Facilitation Friday #14: You Are an Intervention


The setting: People are beginning to enter the meeting rooms as the next round of workshops begins in 10 minutes.

Hector is presenting in Room A.  He arrived about an hour early to run through his slides.  He now stands at the door and greets people as they arrive.

Sheree is presenting in Room B.  She stands near the front of the room, smiling as people enter.  Periodically she moves about, stopping to introduce herself to participantsShe usually does so by sitting down with them for a moment.

In Room C, Kevin is standing next to the podium, glancing through his notes for the session. He has a slide show running that highlights key facts related to the session topic.

Lavonne is facilitating a panel discussion in Room D.  She's chatting informally with her panelists, each of whom sits behind a long head table.

This mix of facilitator behavior is not at all unusual at a conference.  And we would discover a mix of facilitator behavior if we could peak into office conference rooms or other settings. Early in this series, we explored an important framework from Kurt Lewin: b = f (p,e) or behavior in a group is the result of people interacting with their environment.  You, as facilitator, are part of the environment, and the interaction you have (or don't have) with people will shape their behavior.

Well duh, right?  While this fact may be obvious, that doesn't mean we always attend to its implications.  We have to do our very best to (1) think about the desired results for whatever meeting or workshop we are facilitating and (2) identify what we need to do as a part of the environment to help support those results being achieved.  This isn't about the way the room is set, the materials on the tables, or what food is being served.  This is about who we are as facilitators and how we "show up" for … and in … the work we are doing.  Some examples:
  • Always standing in front of the room vs. positioning yourself in various locations.
  • Standing while talking with a group vs. sitting and talking with participants.
  • Leading a discussion from behind the podium vs. being right next to participants.
  • Being available to chat informally during breaks vs. looking through your notes.
  • Having a clock positioned so you can discreetly monitor time vs. pulling out your cellphone to check for the current time.
  • Turning your back to the group to scribe on a flipchart vs. having a volunteer capture notes while you facilitate. 
  • Going outside with the smokers during a break vs. staying inside with the nonsmokers.
Everything we say or do as facilitators can have an effect on the group.  As a result, we need to increase our self-awareness before, during, and after a facilitation effort.  We must try to be more thoughtful and intentional about each choice we make in the moment, as well as engaging in the detailed advance planning that allows us to greet and be available in the manner we want to be as a facilitation effort is about to start. 

Here are a few of the simple ways that shows up for me:  I need to get in a workout the night before I do an all-day facilitation, but skip the squats and lunges since my aching legs the next day will cause me to fidget.  If facilitating an 8:30 a.m. session in a major city, I have to remember that people often arrive extremely early because of traffic concerns.  If I want to be 100% available for them, I have to arrive even earlier than normal to set up the room.  It means joining a group for a reception or dinner in order to connect informally, but not feeling the need to stay with them the entire time if I need to do prep and get some rest.

So as a facilitator, when you decide that something needs to be done and that you are indeed the person to do it, ask yourself:
  • How am I helping or impeding what we are trying to accomplish today?
  • How might I be different right now in order to help produce different results?
  • What is the change we need to make together, and how can I contribute to that?
  • If anything I am thinking or feeling getting in the way of who I am trying to be? 
Sometimes the easiest way to change what is happening with a group is to first change what is happening with you. Our presence has a critical effect on those we are facilitating, so it is our obligation to do whatever we need to do so that we can be 100% present.

To find earlier posts in these 2012 series, search for the label: facilitationfriday.