I spent yesterday attending a CIPD (Lancahsire) event on Facilitation and Conflict Management. It was delivered by Tony Whalley of Achieve Dynamics Ltd (You can find him on Linked In). Tony's approach to facilitation utilises the principles and techniques found in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), particularly the underpinning presuppositions. (Useful beliefs to hold when working with others. If you are not familiar with them a good summary can be found at http://www.changingstates.co.uk/nlp_presup.html). NLP is not everyone's cup of tea, but it does hold some useful ideas for working with people. The good thing is as a facilitator you never need to mention NLP, you just have to help people work towards an outcome. As long as they are making progress, they won't be interested in how you are actually working.
I'm not going to outline Tony's materials and exercises - it's his material after all, but he managed to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. Instead I want to pose a few questions and thoughts as a result of attending the day.
One of the fascinating things about working as a facilitator is knowing when you are working in 'Process' and when you have joined the group in working on 'Task/Content'. An extension of this is noticing when you have become attached to an aspect of the group's work. For example, Tony asked us to think about what our reaction would be if we felt we had facilitated a good session, yet the group failed to deliver on its outcome. To ignore the result might be to deny your own shortcomings as a facilitator, yet to take responsibility implies that you somehow got involved in the task. Many of these things are much easier to say than to do, and my own experience of facilitating is that as a facilitator you are continuously peeling back successive layers of awareness. Just when you think you've got to a point where you believe you are working in an objective, detached and process-oriented way, something happens which hooks you right back and reveals something of your own personal 'hot buttons'.
The importance of developing a heightened sense of awareness was illustrated in the second main them that Tony got us to experience. This was to demonstrate just how much the thinking and unconscious processes of the facilitator can influence the output from the group. Limiting expectations, projecting unhelpful thoughts and feelings on to the group etc can all be detrimental to the final outcome.
We explored a couple of techniques, particularly the NLP technique of 'chunking up/down' as a means of working towards agreement and cooperation. One of Tony's skills is he can make subtle interpretations of classic NLP work, which make it more relevant to the context of the day. The general rule on chunking is that you should 'chunk up for agreement'. (Basically this means if you get two people who are in conflict to think about the situation at a higher level of abstraction they are more likely to find areas of commonality). Tony's take on this is 'To get people to consider more options, start from more agreement' and 'At higher levels of purpose people are more open to being influenced'. I like this take on the idea of chunking because it leaves the recipient with more autonomy. Chunking is no longer a technique to be used 'on' people but one which invites them to consider more choice.
One final thought that Tony left us with was ' Just because a group is uncomfortable with the process doesn't mean to say that they will be uncomfortable with the outcome'. A good summary for the day - good facilitation is about helping the group to meet their outcome - that's the prime objective, but in the process of doing so the facilitator is constantly learning about him/herself and there may be moments where he/she needs to be courageous.