Archive for February, 2009

Taken to extremes

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 28 2009

Any pattern is a good thing, until taken to extremes.

Consider Curious George. Curious George, asking questions and exploring possibilities, helps to stimulate conversation and bring out useful information.

Curious George taken to extremes,  however, becomes an obstacle. His persistent and insistent questioning can become a new antipattern, the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor doesn’t ask questions for the purpose of moving the group’s goals forward. The Inquisitor nails her victim, drilling down, and tenaciously, even insistenlty, digging and digging until the victim gives up in sheer exhaustion. The Inquisitor takes the “five whys” to the point of absurdity, like a four-year-old who – when told that the sky is blue – asks “why” until you want to run screaming.

Even neutrality can be taken too far. While I’ve made it clear that I believe that one of the key attributes of a facilitator is neutrality, nonetheless, there are times when a facilitator must take a position and a stand, when it comes to the good of the group and the process. Failure to take a stand and take action at those times becomes a new antipattern, Wishy-Washy.

I’m convinced that most positive patterns, taken to extremes, can become antipatterns.

Is it possible to go the other way? Are the attributes that define antipattern behaviors capable of being beneficial patterns, when applied in more limited doses?

Convergence (not the pattern)

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 26 2009

What’s interesting to me is that I’ve seen my own posts slowly converging, as I mentioned in “A pattern  of antipatterns (part 2).”

Part of that convergence came from the higher order patterns IAAM- and IAAM+.

And part comes from my reasonably consistent system of behavior and understanding.

Being a lifelong science fiction fan, it reminds me of the convergence that occurred in Isaac Asimov’s Robots storiesand Foundation series. Two seemingly separate store lines, converging as they evolved.

For me, the whole thing is reaffirming – that these two threads of my thinking and writing are coming together. It’s not really a surprise to me, but I didn’t plan it this way.

I think I’ll start thinking about how the taking-personal-responsibility stuff relates to the facilitation-and-meeting-participation stuff, as I continue forward.

There’ll be more patterns and antipatterns, and also more ways of dealing with them, and more on how our individual behavior and responsibility comes into play.

And no, I’m not comparing myself to Isaac Asimov! 🙂

Facilitation Antipattern: Infantile

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 26 2009

infantileMotto: I want you to pay attention to me right now right now right NOW!
: Everyone else is supposed to pay attention, and do and say what I want them to, and I will behave however I want until they do because that’s the way it works.
: Takes things personally, and makes things personal, while behaving in attention-grabbing, discussion-dominating ways.
Characteristics: Childish, selfish, self-focused, loud, intrusive, dominant, manipulative


I thought about calling this one “Tantrum” or “Baby”. They all describe the same thing, regardless.

“Why aren’t you listening to me?” followed by attention-grabbing, self-destructive behavior. The equivalent of rolling around on the floor, screaming and kicking.

We’ve all met an Infantile. Somehow, no matter what the topic, if you don’t listen to them – and, of course, agree with them – somehow things turn personal and emotional. They make it clear that your failure to listen (the way they want you to listen), and your failure to understand (that is, agree), expresses your disrespect for, and even hostility toward them.

Infantiles have never learned proper socialization. They don’t share well, and they’re not usually interested in dialogue. Their focus is on what they want when they want it, or else.  The “or else” is not usually targeted at a single individual. Rather it’s aimed at getting everyone to pay attention to them, and then to give in to their demands because dealing with their behavior is too annoying/painful.

Of course, once they get their way, Infantiles can be most charming and pleasant.

A pattern of antipatterns (part 2)

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 25 2009

If you’ve been thinking about it, you’ve probably noticed the pattern of antipatterns and also the pattern of patterns.  In fact, I wrote about it indirectly in ‘The two faces of “It’s all about me!”‘.

Yup, IAAM- and IAAM+ are the two higher order patterns that I’m talking about.

Isn’t it interesting that these apply in our personal relationships and conversations, and in the world of meetings and facilitation?

Not surprising, though, because we’re always people, and always bring our blessings and our baggage with us, wherever we go and whatever we do.

Also not surprising, I expect, is that I believe that recognizing and taking action to change my beliefs and my behavior in one context will carry over into all others. Regardless of whether it’s how I relate to friends and family, how I participate in meetings, how I behave as a manager, or how I behave as an employee, they’re all tied together at one point: me!

Here’s my challenge to you: look at your own behavior, and ask yourself whether it is IAAM- or IAAM+. Are you focusing on the relationship or are you focusing on your own needs and desires? Are you behaving in a way that benefits others, as well as yourself, or just yourself?

This is difficult. I won’t pretend otherwise. Examining my own behavior, questioning my own motives, and exploring the impact on others is hard.

And worthwhile.

No pain, no gain.

Jeremy Lightsmith: Facilitation Patterns

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 24 2009

What is Facilitation?

Facilitation comes from the latin facile, which mean easy. In fact, the role of a facilitator in a group setting is to “make things easy”. It involves planning, organizing, and setting or supporting rules and goals within such groups. It is my goal here to collect and share many of the tricks, techniques and practices that facilitators use in their work.

via Facilitation Patterns.

Besides Patrick Kua, this is the only site I’ve found that talks specifically about facilitation patterns. An excellent resource.

Patrick Kua: A time and place for everything

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 24 2009

…as a facilitator, you need to be constantly aware of what the situation at hand is. I explained that if I’m facilitating a meeting for someone else, particularly retrospectives, I’ll normally prepare by interviewing a few people first (informally, sometimes formally if need be). I like to know who’s going to be in the room, and what problems might surface, or what situation I might be stepping in to. I learned this tip from Kerths’ original book. I like to prepare the room before everyone enters, set up posters, whiteboards, flip charts, etc. It’s courteous to the participants, and I’m always hopeful they appreciate the effort that I made an effort, with the end result being better quality discussions. I’ll observe people as they enter, and watch the body language of people through the activities.

via thekua.com@work » A time and place for everything.

Patrick Kua is a fellow ThoughtWorker (our name for employees of ThoughtWorks). He has been facilitating and writing about facilitation for some time. I’ve used his materials as reference, learning from them as I go.

In this posting in Patrick’s blog, he reflects on the essentials of facilitation, as well as a specific incident.  It’s well worth reading.

I liked the quote above, because it deals with the preparation that a good facilitator puts in to ensure a successful meeting (in this case, a retrospective).

Facilitation Pattern: Convergence

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 24 2009

Faces of Pune-90In what is arguably one of the best-known and classic works on facilitation, Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, Sam Kaner talks about the complementary processes that occur in decision-making: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.  Here’s what he says:

“At times the individual members of a group need to express their own points of view. At other times, the same people want to narrow their differences and aim the discussion toward closure. These two sets of processes will be referred to as ‘divergent thinking’ and ‘convergent thinking.'”

Accepting Kaner’s words and work, we would consider this to be a natural occurrence in groups, but only when there is a skilled facilitator or leader present to ensure that divergence turns into convergence. And it is clear that it is essential that divergent thinking make that shift into convergent thinking in order for the group to reach some kind of decision.
convergence

A leader will emerge

This reminds me of something I learned in my Master’s Degree work years ago. My professor was Joe Luft, co-creator of the Johari window with Harry Ingham (get it? Joe-Harry => Johari). The Johari window is a model of relationships and communications that has been widely accepted. During a class on group dynamics, Joe made a statement that has stuck with me for thirty years: in any group, regardless of who is nominally in charge, a leader will emerge. That is, while there may be someone there in the group who is given the title or responsibility to be the “leader,” inevitably someone (and it may be that same person), will emerge to guide, direct, lead the group.

Leading or allowing someone else to lead

As a facilitator, you may be expected to be the “leader” and turn divergence into convergence. Or you may be expected to recognize when a member of the group steps up (overtly or simply through behavior) to demonstrate effective leadership, guiding the group from divergence to convergence. This ability to recognize that members of the group are stepping into key roles is an essential skill for a facilitator.

It is not always the facilitator’s responsibility/job to do everything. Sometimes it is the job of the facilitator to sit back and let the group go forward on its own.

So it is with convergence. There comes a point when, as a facilitator – or even as a member of the group – that you recognize that the turn must be made. If it is not happening on its own, then it is up to you to take some action. That action is not standing up and saying “Okay – enough divergent thinking, get on with the convergent thinking!” Rather, you are expected to have the skills to help and guide the group toward convergence.

Tactics that come to mind include:

  • “I see that there is some disagreement here. Let’s see what we can do to find some commonality.”
  • Sometimes, I suggest that two advocates of opposing views each take on the other’s position and argue it.

Rather than having me try to explain it all to you, I’ll suggest that you read Kaner’s work. There are lots of good diagrams, along with the words. 😉

Faciliation Antipattern: Prima Donna

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 23 2009

Motto: The world revolves around me. Right now.
: Well, really, whatever I do is correct. Because I did it. And you should pay attention to me.
: Insists on discussing whatever is important to him. Pouts, sulks, and acts put upon when the group does not do or discuss what he wants.
Characteristics: Petty, spiteful, selfish, demanding, irritable, sometimes arrogant


While it’s starting to feel like these antipatterns are all similar, each has some distinguishing characteristics.  The Prima Donna, for instance, might be the most arrogant of them. He feels that he is special, as a virtue of being smarter or more knowledgeable or just because.

The Prima Donna, like a number of the others, dominates the discussion based on what’s most interesting to him. Unlike the Evil Genius, the Prima Donna is not conscious or deliberate about it. He believes that this is what is due him – admiration, freedom to dominate the conversation, and freedom to be petulant if he doesn’t get his way.

The Prima Donna is also unlike the Orator, who actually takes pride in what he believes is his eloquence.

A pattern of antipatterns (part 1)

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 22 2009

In my recent post ““, I talked about the seeming thread that goes through many of the antipatterns.

As I think about it more, I see that there is something that ties them all together.

Some of it is attitude. Some of it is behavior.

There’s more than one thing that ties them together.

Do you see it? Do you see the commonalities between the antipatterns that represent higher order patterns?

In part 2 of this post, I’ll talk about it.  For now, I just want to get you thinking, and perhaps commenting, to see if you see what I see.

The two faces of “It’s all about me!”

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 22 2009

When you hear me say “It’s all about me!” (IAAM), do you think “How horribly selfish and self-centered!” or “How aware and evolved.”?

There are certainly more than just two faces to the concept, and yet these are the two extremes, in my mind.

Ego-Driven, Self-Centered “It’s all about me!” (IAAM-)

As I write about facilitation antipatterns, it’s clear that I’m focusing on the self-centered, ego-need-driven side of “It’s all about me!” Look at Professor Moriarty or the Orator or the Dominator. For each of them, they want – perhaps need – the focus and attention of the group.

IAAM- (the negative IAAM) clearly is driven by the needs and desires of the speaker/actor, rather than a focus on improving communications or teamwork or anything else. While the person exhibiting IAAM- may convince themselves that they’re doing it “for your good” or “for the good of the group”, I believe that their reality is quite different – that they’re doing it because they need it to feel better about themselves. They may start from a position of low self-esteem or insecurity, as surprising as that sounds.

There are many common behaviors, for those who don’t feel good about themselves. Two that come to mind here are “pay attention to me” and “make you feel bad so you’ll recognize my power”.  Both of these are instances of IAAM-.

I did it a lot, in the earlier days of my marriage. Having to be right, as opposed to having a dialogue with my wife. Explaining how she didn’t understand, instead of finding common ground. Taking the center stage, rather than participating and allowing others to participate. These are examples of IAAM-.

Taking Responsibility, Connection-Focused “It’s all about me.” (IAAM+)

In my writing (and talking and talking and… 😉 ) about communication, I tend to focus on a movement away from IAAM- and toward IAAM+ as an understanding of human behavior and interactions.

In IAAM+, it’s two-sided: understanding that my behavior expresses who I am, what I believe, how I feel; and understanding that your behavior expresses the same things about you. As I embrace and internalize that understanding, my behavior changes, because my focus changes. And sometimes, by changing my behavior towards what I would like it to be, I change my feelings and understanding.

Communication and Facilitation and Participation

It all comes together in many places and times. Including in meetings. When I find myself thinking “he always…” or “she’s doing that because…” and I assign motivations and assume what’s going on inside someone else’s head, I push myself back from IAAM- toward IAAM+.  At least, I try.

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