Russian writer Isaac Babel believed that “no iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” In working with others, can anything bring a group of people to the brink of breakthrough more effectively than an unexpected, yet perfectly timed question mark?
What about those exclamation points!
This post from Steve Davis of Master Facilitators Journal describes the subtle art of knowing when to apply pressure to catalyze movement and when to allow openness for people to struggle.
Is Your Style Restricting Group Flow?
When we step into a group as facilitators we know that our presence will definitely change the group dynamic, hopefully in a very positive way. However, when playing the facilitative role, do you ever question how much "control" you should exert on your groups? If so, you're not alone. Walking the fine line between controlling and catalyzing your groups isn't always easy.
Let's look briefly at the definitions of control and catalyze.
Catalyze: To modify. To bring about; initiate. To bring about fundamental change in; transform.
There will be times when you'll need to exercise control over your group. But most of the time I believe that you'll want to be a catalyst instead. Lets' look at some tips on how to do this.
I'll have to admit that at times, I still catch myself exercising undue control over my groups. But my intentions are always pure, I promise! I think I get controlling for a number of valid reasons.
For example, if I'm trying to cover too much in too little time, I tend to be more rigid and controlling of participant input and tend to be more directive. If I'm more concerned with the intellectual content than the emotional aspect of the process, I can get a little uptight. Or, if I feel that the group is heading off on a tangent, I feel that it's my job to bring them "back on course."
Here are some general tips to help you be more catalytic.
Use a light touch when working with your groups, even when things get heavy. Even when you need to provide direction, remember that your participants are all doing the best they can. You can be very effective by simply asking questions and making suggestions leaving "control" of the group to the group.
For instance, "It seems to me this line of discussion is moving us away from our stated goals. Do you want to continue on this course or should we make a course correction?"
Release your need to exert power and control. Now I could be wrong here, but there may be some of us who get a thrill out of having the power that comes from being "center stage." If I was to be totally honest, I'd have to say I have some of that myself. But when I'm at my best, I realize that my real power and my biggest thrill for that matter, is expressed when I find a way to totally empower a group to the point that they don't need me so much anymore. This may take a shift in perspective.
Consider the possibility that the highest good you can do as a facilitator is to help groups self-facilitate, which may lead to them getting along without you. Just as a catalyst is consumed in a chemical reaction that yields a new form, let your ego dissolve in service to the transformation of your groups.
Encourage participants to interact directly with each other. You can invite this as part of your introduction to an event and even include it in your ground rules. Let participants know that you encourage them to interact directly with each other within the group, to ask clarifying questions, and even to help draw others in to be heard.
Coach participants in the basics of facilitation as you facilitate them. Though some groups invite you in to catalyze them toward a specific solution, there are almost always opportunities for you to coach participants in communication and process skills. Skills that will help them work better together by virtue of their enhanced ability to self-facilitate. If this truly happens your work will leave a legacy in its wake.
Trust the wisdom of the group--unless it's hiding. Assume that the higher wisdom of your groups--that aspect which knows what needs to be done or discussed--is always the best facilitator. However, at times this wisdom may be submerged beneath individuals fears, insecurities, and confusion. When this is the case, you'll probably need to exert more control to help the group work through processes that free their collective wisdom.
So in a sense we might suggest that your need to control a group is directly proportional to a group's inability to effectively direct itself. As you help your groups realize their own power and control, you can back off and operate more as a catalyst and focus on the finer points of facilitation.