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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0036| January 15, 2002
7,700 Subscribers

Intervention Skill

*How "Deep" Do I Intervene in Group Process? 

Know the appropriate level to intervene in group process to achieve the desired result.


Dr. Schwarz in his book, "The Skilled Facilitator," offers an excellent model describing the content of interventions at progressively deeper levels, from superficial to deeply personal. These five levels are briefly summarized below and also illustrated in a diagram you can view here.

Level 1: Structural-Functional
Focus on attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions about roles and functions of members with little regard for individuals' characteristics.

Level 2: Performance-Goal

Focus on attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions about performance in a way that focuses on goals rather than processes.

Level 3: Instrumental
Focus on attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions about changing work behavior and work relationships (processes).

Level 4: Interpersonal
Focus on attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions that members have about each other (feelings, relationships).

Level 5: Intrapersonal
Focus on attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions that each member has about his or her own functioning, identity, and existence (self-awareness). 

Basic Guidelines for Using this Model

For developmental facilitation, intervene at the level sufficient to identify the root causes of the problem. These types of interventions tend to be deeper according to the above model.

For basic facilitation, intervene at the lowest level necessary for the group to accomplish its substantive task at hand. These interventions tend to be more superficial.

Intervene only to the level that the group is willing to commit its energy and resources. This is not to preclude explanations to the group of the consequences and rewards of going deeper and discussions that might create an environment or approach where members would feel more comfortable doing so. It's just that group members should consent to the depths interventions might reach before they are employed.

Reader Wendy Barnes also offers this quote from The Tao of Leadership, by John Heider. "Run an honest, open group. Your job is to (facilitate) and illuminate what is happening. Interfere as little as possible. Interference, however brilliant, creates dependency."


Examples of interventions at each level are included here.

Level 1: Structural-Functional
An intervention here might involve exploring the responsibilities of a new Information Technology (IT) director a company is considering hiring to solve some of the IT problems they're having.

Level 2: Performance-Goal

An intervention at this level could explore problems within the organization in the IT arena, without discussing any individual involved.

Level 3: Instrumental
Interventions at the instrumental level might explore how certain individuals carry out their roles, share information, make decisions, and coordinate activities that affect the IT issue. For example, perhaps Mr. Jones orders software without thoroughly exploring the needs of all the software users.

Level 4: Interpersonal
Interventions at the interpersonal level may inquire what staff members think, feel, or believe when they aren't queried by Mr. Jones when software purchases are made for them.

Level 5: Intrapersonal
Interventions at the intrapersonal level might explore what individuals think, feel, or believe about themselves around certain issues. For instance, an intervention at this level might involve asking Mr. Jones what beliefs, feelings, or attitudes he uses to guide his decisions on software purchases. 

Ultimately, the purpose of interventions is to move a group toward it's goal. If the group's goal is simply to solve the problem at hand with no desire to look at underlying patterns that might cause the problem, then we must respect that desire and use only those higher-level interventions appropriate to that end.

If on the other hand, groups seek to uncover and heal their dysfunctional patterns, interventions to the deepest level may be necessary and encouraged based on the groups' willingness in the moment.

* 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 examine how your approach to interventions corresponds to this model. Let us know if this model strikes a chord with you.  We'd love to hear your perspective on this important subject.  Please email your comments to us.

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on January 22, 2002. 


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