Facilitator Journal | Issue #0377, Jan 20, 2009
I take pause this morning as I write this issue of the MFJ. We just inaugurated the first minority President of the United States, with perhaps the most passionate majority mandate, in our history. While these times pose great challenges, I am grateful that there appears to be a significant concentration of energy behind this new leader. And while no man or woman personally can make the changes we need, the unifying commitment that seems to exist to an extent I've never experienced, has great potential to move us forward in remarkable ways.
As facilitators, we know the power and importance of "full participation." So today, as the U.S. unifies behind a higher ideal for a more hopeful future, we review the importance of this alignment in our groups in this week's article, Getting Full Participation.
at a Distance. This
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Learn different strategies
to engage participants in different ways.
Group Dynamics Skill
of full group participation is often overlooked and undervalued,
particularly by groups whose inordinate focus is on getting "results"
at the expense of the process. Often, the damage
done by this approach, in time, is what stimulates a group
to seek expert facilitation. Continued inattention to process
may lead to weakened or strained relationships between group
members, decline in group effectiveness, decreasing buy-in
and resultant support of decisions made by the group, reduction
of group energy, synergy, and enthusiasm, and a real lack
of enjoyment participating in the group.
Why is full participation important?
- To get larger buy-in from group members, which tends to make
the execution of any solutions more long-lasting and efficient.
- To generate fewer opportunities for barriers to develop. Some
content being held by silent group members can provide the
missing piece necessary to free up a group that is stuck.
- To lower the tendency for a group to fall into group-think and resultant
narrowing of perspectives and possibilities.
- To get access to the full wisdom and knowledge available to
the group. Often, those who are the most quiet have the most
to say, as they tend to be more observant and sometimes more
objective about what's going on in a group.
- Collaboration requires full participation. Just as good
democracy requires hearing many voices, group problem-solving,
learning, visioning, decision-making, etc. is more effective
with full participation.
What is full participation and how do we facilitate it? To
answer this question, it may be helpful to view participation from a holistic perspective that includes the physical,
mental, and emotional dimensions as shown in the Venn diagram
At the physical level it's important to provide various
activities that engage participants so as to accommodate
different learning styles and preferences, i.e. visual,
aural, and kinesthetic Participants must be given the opportunity
to participate in ways that work for them. For example,
they may need time to share their observations and experiences,
and possibly using different formats, i.e. verbal, small
group, large group, journaling, drawing, etc. Finally, the
environment should be physically comfortable and conducive
to the kind of participation you're aiming for. For example,
if you're planning to pair people up, a configuration of
long meeting tables tightly arranged would probably not
be appropriate. If you're aiming for lots of large group
interactive discussion, you'd want to set up a circle or
horseshoe arrangement of chairs instead of a classroom like
At the mental level it can be useful to present new information
that has some relationship to what's already familiar to
the group. Inviting participants to share where they already
are is easy for them to do, and gives them a sense of their
starting point. To insure higher levels of participation,
you must also be the gatekeeper of boredom. Strive to make
your activities and presentations interesting, compelling
and provocative to stimulate people. Stay conscious of the
level of energy and engagement in the room and change something
if interest appears to be lacking. Again, it's also important
to be aware of the differences between visual, aural, and
kinesthetic (VAK) participants and use multiple modes of
presentation to engage each of these senses. Just remember,
keen interest equals active participation!
At the emotional level it's clear that people will participate
only to the level they feel safe in doing so. Trust and
safety have arguably the largest impact on the level of
participation you can expect. Build trust gradually, interjecting
increasingly risky activities as trust increases. Facilitating
and managing an environment of mutual respect, acknowledgment,
and validation in all interactions and intra-actions between
yourself and all participants will foster a feeling of safely
and maximize participation. Further, presenting material,
exercises, and processes that are directly relevant to what
the group is there to accomplish is critical to inspiring
their involvement. If relevance is not apparent during initial
phases of an activity, its objectives and purpose should
be explained and agreed upon at the start to get buy-in
from the group.
What are some of
the challenges you have to facilitating full participation
in your groups? I'd
love to hear about your experiences. Please send us your stories, questions and comments.
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