In my last Blog I wrote about the four core values of facilitation and how they can assist a group in making more effective decisions. Following that Blog listing, I had a conversation with a colleague about how to keep the group on track while utilizing the values. The colleague’s experience has been that even when you start with good intentions and try to utilize the core values, at times some groups get side-tracked and never seem to get re-focused.
What’s a facilitator to do to get the group back on track? What are some actions a facilitator can take?
For me, this is where two more tools that Roger Schwarz shares in The Skilled Facilitator come in handy. The tools are “Group Ground Rules” and the “Diagnosis/Intervention Cycle”. The first tool, the Ground Rules includes the following:
- Test assumptions and inferences
- Share all relevant information
- Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean
- Explain your reasoning and intent
- Focus on interests, not positions
- Combine advocacy and inquiry
- Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements
- Discuss undiscussable issues
- Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed
These ground rules can help the facilitator refocus the group by providing options to explore. Perhaps the facilitator, having gotten agreement from the group members to use the ground rules, can reference one or more of the rules to draw attention to the fact that the group members are not on target with their interactions. For example, if a group member makes a comment about a situation that takes the group in a new and unrelated direction, the facilitator can ask questions about how the group member arrived at that assumption or made that inference. If the comment appears to be a personal bias, the facilitator may ask on what the group member based the comment.
In another example, the group may be avoiding a specific topic or issue by constantly making jokes or telling stories about similar or unrelated issues. The facilitator might ask the group what they are avoiding. Or the facilitator might share with the group the inference the facilitator is making about their avoidance of the undiscussable issue and check with the group for agreement or disagree with the inference.
The second tool, the Diagnosis/Intervention Cycle, may also be useful in redirecting an unfocused group. Using the tool starts with the facilitator observing the group behavior. Using the ground rules, the first tool, as guidance, the facilitator then infers meaning of that behavior. If the facilitator believes that behavior is significant to the group refocusing, then the facilitator decides when and how to intervene. The facilitator intervenes by first describing the behavior and checking with the group for different perspectives. The facilitator then shares his or her inference about the behavior with the group and again checks for different perspectives. The final step using this tool is to then help the group members decide how to change the behaviors that misdirects the group.
While I don’t claim using these tools is easy, I do believe they are productive with struggling groups. However, the facilitator must become very knowledgeable of the tools and practice using them over and over, whenever possible.
So the next time you experience a group going away from their intended purpose and not being productive, remember the tools of “Group Ground Rules” and the “Diagnosis/Intervention Cycle”. A more detailed review of the tools can be found in The Skilled Facilitator.
Until next time, continue to explore ways to help groups become more effective in their interactions and decision-making.