Facilitation Friday #9: Build Capacity to Accomplish More

Effective facilitation is not just concerned with the immediate task. Its definition of success also includes helping a group or team learn together so they might be more productive in the future. Similarly, when coaching an individual employee, a facilitative leader focuses not only on dealing with the employee’s immediate need, but also with laying a foundation for future strong performance.

Embracing this longer-term perspective keeps facilitative leaders from assuming too much responsibility for a group. Doing so could leave individuals or a group dependent, less likely to successfully manage future efforts without the facilitator’s involvement. To prevent such dependence from developing, facilitative leaders regularly engage groups in debriefing their meetings and projects to determine what lessons can be learned and what adjustments need to be made in the distribution of responsibilities.

A simple question that helps facilitate this awareness is: What are we learning about/from how we are being with each other and doing our work together?  Other questions that help surface this learning and make it public (think Johari's Window), include:

  • What lessons learned do we want to capture to help us accelerate our efforts next time?
  • What has been working well that we might want to try and do more of in the future?
  • What insights have we discovered that could enhance our future work?
  • How might we be with each other differently in order to do our work more effectively?
  • How well have we honored any agreements or ground rules we established for our time together and what would we need to do to better align our conversations with them?
  • Whose perspectives or contributions have we not fully leveraged for our efforts and what do we need to do in order to be more inclusive of them?
To facilitate this type of after action review, make sure to frame the conversation as one focused on learning from what transpired, not assigning blame for what just occurred.  Pointing fingers at "who did what" is not the goal.  Instead, help individuals listen to others' perspectives and stories without judgment.  You may wish to simply invite each person (without interruption) to briefly describe what just happened, to tell the story, from his/her perspective.  Doing so helps the group become aware of the interdependent nature of their actions, what Barry Oshry calls, "seeing the system."

Building long-term capacity means that group agreements and structure may need to change as the work itself or the environment in which it is being done changes.  Facilitators see structure as a means to an end not as the end itself or a turf to be protected at all costs. Such leaders frequently ask group members,“Given the results we are trying to produce and the current environment, are we best organized to do so?” Engaging in this process allows individuals to see boundaries between departments, positions, and functional areas as permeable, something that must be regularly evaluated for their impact and effectiveness.

And as individual and group capacity grows, the boundaries being facilitator and participant also become more permeable, with the facilitative leader increasingly sharing facilitation responsibility with members of the group, as well as accountability for their results.  A capacity-building commitment means the facilitator moves along a continuum from leading in front of the group, to leading alongside it, and ultimately, to leading from behind it.


Adrian Segar said...

A great resource for this work is Norman Kerth's Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks for the suggested resource Adrian. I'll check it out.