'Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity.' (Roy T. Bennett)
Action Learning facilitators sometimes feel concerned about what might happen in a set (a small group of peer-coaches) and how they might handle it if it does. When we discuss these kind of troubleshooting scenarios in training, I often notice that facilitators feel a sense of personal responsibility to manage anything and everything that might happen. Apart from placing a lot of pressure on the facilitator which could, in the moment, inhibit psychologically their ability to handle any challenges that may arise anyway, it also misses the self-resourcing potential of a group.
The key often lays in shifting the facilitator’s stance from control to curiosity. This doesn’t mean abandoning the governance role of the facilitator altogether, for example to ensure that agreed ground rules and process are followed appropriately. It does, however, mean approaching any challenges that emerge in an invitational tone. For instance, if the group is very quiet, or conversely very talkative, and this leaves the presenter perhaps with little stimulus or space for reflection, the facilitator can offer this as a judgement-free observation, like holding up a mirror to the set.
‘I’m noticing the group seems very quiet. I’m wondering what that might mean?’ Or, ‘I’m wondering what we might need?’ It could be that participants don’t know and trust each other well enough yet. It could be that they don’t believe they have understood the presenter’s challenge and feel nervous to admit it. It could be that they feel insecure about posing a ‘wrong’ question in front of peers. It could be they have an introverted preference and simply need time to reflect before framing a question. A spirit of curiosity can open things up, release stuck-ness and move things forward.
It’s easy to get trapped, stuck, locked in an argument with passions running high on both sides. The harder you push, the stronger the push back. The issue escalates and so does the mood. Lots of heat, not so much light. Where do you go from here? Who’s going to blink first? If this scenario sounds familiar, if like me it’s something you have witnessed or experienced, this piece is for you!
I got stuck in an organisation when a different team tried to impose new systems and processes without consultation or explanation. It created extra work for my team and it felt cumbersome, bureaucratic, over-engineered and pointless. I felt annoyed and frustrated and my instinct was to challenge, to resist, to rebel. Instead, I took deep breaths and tried a different approach.
I arranged to meet with the leader of the team who had introduced the changes. My first question was to do with goals: ‘What’s important to you that you’re trying to achieve?’ She explained the legal and regulatory rationale behind the changes, what was driving them and why they were necessary for the organisation. It also provided her with space to articulate her own vision.
My second and related question focused on values: ‘What matters most to you in this?’ After a moment, she explained her team needed accurate, accessible information in order to ensure accountability. It opened the door for us to explore different methods to ensure they had the information they needed whilst, at the same time, to reduce the burden on other teams.
The simple approach I’ve outlined here can help build awareness, collaboration, mutuality and trust: ‘This is what’s important to me that I’m trying to achieve…what’s important to you?’; ‘This is what matters most to me in this…what matters most to you?’ It brings goals and values to the surface and creates a useful platform for conversation, negotiation and win-win solutions.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
Like what you read? Simply enter your email address below to receive regular blog updates!