Posts Tagged ‘facilitator’

Facilitation Antipattern: Repetitor

Musings | Posted by Doc
Jun 29 2009

RepetitorMotto: It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating.
Belief: You’ll only understand if I say it at least three times.
Behavior: Says the same thing repeatedly, frequently in somewhat different words, frequently two, three, or more times.
Characteristics: Articulate, filled with conviction, perhaps lacking confidence

In my last post, this would have sounded like this:

It’s about the subtleties. You know – it’s about the little things. It’s about the stuff that’s not so obvious – the subtleties… the things that others hear in what you say whether you were aware of it or not…

Repetitors are usually articulate. They are able to express themselves. In the positive way, without the unneeded repetitions, a Repetitor would be an Articulate. By repeating themselves, without checking to see whether the listener is understanding, the Repetitor turns a Pattern into an Antipattern.

Dealing with a Repetitor is as simple as a variant on the Facilitation Four-Step: Interrupt, Ask, Redirect, Commit.


“Excuse me, Frank.”


“Do you mind…”


“…if I check in with the others for a moment?”


“We’ll get right back to what you were saying.”

Action (yes, a 5th step 😉 )

“Sue, just so we’re clear, can you tell us what Frank’s point was?”

In this way, I validate that others have heard Frank, check to make sure that they’ve understood Frank, and break the pattern of repetition.

Related Pattern: Articulate

It’s the subleties

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Jun 28 2009

How many times have you found yourself feeling angry or hurt or amused, and yet been unable to put your finger on just what it was?

“He insulted me!”

“She hurt my feelings.”

“That was ridiculous.”

And the other person is confused, surprised, or hurt by your reaction. Why is that?

As attuned as I try to be to subtleties, I still find myself surprised at times.

One of the more common subtleties that I try to remain aware of is using comparative and judgmental words unintentionally, especially when facilitating meetings/discussions.

For instance, one person offers a comment, to which I say “thank you.” The next offers a comment, to which I respond “That was good.” Another offers a comment to which I say “Excellent!” What’s the impact on the first person? After all, I didn’t say their comment was good or excellent, so was their comment not as good as the other two? Did I somehow just slight that person? And the second person – did I imply that the third person’s comment was even better than theirs?

I can hear folks now saying “Are you telling me, Doc, that I have to think about every word I say before I say it? I mean, won’t that be a lot of work?”

Yes, and yes. Especially if you are in a position or role where your words have power and influence.

I haven’t forgotten my own philosophy – that It’s All About Me – that I’m not responsible for my listeners’ behavior or feelings.  But I also remember that part of my thinking is that I can choose to be aware of the impact that my behavior may have on others, and choose to modify my behavior.

When I facilitate, I struggle to be aware of how what I say may impact those present, and to choose my words with care. I try to avoid comparatives (“better”), and judgmental terms (“good”, “thoughtful”). As a facilitator, it’s appropriate for me to recognize someone for speaking (“thank you”) and acknowledge them, but not to judge them or compare them.

“Influencer”, a must-read book

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
May 01 2009

I’m not finished with it yet, and yet I can tell you unreservedly that you must read Influencer by the authors of Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations.

While the first two books deal with holding conversations and dealing with issues, this third book addresses the challenges that are near and dear to my heart: how you get people to change their behavior. Thanks to my colleague Jason Yip, I started on this book, and haven’t been able to put it down (well, I do stop for things like work 😉 ).

I wanted to share some of this with you, because it relates so nicely to what I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while now.

It turns out the all influence geniuses focus on behaviors. They’re inflexible on this point. They don’t develop an influence strategy until they’ve carefully identified the specific behaviors they want to change. They start by asking: In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?

I love this. It’s not about how they feel or about their motivation. First and foremost, it’s about how they behave.

This is true whether I’m dealing with my family, my co-workers, or a client. Whether I want them to change their behavior, or I just want to understand the situation, I start with their behavior.

One of the vital behaviors consists of the use of praise versus the use of punishment. Top performers reward positive performance far more frequently than their counterparts. Bottom performers quickly become discouraged and mutter things such as, “Didn’t I just teach you that two minutes ago?” The best consistently reinforce even moderately good performance,…

This goes as far back, for me, as Ken Blanchard’s original One-Minute Manager series of books. It ties into how we relate to and teach our children. Every little accomplishment, every move in the right direction, and they get tremendous reinforcement. Then, as the authors say, we start to grow up and everyone gets stingy with their praise as if it’s only to be delivered when we do something exceptional.

If you know anything about training dogs (no, I’m not equating co-workers and family to dogs, just learning where I can), you know that you do the same thing – reward them if they make a move in the right direction, and keep encouraging them until they get it.

It’s so easy to say “well done” or “good job” or even just “thanks”. These things provide reward way out of proportion to their cost.

And it’s so easy to do these things as a facilitator, which many folks don’t get. It’s not about being insincere or ingenuous. It’s about rewarding and encouraging the behaviors we want to develop, and finding ways to reduce or eliminate the behaviors we don’t want.

Read this book. If you are a parent, manager, facilitator, professional, consultant, teacher,… okay, if you’re a human being, read this book.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Best and worst retrospective experiences

Agile & Lean, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 31 2009

Having been both a retrospective participant and facilitator (mostly facilitator, these days), I’ve experienced some very good and some bad retrospectives.

In some cases, the key factor was the facilitator. In others, it was the specific activities, or the way in which the participants contributed (or not).

For instance, I facilitated an Iteration retrospective once in which we did a Mad/Glad/Sad exercise, and used the results of that activity to drive having the team come up with a SMART goal. One of the problems was that I was the team’s boss, and shouldn’t have been facilitating (in retrospect 😉 ). Then there was the problem that the participants were having trouble coming down from 10,000 feet to specific, actionable goals. At the end, a number of the team members felt very frustrated, and the SMART goal they came up with was only partially embraced.

I’ve talked with other folks about what makes for good and bad retrospectives, and I suspect that we each have a set of experiences, biases, and criteria in our heads.

Another example from my own experience: I was facilitating a retrospective for a client’s team. They were having some communication challenges. In particular, their three-person development team was dominated by the tech lead, leading to some resentment and frustration by the other two developers. And then that same tech lead was overbearing and perceived as emotionally abusive by the team’s business analyst. In order to address this, I included the Circle of Questions activity in the retrospective. One of the best things that happened was that the tech lead was sitting next to one of the other developers, who was sitting next to the other developer, and the tech lead asked “How do you think our development team meetings are going?” The developer replied “Well, one of the participants tends to dominate the conversation, leading the others to feel frustrated.” Then, that developer turned to his left and asked the other developer the same question, and got pretty much the same answer. After the retrospective, the communication on the team improved significantly.

What I’d like to do is to gather up some stories and criteria from my readers.

If you would, here’s what I’d like from you:

  • A story (not too long, but enough to get the idea across) of your best or worst retrospective experience
  • What factors contributed to making it as good or bad as it was?
  • Your thoughts about what makes for a good – even exceptional – retrospective

Please – name no names, point no fingers – share the circumstances and even the details, without specifically identifying company/organization or people by name.

I know it’s a lot to ask. I think that when we’re done, we’ll have a powerful tool for teaching and learning about retrospectives.

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.

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. 😉

Facilitation Antipattern: Dominator

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 15 2009

dominatorMotto: It’s all about me!
Belief: I have a lot to say, it’s important, and so I’m justified in taking the time and attention to say it.
Behavior: Turns the discussion to whatever is important to him.  Talks loudly, forcing his way into any discussion, and then turning it again.
Characteristics: Loud, forceful, relentless, determined, sincere, focused.

The Dominator dominates. Obvious, eh?

What’s not so obvious is that Dominators are not always egocentric or glory loving or outgoing. Frequently, Dominators have learned that the only way that they can get people to hear what they have to say, and to make their points, is by steamrolling everyone else. Outside of meetings/discussions, they may be timid or quiet. but get them into a meeting, and they will just take over.

Okay – there are also Dominators who do it because they do love to be the center of everyone’s attention. For these Dominators – the ones you probably thought of first – it’s not so much which point they make as that they make a point by overwhelming everyone else’s defenses. Their joy comes from the act and experience of being dominant.

Dominators have found that if they speak more loudly than everyone else, everyone else will be quiet and listen to them.

Dominators have found that by the force of their presence (similar to the Gladiator) they can achieve their goals.  But distinct from the Gladiator, the Dominator doesn’t want us to fight back. The Dominator achieves victory by shutting everyone else down.

The Dominator is happy when we say “Okay – whatever you say” as a sign of capitulation.  They’re happiest when we say “Oh, you’re SO right!” as a sign of recognition of their rightness, along with capitulation.

To deal with a Dominator, you have to break their pattern. This is hard, because they’re relentless.

Techniques that either involve the group without discussion (Starfish, Timeline) or that enforce a structure that gives everyone equal time and attention (Circle of Questions, The Margolis Wheel).

Note that Robert Chambers, in Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities, has an exercise he calls Dominator (pages 168-9), which he describes thus: “A lively activity to heighten awareness of verbal and non-verbal dominant and submissive behaviour and of the effects of physical position on relationships.”

Facilitation Pattern: Co-Worker

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 10 2009

coworkerMotto: Succeeding together is better than failing individually.
Belief: Two heads – or three or four – are better than one, and the group is more important than the individual.
Behavior: Frequently takes on facilitative roles/activities, looks for ways to cooperate and collaborate with others.
Characteristics: Patient, team-focused, non-combative, conciliatory

The Co-Worker* believes that the best results are achieved by cooperation, collaboration, and putting the group/team above the individual.

What I like about the Co-Worker is that they are very much like a facilitator. They believe in teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, dialogue… There’s nothing quite so good as having a Co-Worker or two in a meeting to make the facilitator’s life that much easier.

You’ll recognize the Co-Worker as the person who seems to always step in and say “I can see both of your points of view. How can we bring this to some kind of compromise or conclusion?”

Co-Workers rarely seek their own aggrandizement – they work for the group, and will put in as much effort as it takes to see the group succeed. They will frequently take on action items at the end of the meeting, and will seek others to work with in most cases.

* I was going to call this one Collaborator – as in one who labors with others – but was afraid that too many people would take the negative definition of that word – like traitor. English does have its challenges.

The Facilitation Four-Step(tm)

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 04 2009

As I was preparing to deliver the Facilitation workshops this week, I realized that I do have a simple system for dealing with many of the antipattern behaviors. For the sake of discussion, I’m calling it the Facilitation Four-Step(tm).

What I realized was that I have done the same things over and over, without ever consciously identifying what I was doing.

Here it is:

  1. Interrupt
  2. Ask
  3. Redirect
  4. Commit


When I recognize that a destructive or non-collaborative behavior is occurring, the first step is to interrupt it. Always act with respect – that is, it doesn’t matter how I might feel about the person or the behavior, I should always treat people with respect.

Interruption is as simple as “excuse me”.

Professor Moriarty whispering to the woman next to her? “Excuse me.” Gently, respectfully, but clearly. Just enough to get their attention.

Gladiator engaging in combat? “Excuse me.”

Superhero comforting someone? “Excuse me.”


The next step is to ask if it’s okay to do something else. Like “Do you mind holding onto that thought for a minute?” or “Is it okay if we come back to that in a little bit?”

It’s important that the Ask make it clear that we aren’t ignoring or diminishing what they’re saying. Rather we want to communicate that it is important, but that something else must take priority at the moment.

Implicit in the Ask can be both the redirect and the commitment. So, for instance, the ask might be…


“Would you mind holding that thought? I’d like to allow Jane to finish her thought.”

“Is it okay if we come back to that after Mark has a chance to say something?”

The redirect is turning attention away from the “offender” and onto someone else. The someone else is frequently one of two types of participants: someone who is shy and withdrawn or just quiet; or the “victim” of the “offender’s” behavior. It breaks the pattern, shifts the group’s energy, and still shows respect for the offender.


If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll have noticed that in each case, the question also included the Commit.

“Is it okay if we come back to that after Mark has a chance to say something?” is one example.

If the Commit is not explicly included in the Ask and Redirect, then I add it.

“Would you mind holding that thought? I’d like to allow Jane to finish her thought. Then we’ll come back to you. Is that okay?”

This technique has worked quite successfully for me for many years.

Simple, clear, respectful, and paying attention to what’s important to and for the group.

Facilitation Antipattern: The Gladiator

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 03 2009

gladiatorMotto: It’s all about the combat!
Belief: The best results come from heated discussion/argument.
Behavior: Challenging and confrontational.
Characteristics: Doesn’t take it personally, and doesn’t understand why you do.

There are some people who seem to be happiest when they are immersed in conflict of various sorts.  “Violent agreement” is frequently heard, along with being told that it’s more interesting that way, or that you shouldn’t have to hold back, or that it’s not personal, or…

The problem is that most people do not respond positively to being attacked, assaulted, dominated, overwhelmed with perceived verbal and physical violence. They frequently do take it personally.

As a facilitator, behaving this way is right up there with the Evil Genius – you just shouldn’t be facilitating, unless it’s the Ultimate Fighting Championships!

As a participant, you contribute to creating a situation in which no one else is interested in speaking up. Why speak up when someone is going to challenge you to a fight? That’s not fun for most people.

Dealing with The Gladiator requires the patience and confidence to talk to them directly and ask them to tone it down. In many cases, Gladiators are not actually bad people – they’ve just fallen into a pattern of behavior that has worked for them.

%d bloggers like this: