was on cognitive biases led by Shawn Chung. The workshop was a well-designed collaborative learning approach as sub-groups worked through a myriad of cards each describing a different biases. Shawn said he initially used Wikipedia to start his research for the workshop.

We were set a task to categorise the biases. Along the way we reflected on our own biases – as individuals and what happens in groups.

It soon became evident as we discussed and sorted the cards that we were filtering through our own biases. It’s pretty much impossible not to – biases help us process information, but they also are a hindrance when it comes to judgements and decision making. Discussions were made even more interesting by the different nationalities and cultures at each table and the additional filtering through language. In the end I felt like I was in some sort of post-modern prism or hall of mirrors.

I was reminded of this from Carlos Castaneda’s Tales of Power – “We are inside a bubble. It is a bubble into which we are placed at the moment of our birth. At first the bubble is open, but then it begins to close until it has sealed us in. The bubble is our perception. We live inside that bubble all our lives. And what we witness on its round walls is our reflection. The thing reflected is our view of the world. That view is first a description which is given to us from the moment of our bird until all our attention is caught by it and the description becomes a view.”

We all have biases – I do and so do you. They exist in all groups that we facilitate and that we are a part of. How do we as facilitators work to uncover, recognise, confront and mitigate for biases – our own and those that surface in groups? Can we ever burst the bubble and how do we do it responsibly? Is it irresponsible not to burst the bubble? How do we react to our own biases being challenged?

Some biases that come to mind in a recent facilitation are ‘Availability Cascade’ and ‘Ingroup Bias’. Both were strongly at work in the group and were having a negative impact but I only really worked out what was happening after the event. What cognitive biases were at work in my mind in the moment that I missed what was happening? And if I attended to that what else might I have missed? Since Shawn’s workshop I have been immersed in thinking and reading about bias – it could keep me going for a few years 🙂

I’m interested in the insights and wisdom from others on cognitive biases and facilitation. Your thoughts and experiences?

Facilitator Neutrality: not a study in beige

studyinbeigeThe issue of neutrality puts many facilitators in a quandary. Just what does it mean for a facilitator to be “neutral” and neutral about what?

If you have ever been invited to a facilitated meeting supposedly seeking different perspectives, then find the outcome is predetermined you will know about the damage done. Trust is compromised and it impacts your behaviour in future meetings (if you bother to attend).

It’s one matter for facilitators to maintain a neutral stance by containing their personal opinions but it’s another altogether when a client asks the facilitator to ensure a specific outcome from a meeting. It’s important that facilitators have “the neutrality discussion” with their clients and clarify expectations before launching into working with the group.

Nowadays my clients generally understand the facilitator’s role and one reason they contract a professional facilitator is because they seek impartiality. But sometimes our role is misunderstood. I have been asked to “facilitate” a meeting to ensure a specific outcome is achieved. I needed to explain how engaging a facilitator to drive through a decision could backfire spectacularly. I work to help groups reach an outcome that is genuinely up for exploration. If the client has a different agenda then ethically I’m obliged to decline the assignment.

Mostly I work within organisations and am contracted by a leader or leadership group. Wise leaders understand the best way to demonstrate the value of working collaboratively is to model it. Contracting an independent “neutral” facilitator gives leaders the freedom to engage in the “what” of a meeting rather than how it is done. The leader is also freed-up from the burden of managing the process and the dynamic and can concentrate on the content as a participant – interacting and engaging in dialogue with the others in the room.

Just what does it mean for a facilitator to be neutral? I once got myself into trouble when someone took exception to my intervention regarding unhelpful behaviours in the group “You told us you were neutral” he interjected “but by asking me to let others have their say you are not being completely neutral – you are favouring them”. I had in fact introduced myself as being “substantively neutral” a term borrowed from Roger Schwarz (The Skilled Facilitator, 2002) but I’d failed to explain what I meant by that term. From this man’s perspective neutral meant completely hands-off. Neutral is not a neutral word.

Over the years I’ve become more conscious of why I am doing what I am doing as a facilitator. I sort of drifted into group facilitation and initially didn’t have a framework that informed my practice. In my early days – back in the 80’s and 90’s, I undoubtedly got involved in content and influenced outcomes without being aware how this tainted the legitimacy of my role. By the time I joined the International Association of Facilitators in 2006 I understood the importance of impartiality – and I’d become increasingly conscious of how challenging this can be. The concept is enshrined in the preamble to the IAF’s Code of Ethics which states “Facilitators are called upon to fill an impartial role in helping groups become more effective.” As an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator I’m required to model the core competencies including F.3.c “Is vigilant to minimize influence on group outcomes”.

It’s the vigilance that I’m interested in because realistically, complete neutrality is impossible. Our reactions and responses “leak” from our facial expressions, body language, speech, voice and movement – regardless of how hard we try to maintain an impartial stance.

In writing this article I’ve found myself tied up in knots with language and meaning related to neutrality, objectivity and impartiality. They are not easy concepts and I’ve found myself reflecting on my own shortcomings – how, when, with whom might I have been less than impartial? As facilitators we need to strive towards being as objective as possible. This means being aware of own biases – but most of them are unconscious, so how can we be aware of our unconscious biases? It is so easy even unintentionally, to abuse the “power of the marker” or the power of being up the front of the room. This is why I now rarely scribe myself and why I often physically get out of the way during discussions. Bias can be very subtle for example, with whom do we make eye contact for the next comment.

I’m not an absolute purist. If I box myself into a position of absolute neutrality it would stifle my flexibility – and this is crucial to properly doing the job. By occasionally opening up a new line of thinking I may help the group move beyond being stuck or imprisoned by group-think. I do this by asking a question such as “what would stakeholder X say if they were in the room right now?” If and when tempted to step into content facilitators need to be mindful of their motive. It helps to check oneself and honestly ask “am I doing this to serve the group or to feed my own ego – or is it because I too am stuck and can’t think of an appropriate process to use right now to help the group”.

And speaking of process – that is where I am not neutral. As a professional facilitator that’s a key area of my expertise: knowing of a range of tools and methods, why they work and how, and when to appropriately apply them in the right situation.

In summary, developing a shared understanding with clients and groups of what is meant by facilitator impartiality and an agreement about what happens when the boundaries are blurred will serve everyone well.

The ultimate test of whether the facilitator was “vigilant to minimize influence on group outcomes” is the experience of the meeting participants and client. Did they think / feel the facilitator worked with them on an issue that was genuinely up for exploration? Did everyone have the opportunity to express ideas? Did the facilitator intervene fairly on matters of process? Did the facilitator guide the group to their own outcome using appropriate methods and processes?

Joining The Bits and Pieces: A holistic framework for facilitation

How have you learned facilitation? For many it’s been in bits and pieces: courses, workshops; PD sessions; reading; discussions with colleagues; on-line research etc. Facilitation is complex and dynamic. How do these bit and pieces relate and work as a system?

Your professional background e.g. IT, L&D may have provided you with a specific approach. Perhaps that approach needs be integrated into a broader framework to work more effectively with different groups and contexts.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been developing and refining Illuma’s framework of facilitation. After much thinking and tinkering I’ve settled on a final framework. People have said they find the model is equally useful for facilitative training and even change and leadership.

I’ve now developed a one-day workshop for experienced facilitators to examine different elements of facilitation and their experience and integrate these elements into a dynamics, holistic framework. We explore how parts systemically relate to the whole and what this means for you as a facilitator, your clients and for achieving productive outcomes. We work with your live case and situations.

It will be run as a one-day pre-conference workshop at the 17th IAF Conference in Hualien, Taiwan on 31 August, 2016.

Here’s a brief video:

How to get more “hands up” in team meetings

You know the scenario … Someone (possibly the boss) asks “Who wants to take the lead on this?” and then … Crashing Silence! A wall of blank faces or to avoid eye contact people suddenly develop an intense fascination with their fingernails or an urge to rummage through documents OR ….

… The silence keeps up long enough for the boss to say “OK I’ll do it” and then the window of opportunity for development and shared responsibility is missed OR ….

… The usual person puts their hand up. This person is probably already overstretched but they volunteer through habit or an over-developed sense of responsibility. Over time they can become resentful about how much work they have. Meanwhile others become resentful that they didn’t get the opportunity (even if they were asked). There could be many underlying reasons for the above scenario. But let’s focus on the impact on the whole team when people are reluctant to step up and take responsibility for something.

When working on team development projects with clients I often use the KGI (Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams). The KGI explores people’s patterns of group behaviour along four critical dimensions – Leadership, Negotiation Orientation, Task Focus and Interpersonal Focus. There are 9 sub-scales within the 4 main scales. Exploring the dynamic interplay between these sub-scales is a valuable way to help teams understand what is hindering them and what they need to do to improve performance and relationships.

Initiative – The Leadership scale has 3 sub-scales: Assertiveness, Group Facilitation and Initiative. Initiative, in the context of the KGI is one’s ability to be the prime mover and spokesperson for the group. To take on a leadership role an individual must be willing to be in the spotlight. The trouble is most people don’t like the glare or the heat that is generated by the light. Putting your hand up means you are accountable and it also means you can be criticised, so it takes energy, commitment and fortitude. It can be scary stuff for some people.

What happens when no-one new steps up to the plate? What is the impact on the group and what happens if this is allowed to become a culture within an organisation? I tell you what happens … not very much. Work output becomes stagnant, innovation is stymied and those who do put their hands up inevitably get burnt out. And the sad thing is development opportunities are missed and people don’t reach their potential. Eventually a climate of apathy prevails. Not a healthy environment to work in.

It comes as no surprise that the Initiative sub-scale of the KGI is, for most people their lowest score. Here is a snapshot of page 12 of the KGI report: the same person 6 months apart. Let’s call her Cathy. She was a middle level manager in an organisation where I was running a Leadership Development Program. The red columns are Leadership. Initiative is the red column third from the left in the more detailed graphs. What’s interesting is the basic shape of Cathy’s graph didn’t change in the 6 months. Initiative is still her lowest but she has significantly increased on every element across the scale. (Sometimes with development and coaching the whole shape of the graph can change – but that’s another story to tell in another blog). Cathy was committed to develop herself as a leader and she was determined to emerge from the program having demonstrated stronger leadership – particularly lifting her Initiative and overcoming her reluctance to step up in public situations. She knew her problems in this area were getting in the way of her leadership. At first she really struggled to even talk in front of the group or put up her hand for “in the spotlight” situations. Through coaching, training, being open to feedback and development and sheer courage Cathy emerged as a star on the program and has continued to thrive. Senior management was very impressed and so were her team members and the rest of her colleagues on the leadership program. She is yet another KGI success story. 

Why are people reluctant to put their hand up and take the initiative? Dr Robert Klein, the developer of the KGI attributes this to two key factors: fear and lethargy. In a conversation Dr Klein told me…”It could be fear. Many people believe there will be bad consequences if they step up and take initiative within the group. One junior executive told me “If I put myself out on a limb by taking initiative, and the limb breaks, I don’t see anyone there to pick me up off the ground. Initiative is risky, and for many, too risky. Sometimes people had negative experiences taking initiative in the past, and those times haunt them in the present, holding them back. For others, they focus on the things that can go wrong: they won’t respond to everyone’s issues and concerns properly, causing resentments; everyone will be staring at them, looking for leadership, creating a harsh, withering glare. By focusing on the downside, they become inhibited and decide that it is better not to step up”.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

Or it could be lethargy that prevents them from taking initiative. Many people have simply become accustomed to “letting someone else do it.” Because of this attitude, they tend to sit back in a small group, content to simply follow along. Their own leadership muscle has atrophied. They often don’t recognise leadership opportunities, or feel confident about their ability to take them on, having become acclimated to a passive role that has deskilled them as leaders. The antidote to fear and lethargy is courage.”

In Cathy’s case fear and lack of confidence were getting in the way of reaching her potential as a leader. When I see people stepping up as a result of putting their KGI Individual and Group Development Plans into action I also see a huge difference in the dynamics of the team. It is a positive shift – a release of energy. More people are taking on new things, more gets done – but more importantly people are more engaged and work is more rewarding. This can only happen if the existing leaders and “high initiatives” make way and create space for new people to demonstrate initiative. People need to be encouraged and supported as they take on new responsibilities. They need to be nurtured and coached as they learn even if they initially make mistakes.

Next time someone asks “who will take the lead on this” and a spark of interest lights up within you – then go on! Put your hand up.

What’s your experience with a reluctance for someone to put their hand up and show initiative? How has it impacted you or your team? All comments and questions welcome.

Email me: or call +61 (0) 410510720) to discuss how Illuma Consulting can help you turn your teams around with the Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams. We have a range of Team Development and Coaching offers using the KGI – including our Team Tune Up. Coaching can be conducted virtually – we can come to you on-line. You can also download a KGI Brochure from our website

Dr Klein’s new book on the KGI will be published shortly. Rob and I have been friends and colleagues for a number of years and I brought him to Australia all the way from Massachusetts to launch Illuma Consulting in early 2009. We’re having another one of our regular catch up talks about life and the KGI tomorrow. That prompted me revisit this earlier blog and post it here again. (This article has originally appeared as a Ignite blog in 2011).

Keep the Canaries Alive and Singing in Meetings

Organisations can invest tremendous amounts of money, energy and time trying to build cohesiveness in teams, leadership groups and decision / planning meetings. But when it comes to teams and groups, I don’t necessarily equate cohesive with effective. When sticking together means not challenging each other’s thinking cohesiveness is dysfunctional.

Many years ago I was on a committee that made a decision to do something I strongly disagreed with. It involved an “internal loan” using money that had come from donations. I was new to the committee and recall with shame that I didn’t speak up to express my concerns about the ethics of the decision. Instead I allowed a powerful, charismatic individual to push through his proposal.

Why didn’t I speak up? Many reasons but perhaps the strongest was reputational pressure (discussed below). The committee took a round the table straw vote – the proposer spoke first then asked his mate sitting next to him to speak. What happened was the cascade effect. I was one of the last to speak and by then everyone else had indicated agreement, so I went along with everyone else! Afterwards I learned that others shared my view but also felt uncomfortable in challenging what appeared to be a group agreement. I think many of us have experienced something similar. Since then I have fallen prey to the same trap over and over. Why? Perhaps the meetings were structured in ways that dissenting or warning voices were actively discouraged.

When a group meets to make decisions a high degree of consensus is important for the group to be aligned behind the decisions and committed to their implementation. But not before exploring options and unearthing the implications and risks behind those choices. As a facilitator I work to strengthen the group’s capacity to challenge each other’s thinking and surface underlying conflict and differences.

Who has experienced the situation in this cartoon?

You may often hear facilitators say “the wisdom is in the room” but that is not necessarily the case as this article on Making Dumb Groups Smarter suggests. Quoting from Sunstein and Hastie’s article there are two main errors in groups:

“informational signals” (some group members receive incorrect signals from other members) and “reputational pressures” (people silence themselves or change their views to avoid serious penalties). These two factors lead to four separate but interrelated problems: (1) Groups don’t merely fail to correct their members’ errors; they amplify them. (2) They fall victim to cascade effects, following the statements and actions of those who went first. (3) They become polarized, taking even more extreme positions than originally. (4) They focus on “what everybody knows,” ignoring critical information that only one or two members have.

Consensus Decision Options

The following is a guest post by Sheryl Smail of Pivotal – the facilitators


What is considered group consensus depends on many variables including the culture and
community, the nature of the task or decision, and the commitment required from
participants to implement any decision outcomes.

In addition, the effectiveness of different consensus building methodologies will be affected
by variables such as the time available, the size of the group, and the literacy and other skill
levels of participants.

What is consensus?

Consensus generates a decision about which everyone says, ‘I can live with it’.
Ingrid Bens

It means arriving at a decision each member of the group can accept and support.
Fred Niziol & Kathy Free

Consensus is the process – a participatory process by which a group thinks and feels
together, enroute to their decision.
Sam Kaner

It is important to note that consensus is not unanimity – although some groups may require
unanimity for consensus as part of their culture.

Pros and Cons of Consensus Decision Making

Encourages commitment
Fosters creativity
Takes time
Quality decisions require good
information and skill levels
Risk of watered down solution

When is Consensus Decision Making Most Valuable?

  • When stakeholder commitment to the decision is important e.g. to implement
  • When there is a high level of conflict or wide variety of perspectives among stakeholders
    regarding preferred solutions
  • When no single stakeholder has the authority to make the decision

Tools that Assist in Achieving Consensus

Sometimes consensus is readily achieved and obvious. For example:

  • Clarify key issues and interests
  • Brainstorm options
  • Analyse and develop potential ways forward
  • Totally mutually acceptable option emerges

However, even in these instances it assists transparency of decision-making
if it is agreed in advance what consensus means for a particular group.

The method below is recommended as a formalised consensus process for you to consider.

This consensus process (adapted from a 5 finger process and using gradients of
agreement cards) is used to reach agreement without jeopardising the quality of a
solution that has strong, but not unanimous, support.

  • When the ideal is consensus but a decision needs to made within a timeframe
  • When it is important that decision quality is not watered down

How it works:

Participants are polled on the proposal, by each participant holding up the card that indicates
their level of support for the proposal.

Strongly agree


Can see pluses & minuses, but willing to go along with the group


Strongly disagree & can’t support

Consensus Building Process:

  1. If everyone shows ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, or ‘Can see pluses & minuses’, but willing to
    go along with the group’ then consensus has been reached and we can move ahead.
  2. If there are any ‘Disagree’ or ‘Strongly disagree & can’t support’, those people are given
    an opportunity to explain to the rest of the group why they gave the rating and make
    recommendations to change the proposal in order to make it acceptable to them. The
    originator of the proposal has the option to make the change or leave the proposal as it is
    and explains the decision to the group.
  3. The polling is done again. (Note: If the proposal was changed you start again at Step 1)
    Otherwise, if everyone shows a ‘Strongly agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Can see pluses &
    minuses, but willing to go along with the group’, or ‘Disagree’, the decision is made, and
    we move ahead.
  4. If there are any ‘Strongly disagree & can’t support’, those people are given the chance to
    indicate why and make recommendations as per 2 above. Once more the originator of the
    proposal has the option to retain or change.
  5. In the final review majority rules.

Key Benefits:

This type of consensus decision-making:

  • Encourages groups to listen carefully when there is disagreement and encourages listening
    twice if necessary
  • Doesn’t allow a solution to be watered down because a few disagree
  • Although there may be one or two who don’t like the final decision, this type of consensus
    ensures that everyone is heard and heard well.


  • Ingrid Bens Facilitating With Ease 2nd Edition San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005
  • Fred Niziol & Kathy Free The IAF Handbook; Chapter 19 The Team Start Up; Jossey-Bass, 2005
  • Sam Kaner et al, Facilitator’s Gide To Participatory Decision-Making 2nd Edition San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007
  • Michael Wilkinson The Secrets of Facilitation San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004
  • Sam Kaner et al, Facilitator’s Gide To Participatory Decision-Making 2nd Edition San Francisco: Jossey

My Facilitation Aha Moment

Facilitation Aha Moment

Rhonda has another lightbulb / aha moment at an IAF Victoria Chapter professional development event – February 2015

It was so long ago my hair didn’t have one strand of grey, but I remember that moment as if it was yesterday.

I was working as the Training Manager in a large organisation. I already had extensive experience working in intensive experiential learning situations and was gaining confidence in being able to manage difficult group situations. The big boss asked me to run a residential planning retreat for a branch within the organisation. This branch was not functioning well and animosity between management and the union was growing. Problems were escalating and my brief included exploring some of these problems with the whole group. If I recall about 20-25 staff attended the residential retreat.

Things started off OK. As agreed, senior management opened the event and gave short presentations on future directions then left. I moved everyone into small groups to discuss the issues raised. In the plenary discussion the spokesman for one group (the union representative – let’s call him Steve) took the opportunity to wrest control by criticising management and suggesting an alternate purpose and agenda for the retreat. He then asked for a show of hands on who supported his proposed agenda.

Things quickly started to unravel. When middle managers attempted to speak Steve accused them of railroading staff. When I suggested we were here for a different purpose and a different type of meeting Steve then proposed a motion of no confidence in me as the facilitator. A few others joined him. However most people, including the middle managers in attendance, seemed afraid of Steve and his tactics.

In the end I played the role of a discussion moderator and (unqualified) mediator. We didn’t address most of the issues on the agenda and certainly didn’t get to do much planning on Day 2. Steve ended up alienating himself from all but a few of his diehard supporters.

It was awful. I was out of my depth, but I somehow I survived and lived to tell the tale.

When I got home and after I recovered I looked up the old Pfeiffer and Jones Handbooks for Group Facilitators. That was my aha moment! I realised that my role wasn’t to be chair of a procedural type of meeting where Robert’s / Renton’s Rules were appropriate. I wasn’t supposed to be a moderator or a trainer or a mediator or even a therapist. I was supposed to be there as a Process Facilitator. I realised that my meeting design wasn’t structured with the appropriate processes to manage the dynamic that emerged. That was when I first came across the term Process Facilitator. Ever since I have been interested in this special leadership role that works on a premise of collaboration rather than the adversarial approaches so common in many meeting situations.

This all happened way before the International Association of Facilitators was formed. I started to train others in meeting / process facilitation in 1994, using my own experience and limited readings and resources available at the time. I placed emphasis on understanding one’s role as a facilitator – knowing how it differs from a chairman or trainer or mediator and what elements of the roles are similar. This is still a core tenet of my facilitator training and mentoring today.

If only …. way back then … I had access to the body of knowledge, core competencies. professional development, community and support I found and joined the IAF in 2006. I wonder how I would have handled that situation with Steve? What would you have done? What would I do now? I am older and wiser but I’m still learning.

Is the sporting image a winner for your team?

This Easter weekend marks the beginning of the AFL football season. I thought I’d mark the occasion by kicking into the wind and challenging some of the conventional beliefs about team building at work.

intersecting-common-groundSports metaphors are often used in team building activities. I believe these are not always helpful when applied to teams at work. Sports teams are focused on winning, so there is a lot of aggressive energy and the goal is to beat the other team. In contrast, organisations are made up of interdependent work groups and supporting the image of the sporting team with its win/lose model can take attention away from the shared purpose of the organisation and the need to cooperate with other teams/divisions. A win/lose paradigm may reduce team members’ readiness to cooperate through difficult patches.

I once worked with an organisation that had an extraordinarily competitive culture. Sales teams focused on beating other teams to win an annual award. Sadly this was at the expense of retaining customers. In valuing the annual award, the company was reinforcing the very silo-ism I had been brought in to address. A company restructure highlighted these problems when individuals previously competing against each other in different sales teams, needed to work together. A phyrric victory for members of the award-winning team as they lacked the much needed collegial relationships that would stand them in good stead when dispersed to new teams. There can be a difference between achieving and winning. In this project I worked to help teams focus on achieving both organisational and team goals and develop interdependence within and between teams.

Some characteristics I observe in effective work teams:

  • a shared understanding of overall purpose and focus on achieving tasks
  • relationships are healthy enough to withstand challenge and disagreement
  • a reciprocal sense of accountability
  • individuals speak up, demonstrate initiative and take on additional responsibilities when needed
  • communication is respectful and team members are comfortable to share both thoughts and feelings
  • the leader isn’t the only person who can take a leadership role
  • a willingness to negotiate ways through the task and relationships problems that inevitably arise when people are working together
  • a collaborative approach to working with other stakeholders

Just as I’m reluctant to use sports metaphors for team development, I’m also reluctant to use the term “team-building” due to its unfortunate association with off-site recreational approaches. There’s lots of “ra-ra” and fun and games and even a temporary “esprit de corps”. But the feel-good factor quickly fades and too often nothing really changes when faced with the realities back at work. The rules and tasks of engagement at work are different and how people interact during a physical game may not transfer to how they work together in the office to deliver to a deadline on a project.

My approach is to focus on the actual work of the team: what they are there for and paid to achieve; their workplace goals and targets. The day-to-day interactions around small tasks: who does what, how, when, with whom and why, can create so many of the problems we identify within teams.

A crucial step is for the group is to understand how they are currently functioning. Working at both an individual and group level we identify existing strengths; uncover hindrances to performance then develop action steps to improve individual and collective performance.

I usually use profiling instruments as a means of opening up dialogue around current and future performance. My preference is for the KGI or Facet5. Both instruments are evidence based with strong validity and reliability. The KGI is specifically designed for team development (and leadership within teams). It includes a scale for negotiation orientation that relates to my comments above on cooperation and the risks of a win/lose mentality in teams. Facet5 has a range of applications.

But instruments in themselves are not enough. People need to be better skilled in communicating with each other and holding each other accountable. The aim is to develop the above characteristics of effective work teams by learning and modeling them in workshops and individual coaching sessions. Discussions may hone in on avoidance, defensiveness and /or insensitivity. It can be challenging, but the rewards are great. Work is more productive and collegial relationships are more enriching. There is a sense of shared achievement: for individuals, the team and the whole organisation. That’s win/win.

Contact me to find out more about Illuma’s different Team Tune-Up packages to help get your teams working well so that they deliver on their task and relate better in the process.

After the Groan Zone

A recent workshop run by me (Rhonda) – final stretch on Day 3 of a project conducted over a month. It was a joy to see how it all fell into place so quickly at the end. Here the group is working in pairs generating specific tasks for a timeline – converting the strategy they had been developing into a plan. It took a lot of argy-bargy to get to this point. I think what helped was reasonably healthy work relationships AND inserting team development with the Klein Group Instrument as part of my overall intervention. So there was very intentional focus on both task and relationship and encouraging of initiative from those in the group who scored lower on this scale. The group has high Positive Group Affiliation that stood them in good stead when in “The Groan Zone“. I used an interesting range of process methods and fortunately had different work stations in the room which helped with the shift of thinking for different phases.?Combining strategy development and team development in the one intervention is an excellent way to get traction for delivering on strategy and plans.

How to Get More Movement into Your Force Field Analysis

Participants on Illuma’s Foundations of Facilitation training workshop working up their dynamic version of a Force Field Analysis is a practise session (2014)

Participants on Illuma’s Foundations of Facilitation training workshop working up their dynamic version of a Force Field Analysis is a practise session (2014)

You’ve probably experienced a Force Field Analysis activity in a meeting. Someone draws a line down the whiteboard or flipchart and scribes as the group thinks through the issue. People sit and call out ideas while the scribe frantically tries to capture everything. After a little while the whiteboard looks like a dog’s breakfast – there’s no room for any more information, there are lines all over the place and people can’t make sense of it. As the diagram becomes messier participants start to disengage and before long even the scribe loses the plot … I’m actually describing an earlier version of myself here :-/

Force field analysis is a key process tool for many disciplines including project management, organisational development and change consulting. For years I struggled with a way to facilitate a group through the process so that it was engaging and people could visualise and understand the changing dynamic as we worked through the framework.

This is the model I hand out or show on a slide as a means of explanation.

This is the model I hand out or show on a slide as a means of explanation.

Over the years I’ve developed my own way of working with this essential tool for change. Often I start with a physical demonstration of how a Force Field Analysis is essentially about movement. Group members become the driving and restraining forces trying to budge the person representing the current state. This can be a bit of fun before we get down to the real work. Firstly we define the present /status quo (represented by the centre line), then define the desired state or success – what we want in the future. The next step is to identify restraining forces and driving forces and sometimes I include a ranking activity. Then we develop actions to remove or reduce the restraining forces, increase the driving forces or convert a restrainer into a driver (thus getting maximum acceleration for minimum effort).

But it was still me doing the scribing – and I found it difficult to maintain an overall sense when working up close and personal with the whiteboard or flipchart. As the facilitator I needed to be able to maintain the bigger picture.

When training facilitators I always include a Force Field Analysis as a process for a practise session. And when training facilitators I always have one or two sticky walls ready for a range of activities.
One day I started to use a sticky wall that allowed the group members themselves to create, move, rank, delete etc. They became much more engaged, the Force Field Analysis process became much more dynamic and I could stand back and better facilitate the process rather than being locked into scribe role.

Group members’ work during strategy development event I facilitated January 2015 (part way through the process)

Group members’ work during strategy development event I facilitated January 2015 (part way through the process)

I started to notice how much more creative and engaged people were. One day in one of my facilitator workshops a participant decided to make different sized arrows to represent different “strengths” of a force. The colour of the paper took on a new meaning. Scheduled action plan started to be built on an adjacent sticky wall. The act of removing a restraining force (aka written on A5 paper) was not just visual but physical and in some way this was more symbolic and satisfying.

So why not try getting a bit more real action next time you facilitate a group using Force Field Analysis. Contact us for more information about Illuma Consulting’s Foundations of Facilitation Training Workshops. Click here for flyer and dates of next programs.

Foundations of Facilitation

  • Canberra 11 & 12 May 2015
  • Melbourne 19 & 20 October 2015

Note: Kurt Lewin developed the principle of Force Field Analysis in the early half of the 20th Century. There’s a wealth of information on the net including scholarly articles on Lewin’s work and a myriad of images for different ways people use the model.

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