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
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
Basic vs. Developmental
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
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.