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Tuesday, 04 July 2017 06:03

Facilitators need to get out of the way

There is no doubt that whoever is leading or planning a strategy day, sets the tone.

Whether the facilitator is someone internal, or an external expert, their role is to ensure the design of the day(s) suits the objectives.  But it doesn’t stop there. How they set expectations, manage participants and keep the day running smoothly is also essential.  A great facilitator is well aware of the fine balance of setting it up and then stepping out of the way and letting the people create the magic.  But, why don’t they?

Facilitators can have bias’s that weigh on the outcome, the people and the design of the thinking.  I call it ‘Facilitator Bias’.  Catchy don’t you think?!

Duncan Shaw and Fran Akermann presented a paper in 2001 that talks of the difference between ‘unwittingly directing or strategically driving’ when facilitating outcomes. It confirms that irrespective of whether people are conscious of their inclination or not, they can easily fall into a ‘Faciliator Bias’ trap.

They have a bias towards the outcome.

Whether you are working in the business or an external consultant this can be true.  If the person leading has any vested interest in the outcome of the day, then this can affect how they steer it.

There are some obvious ‘motive’ issues that facilitators can fall trap to.  Some may drive an idea that the client specified up front as the ‘ideal outcome’; they may push an agenda or decision that suits them (or their team) financially; or drive an agenda that allows them to be better positioned for the future.

The less obvious ‘motives’ have to do with how they are perceived and wanting to be favoured by everyone in the room; or just letting how they look in front of others be more important than the outcome.

They have a bias towards the people.

We all judge others.  We can do it quickly and for some it’s overt whereas for others it’s an ‘unconscious bias’. This bias can be a positive or negative attitude towards another person.  These judgements we make can determine who is involved in what components of the problem solving.

You might think the finance team is better doing the number crunching, and legal to highlight the risks.  Or that the men should look at the data and the women process how the market will feel about the new ideas.

Or, it gets personal, especially with those more ‘challenging’ individuals in the business. Whether it’s a personal history or not, it can influence the facilitators decisions about how much they participate in the problem solving, on the day and/or before.

Facilitators can play favourites or do the opposite and shut down the ‘unnecessary’. This discordance is damaging, both to those individuals participating/watching on the day and thereafter.

They have a bias towards the design.

When creating the best way for a group of people to think together, the tools, techniques and experience of those that are designing the program will bias the plan.  That’s a given.  The more tools, the greater the chance of designing the day for the appropriate solution.  Not just the one they know.

There are other conditions that will determine constraints and skew the planning. The culture of the team and/or the organisation.  Are they fast paced in their thinking, or slow to decision making?  Are they risk-adverse and held back by bureaucracy?  Whilst these seem like legitimate factors that need to be taken into account, they are the very things that need to be removed for the best problem-solving conditions to occur.  The less the facilitator is concerned about these constraints the better the design.  They don’t presume or assume so it often creates innovation and flourished thinking.

Facilitating a great outcome is not about controlling. 

Sure, there will be characters who want to own the floor, or hear their voice above all others, or even take over the design with what they believe will work.  There are always a few of them.  And it’s always entertaining to see that they have no idea who they are.  You know what I’m saying, we’ve all been in workshops with them.

However, if the design of the day(s) is right then these types will be catered for and space will be created for others. If the facilitator is skilled enough they will be able to juggle diverse characters and ensure everyone feels valued. 

If you are running a team/strategy day, group thinking session or have a big problem to solve, then ask us about our new program ‘Decisionate’.  We love it and think you will too.

Last modified on Monday, 25 June 2018 10:39

About Georgia

Georgia is obsessed with the power of great communication. She knows how great communication leads to great collaboration and helps create outstanding cultures.


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