People reading the paper or checking their phones during a workshop. The crossed arms or sea of silence during a staff meeting. A small group that always seems to gather during breaks in a strategic planning session.
During any facilitation effort, you are going to see all kinds of individual and group behavior, often feeling the need to do something about what you are seeing. The critical question is simple: should you?
The Skilled Facilitator, Roger Schwarz offers us five critical questions we can answer to guide us in determining whether or not we should intervene. I offer them below verbatim coupled with my own commentary on them.
Have I observed long enough to make a reliable diagnosis?
Patience really is a virtue when it comes to effective facilitation. You will notice many things, but you have to spend enough time with them to truly understand what they might mean. Systems thinking makes a wonderful distinction between observations (the facts of what is happening) and inferences (your interpretation or judgment about your observations). The ladder of inference illustrates how we move between the two.
You bring your own "lenses" and mental models into any facilitation effort, filtering what you see through all of your life experiences and cultural layers of identity. Take time to thoughtfully consider the various interpretations of what you are observing before assuming you definitely know what it means. And you can always check out what is happening by simply sharing your observation without offering any inferences: "I'm noticing a lot of side conversations happening right now. The group will tell you what it means.