Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0383, Mar 3, 2009

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I don't usually venture into political areas with this ezine. However, we are in a global socioeconomic-political situation that appears to be unraveling before our eyes, the seeds of which were sown right under our noses, and with our consent. Given that, I'd feel negligent if I didn't address at least some of my observations from a facilitative standpoint.

With that said, this week's issue Let's Move Beyond Voting on Positions looks at the gap between complexity of the issues and the processes we use to address them. It also proposes some ways we might use to propose facilitation as a powerful alternative to mechanical debating processes.

Expert Interview Topic on Body Language: Thursday, March 12th, we interview, Michael Grinder author of The Illusive Obvious, on the fine points of non-verbal communication. Click here for further info and registration.

We hope our work continues to bring inspiration to your world. Thank you for being a part of our growing community. Please continue to send the wonderful feedback.



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The Point

Let's Move Beyond Voting on Positions
Represent facilitation skills as a powerful alternative to mechanical debate

Relating Skill

I was watching an interview last Tuesday related to the Economic Conference at the White House held last week with members of Congress and the Senate. The interviewee mentioned the use of Robert's Rules of Order, to which the interviewer asked, "What are Robert's Rules of Order?"

It struck me, as it often has, that the most powerful political bodies in our land still resort to Robert's Rules for their meetings. This 100-year old system, while effective for formal debate, is very limited in its ability to inspire collaboration and to reach consensus on complex issues.

I'm sure you've noticed, as I have, that the issues facing the U.S. and the world are anything if not complex. Very complex! If fact, they are so complex that I can understand why we avoid tackling them. I know from my own personal experience that digging deep to seek the source of seemingly intractable problems is not usually all that much fun. It's far easier to simply stand in the same position we've always stood (we elect our leaders based on their positions, right?), move into debate (relatively civilized arguments), then put it to a vote, ala Robert's Rules of Order.

The problem with this system, in terms of tapping into human creativity, is two-fold. First, without exploring the interests under our positions, we don't usually get to see what inspires them. Hence we miss data and motivations that could help us to really understand the source of the problem, and motivations that keep it in place.

For example, if I stand affixed to my position that I want to see teachers paid more, it may not be obvious why I want that. My interest in having teachers paid more may be driven by my belief that this will improve the quality of education my child receives (my interest). But what if the system itself has flaws that limit the effectiveness of teachers no matter what they are paid? By standing on my position, I may never discover the true source of the problem, or alternative solutions that might meet multiple interests. This is a simple example of the circles I believe occur within our governing bodies, public and private.

Madness is rare in individuals--but in groups, parties, nations, and ages, it is the rule.
—Friedrich Nietzsche—

The second problem I see, that I address in my book This Meeting Sux, is our pervasive ignorance of the complexities of facilitating group thought. Groups are simply more complex than we think they are. We tend to assume that if we put a bunch of great minds in a room, they are going to generate the best ideas and solutions possible. True, they have that potential, but absent effective group process tools and facilitation, these kinds of gatherings can create our worst nightmares. History is replete with such examples where collectives of brilliant leaders were assembled to solve difficult problems, unaware of the group think pitfalls they had fallen into. For example: failures to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bay of Pigs invasion, escalation of the Vietnam war, the ill-fated hostage rescue in Iran, the Challenger disaster, the rush to war with Iraq, etc.

I think it would be helpful if more of us understood first, that group process is more difficult than it looks. And second, while group work can be difficult, the results delivered from work groups, committees, and governing bodies need not be mediocre, surface-level treatment of the problems at hand. If modern group process tools and facilitators are involved, the results we achieve can be enhanced far beyond what we've previously believed possible.


So why are our governing bodies and other key groups not using basic facilitation skills that have been available to us for decades? Is it because we would all rather hold onto our positions and beliefs than solve our most pressing problems?

Sadly, this often may be the case, but not always. I've interviewed people who are expert at citizen democracy who have run very successful experiments where average citizens get together within the framework of facilitated processes and develop wonderful alternatives to some of our most pervasive societal challenges. Isn't it time that our governments, national and local, begin to embrace these kinds of processes? Here are some things you can do to facilitate that.

Share this article with members and leaders from groups you're connected with and encourage them to experiment using facilitators and collaboration tools in place of Robert's Rules of Order.

Is your leader afraid of losing control? Share this great little tool called The Interaction Method with them. This tool assures that leaders get the best from their group while not losing control and authority of the final outcome.

Listen to my interviews with Tom Atlee and Jim Rough. They've done some excellent work on citizen democracy and cooperacy which attempts to move us beyond our current superficial means to solving problems. If you are part of a non-profit organization, I'll send these to you for free.

What am I missing? What do you suggest we do to move beyond positions and voting in solving problems in our communities?


What is your experience of bring facilitation into groups stifled by procedure? Are there any tips you might add to this list? I'd love to hear from you. Send me your experiences and ideas by replying to this email.

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