Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Facilitator of the Month| Sept 2008

The objective behind launching Facilitator of the Month is to interview facilitators who make a difference, and have them share their wisdom and learnings. Our focus is on real life stories that provide our community with ideas and courage to lead groups.

If you know some one who is your ideal facilitator and would be open to sharing their story, please forward their name and contact information. Judith Nutkis, a new volunteer member of FacilitatorU, is leading this project.

Facilitator Of The Month | Sept 2008
Scott Gassman

Looking behind the scenes…

The following interview with Scott Gassman was conducted by Judith Nutkis.

I have had the honor of watching Scott in action and his love for groups is profound.

Scott Gassman coaches, trains, facilitates, and manages projects for individual, team, and enterprise-wide initiatives. Scott has led corporate organization development, leadership development and interactive media groups, matrix and traditional teams, strategic change, learning implementations, and produced a President’s weekly enterprise-wide internal corporate two-way desktop broadcast program. He was the organization development leader for the Systems, Technology and Infrastructure divisions within two Fortune corporations, Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Medco Health Solutions.

Scott’s consulting firm, IdeaJuice, focuses on strengthening executive and team effectiveness, improving productivity, designing change or transition initiatives, engaging the whole workforce, maximizing meeting value, and building learning strategies. Scott’s team produces video and web communication tools for organizations to use with customers and employees.

The recent client roster includes: Amalgamated Life, America Speaks, The New School, ICN and Caucus, Common Ground and StopItNow! Scott facilitated at: Equal Voices for America's Families, California Speaks, the National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Preparedness Initiative with the EMS Operational Chiefs, from America’s fifty largest cities; at the first Governor sponsored Louisiana Recovery and Rebuilding Conference (after Hurricane Katrina) and at Seaport Speaks, to plan the NYC Seaport’s next 100 years.

Scott Gassman is an Adjunct Professor, in the Organizational Change Management (graduate level) Program at Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy. Scott is the Co-Book Review Editor for the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Journal. Scott’s current research focuses on corporate workforce engagement strategies. Scott reviews manuscripts for Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. He has been consultant to the U.S. Navy, Chase Manhattan Bank, Montefiore Medical Center, Boeing, Philip Morris, Ninth House Network, CitiBank, and NYC, NYS and Federal Governmental agencies

bullet “We are not here to hurt any one individual or the company,” Kathy Dannemiller
Kathy was facilitating a Design Team meeting with a Canadian Transformer company in preparation for designing a Whole Scale Large Group Meeting to help the company figure out a survivable future. One of the 30 members started to put down another organizational figure and Kathy stopped it cold. She spoke up louder than the group and made it clear, ground rules must be enforced, enabling folks to speak their minds about what’s wrong, what needs to be done, but not to destroy anyone or the company. Kathy was fond of saying we are trying to become “one heart, one mind.” Kathy, process bodyguard, protected the sanctity of this organization, its customers, townspeople and employees.
At the core, Kathy taught me facilitation is about making it safe for people to speak from their truths, vulnerabilities, and hopes.

bullet “Connection before Content.” Dick Axelrod
I wish I could lay claim to this being mine. Of all the leader behaviors, I have witnessed in rooms throughout the world, it is the need for control, the urgency to speed to decision, that leaves people out of conversation and contribution. When Tops (a Barry Oshry term) deny time to let ice melt and people warm to collective purpose even if it is not a physically dangerous situation, the crisis around the shortage of time precludes engagement of worker body insights and frontline customer awareness. Dick got this across to me better than anyone. I hold to it as a principle and guide for maximizing group value.

bullet “Wants not needs.” Peter Block
What’s the difference or more important conversation - leading or managing? They are both important. I subscribe to Peter’s notion that wants are not of weakness and potentially bring forth higher aspirations.

bullet ”When lighting another person’s candle, there isn’t less light because you’ve given some away-there’s more.” Kaleel Jamison, The Nibble Theory and the Kernel Of Power.
Ms. Jamison’s simple book, has more pearls of wisdom per square inch than any other book, I have ever read. I hold it up as a torch to make sense of relationships and power dynamics and to encourage people to share what they know and sense.

bullet “Go help those rows of insurance clerks, mostly women, who don’t have power, who don’t get paid much money, and who do manual, repetitive tasks.” Peter Block
I took Peter’s message to heart for the long term, letting it sink in and think about how I could do that. I had shared frustrations about executives not changing, ignoring advice or my not socking it to them with my influence.

bullet “No, I don’t want to work on this.” Tony Petrella
We only had one or two phone conversations. I worked for Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the organization was front and center being shamed in the New York Times for questionable practices. I called Tony to see if he would consult to the senior team on internally managing the organization through these tough times. Tony said no. This was bad business.
The leaders weren’t calling and he didn’t believe that they were serious about addressing the issues. I had never heard anyone say no to business or money before. Tony showed me how.

bullet “When I see someone asked a question and they start ducking their head down, I follow that gopher into the hole and start asking more.” Kenny Klepper
Kenny Klepper is a former boss, who taught me what it takes to stretch capacity and use diversity of skills and competencies to build best teams possible.

bullet “In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendor of the cities.” Arthur Rimbaud
Rimbaud’s words inspire breadth, depth, initiative, possibility and beauty.

bullet “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows”. By Erwin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, Al Stillman
I go to the edge expressing my emotions. I say what I feel. Holding feelings back denied me presence. My being real enhances a group’s possibilities to be themselves.

bullet “My work is about enabling organizational productivity, individual motivation and satisfaction. “ Scott Gassman mantra, for working with organizations, leaders and gophers.

I juggle time between consulting (~60%), personal life (~25%) and teaching (~15%). Facilitation represents 40 % of my consulting work. The facilitation work is split evenly between face to face and phone/computer meetings. Training accounts for 20-25 % of my work efforts. The other third of my time is spent on organization development, coaching and project management.

My aim is to continue building my client base and developing associative relationships with firms whose work I value and with whose people I enjoy working. I’m interested in sustaining long-term relationships and effectively working on client’s process and relationship knots. New clients come from clients, former students, or collegial referrals. Some contact me through my website. I do cold calling. I sometimes volunteer my services. This has led me to other opportunities.

bullet Great at idea generation and thinking on my feet
bullet Good at reading group dynamics and accessing intuition.
bullet Giving people space to express what’s on their mind, in their heart and hara.
bullet Respectful of people and their development.
bullet Learning the value of structure, the hard way.
bullet Appreciating the diversity of adult learning styles.

Take risks. Make mistakes. Especially do this earlier in your career when the consequences are less, except for your gainful employment. I sincerely believe making mistakes offers increased opportunities to learn. Holding on for perfection or waiting till you have it all under control, is too late. Try to not put individuals or organizations in harms way. And keep developing your very own principles of practice.

In college, I majored in sociology. I learned about 20th Century Social Movements and the idea that people can affect change in the world. I read the work of Ernest Becker while studying with a former Becker student who taught Alienation and Mental Illness on campus. I later served as a teaching assistant for prisoners taking the same class in a local New York State (NYS) prison. Working with the two student groups, university students and prisoners, was a lesson in how experience influences perspective. From my Indian Philosophy class, I became aware of how our beliefs can affect our reality. It impressed upon me how we project our thoughts and fears onto experiences and the transformative possibility of openness to new situations.

After college, I developed Volunteer Services in NYS Prisons and was introduced to the notion of training. I had assumed that people who worked knew what they were doing. I soon discovered that was not the case. I created training scenarios and was given the opportunity to practice them with my peers. I discovered I liked using my imagination to work with groups to solve problems. Through colleagues, I was invited to attend a National Training Labs, nine-month Training Skills Practicum. Under the tutelage of Ken Sole, Elsie Cross and Edith Seashore, I honed my experiential design, training and facilitation skills.

My wife and I had a baby who at 18 months was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Failure to Thrive. Having to care for a sick child was quite a hardship for us. A colleague connected us with Salvatore Menuchin, a renowned family therapist practicing in New York. During one, two-hour session, he talked with and observed us and then set up an activity to help us understand our family dynamic. Amazingly, he told us what was going on first and then showed us through our decisions and actions our behavioral pattern! What a diagnostician! Today, I try to use his observational and analytical skills in my practice.

I worked at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield from 1989 to 2003, I successfully paired my training staff with line managers to deliver training and to build the inroads of a learning organization. During the early, to mid-90s, Empire went through a shaming in the NY TIMES for questionable business practices. Empire’s challenges became fertile ground for creativity and development initiatives. We delivered the William Bridges’ Managing Transitions program to all employees to shift organizational fears of job loss to refocusing and reengaging on work priorities. As senior management changed, a corporate focus on customers and continuous improvement drove the business. My Organizational Development group transitioned from a declining budget to becoming a cost center that sold services to stay in business. The new chief financial officer figured we would fail and he could get rid of us as overhead. On the way to his assumption, we started making a profit and lasted way beyond his tenure. This experience emphasized my belief that organizational training is not just about creative ideas. It’s got to have a market place value.

A final defining moment with regards to how I see facilitation also came during my tenure at Empire. My boss, the Senior VP for Systems, Technology and Infrastructure, directed me to get people out of the classroom and learn at their desktops. I partnered with the Ninth House Network to roll out enterprise-wide training programs and became involved in an initiative to increase internal communication through Empire’s newly created collaboration center and internal broadcast network. We started to link up virtually to 16 sites around the world as they synchronously worked on key corporate initiatives. In between, I produced an internal weekly Lunch with Dave (the President) broadcast to employee desktops in which the company president, I and/or someone else would interview guests. Employees could call-in or email questions. I saw first-hand the power of two-way communications and the transformation of a non-communicative culture to one that appeared transparent.

bullet Block, Peter. 2000. Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey Bass
bullet Jamison, Kaleel, 1984. The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power, Paulist Press.
bullet Schein, Edgar H. 1999. Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

BA, State University College at New Paltz, NY
New School for Managing (Started by Peter Block and the Association for Quality and Productivity (AQP)), North Carolina
Training Skills Practicum, National Training Labs, Bethel, ME

Accelerating Implementation Methodology, Implementation Management Associates (IMA)
Continuous Improvement, Meeting Management, Xerox
Flawless Consulting Skills, Designed Learning
Facilitative Disaster and Crisis Intervention (DCI), Global Facilitation Service Corps (GFSC)
Managing Transitions, William Bridges
Situational Leadership, Situational Self-Leadership, and Team Building, Ken Blanchard Companies
Threat Response Team (TRT), Crisis Management International (CMI)

Training Director of the Year Award by Training Magazine (Lakewood Publications)
Ken Blanchard Companies' Humanizing the Workplace Award for work at
Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield

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