Facilitation: A Skill You Need Now—More than Ever!

In today’s complex and turbulent world, facilitation is less about managing or guiding a conversation. It’s more about standing in inquiry and setting conditions for people to move forward together. It’s a necessary skill if you are in the front of a room, working with a group to move forward. And, it’s just as necessary as you participate in difficult or complex conversations in your day-to-day life.

Our current times are filled with conversation—about work, family, politics, community opportunities and challenges, local and national conditions, health issues and questions. Those conversations are often full of uncertainty, turbulence, or conflict. They may represent a search for shared meaning. We often walk away from those encounters with feelings of frustration, anger, fear, confusion, and sometimes, hope. These conversations shape our lives and relationships. We want them to be productive and life-affirming. Even in conflict, we want to find resolution—or at the very least a place where we can stand together.

I have been a facilitator of conversations most of my adult career—even when that wasn’t part of my job description. I worked in public schools for almost 25 years. I was a teacher, counselor, administrator, trainer, planner. Looking back across that career, I realize that each of those roles brought responsibility to frame and support conversations with students, colleagues, families, and community members. Sometimes these conversations were face-to-face with one other person. Sometimes they were shared conversations in teams, committees, or public meetings. Sometimes they were presentations. Sometimes I set conditions for others to engage with ideas, projects, and plans.

Today, I think about the increased difficulty of those kinds conversations in these times when the questions and decisions hold so much more complexity. Decisions are more influenced by demands of social, political, economic, and health issues that swirl around us every day. There are more and broader differences in thought, beliefs, experiences, perspectives that must be considered and honored. Individuals bring their unique histories that shape their world views, often clashing with others whose world views are different. Add to that, most meetings in these days are done virtually, which adds to the complexity.

In this turbulent and complex landscape, the role of the facilitator is changing—and expanding.

More than ever, as a facilitator, I realize how the role is changing. The conversations and decision-making processes facilitators support deal with more complex challenges. That complexity is woven into the issues people bring to conversations, in the relationships and connections inside the conversations, and in the nature of the impacts beyond those conversations. The role today requires facilitators to see and make sense of the complexity for themselves—and then support participants to do the same.

The task of facilitating conversations has expanded in scope. The role of a facilitator is no longer constrained by an assigned title or expectation. People run meetings inside an organization or as external consultants; they find themselves engaged in team and individual decision making; they step into exchanges and decisions that get tense as differences come to the surface. In so many situations, people who may or may not be professional facilitators find themselves taking on the role of facilitating conversations that get stuck. Those conversations often get mired in confusion and uncertainty that emerges from the complex nature of the questions and issues that shape the landscapes of our lives.

In these kinds of engagements, I find myself using perspectives and tools of human systems dynamics (HSD) to support others. Those tools help me set conditions for discourse that: 1) Nurtures inquiry; 2) Explores emergent and unpredictable futures; 3) Deals with the unique nature of different situations; and 4) Opens possibility for coherent decisions and action. I find that HSD offers me wide-ranging tools to support people as they navigate difficult—sometimes confrontative—interactions.

In HSD, we have identified an approach that helps people navigate the complexity of their questions, issues, challenges, and opportunities. It’s an approach that is accessible, useful, and adaptable to almost any kind of conversation.

Do any of these descriptions fit your situation? Are you:

  • A leader who runs meetings where difficult decisions must be made?
  • A consultant/facilitator who is looking for additional tools?
  • An individual who finds yourself engaged in difficult conversations that seem to go nowhere?
  • Someone who just wants to know more about establishing a generative space for conversation and shared decision making? 

If so, then join us in the next HSD Institute Adaptive Action Lab, Patterns of Facilitation: Leading Groups through Complex Decision Making, scheduled for February 15 and 17, 2022, from 12p – 3p CST (please adjust for your local time zone).

Bring your most challenging facilitation situations and learn skills and perspectives that can help you navigate the complexity of conversation and the discourse of decision making in the 21st century. You will walk away with: 1) A set of simple rules to inform your facilitation; and 2) A series of tools to help you make sense of and navigate patterns of engagement that make some decisions so difficult; 3) A next wise action to shift the pattern that has you and your partners stuck.

For more information visit the webpage for this AA Lab. I hope you can join us for this engaging and timely learning opportunity.


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