Facilitation Pattern: Convergence

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.

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. 😉

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