Sunday, June 11, 2017

Watching Acorns Sprout from My Oak Tree

Last week I got an email from my good friend María, who related an inquiry she'd received from a former client that we'd both worked with, asking for help in navigating tension that's tearing up a key committee.

My initial, knee-jerk response was, "Why didn't they ask me?" But after about 10 seconds of licking my ego, it occurred to me that a good thing had happened. A protégé was getting professional respect.

Even if you set aside my recent bout with cancer (and its dramatic reminder of my mortality) I was never going to live forever. So what could be better than to remain in the saddle long enough to start seeing my students blossom as process professionals? Now they're even taking work away from me! 

There are a number of factors that enter into this equation:

• Clients prefer to hire locally. If nothing else, it contains travel costs (for which clients are on the hook), and if they're really close, the consultant may sleep at home and commute to the job. Living in Duluth I'm hardly local to anyone.

• Mostly my students are more moderately priced than me, and clients need to count beans just like everyone else. If you don't need the high-priced spread, why pay more? 

• When I started working professionally (30 years ago), almost no one hung out a shingle as a process consultant. Today there's much more demand, and it's growing. Because I lived in an income-sharing community for the bulk of my career, I didn't need a lot of money, but I realized early on that as a market maker in a burgeoning field I could have an impact on the value people placed on process consulting. 

Living in community in rural northeast MO my cost of living was minuscule; consultants living alone near major cities need to make much more. With that in mind I gradually moved my prices up over the years, so that those following in my wake could make a decent living.

In addition, higher rates afforded me the flexibility to bring in aspiring students as apprentices. Without asking the client to pay more, I could share some of my income and give them valuable exposure (why would you hire someone who has no résumé?). I didn't have that kind of help when I started out, and I wanted my students to have an easier entrée into the field.

• How much work do I need anyway? Even though I no longer keep my foot tromped on the gas, I am getting work in proportion to my need for income, and my desire to be of service. Mostly I slant things toward teaching and coaching these days, but I still get calls—especially from old clients, and from new ones with a five-alarm fire to put out.

All together I'm getting 1-2 jobs per month and that's plenty. There's no point in coveting my students' work into the bargain. Besides, I'd like to narrow my focus to those aspects of group dynamics that are most pivotal and most complex.

As an example, three weeks ago I attended the national cohousing conference in Nashville TN. Among other things I teamed up with Joe Cole (another protégé) to conduct an all-day facilitation workshop. I let Joe cover the basics, while I focused on the parts that grab me most: those brief moments in meetings when what the facilitator does can make the most difference: when the magic can emerge. In a typical meeting there are only 2-3 of those.

Here's an outline of what I consider to be key leverage points for facilitators:

A. Riding Two Horses 
Being able to managing both content and energy, and knowing which to focus on in the moment. You also need to know when to slow down and when you can speed up; and you need to be able to tell when an agreement is in the room (and how to lasso it before it escapes).

B. How to Work an Issue  

There are three key aspects to this:

Clearing the air

While this step is not always needed, when there is nontrivial distress related to the topic you should always start by naming it. If you skip this step all subsequent work will be prone to brittleness and poor buy-in. Doing this means making room to hear upset (that means focusing on emotions), and finding out what it means.

—Identifying factors to take into account

This entails determining what a good response will need to take into account before you entertain suggestions about what to do. It's OK to make room for advocacy at this stage (though you shouldn't need to hear it more than once).

Problem solving

Which approach does the best job of balancing what needs to be taken into account? The time for advocacy has now passed; at this stage you're looking for bridging.

Note: The container that the facilitator needs to establish for each of these steps is very different and the order is crucial.

C. Right Relationship Between Plenary and Committee

There are several parts to this:

o  Only dealing with plenary worthy considerations in plenary

o  Having the discipline to stay on topic and not drift into a level of detail below plenary worthiness

o  Developing and using a template for establishing comprehensive committee mandates

o  Creating a thoughtful method for filling committee and manager slots

o  Establishing the habit of rigorously evaluating committees and managers

D. Getting All the Product in the Room

Many groups fail to see the forest for the trees, and allow conversations to end without connecting all the dots, thereby squandering some of the concentrated work. Agreements that are not captured in the moment are lost, and must be rebuilt another time. Very wasteful.

To accomplish this the facilitator must be able to see how things look from the prospective of each participant, and have a feel for what everyone can say "yes" to.

E. Managing Your Nightmares

While no one is perfect, to be an excellent facilitator you need to know what you don't know, and where your blind spots are. 

What personalities drive you crazy?

How are you triggering for others?

—Can you manage your reactivity?

F. Can You Handle Failing in Public?

No matter how accomplished you are, no one succeeds all the time. When you have a bad moment as facilitator, however, your failure can be spectacular. Can you pick yourself up off the floor and get back on the horse? Hint: If you need to succeed every time, quit now.

G. Getting Help

—Inviting critical feedback about how you're facilitating (Hint: If you get defensive, the feedback does no good).

—Bringing the pool of facilitators together to help plan and debrief meetings

—Identifying area facilitators who can help your group when you need outside neutrality.

—Making a commitment to training, which means both time and money. Hint: Learning by osmosis alone is not enough.


Margaret Bradley said...

Dear Laird

Thanks for the timely "key leverage points" for facilitation. We will be using this as basis for our team building.

Peggy Bradley

rithkhmer said...

thank for good post and sharing.......