Facilitator Journal | Issue #0528, February 28, 2012
I'm eager to present you with this
week's article from a slightly different point of view. Facilitation
Crisis in Small town USA, is an intriguing story presented as a case study of a
I had several years ago that went somewhat awry. While this issue
is a bit long, I think you'll find the insights I gleaned from the experience informative.
If any of you have had provocative experiences with
groups either as a participant or as a facilitator,
please tell us about it. We may invite you to interview
with us to highlight your story as a case study for
a future issue
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Facilitation Crisis in Small town USA
can we learn from our mistakes?
A few years ago, I had a disappointing experience as a member
of a local personal growth group. Even as a person publishing
a weekly ezine on the subject of facilitation, it turns out
that my passion for facilitation may have been a major contributing factor to the demise
of this group. I decided to write about the experience
to seek some clarity into what went wrong and what I
might have done differently. I hope that many of you,
who may have had similar experiences may glean
some lessons from it as I have.
Here's the essence of the story.
joined a small support group that had already been together
for several months using a personal growth book as their
guide. At the completion of the book, they decided to
split into two different subject groups and invited
three new participants into the groups, of which I was
one. Group 1 continued with the book with a facilitator;
Group 2 went in a different direction. Group 2 is the
focus of this article.
At our first meeting, the de facto group leader immediately
lead us into an activity for the first 20 minutes. Feeling
a little uncomfortable starting a group this way, particularly
when there were three new members, I spoke up and suggested
that we allow each of us to introduce ourselves, clarify the group's purpose, our expectations from it, and talk about how we were going to conduct it. I also suggested
that we adopt the ground rules that were in use
by the other group. Everyone agreed.
Then I experienced a great deal of resistance from the
leader to talk about a process, and I began to feel
frustrated. I expressed my frustration, perhaps a bit
too strongly, in a way that I feel may have put some
members off a bit. I continued, to no avail, to explain
to this one person the value of process attention. Finally
someone jumped in and suggested we go around the room
to hear what each of us wanted from the group.
The subject of facilitation never came up again and
no facilitator or formal leader was assigned. I consciously
chose to surrender any responsibility to facilitate
After a few weeks, and after a particularly unproductive
meeting, discussions began among some members outside
the group about discontinuing it. We had agreed earlier
that if anyone in the group decided to leave, we would
come to a meeting and explain our reasoning. Therefore,
we decided that it was time for both groups to meet
and discuss process issues.
During this meeting, one member facilitated and some
interesting things came up. Two participants from the
group spoke out about my behavior stating that I tried
to force a process that they didn't want, and felt demeaned
by me. By the time they finished, I was THE problem.
I garnered my most diplomatic conflict resolution and
facilitation skills to elicit feedback from them. I
asked them to stay with me to work it through, but to
no avail. Their belief was that additional members,
especially me, tarnished the original group. My efforts
to express a larger perspective to them seemed to fall
on deaf ears. Again, I was the problem and they were
leaving. However, the other members did not feel the
Group 2 disbanded and I felt that something had gone
terribly wrong. Through reflection, I came up with the
following points. I share them and this story in the
hopes that some of you may have been in similar circumstances
and may be able to glean some value and lessons from
it as I have.
- My enthusiasm and belief in facilitation may sent
the group off course. When my passion for the process
became more important than the process, the process
went haywire. Hard to admit, but it looks like I may
have fallen into the trap of getting too attached to
the idea of facilitation and trying to foist them on others. Sometimes it's best to let the need for facilitation become apparent to a group over time.
- I surrendered my responsibility to facilitate this
group because the group resisted an assigned facilitator. This is another amazing trap. I am one who preaches
the value of facilitating as a participant and here
it looks like I let my ego and my feelings get the better
of me. Bottom line: because I wasn't in charge (lead
facilitator that is), I just let the group go off course.
In essence, I played the role of a dysfunctional participant
to make it apparent why facilitation is important. Certainly
this was not my intention, but this may have been my
- New members change a group dynamic. Sometimes
it's hard for an established group, particularly one
not familiar with group process, to believe that they
must start over in some ways to bring in the new members.
- Accepting poor leadership is a choice we all made.
Still as participants we had the option to exercise
leadership from within the circle. Why do we find it
so easy to give up our informal power when we don't
have the formal title?
- Developing ground rules is a good thing. Remembering
to enforce them is even better!This experience
reinforces and highlights the importance of agreeing
to ground rules and appropriately intervening when they
are breached. In this case, several ground rules were
Discussions were conducted with partial group membership
outside the group about problems going on inside the
o Open sharing of personal email interactions were
shared without permission with select group members.
had the perfect opportunity here to intervene on a breach
of ground rules but completely forgot about them! Go
- Disowning our power through silence can contribute
to group unrest. There were many group
members who were silent and never voiced support either
way. In many ways, I was expressing the previously silent
voice of frustration toward the group
leader by members unwilling to voice it themselves. There were many opportunities to intervene on
this silence. Their input would have been very valuable to hear.
- Separate personal agenda from group agenda. When
I first requested that certain facilitative functions be
performed by a leader who didn't understand or support
such functions, my request was ignored. I could have
stated my desire for a facilitative process and queried
the desires of the group rather than going toe to toe
with the leader. In essence I gave her all the power
and failed to draw on the power of the group.
- Some groups simply do not want to be bothered with
attention to process. Either choose to stay or go.
Just make sure you find out that it's a group position,
not simply a vocal minority. As I strongly believe most
healthy groups want a healthy process.
- Wow! I really learn a lot from my mistakes...if
I take the time to unravel their cause. Giving myself
permission to experiment and make mistakes in this volunteer
group really helped me learn a few things about facilitation
that I might not have learned otherwise.
Add Your Comments
you ever run into any of these dynamics? What did you
learn? I'd love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and experiences with me by clicking on Add Your Comments to share your questions, feedback, or comments.
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