Facilitator Journal | Issue #0172 September 28, 2004 | 7,000 Subscribers...
People tend to get easily frustrated by group meetings and we all
no why...they typically stink! This is largely due to the pervasive
and inaccurate assumption that group thought should be just as simple
and efficient to manage as individual thought. This attitude of your
typical meeting-goer contributes to harsh judgment upon themselves
and other participants, leading to apathy, inaction, and the continual
self-fulfilling prophecy of meetings that just don't work.
This week's article, "Avoiding Collective Incompetence,"
attempts to shine some light on the complexities of group dynamics
and looks at what typically goes wrong in groups to help us better
appreciate the challenges, and opportunities, presented whenever we
meet collectively. Please share this article with your fellow meeting
attendees and group leaders. Perhaps it will help take some of the
sting out of our collective abhorrence of group meetings and lead
to their improvement.
We're excited to also have Tom co-host our next Micro-Skills Tele-Seminar
September 30th at 1:00 PM EDT. In this one hour teleclass,
Tom and I will explore the concept of "Collective Intelligence--the
greater intelligence that's at work when a whole group, organization,
community or society addresses its problems well--and look at facilitator
interventions that can influence
collective intelligence in groups and meetings. Please see details
below and consider joining us on this call.
Finally, please check out our new Facilitator
Tool Shop. In cooperation with Neuland North America
Ltd., we've put together a great selection of tools including meeting
boards, flipcharts, white boards, graphic wall, shape and color-coded
cards, precision markers, all-in-one cases, and assorted assessories.
here to check out our selection.
any of you have any interesting stories or experiences about facilitation,
group process, work groups, team building, training, etc. that might interest
our readers, please send
them to us.
articles and growing
Avoiding Collective Incompetence
the sources of collective incompetence.
People tend to get
easily frustrated by group meetings. And how can we blame them? The vast
majority of meetings we've attended throughout our lives have been less
than uplifting, to say the least. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone
in modern society who would tell you that they actually enjoy attending
meetings. "Oh no. Not another meeting! ... I look forward to meetings.
They let me catch up on my sleep." Cliches abound in modern culture
that attest to our abhorrence of meetings.
Part of this problem though can be attributed to our pervasive ignorance
of the complexities of facilitating group thought. Most tend to think
that the groups they lead, or are part of, should operate just as efficiently
as they do individually. This is in fact untrue. Further, the belief in
this fallacy by your typical meeting-goer contributes to harsh judgment
upon themselves and other participants, leading to apathy, inaction, and
the continual self-fulfilling prophecy of meetings that just don't work.
light on the complexities of group dynamics and looking at things that
typically go wrong in groups can help us better appreciate the challenges
and opportunities presented to us whenever we meet collectively.
Why are groups so complicated?
of individuals are far more likely to err than individuals. Groups give
instincts which individuals acting alone are forced to keep in check.
-- T.B. Macaulay, English author and statesman --
of Group Mind
It seems obvious that when a number of individual minds come together,
more complexity emerges simply out of the shear increase in the number
of inputs, outputs, and interconnections available. There are more ideas
in the room, far more for each individual to keep track of, and there
are more relationship dynamics present together packaged with their spoken
and unspoken assumptions and prejudices.
Because of this increase in complexity, there exist the capacity for synergy
to emerge, where the capability of the group exceeds the sum of its parts.
But given that groups are more complex and their interactions are often
faulty, they are harder to manage. For this reason, synergy rarely emerges
by accident. Just as easily, and more often than not, groups tend to drift
toward collective incompetence.
George Kieffer, in his book, "The Strategy of Meetings," explains
this phenomenon beautifully in the following metaphor. "... you cannot
afford to view meetings as likely in and of themselves to culminate in
positive results without a great deal of work. Meetings are inherently
risky enterprises, mobs in waiting, more susceptible to passions, pieties,
persuasion, and manipulation of all kinds and degrees than are the individuals
who participate in them. Meetings begin with the same risk of injury as
a motor vehicle containing a steering wheel at each passenger seat."
Therefore, it’s very important to recognize the inherent limitations of
group thought, that we elaborate on below, and yet maintain respect and
appreciate for both the process and the particular individuals in attendance.
Limitations of Group Mind.
Group Amnesia. Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon, in studying
the human mind has found that the most that we can hold in short-term
memory without forgetting something is six or seven pieces of data. Therefore,
a group of people will remember and forget different information at any
given time. This validates the ongoing need for real time recording of
the inputs, actions, and decisions of your group.
Dissonance. People dislike inconsistency and will attempt to
eliminate it. When mental conflict occurs because beliefs or assumptions
are contradicted by new information, people will tend to suppress, rationalize,
avoid, or oversimplify it away. Know that this phenomenon exists, educate
your peers about it, and if you must avoid the complex issues, at least
acknowledge you're doing it and perhaps plan another time to deal with
from Task. Because group thinking is so difficult, individuals
actually tend to disassociate from the task. Yet you may think it's just
you who has drifted and that everyone else is on top of everything being
discusses. Not likely! But wanting to refrain from appearing stupid and
wanting to be accepted, you go ahead and agree with whatever is on the
table. Everyone is missing something...so risk being the fool and speak
Lowest Common Denominator and Highest Risk. The most
common response of the group mind appears to be this: to reach a conclusion
on the stated task, in the safest possible way so as to avoid division,
and as quickly as possible, the group finds a consensus based on the lowest
common denominator. The result is a compromise that may not solve the
problem but does salve feelings and egos.
Lowest Common Level of Stupidity. Drs. David Charney
and William Anixter specialize in treatment of anxiety and note that the
most common malady, ahead of substance abuse and depression, is the individual’s
fear of groups, affecting some 40% of the public to some degree. Convinced
that it really is a matter of body chemistry, Victor Palmieri offers an
only partially facetious cure. “There is a change in body chemistry, a
drop in acuity to the lowest common level of stupidity, so when you see
confusion in a meeting the important thing is to get out of the room as
quickly as you can before your body chemistry changes!”
we have shown, group dynamics are more complex and difficult than individual
dynamics. Hence, in any meeting you attend, the participants think less
clearly as a group than the sum of the intelligence would suggest and less
clearly than any single member may recognize at any particular moment. Group
members tend to disassociate from the real task and move toward levels of
abstraction. So it behooves us all, group leader and attendees alike to
know the sources of collective incompetence and do our best to limit them.
Agenda. Every individual comes into the meeting with his or
her own personal agenda to accomplish. And in many forms of meetings,
these are very appropriate.
But don’t assume that personal agendas align with the stated meeting
agenda. Ask yourself what’s behind a criticism or a suggestion.
and basic human needs. We tend to go mad in herds, but tend
to recover one by one. To suggest change or to question, one must first
speak as an individual and expose oneself.
Don’t presume understanding and accord merely because
no one speaks. There is nearly always a difference of opinion around
the table. The most powerful interests in any meeting are the basic
human needs of the participants…economic well-being, sense of belonging,
need for recognition, and control of one’s life.
Feelings. Personal feelings about fellow participants or about
the meeting itself will always distort comments in the meeting and undermine
Do your best to separate ideas and opinions from the people presenting
them, and aggressively prevent or protect all participants from personal
A meeting provides a forum for assessing and expressing status within
the group, and that will affect the behavior of group members.
Accept that this is going on to some extent in any meeting.
Every meeting will have distractions from the late arrivals and early
departures, to uncomfortable surroundings, to telephone interruptions,
poor technical facilities, etc. Even when there are few outside distractions,
all participants tend to wander from time to time resulting in a short
circuit of the group mind.
Presume you are losing some members all of the time and do what you
can to limit distractions and keep everyone involved.
displacement and buzz words. This is a particular form of distraction
that can strike at any time. A “buzz” word can throw off a line of thought
or a glib participant can send out the wrong data or information without
Thought displacement goes with the territory, presume it’s happening
throughout the meeting and ask for clarification whenever you notice
- The Laws
of Triviality and Avoidance. “The time spent on any item of
the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved,” claims
Professor Parkinson. Further, the time spent will be in inverse proportion
to the complexity or difficulty of the issue: law of avoidance. Complex
matters, irrespective of money, tend to be ignored, and simple matters
tend to be belabored. People are simply more comfortable discussing
what they know rather than what they don’t know. And most people want
to demonstrate what they know rather than what they don’t. This means
groups avoid the tough questions and concentrate on the easy ones.
Expect this tendency in all your meetings and point in out whenever
you see it. Offer options to meeting separately to address the tough
issues if possible and appropriate.
and Roles. Some personalities simply don’t mix. And irrespective
of personalities, individuals naturally take on certain roles depending
upon other participants: the facilitator, the disrupter, the complainer,
and so on.
Just be aware of this...that nearly everyone adopts a role of some kind
during a meeting and nearly everyone harbors feelings about the other
Members and the Lowest Common Denominator. An incompetent or
destructive participant tends can derail a meeting, bringing the whole
group to his level. He can force others to respond to peripheral issues
and encourage disassociation from the task. Fear of hurting his feelings,
disrupting the group further, or reverence for democracy may allow him
to take the meeting over. The group tends to defer, dropping to the
Lowest Common Denominator.
This tendency is counteracted by the facilitator's imperative...the
unflinching control of process.
- In Summary.
Good intentions are no match for collective incompetence whose sources
reside in all meetings. Meeting participants need to know that it takes
far more work to accomplish their goals than they think. Remember all
of these hurdles when planning and developing your strategy for your
next meeting. By understanding these forces and how they’re likely to
manifest during the meeting you can devise strategies that will make
them work for you, not against you.
What sources of collective incompetence have you noticed most and what
have you done about it? Would could you do differently in the future?
us your questions and comments.
Featuring Tom Atlee,
author, democracy innovator, and founder of the
Attend this one-hour tele-seminar on
September 30th at 1:00 PM EDT (NY Time).
"Just in Time" Learning
Join Tom Atlee
on Thursday, September 30th at 1:00 PM EDT (NY Time)
for a one-hour interview where we'll explore the concept of "Collective
Intelligence-- a form of intelligence grounded in the recognition of the
value of diversity, unity, relationship, context, uniqueness and the spirit
inside each of us and the world--and look at facilitator interventions
that can influence
collective intelligence in groups and meetings.
Our discussion will draw from the following points...
We've been hearing
about collective intelligence, group mind, collective wisdom, collective
consciousness, and so on. What is your sense of these phenomena and how
do you distinguish between them?
What factors or interventions do you find influence collective intelligence
in groups and meetings?
What are some of your
favorite methods and processes for meetings and conferences -- and why
do you prefer them?
You talk about "systemic societal intelligence" and "wise
democracy." What's all that about?
You seem to focus a lot on what you call citizen deliberative councils.
What are they and why are they so central to your work?
How do you see facilitators fitting into all this?
Whose work do you find particularly exciting in this field?
I know from your website that your consider collective intelligence part
of a larger field you call co-intelligence. What's the difference?
What are the edges of your own thinking in this area? What inquiries are
alive for you right now?
And, answers to any questions you bring to the teleclass.
Where Is Your Group Intelligence? Essay
by Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, exploring where intelligence
and culture reside in your organization.
2. Collective Intelligence Mankind's Emerging
World in Cyberspace. An important contribution exploring
the impact of computers on society and culture.
About Tom: Tom Atlee is founder
and co-director of the non-profit Co-Intelligence Institute. Recently
his work has focused on developing our capacity to function as a wise
democracy, so we can turn our social and environmental challenges into
positive developments for our society. His social change vision is based
on new understandings of wholeness which recognize the value of diversity,
unity, relationship, context, uniqueness and the spirit inside each of
us and the world. Co-intelligence theory also acknowledges many facets
of intelligence (like head and heart), wisdom, and the higher forms of
intelligence (natural and sacred) that move through and beyond us. Although
Tom and the Institute focus on very practical issues of group, social
and political dynamics, co-intelligence has many esoteric dimensions as
for details about this interview, the bonuses, and registration.
Meetings Work: Achieving High Quality Group Decisions, by John
A best-seller in its
first edition, Making Meetings Work: Achieving High Quality Group Decisions,
Second Edition covers everything you need to know about organizing engaging
meetings, including preparing agendas, controlling what happens behind the
scenes prior to and after meetings, and managing conflicting values and
personalities. Through the Meeting Masters Research Project at the University
of Michigan, author John E. Tropman observed and interviewed the nation's
most successful meeting experts to find out how to make meetings both stimulating
and productive. Based on his findings, Tropman formulated seven principles
and fourteen commandments for implementing dynamic meetings.
Teleclass for facilitators and group members.
skills and attitudes for the new and experienced
facilitator who wants to get their group into
want to thank you for designing a course that lived up to
its advertisement. I found the daily curriculum practical
and thought provoking. The ideas developed each day created
foundations for the lessons to follow. Many "acts of
facilitation" were immediately applicable to my facilitation
practice. The tone of each class was a supportive learning
environment. Each class ended on a note of high-energy with
encouraging words and an opportunity for feedback. --Steven
Pyser, J.D., Consultant--
Random Acts of Facilitation, 5-Day Teleclass
This class will meet over a telephone bridge line for five
consecutive weekdays October 11-15, 2004 at 10:00 AM PDT,
1:00 PM EDT (NY Time) to cover 25+ facilitative actions you
can take to empower and move groups forward. This course,
that you can take from the comfort of your own home or office,
is for beginning facilitators, group leaders, or group members
who simply want to know more about facilitation so that they
can make their groups more effective. These "discrete"
acts of facilitation also lend themselves to being taught
to your group members who desire to become more self-facilitative.
the 5-Day Format/Training works...
1. You dial into your class every day for 5 days (Mon-Fri)
for a 60-minute focused training segment using a conferencing
2. You work a 25-point checklist during the 5 days (about
an hour a day of study and field work) which you complete
by Friday afternoon, or sooner if you wish.
3. You will have the opportunity to discuss issues on the
subject matter with the instructor and your classmates via
an online discussion forum during the course.
4. During the week, you may access the instructor via email
for help or situational questions.
Random Acts of Facilitation Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during the 5-Day
Introduction to the Facilitation
and Self Facilitation Skills.
1. Set the Stage.
2. Share the Dream.
3. Get Facilitation
5. Me First.
Relating with compassion and understanding.
6. Be Ignorant.
7. Make Smiles Happen.
8. Hold 'em High.
9. Acknowledge the Elephant.
10. Turn on Your Crap-Detector.
11. Build the Container.
12. Build trust.
13. Mine the Unexpected.
14. Evolve Your Team.
15. Honor the Process.
16. Facilitate Full Participation
Organizing and Presenting yourself
confidently, professionally, and authentically.
17. Prepare for Success.
18. Get Real.
19. Make Experiences, Not Speeches
20. Watch the Body Talk.
21. Be your message
Intervening to shift group energy
22. Tame the Tormentors.
24. Use the Struggle.
25. Break through barriers.
26. Facilitate from Within.
27. Embrace Facilitation as a Master's Path
to you of participating from the 5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation
1. Get a great introduction to the concept and practice of
facilitation skills if you are contemplating becoming a facilitator,
team leader, board member, manager, mediator, etc.
2. Never waste another minute in an ineffective meeting again.
3. Learn how to challenge and empower every group you come
in contact with.
4. Learn skills to help groups make quantum leaps in their
5. Be a catalyst for positive change in your community.
Also included with your
In addition to the 5-Day training described above, you also
1. Comprehensive 15-page Student Learning Guide.
access to the participant-only website (lots of resources,
3. Free access to the RealAudio version of the 5-Day training.
4. Free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value).
The full cost of training/access is only $79 if you register
by September 30th. ($89 for the general public) including
a free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value). Everything
you read about above is included. And, we offer a 100%-satisfaction-guaranteed
October 11-15, 2004, 10:00 AM PDT, 1:00 PM EDT (NY Time),
60 minutes each day.
I would recommend to anyone who wants to experience excellent
modeling of what good facilitation is, to sign up for this
teleclass. --Elain Wylie, Life Coach--
upon completion of your registration, you will receive an
email with instructions to access the course and free article
bank. This course is limited
to 20 individuals, first come, first served.
here to register now
5-Day Real Audio Version
You'll be provided
with access to three separate recorded offerings of the five-hour
teleclass (15 hours total) that you can listen to online and
follow along in the learning guide is used in the live class.
here to purchase for $69. We will also include
a free copy of the Portable
Article Bank ($29 value) with your purchase. We
offer a 100%-satisfaction-guaranteed guarantee.
5-Day CD Version
The Compact Disk (CD)
version comes with all of the self-guided features listed
above, together with 5 CD's you'll receive by mail that you
can listen to anywhere you have access to a CD player.
here to purchase the
CD Version for $79
plus $4 Shipping and Handling
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If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with this training,
simply email us with a request to refund/credit your credit
card in the full amount and we will do so immediately. It's
our policy to do this and we honor this in every single case.
here for a one-minute audio testimonial from several
participants on the final day of the teleclass.