The Facilitative Mind – mindful practices

  • Maintaining the Minor Voice:  The strongest measure of a facilitator may be how well they can keep all voices in play during a group interaction.  It is an all too common experience for people to feel that their voice has not been heard in the cacophony of conversation or in the dominant play of certain individuals within a group.  The facilitator supports and even guides individual contributors through sustaining their voice from the front of the room.  Often, simply paraphrasing and summarizing a person’s point of view immediately and then repeatedly during the conversation lets them know they have been heard and that their “voice” remains a part of the dialogue.  Few things are more affirming than to have one’s thoughts and words brought back into the conversation by someone else connecting them to the whole of the discourse.
Posted in Communication, Leadership | Leave a comment

The Facilitative Mind – mindful practices

  • Focusing on Process vs. Content: An effective facilitator is frequently far more focused on process than content in group interaction.  Certainly content is never irrelevant, but in any group conversation the ebb and flow of the process must be managed and attended to as much as the content of the interaction.  Indeed, the facilitator may be the only individual vigilantly aware of how the conversation is unfolding and the critical moments when it must be managed to produce quality and authenticity.  To this end, the facilitator is much like the conductor of an orchestra focused on the whole, keeping track of the various threads in the conversation and how they intertwine with each other.


Posted in Communication, Leadership | Leave a comment

The Facilitative Mind – reading situation and context

The facilitator leads a group by understanding the nature of power and politics in group interaction.  And, navigates group process throught the artful use of questions.

  •  Power and Politics: Every conversation in organizational life is fraught with power and politics.  Facilitators must do everything they can to discern the political issues within a group as well recognize both the explicit and implicit power structures that exist.  Even though the facilitator is often called in to be the disinterested, objective third party, to be unaware of the political forces within a group has the potential of rendering facilitators essentially impotent in performing their task.  Indeed, facilitators gain remarkable credibility when they are able to read the political issues within the group and can confront them tactfully – frequently through the asking of hard questions well.
  • The Questioning Facilitator:  the ultimate goal of any facilitator should be the mastery of being able to ask hard questions well.  Questioning, more than any other skill, may be the foundational skill upon which facilitators build their practice.  Questions have the capacity to penetrate beneath the smooth surface uncovering and revealing both context and content.  They can move from easy to hard, from polite to profound, from indirect to direct.  The level of questions is both based on context and creates context.  Questions are a much safer and less intrusive means of assessing a situation and context.  They generate, in a broader sense, an overall spirit of inquiry which assists the facilitator in reading the overall situation as well as enlisting others in unpacking the situation and context.



Posted in Communication, Leadership | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Facilitative Mind – your facilitative style and range

This entry is the first in a multiple part series on the “Facilitative Mind”. Our assumption is that to be an effective facilitator requires not only a particular skill set, but a certain mindset as well.  Within this series we want to talk about the values, mindset, and intentional practices underlying successful facilitation.  This particular entry will explore your style and range across three critical dimensions of group facilitation.

  • Improvisation – the ability to remain consistently present to current conversation and to move it forward by orchestrating and intertwining various threads of conversation is vital to effective facilitation. It is indeed the job of the facilitator to take what is offered conversationally and weave it into an on-going scenario that continues to build on the contributions of participants, yet remain focused. Your range and style in this area is conditioned by your aptitude to stay in the moment and driven by your active listening skills. The extent to which the facilitator asks clarifying questions, paraphrases, reflects, and summarizes the group’s conversation will drive this scale.
  • Structure – the ideal is to create a “structureless” structure. That is, to develop an underlying structure that supports and enables group interaction without being too directive or the structure being too visible to participants. Such a “structureless’ structure would entail attending to pre-interaction variables such as room size and layout, seating, agenda design, and political considerations. During group interaction maintaining a flow to the conversation, timekeeping, use of breaks, and assertive conversational leadership all contribute to a sense of structure without overly dictating or controlling participant engagement. Your style and range in this area is predicated on your knowledge of what is minimally required in each engagement and your attentiveness to the group dynamics.
  • Balance – Four factors to be considered regarding balance are time, task, identify, and relationships. There is always a tension in sustaining pace (which contributes to energy and focus) and letting the conversation unfold (which contributes to voice, engagement, and buy-in). Hence, finding the right “balance” between pushing a group forward and nurturing the conversation is a range and style issue for facilitators. In addition, “balancing” the interplay between facilitating the task, managing participants’ identities, and enhancing the relational quality of the group is a formidable assignment for facilitators. Here again, different facilitators will approach this balancing act, with a variety of styles and ranges. Much of the variation will be dependent upon the facilitator’s own assessment of which of these four factors is most important in creating and sustaining effective dialogue.
Posted in Communication, Leadership | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Goal Setting : Cascading vs Avalanching

Many leaders use goals to create line of sight between an individual’s work and the broader success of the business.

A problem that I see in many organizations is that while goals are passed from one leader to his or her direct reports, they tend to be “avalanched”.

An avalanched goal is one that doesn’t change as it moves through the organization. For example, a regional vice-president might have a goal of increasing profitability by 13%. He gives his director of sales and director of operations that same goal. Those two people in turn pass the goal along to their various managers who then pass it on to their front line employees.

In the end, the final person with the goal is the one who has no one else to which to pass it. That person is also in the least likely position to fulfill the goal due to his or her scope of responsibility and influence.

Avalanched goals aren’t helpful. They reduce clarity and make it difficult for people to know where to focus. After all, if everyone in the organization has the same goal, despite having different jobs, what are they supposed to do? They are also unfair and demotivating. If a person only controls 1/10th of an outcome, how can he or she be held accountable for that entire outcome? More importantly, they can actually reduce accountability. Each person in the chain holds the person below him or her accountable for meeting the one goal while not attending to it themself. The only person who winds up actively working toward it is that poor low-level employee stuck at the bottom of the avalanche.

An alternative to avalanching is to use cascading goals. Cascading goals are also passed down through the organization. At each level the goal is adapted to reflect the unique contribution that supports the higher-level goal.

The idea of cascading goals isn’t new. What’s happened is that leaders have latched on to the first part (passing the goal down through the organization) while abandoning the second part (modifying the goal to reflect a unique contribution). The result is the avalanche.

The key to creating cascading goals is having a clear understanding of how each successive layer in an organization contributes to the one above it.

The chart in the center of the page provides a simple example of how the profitability goal mentioned earlier might be cascaded.

Each individual has a specific goal for which they have full control. Their individual area of focus and contribution are clearly laid out. Most importantly, there is clarity around who specifically is accountable for each outcome.

Of course, it is also important to show each person how his or her goal contributes to the broader goals of the organization. This creates line of sight as well as engagement.

This example showed how to cascade just one goal. Leaders should go through this same process for each of his or her goals.

The people who report to you should not have the same goals as you. They should each make contributions that, when taken together, help you achieve your goal(s). Take time to provide each of your people with a clear, focused, and specific goal.

Posted in Assessment, Leadership | Tagged | Comments Off

“You are my question” – the starting point

Most consultants start with an assumption – “I am your answer.” In fact, I can think of few professions in which the “professional” doesn’t inherently think they are the answer to the client’s dilemma. One time, I even heard an eminent psychologist say to a client who was willing to challenge his diagnosis, “Madam, by definition, I am the expert, you are the nut.”

What if we were to begin every consultation, every conversation, every encounter with the thought, “You are my question”. It doesn’t matter who the “You” is. It could be an individual. It could be a group. It could be the whole organization.

The fundamental issue is how I am approaching the encounter. Do I treat the other as someone or something to be explored, discovered, and understood. Or, do I treat them as something or someone to be informed, advised, and directed.

The conversation that begins with “You are my question” is one filled with inquiry, curiosity, wonder, and possibilities. The conversation that starts with “I am your answer” is filled with certainty, finality, control, and predictability.

A hint: How do you begin your conversations? With a question or a statement?

Posted in Assessment, Communication, Leadership | Comments Off

Caring vs. Curing

The tension between “caring” and “curing” is most obvious in the medical profession. Daily, medical professionals have to make a choice between caring for their patients/clients and curing them. You are thinking, clearly they can do both. And, certainly that is possible, even probable.

But, over time, a real tension always exists between caring for one’s clients and trying to cure them. Both are committed to “healing” or making the client “whole”. Yet, they take quite divergent paths to accomplishing that task.

“Curing” is committed to: Relieving the burden, Taking away the pain, Remedying the situation, Correcting the other.

“Caring” is committed to: Bearing the burden, Sharing the pain, Living in the situation, Accepting the other

Most consulting, if not all, is committed to “curing” the client. It is, in fact, what we get paid for. We argue that we will do both – care for and cure the organization with which we work. However, the dichotomies and conflicts in the different commitments should be self-evident.

I am confident that the approach to which we are ultimately committed in consulting will find its way to the surface. More importantly, it will send a surprisingly implicit message. The consultant/client relationship is either all about “the consultant”, or it is all about “the client”.

Posted in Leadership | Comments Off