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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0052| May 7, 2002
7,700 Subscribers


Facilitating with Technology 
 Know the pros and cons of facilitating with technology.

The Point

With all the hoopla today around the Internet and the use of communications technologies, it's tempting to fall into thinking that technology might solve some of our most nagging problems, or even worse, draw our focus away from them into an acceptable distraction.

In this issue, we'll explore some of the benefits and pitfalls of facilitating with technology to help you to determine when best to use it, and when not to.


Benefits of Employing Technology in Your Facilitation:

- To help groups in different locations work together in real-time.
This is a key reason many organizations employ technology and can save lots of time and money in travel costs if implemented effectively.

- To build trust with groups in major conflict.
"Virtual" communication changes the group dynamic providing distance (both physical and psychological) that can sometimes break up patterns that contribute to conflict because members can focus on the technology in addition to one another. Often this gives them something else that they can hate in common.

Most forms of technology create anonymous data, making it easier to find agreement when information is separated from personalities.

- To increase the creativity of "stuck" groups
Technologies can provide the means for groups to come together and collect their ideas in a clean format without all the paper, flipcharts, and other clutter that can impede the creative process. Some technologies even encourage the creative process by providing easy means to vote on and evaluate multiple options.

- To increase group productivity and speed.
Certain types of audience response systems and groupware allow large numbers of participants to vote on and prioritize lists instantly, saving lots of time over the manual method.

- To provide real-time documentation of group activities.
Computer technology can provide group members printouts of group process, results, and action items immediately so that they leave the meeting with copies in hand to share with others, and as a guide to help put the energy of the meeting into action. 

- To quantify qualitative information.
Tools exist that can quickly collect, analyze, and store ratings from participants on subjective information. This information can statistically reveal group tendencies and can also aid in measuring group progress over time.

- To elicit anonymous feedback.
The ease with which technology can generate anonymous feedback from a large number of people is a great way to get more objective data from participants that fear retribution from authority. This paperless approach also allows for easy storage and retrieval for a variety of purposes such as coaching, training recommendations, and developing employee competencies.

- To link disparate organizations.
With the rapid changes in organizations due to mergers, downsizing, and reengineering, technology can link groups from different parts of the enterprise and create "knowledge management" solutions, which quickly give groups applied information about various tasks.

When Not to Use Technology

- To cover or substitute for a lack of good facilitation skills.
Technology is simply a tool for facilitation and should not be viewed as a crutch. An unskilled carpenter with a hydraulic hammer can build a crummy structure fast.

- When the group's decisions are likely to be overruled by an autocratic decision maker.
Facilitation with technology will often encourage a democratic process. Those leaders that don't approve of this approach will resist it. Once again, leader buy-in to process is critical.

- To avoid solving problems.
Technology often brings people together through anonymous means. It's easy for people to focus on the technology and seem hard at work while avoiding the critical issues such as role clarification, expectations, or examining flawed strategies.

- To introduce newly formed groups to working together.
Technology applied to a new group coming together for the first time can block the intimacy needed to start the stages of group evolution. People need a chance to get acquainted face-to-face before leaning on technology for group work.

- To avoid confrontations or the building of trusting interpersonal relationships.
People can hide behind the technology to avoid the challenging issues of power, control, and conflict.

Adapted from "The Facilitator's Fieldbook," Justice & Jamieson.


This week, think about how you might better employ or balance the use of technology to support facilitation in your organization.  I'd love to hear you're perspectives and experiences. Please email your comments to us.

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 

What are your lessons learned in using technology to support facilitation?

This week, we're asking for you to reflect on your past experience using technology as either a participant or as a facilitator in support of group process or organizational effectiveness. Please send us your input and we'll send the entire collection to everyone who contributes.

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

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About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. Or call me at 800-216-3854. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading! 

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on May 14, 2002.   

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