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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0035| January 8, 2002
7,700 Subscribers

Intervention Skill

*Intervene for Your Group's Highest Good

Intervention is an art with many fine points. Learn when, how, and why to effectively correct the course of your group.


Intervention is one of the most challenging tasks facing facilitators. From the facilitator's perspective, intervention involves interrupting the flow of group process to correct dysfunctional behaviors, patterns, or interactions that weaken group process.

Knowing when, how and why to intervene with a group is an art that takes courage, finely tuned intuition, and practice. While effective intervention is the mark of a seasoned facilitator, there are some basic principles that can help you become more comfortable with this skill, whatever your level of experience.

Basic Intervention Principles

Intervene to Support Your Group's Agenda
Intervene to respond to the current needs and concerns of your group. For example, if your group is engaged in a problem-solving session and they are making good progress, don't intervene to discuss a new problem-solving model just because you like it better that the one they're using.

Anticipate and Intuit
Sometimes, intervention requires that you anticipate and verify the group's needs, of which they may be unaware. For example, "I sense that you're not ready to interrupt your small-group processing to move on to the next step. Is my perception correct?"

At times, your feelings as a facilitator may be a reflection of those of your group, and thus may be cues to gauge the timing and relevance of your intervention. For instance, how many times have you felt the tension in a group that no one is addressing? So trust your subtle feelings and intuition and check them out with the group. For example, "I feel a lot of tension in this room right now. Does anyone else feel it? ... What's it about?"

Macro vs. Micro Interventions
As a general rule, interventions should impose the minimal amount of structure on a group for it to accomplish its task. Some interventions change the course of the entire group long after the intervention is over and impose a substantial degree of structure. These are referred to as "macro" interventions. For instance, if you notice your group wandering across many unrelated topics, you might intervene to suggest they develop an agenda before moving forward. This macro intervention would apply to the whole group, and change the course of their meeting for some time by offering a structured approach to follow.

By contrast, a "micro" intervention tends to provide very little structure, to individuals or subgroups, and only for a short period of time. For instance, intervening to call an individual on breaking a ground rule would be considered a micro intervention because it focuses on an individual, has a short-term impact on the course of the meeting, and imposes very little change on its structure.

Generally, it's best to perform macro interventions before micro interventions. This is true because very often, the micro intervention will be included in the macro intervention and therefore won't be necessary. For example, if individuals are talking over one another, an intervention to have the group develop ground rules would include addressing how people communicate within the group.

Timing Your Intervention
Always intervene in the "here and now." Don't intervene today on something that happened last week. Interventions in the present moment are far more powerful and relevant. On the other hand, if you're doing "Developmental" Facilitation (see below), you may want to give the group a little time to intervene on the behavior themselves prior to jumping in.

Intervene on Who?
When deciding who should be the subject of your intervention, address those group members who contribute to the action, interaction, or pattern of the dysfunctional behavior you observe. This can be an individual, subgroup, or the entire group.

Basic vs. Developmental Intervention
How you intervene will depend on whether you're doing basic or developmental facilitation. Typically, you'll intervene during basic facilitation simply to focus on the actions that will get the group back on task to accomplishing their immediate goal. 

Interventions during developmental facilitation usually focus on the interactions or sources of dysfunctional behaviors and support group members in their own diagnosis and course corrections.

Next week we'll discuss how deep an intervention should be using a model that breaks interventions into five levels.

* This material was adapted from "The Skilled Facilitator," Roger Schwarz, Jossey-Bass Inc., 1994, wiith permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Your assignment this week is to reflect on your ability to intervene in group behavior. Choose a type of intervention that's been a challenge for you in the past and either practice it this week or journal about the challenge and come up with three things you can do to be more effective in this area.  Please email us about what you discover. We'd love to get hear from you! 

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 
As a Facilitator, tell us about your intervention style.

For example, to explain your style, you might answer questions such as: 

-What models or methods do you use to guide your interventions? 
-How do you know when it's time to intervene and how do you go about doing it? 
-What kinds of behaviors do you intervene on?
- What kinds of statements or questions are your favorites interventions?
-What's the most difficult behavior for you to intervene on?

We appreciate your input on this question that would be valuable for other readers to know about. We may use your responses as a resource for future issues of the journal or for other works.  Please email us your responses. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection of responses. Thanks so much for your consideration of our request.

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. Or call me at 800-216-3854. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading! 

Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on January 15, 2002. 


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