Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0376, Jan 13, 2009

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As well as we might plan our group processes, meetings, and training events, they seldom go exactly as planned. One of the marks of a seasoned facilitator is their ability to glean valuable insights and learning in the unexpected events that inevitably occur. Finding the gift in things going "wrong" is a skill that makes facilitation just that much richer for you and your groups. This week's article, The Process is Always the Same, explores the value in cultivating this skill, helping us to take on the attitude that there really aren't any mistakes. This attitude is the prerequisite for seizing opportunities when the unexpected happens.

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Facilitation Checklists

The Point

The Process is Always the Same
Treat "Problems" as Learning Opportunities

Group Dynamics Skill

Sometimes the objective of a given session doesn't go as planned. Things can be going just fine when suddenly, the unexpected happens and threatens your entire process. In my humble experience as a facilitator, I've learned to look forward to things "going wrong!" Why? Because, if they are handled well, they can present some of the richest learning or barrier-removing opportunities available. In fact, I've come to see these occurrences as gifts, offering my groups the chance to explore in ways I could never have planned. 

These events may come from either inside or outside of the group. But no matter their source, they give you the chance to see how participants behave in the midst of life happening. And because as human beings, we tend to operate according to patterned responses, how we do anything is how we do everything. Or put another way, "the process is always the same." So these opportunities can be used to make participants aware of behaviors that are either expediting or blocking the results they're after.


Let's say you're facilitating a work group seeking to solve some of their staff problems. The group leader explains that a recurring issue is that few of their members actually show up at their staff meetings, and those that do show up aren't really contributing. 

Very early in the meeting you notice some patterns with the group leader. First, he talks most of the time and seems bent on having an answer for everything. He doesn't check with the group about what they want to work on and consistently changes the group's focus for no obvious reason. The rest of the group clams up when he does this. It's apparent to you that this is a common pattern probably contributing to the problem.

So you decide to use this as an opportunity to check out this pattern. You first get Bob's permission to accept feedback on his behaviors. After some inquiry amongst the group, you find that most of the group feels put off and undervalued by Bob's behavior at meetings to the point they don't often want to come or contribute. 

After questioning Bob about his perspective, you find that he never knew how the group really felt and took their silence as an invitation to just talk through the meetings. Here's a chance for you to ask him, "Where else in your life might you be operating on poor assumptions without checking them out?

This kind of intervention can cause powerful shifts in participants by getting them to unravel patterns real-time and to reflect on where else this pattern is showing up in their lives. Your simple awareness of disempowering patterns and their effect on your life is sometimes all that's required to change it.

The next time you're facilitating or participating in a group, be aware of your own patterns of behavior in the group. After the meeting, clarify the pattern for yourself in writing and ask yourself where else in your life this pattern shows up. Make a decision to either change it or do more of it (depending on what it is). Get help from those you trust to make this shift in your behavior. I'd love to hear about your experiences. Please send us your stories, questions and comments.

This Week's Offer

Facilitator's Checklist Collection

This 38-page collection contains 25 checklists on practically every aspect of group facilitation and training including meeting preparation, communication, participation, intervention, teamwork, workshop preparation, and more...

Table of Contents

1. Agenda Template
2. Burn Out Self-Test
3. Consensus Building Checklist
4. Conflict Resolution Checklist
5. Creativity Competency Checklist
6. Facilitation Contracting Questionnaire
7. Facilitator's Full Participation Inventory
8. Facilitating Organizational Change
9. Facilitating Team Development Initiatives
10. Flip Charting Tips
11. “Hold It” Intervention Technique
12. Instructional Design Checklist
13. Intervention Checklist
14. Master Facilitator Competency Self-Assessment
15. Master Meeting Checklist
16. Meeting Manager Checklist
17. Participant’s Full Participation Inventory
18. Participant Meeting Preparation Checklist
19. Planning Checklist
20. Planning And Implementation Checklist
21. Presentation Preparation
22. Problem-Solving/Decision-Making
23. Teleconference Facilitation Checklist
24. Top Ten Things To Do As A Facilitator
25. Workshop Preparation Check List

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