The A to Z of OD: F is for Facilitation

Many a jobbing OD consultant will tell you that there are three strands to what they offer: OD or change consulting, coaching and facilitation.  Today, I will explore facilitation: what it is and isn’t, a simple checklist of things to consider when facilitating and the tricky question of managing your own and others’ anxiety.

What is facilitation?

Webster’s (1913) dictionary defines to facilitate as:

“To make easy or less difficult; to free from difficulty or impediment; to lessen the labour of; as, to facilitate the execution of a task.”

I like this definition because it implies facilitation is helpful when there is difficulty in executing a task.  Clearly this will always involve following some sort of process, and there needs to be a task (content) and difficulty in completing it.  If tasks are not difficult to complete, then surely managers would complete them without needing a facilitator?

The facilitator’s role

So far, so good.  We have identified the need for process, content and management.  Facilitators can choose their role to control combinations of these three aspects; however, it is clear to me that they must control process.  I also find it useful to separate content from management, so the facilitator avoids taking on the role of the manager.  Unless of course, he is the manager.  In which case, I’d urge caution.

That said, the facilitator has a choice of three roles:

  • Process only – and the opportunity to provide observation and commentary on group dynamics
  • Content & Process– a typical role for hired experts who have something to offer on content. Paradoxically, it is oftentimes easier to facilitate when you do not know much about the content.  This I because you are uninhibited from becoming drawn into technical discussions
  • Management & Process – IMHO, best reserved for internal OD practitioners, or managers.

The process of facilitation

Let’s keep this simple.  (1) Make sure you understand the exam question; (2) Get the right people together[1]; (3) Control everything you possibly can before you start – plan your process, timings, agenda, breaks, materials, refreshments, meeting space, whatever else you can think of; (4) Let go of control on everything you possibly can once you start!

The process of facilitation is quite simple to describe; however, it is not so easy to do.  Your job is to facilitate the process.  Control that.  Control yourself.  Do no try to control other people.  Work with them as you find them.  Give them control, do not infantilise them by stepping in or taking over.  Do less yourself, so that they do more work.

Control yourself

The facilitator’s role ‘in the room’ is to encourage participants to follow the process, and to intervene as little as possible.  This is so that the participants do as much of the work as possible.  She will hold the space on behalf of the group, so they can focus on helping each other to answer the exam question.  She will ensure ground rules are observed and she will manage the processual flow of the session.

Arguably, she is totally irrelevant to the group, who are quite capable of being responsible for themselves.  Equally, she is essential… her presence will create the right conditions for the group to maximise their chance of finding a solution.  She will surface her observations of how the group is working and what might be holding it back.  Not only does facilitation help solve the immediate problem, but it also helps to build capability to solve similar problems in the future.  She does this by role modelling process.

To succeed, the facilitator must pay attention to what’s going on in the meeting and be reflectively aware of her responses to it, whilst remaining relatively objective.  She will feel anxious and will pick up on others’ anxiety.  That is natural and inevitable.

She must be utterly dependable.  That means, when the inevitable anxiety is projected onto her, she must be able to take it.

If she does her job well, they will hardly notice her, they will feel confident they could have run the session themselves, and then her continued presence may well become be totally irrelevant…

She will, however, know her presence was totally essential.

So, what?

I believe that better facilitative outcomes come from managing the conditions under which people interact.  Content should come primarily from the participants and the only behaviour the facilitator should seek to manage is his own.

As organisational issues become more complex, the players become highly specialised in what they do, and yet the whole organisational system – when working effectively – can produce more than the sum of its parts.  Our job as facilitators is to structure meetings so that people can accept their differences and find common ground by harnessing their capabilities for the greater good.  Facilitation is a core organisational development skill.

OD Thought Leader: Wendell L. French (1923 – 2009)

We have focused on the practice of OD is this blog series, so let us not forget that OD is an academic discipline.  French, and co-author Cecil Bell, are two of the godfathers of the study of organisation development.

They define OD as the “applied behavioural science discipline that seeks to improve organisations through planned, systematic, long range efforts focused on the organisation’s culture and its human and social process.”

First published in 1972, their classic text is a superb, if a little dated, academic discourse on the history, founding principles and practice of OD.  You can trace many contemporary OD authors’ work back to what French & Bell outlined all those years ago, with a little twist here and there to suit niches or to apply in certain situations.

If you are serious about studying OD, this is a great place to start.  And it is not all impenetrable academia, for example they neatly reframe their definition of OD: “organisation development is really about people helping each other to unleash the human spirit and human capability in the workplace.”  Sounds like a good idea to me, and as relevant today as it was nearly 50 years ago.

Recommended reading: Wendell French and Cecil Bell (2000) Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organization Improvement 6th Ed.  London, Pearson.

Next time: G is for Growth Mindset

[1] Follow the RACI principle and determine who: Is Responsible (or has the Resources needed under their control) for completing the task?  Is Accountable for completing the task? Can provide Consultative input (i.e. the specialist subject matter (content) experts)? Can provide the Information you will need and who needs to be Informed of the outcome?

The A to Z of OD (Part I)

This is the first part in a series of articles that will set out the A to Z of organisation development.  The series will consider the principles and practices, the tools and techniques and the past and present thought leaders that have shaped the field.  I don’t know exactly what will be included under each letter of the alphabet.  That will emerge.  If you have any thoughts on what you think should be included, get in touch and we’ll discover together where this goes!

But first, we must discover what is OD.  And to do that, we must first decide what is an organisation.

What is an organisation?

An organisation is a group of people who come together to achieve a common purpose.  They establish a collection of systems and processes that produces more together than the sum of their parts.  These components continually impact on each other, depend on each other to thrive and collectively contribute as a ‘whole system’ towards achieving the organisation’s purpose.

Different parts of any organisation perform different functions and can become highly specialised.  This specialisation creates a need for coordination at a ‘whole system’ level, i.e. the need for more and more sophisticated leadership and organisation.

What is organisation development?

Organisation development is an ongoing, systematic process of implementing sustainable change that recognises and draws on this ‘whole system’ thinking.  It also uses applied behavioural science to understand organisational and team dynamics.  After all, organisations are human systems – they only exist as a collection of people coming together to achieve a common purpose.

The goal of organisation development is to maximise the organisation’s effectiveness at serving its purpose.

A is for Action Learning

Action learning is a process whereby participants study their own actions and experiences to improve their performance.  You do it in conjunction with others in small groups called action learning sets, typically using the services of a facilitator.

Action learning propels your personal development further and faster in the real world.  This is because your peers are helping you reflect on your interactions with other people and the learning points arising.  This guides future action and develops real-world wisdom rather than traditional educational processes that focus purely on knowledge.  It is particularly suited to leadership development in organisations, where participants are working on real problems in the real world that affect real people.

OD thought leader: Chris Argyris

Chris Argyris (1923-2013) was a founding father of organisation development.  He is known for seminal work on developing learning organisations.  He pioneered Action Science – the study of how people choose their actions in difficult situations.

Action Learning and Action Science are related.  There is a risk the former may inadvertently encourage ‘single-loop’ learning: you act, you reflect on the outcome of that action and then make practical adjustments so that you revise the action you take next time.

Argyris argued that humans are overwhelmingly programmed to act based of defensive thinking.  Organisations reinforce this defensive behaviour through institutionalised routines.  Such routines prevent individuals expressing concerns, encourage avoiding behaviour and promote a lack of authenticity.  It is hard to break this vicious cycle.

Argyris proposed a double-loop of learning.  Double-loop learning means to be reflective in-the-moment, to continuously pay attention to the present to make your positive future intention a reality.  We must continue to learn, and we must continually relearn how to learn.  For me, reflective double-loop learning is one of the cornerstones of organisation development.

Recommended reading: Argyris, C. (2000). Flawed Advice and The Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They’re Getting Good Advice and When They’re Not. New York, Oxford.

Next time: B is for Behaviours

The trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension

The trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension is not that well understood in organisations.  And yet it is a fundamental equation that can help improve productivity, the quality of work relationship and outcomes.

Interpersonal tension is a sad thing.  It occurs when people simply don’t get along.  This could be a personality clash or residual tension from previous encounters.  Oftentimes, people simply avoid others they don’t get along with, and that’s fine if it doesn’t impact your work outcomes.  But what if your job requires you to work with someone with whom you have interpersonal tension?  I’m not talking about a saboteur who actively tries to stop you doing your job – that would require escalation to a more senior manager or the involvement of HR.  no, I’m talking more about the persistent naysayer who you just don’t get along with well enough to be able to focus on the task at hand.

Task tension is a happy thing. According to taskmanagementguide.com, task tension can be described as a positive feeling that a person or a group feels when they have an interesting work to be done. Task tension includes feelings of zeal and enthusiasm that encourage people to intensively research the task, seek for ways to complete it, build their collaboration around these aims, and overcome many interpersonal problems for the sake of common goals.

Chart: the trade-off between interpersonal tension and task tension

The chart shows that, over time, interpersonal tension decreases as interest in the task increases.  The challenge is to work on techniques that overcome interpersonal tension quickly so that teams can focus on the task.  This moves the interpersonal tension line from A to B, and hence saves time, increasing productivity.

And so, the workplace challenge is first to ensure there is a stream of interesting team-based collaborative work available so that task tension has a fighting chance of overcoming interpersonal tension.

And then, the workplace goal is for task tension to overcome interpersonal tension as quickly as possible.

This requires:

  • Self-awareness of our own behaviours and how those impact others (“Knowing me…”)
  • The ability to ‘let it go’ and work with others as you find them (“Knowing you…”)
  • So that you can get on with the task at hand (“Aha!”).

Knowing me, Knowing you, Aha!

It is important to bring people together to reflect on their own behavioural style, recognise that of others with whom they work and begin to understand how to collaborate.  It helps team members and their leaders play to their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and work collaboratively together for the benefit of the organisation. This is of fundamental importance in today’s complex workplace.

And so, I have three questions for you:

  • Do you have the reflective practice in place to be able to do this?
  • Do you have the right behavioural insights to facilitate the discussion?
  • Do you have the right facilitator to bring people together in a way that values differences, seeks common ground and builds collaboration without the session falling apart?

I can’t help you find a stream of interesting, team-based, collaborative work.  But if you’re searching for your “Aha!” moment, I believe I can help with expert facilitation supported by leading edge psychometrics.

 

Jeremy Lewis

Committed to making a difference in building collaborative teams that get the job done

 

Silence: there is now a Level Zero

I had the pleasure of exploring silence with a group of fellow coaches recently, facilitated ably by my colleague Ian Smith.  We concluded silence can be a gift, as it is received and understood by different people differently.

We experimented with silence to reflect on what silence meant, and then shared our thinking.  For the most part, the participants in this reflective discussion viewed silence as a positive thing, as it gives others time and space to think and reflect.  I was curious.  I see certain instances of silence as being quite destructive; those uncomfortable silences, when something needs to be said, but no one is saying it.  Like the silence that is taken as acquiescence in a meeting, but as soon as the meeting is over, people rebel and do not follow through with what was “agreed”.  Like the silence that leads to Groupthink.  Perhaps like the silence that ignores the ‘elephant in the room’.

Three levels of silence

This inspired me to research the current thinking out there in the blogosphere about silence.  I only found positive interpretations of silence.  Silence is often categorised into several levels.  I found examples of up to 12 levels.  This I find excessive, although I also find it excessive that the Eskimo-Aleut languages have 50 words for snow.

Sensible categorisations of silence appear to fall into three levels:

  1. The absence of sound
  2. A disinterest in external activity, where the mind is focused inwards
  3. A deep inner silence brought on through meditation, in pursuit of oneness and total contentment.

There is now a Level Zero

[Children’s movie spoiler alert]

Po: Lets just start at zero; Level Zero.
Shifu: Oh no. There is no such thing as Level Zero.
Thus starts the scene in Kung Fu Panda, where our hero, the overweight panda Po, begins his journey to enlightenment.  After Po hits a children’s punchbag and is sent flying into moving ropes and swinging pendulums, he endures being deposited into a tilting bowl, where he hits his head several times until the bowl tips over and sets off a chain reaction that causes swinging arms to smack him in the groin and then knock him violently into a fire pit. He slumps over next to his Sensei, Shifu, burned and charred.

Po: How did I do?
Shifu: There is now a Level Zero.

I propose four levels of silence for your consideration:

0. Uncomfortable silence

1. Comfortable silence

2. Reflective silence

3. Deep silence.

Level 0: uncomfortable silence

Uncomfortable silence arises through fear of being isolated because you have a different opinion from the majority.  This is closely aligned to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s ideas in the Spiral of Silence.  People tend to remain silent for fear of social exclusion when they have a minority opinion that might challenge the group’s dominant idea.  They must constantly use energy to assess the climate in a social group and may choose to remain silent or ‘lose their voice’, especially if they have been criticised in the past.  This does not apply to those (at the top of Noelle-Neumann’s spiral) who are hardcore nonconformists or who represent the Avant-Garde.  Such people are less likely to remain silent.

The advent of the Internet has also arguably lowered this type of silence online, where people with minority (often extremist) views are likely to seek out others of similar views and use chat rooms to find their voice.  Such folk can also benefit from the anonymity of the Internet, which lowers the fear of reprisal, and has led to an uprising in airtime for controversial views.

In a workplace context, uncomfortable silence represents a denial of responsibility, allowing undiscussable topics to remain undiscussable, and ultimately degenerates into a ‘snakepit’ organisation, where people retreat into their silos and protect themselves against attack from each other.

Level 1: comfortable silence

The main problem with silence is that we do not know what it means when it happens.  Is the silence uncomfortable: a denial of responsibility, or comfortable: a true agreement to what is being discussed?

Comfortable silence happens when we are happy together, perhaps lost in our own thoughts and not needing to fill the silence with words.  We are comfortable with the people we are with.  This is a passive silence.

I suggest this is only possible if there are no hidden assumptions.  Very close friends and life partners can achieve this level of silence.

In the workplace, achieving this level of silence requires good facilitation to reveal hidden assumptions, discuss the undiscussables, explore the elephant in the room, etc.  This is necessarily not a silent activity and such facilitation may well move people quickly to level 2 silence.

Level 2: Reflective silence

Reflective silence is when you have the space and time to think.  As an individual, you would be well-advised to carve out time in your busy schedule to do this, or perhaps to use the services of a coach to gift you such time and space.

Level 2 silence becomes timeless, lost in your own thoughts.  You become disinterested in external activity, your mind is turned inwards.  You achieve a quietness inside, regardless of the external sounds.  It requires stillness, and yet is an active silence.

In the workplace, a good facilitator or group coach can gift you time and space to think as a team.

Level 3: Deep silence

Deep silence has its traditions in several ancient world religions, such as Zen Practice and Monastic Silence.  It is a silence that can be achieved through deep meditation.  You may well practise mindful meditation already, focusing on what is happening right now.  This does not require external silence.  In fact, deep silence is the pursuit of total oneness, total contentment and inner silence, regardless of any external sounds.  It is also possible regardless of what you are doing.  Deep silence does not require stillness, and yet is a passive silence

Conclusion

I tentatively suggest the following framework:

In the workplace, issues arise when silence is misunderstood.  When people push their own views, they demonstrate a ‘stay in control’ or ‘win, don’t lose’ mindset.  When silence follows, they may incorrectly assume agreement.  A more purposive mindset is to stay curious, adopt the ‘and’ stance (rather than the ‘but’ stance).  This can help to surface hidden assumptions, and allow people the space and time to find their voice.

The workplace goal is to move silence from being an active pursuit of denial, towards awareness of the silence and active pursuit of renewal.  This moves people’s energy from denying responsibility to surfacing hidden assumptions, to discussing the undiscussable.  It requires meetings to include the space and time to think, so that people can engage in the meaningful activity aligned to the organisation’s purpose.  It means people can find their voice and take more accountability.

Silence can help you make every meeting matter.

Jeremy J Lewis

Committed to making every meeting matter

Why do you do what you do?

First published on LinkedIn, December 21, 2016.

I wrote a post around Christmastime last year saying I believe in Father Christmas, which received a comment about aligning what we do with what we believe in, and that if we could align what we do with what we believe in, then wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Today, I had a great conversation with a colleague concerning why we do the things we do, which got me thinking about why I do the things I do, and whether it is about aligning what I want with what I believe in.  My conclusion is that there is a third dimension – what I do.  Bringing all three of these together might perhaps uncover why I do what I do.

A framework to help you align your thinking

I present this thinking here for no other purpose than to suggest it as a framework for thinking about what you believe in, what you want and what you do.  You might just uncover why you do what you do, and if not, give pause for thought as we approach a New Year and those resolutions to choose something new or different.

I believe in people; I help people be the leaders they want to be; it makes me happy and fulfilled.  These are the ‘whats’ in the Venn diagram.  The intersections are, I believe, the ‘hows’:

  • I believe in people and I help people. I do that by consulting, coaching and facilitating. That is how I align what I believe with what I do
  • I do it with a non-judgmental attitude. I accept the leader you are now, confront the challenges you have and support you to make better choices, so that you become more potent as a leader.  This how I align what I want with what I believe in
  • Being part of a larger corporate machine would not make me happy or fulfilled. So, I do it as a freelance, self-employed consultant – coach – facilitator.  This aligns what I do with what I want.

The final intersection, right in the centre of the diagram, which brings together these ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ is, of course, the ‘why’: why do I do what I do?  And for me, that is the higher purpose of making a difference.

And so, I’m curious, why do you do what you do?

Jeremy J Lewis

CMdeltaConsulting

“Committed to making a difference”

Take Alan’s advice: a three-step approach to become a trusted business adviser

First published on LinkedIn July 13, 2016

To paraphrase Alan Partridge, “Lynn’s not my wife.  She’s my accountant.  Hard-worker, but there’s no affection.”

The work of corporate support functions has changed.  This applies to accounting, human resources, learning and development, legal services, risk, IT, corporate strategy and planning, financial and systems analysis, project and change managers and more.  In fact for anyone who has professional experience, limited direct authority over the use of their expertise and the desire to have some impact at an organisational level.

Regardless of Alan’s view, the traditional role of hard-working expert represents only half the story.  You must be able to have that expertise listened to and used.  To do this, you require a commercial ‘business-like’ mindset, a collaborative partnering approach and the skills to develop trusted adviser relationships.  Dare I say it, to develop a certain affection?

The most effective way for professionals in corporate functions to gain respect, lead change and add value to their organisations is to develop these skills.  I have helped the corporate functions of B2B and B2C private service sector clients and clients in the Health sector do this.  Whilst each of the organisations I’ve worked with is unique, with its own unique set of circumstances, they often share similar challenges, i.e. how to:

  • Find the time to cut down on doing the work in order to build relationships?
  • Get business managers to take accountability for its finances, people, IT investment, etc?
  • Prevent the professionals from ‘going native’?
“Knowing me, Alan Partridge; knowing you, my trusted business adviser; Aha!”

You start by adopting a new professional mindset (‘Knowing me’), and go on to develop deeper relationships (‘Knowing you’) and then consistently apply these fundamentals in your role (‘Aha!’).

Knowing me

Professionals are increasingly anxious within organisations.  Two examples of the risks corporate functions face from their customer-facing colleagues are continual downsizing of the ‘back office’ and the democratisation of information through technology.  Professionals in corporate functions must continually demonstrate their worth to the organisation.  And be seen to do so.

Unfortunately, professionals have an unconscious tendency to pay more attention to their own discipline than the direct strategic goals of the organisations they work for.  We call this ‘basic-assumption’ mentality.  In this mode, the corporate function’s directs its behaviour at meeting the unconscious needs of its members by reducing anxiety.  However, professionals have been trained to use their basic-assumption mentality in a sophisticated way that supports the organisation’s strategic objectives.  This sounds confusing, so let me give a few examples[1]

Finance

Chartered accountant firms require their junior staff to be dependent on senior staff while they are training.  This approach delivers a qualified accountant who insists on being independent and behaves hierarchically to juniors.   They review all their subordinates’ work and hold on to decision-making.  This is the basic assumption of dependency, which is sensibly deployed to manage risk.  Remember the partners of the accounting firm are personally liable and stand to lose their all their worldly possessions if things go wrong.

There is a high risk of this behaviour degenerating into an insistence for freedom for its own sake.  This leads to a lack of accountability to the organisation.  It can lead to a culture of subordination and hierarchical power requiring unquestioning obedience from juniors (and business managers).

Human Resources

The HR professional deploys collaboration with management as the best way to deliver change.  We call this the basic assumption of pairing.  Pairing is a psychological coping strategy where a helpless person assumes two other people will come together to create a messiah baby to save their world.

If overplayed, such a collaborative approach can lead to colluding with the business, whilst simultaneously refusing to examine whether HR interventions help or support the organisation’s strategic objectives.  This can lead to a culture of ‘soft’ HR outputs without the requisite action required to make the change.  For example, creating future-oriented organisational vision and values statements that end up merely as posters on the office wall.

Information Technology

IT professionals have the capacity for sophisticated use of the fight/flight basic assumption mentality.  They sell their proposed technology solutions to clients whilst defending against alternative solutions with doomsday premonitions of catastrophic outcomes if they are not heeded.

Frustratingly often, IT projects do not deliver the purported benefits.  When that happens, the fight/flight mentality degenerates into denial of responsibility, assertion that the IT professional is still right and that the business managers need to change to exploit the technology in full.  Projecting responsibility in this way disables the professional/client relationship from productively devising a course of action to resolve issues.  This can lead to a culture of paranoia and aggressive competitiveness.  It can also lead to a preoccupation with the ‘enemy within’ as well as perceived external enemies.   And it can lead to the promulgation of complex and bewildering rules to control these dangers.

Professionals really need to look at themselves and recognise the approach they are prone to taking.  Only then can they choose a new professional role and identity.

Knowing you

When professionals have gained a deeper understanding of themselves, they can choose a productive professional identity (i.e. one of collaborative business partner).  They are then better placed to notice what drives and motivates the business managers they are seeking to partner.  Developing relationships is probably the most important single thing a professional can do.  In this way they can avoid the dual risks of (a) being treated like a ‘pair of hands’ to do the tasks their business colleagues cannot or do not want to do and (b) being treated like a specialist expert who sits outside the workgroup and can only comment from the sidelines.  Importantly, avoiding these risks actually saves time.

Not only can professionals avoid these risks, but they can transcend them to become a trusted business adviser.  They do this by sitting within the workgroup and operating collaboratively (read: high support and high challenge).  This allows them the opportunity to help the business take accountability.

It also allows them to develop into the strategic partner that not only turns data into insight, but also brings perspective and commerciality.  This enables them to retain their professional integrity without going ‘native’.

Aha!

These skills are neither magical nor mysterious, but come about by mastering the basics of ‘knowing me, knowing you’ and practising the skills needed to deepen relationships.

I often run business simulations and action learning sets with clients so they can practise and reflect on their progress in developing their collaborative partnering skills.

And so the penny finally drops.  As Jim Rohn once said, “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practised every day”.

And I agree.

And even, I suspect, would Alan Partridge.

 

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

[1] These examples have been adapted from the work of Jon Stokes (1994). The Unconscious at work in Groups and Teams: Contributions from the Work of Wilfred Bion, in Anton OBHOLZER and Vega Z. ROBERTS (Eds.) The Unconscious at Work. London, Routledge.

 

How to build a better multi-agency leadership team through group coaching

First posted on LinkedIn June 7, 2016

Last week, I was working with a multi-agency leadership team comprising local government, health, police, private and third sector partners.  They are grappling with some particularly acerbic social issues; those so-called ‘wicked’ problems that defy linear, planned change and disregard ordinary leadership techniques.

Strategic focus

This group seeks strategic alignment across multiple agencies each with its own agenda.  They want to agree ways of integrated working and to shift their collective mindset to build their understanding of a very complex issue.  The fledgling team are building the capability to deal with it across organisational boundaries and, most importantly of all, they want to build trust to lead a borough of several hundred thousand citizens towards a brighter future.  They are operating at the cutting edge of societal leadership.

Group coaching

Colleagues and I have offered several coaching sessions.  We commenced with exploring how the members of the group would work together and quickly, possibly too quickly, moved into detailed action planning.  As coaches, we noticed how the group all too readily opted to work on a detailed, task focused agenda; one which was probably too ‘safe’.

Thankfully, we recognised and surfaced what we had observed and challenged the group to occupy a more strategic place; one of challenge and support; one of leading complexity.  Our coachees then started to experience a sense of togetherness.  At last week’s session, the fifth in the series, agreed no less than 27 individual actions focused on what they want to achieve, how they are going to progress them and how they will build trusting relationships between themselves.

Breakthrough performance

I have seen this group grow through the forming-storming-norming-performing stages of Bruce Tuckman’s famous teamwork theory (Tuckman, BW, 1965, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, Psychological Bulletin 63, pp384-399) in a matter of weeks.

This I believe vindicates the approach the coaches took in the early days of focusing on the ‘how’, resisting moving into tasks until the group was ready.  It also goes to show the importance of a group coach whose presence is at once essential to the group’s development and is also irrelevant to the group’s purpose.  This is because (s)he is but one who facilitates the discussion.

Undisciplined problems disrespect conventional leadership development.  Group coaching is far from conventional and I believe offers a disciplined focus that is most appropriate to such wicked issues.

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig

I am both absolutely essential and totally irrelevant

First posted on LinkedIn May 19, 2016

Tomorrow I am facilitating an Action Learning Set for a group of managers and senior managers who are in the middle of a partnering skills developmental programme.  They will have been practising partnering techniques they have learned.  They are coming to share their progress and blockers, and help each other build confidence in their new skills.

What is action learning?

Action learning is a process by which participants study their own actions and experiences in order to improve their skills and performance.  This is done in conjunction with others in small groups called Action Learning Sets.

Research has shown that action learning develops real-world wisdom rather than traditional educational processes that tend to focus purely on knowledge.  It is particularly suited to leadership and management development in organisations.  This is because participants are working on real problems in the real world that affect real people, rather than solving individual puzzles (such as developing budgets on spreadsheets).

Both learning approaches require taking action, reflecting on that action and making practical changes to the actions to be taken next time to improve performance.  However, action learning in groups propels the individual further and faster in the real world.  This is because their peers are helping them see the results of their actions on other people.

The role of the facilitator

And as facilitator of this process, my role is to intervene as little as possible, so that the participants do as much of the work as possible.  I will hold the space on behalf of the group so they can focus on helping each other.  I will ensure ground rules are observed and I will manage the process of the session.

Arguably, I am totally irrelevant to the group, who are quite capable of running this for themselves.  Equally I am absolutely essential… my presence will create the right conditions for the group to maximise their learning.

If I do my job well, they will hardly notice me, they will feel confident they can run the next session themselves, and then my continued presence will be totally irrelevant…

I will know my presence was absolutely essential.

 

Jeremy J Lewis

@growthepig