Some of the most effective facilitator techniques reflect The Clover Practice™ in action.
Tell the Truth, Always
In the largest sense, a facilitator creates a safe space to discuss “the truth.” Safety is communicated by the facilitator’s demeanor, attitude and structured processes for full participation. There can be as many versions of “the truth” of a situation as people in the room. A facilitator reinforces the expectation for listening to all the views.
To elicit views of “the truth,” facilitators ask engaging focus questions.
Great focus questions will take the group to new levels of understanding and new possibilities. (Field testing those questions in advance with a couple of participants is a very good idea.)
Another way in which a facilitator helps members of a group “Tell the Truth, Always,” is by asking clarifying questions.
1. Could you say more about what was going on?
2. You said it was “an unbelievable amount.” Can you give us an estimate?
3. Has anyone else experienced a similar problem?
These clarifying questions help ensure that the views are challenged rather than the people. (Creating ground rules also reinforces the norm of focusing on ideas, not individuals.)
Did you ever have an experience like this?
You are jotting key points on the flip chart. You suddenly realize that there is no sign of the box lunches. You think about how full the agenda is and how important it is to stay on time. Your mind races. And then you realize that you haven’t heard a thing that was just said.
A first impulse might be to fake it and exclaim, “Great point!”
The truthful alternative is, “I’m sorry. My mind wandered for a minute when I realized lunch wasn’t here yet. Could you please repeat the highlights of what you just said?” Groups are generally very forgiving and appreciate the honesty. We don’t need to be superhuman. And when we tell the truth ourselves, we are doing some very powerful modeling for everyone else.
Finally, a facilitator provides accurate information and feedback to clients, even if it is unpleasant news. It matters how you tell “the truth” of a situation.
Speak for Yourself
When you Speak for Yourself to a client, you bring to the conversation what you have heard, seen, felt, experienced, observed. The more observable facts, the better.
A group needs to deal with a difficult issue, but members clam up. If you said, “You are avoiding discussing X,” you would not be speaking for yourself. You would be talking about them. An alternative would be to say, “When I asked about X, the room got very quiet and no one has responded to my question. What is the worry you have or the reason it’s difficult to discuss this?”
Putting your own observations on the table and asking what it means is much more effective than telling people what their problems are.
You could tell project managers that their 14 day cycle time is “unacceptably long.” They will hear you with more equanimity if you leave out the value judgment (unacceptably long) and say, “The industry standard is 7 days compared to 14 days and I would like to help you achieve that.”
Declare Your Interdependence
One of the biggest facilitation challenges is helping groups think beyond their corner of the world and to consider the systems of which they are a part. It can even be a challenge for groups to think about what their stakeholders need.
A facilitator can encourage groups to include the right people in their deliberations in the first place. The facilitator’s probing questions can illuminate interconnections:
1. Whose cooperation do we need to make this work?
2. What unintended consequences might follow?
3. What can we do now to avoid them?
Facilitating any process improvement effort requires discussion of where processes start and end (which can be far removed from the group trying to make improvements). Process improvement will always involve helping a group consider how their work connects with the rest of the organization.
A facilitator can help a group recognize how it is causing some of its own problems by asking, “If we were on the other side of this, how would our actions look?”
Doing our Grown Up Homework
I believe that adults who want to be emotionally healthy need to do some reflection around their experiences growing up. The coping mechanisms we learned unconsciously as children may not serve us well as adults in the workplace. As facilitators, it is imperative that we do this. We take responsibility for guiding the work of whole groups of people. We need to approach that work with the healthiest communication and behaviors.