Transitioning From Process Facilitator to Event Facilitator

from an E-mail by Jon Foley
commentary by Bryan Coffman

(published 02/20/1997)

Editor's Note: References to specific clients have been removed as a part of our fiduciary responsibility to them.

This is my report of my learning as co-facilitator during a recent DesignShop® Venture.

It's a little challenging to follow Chip Saltsman's lead as a model for capturing personal learning in our network. His long discourses have entertained me and made me laugh, but also made me think through the why and how of much of the way we work. I believe we should follow Chip's example, not only in order to capture learning for the organization, but because it helps the writer to process and understand his/her personal learning. Still it's a little daunting to consider writing a complete volume, as Chip does. I think I'll stick to a Cliff Notes version. [See the various issues of the Journal of Transition Management for articles by Chip.]

Chip and I spent an hour in Hilton Head on Saturday night, iterating a Strawdog I wasn't satisfied with. It survived the Sponsor's Walk-Through with one change - we added a Take-A-Panel™ exerciseto the second day. The Strawdog basically worked as planned.



  • 65 participants
  • Tie the work of the DesignShop event into an existing Vision
  • industry trends include:
    • Outsourcing
    • Virtual organization
    • Alternative markets


  • new understanding of decomposing and reconfiguring the industry in question
  • 5-year strategy and platform
  • real products



  • 8:00 - 9:00 Introduction
    • purpose/challenge from DesignShop Sponsors
    • logistics
    • what is a model?
    • axioms
  • 9:00 - 11:00 Scenario Challenge
    • 8 teams
    • it's 2002
    • different scenarios for different teams:
      • In spite of very challenging environmental change, your company is thriving. How did you do it?
      • In spite of lots of new opportunities and breaks, your company is failing. How did you do it?
      • In spite of very challenging environmental change, your consulting company is thriving. How did you do it?
      • In spite of lots of new opportunities and breaks, your consulting company is failing. How did you do it?
      • Your company has been bought by an investment firm. Your company's performance in marginal. Your management team has been given six months to turn things around. What will you do?
      • Your performance in your consulting market has been dismal. Management has given you one year to fix things or a decision will be made to get out of this market. What will you do?
      • Government regulations have changed dramatically. How did you respond to the various changes in law?
      • How did a new delivery model change the way you did business in the market?
  • 11:00 - 12:30 Report outs
  • 12:30 - 2:00 Author to Author (over lunch)
  • 2:00 - 3:30 Scenario
  • 3:30 - 8:00 Modeling
  • 3:30 - 5:00 Read books
    • Each team focused on one book or theme as follows:
    • Team 1: The Timeless Way of Building and The Pattern Language by C. Alexander
    • Team 2: Leadership and the New Science by Margaret J. Wheatley
    • Team 3: The Art of War by Sun Tzu (seven different versions, including two specifically written about business)
    • Team 4: The Web of Life by Fritjof Capra
    • Team 5: Gaia by James Lovelock, along with several other books about Gaia
    • Team 6: Complexity and Creativity in Organizations by Ralph D. Stacey
    • Team 7: Out of Control by Kevin Kelly
    • Team 8: At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman
  • 5:00 - 6:45 Discussion.
    What have you learned about your author's model of how things work? How does it work? What are the terms of art? What are examples of how it works? How can it be applied to your industry? To your company? What are examples?
  • 6:45 - 8:00 ModelShop.
    Build a model of the industry using your author's model. Show how the model changes over time. How does learning and adaptation take place? Where are the points of control? Show how the system works. Etc.



  • 8:00 - 10:00 Reports
  • 10:00 - 2:30 Simulation
  • 2:30 - 3:30 Debrief Conversation
  • 3:30 - 6:00 Build the strategy and products/services.



  • Typical series of break outs, synthesis conversations and report outs.


Some of What I Learned About Facilitation

It's both easier and harder to co-facilitate with Matt [Matt Taylor, co-founder, along with Gail Taylor, of MG Taylor Corporation] than with others. It's "easier" in that if you don't know something - like what to do next - you can count on Matt to have a plan. It's harder, because by his participation, he elevates the caliber of the ideas and sometimes seems to increase the apparent risk.

I was very pleased that Matt didn't suggest more than one change to my design. I was bothered that he saw and could articulate various advantages and strategies imbedded in the design. I wasn't bothered because Matt could do that, but because I hadn't seen them and couldn't articulate them!

Working With the KreW
Someone told me that sometimes a facilitator is better off not knowing what the KreW has to do to support the event because if he knew, he would worry! Well, since I have worked on KreWs for years, I worried constantly! And I never really knew how much my worrying was based on reality and how much was based on imagination and/or wishful thinking. I was acutely aware of near misses by the KreW, and it distracted me. If I had been on the other side, however, I may not have been so concerned!

Next time, I'll make it a point to meet with the process facilitator in advance and design the way we'll work together. Without this foundation, I found it difficult to fully engage in many (most) of the report outs. I would be thinking about the report, when suddenly I would be jarred by something going on around me. Once it was the way the video camera was being moved around, another time it was because a complete stranger was wandering around "backstage" and no one was checking him out. Once it was because I realized that an assignment wasn't ready. Another time it was because I didn't understand how the KreW was preparing for a "vote with your feet" assignment. (They were on top of it, but I didn't see or know that.) [See Roles and Duties of the Process Facilitator]

I learned that it's a good idea for an experienced KreW member, preferably the process facilitator, to be present in the back of the room during large group activities. There was rarely anyone available for me to check with, signal to, etc., from the front of the room. Several times I left the room to check on things, because inexperienced KreW members could only stare at me blankly when I signaled them or asked a question. If there had been even one experienced person available, perhaps running a camera, I would have felt more comfortable. The only experienced KreW member present at times was doing documentation, so she couldn't respond, even if she'd seen me signaling.

I think this is a source of many challenges that a Facilitator faces. In our Pattern Language for the Enterprise we have a pattern called a Stable Relationship of Three and refers to forming a strong triad involving someone facilitating from the front of the room (the Facilitator), someone facilitating from the middle of the room (the Sponsor) and someone facilitating from the back of the room (Process Facilitator or experienced substitute). In small centers, it's easy for the Process Facilitator to keep a hand on the pulse of the KreW and the pulse of the participants. In larger centers where the KreW's activities may be more spread out (catering, production, etc.) it becomes more difficult for the Process Facilitator to maintain these critical connections. Some centers have even been oriented so that there are very sharp divisions between the realm of the KreW and the realm of the participants. Solutions can certainly be designed, but involve a careful examination and application of the 7 Domains.

Also, the newer and more inexperienced the KreW is, the greater the demand for intense education before the DesignShop event begins. However, at some point there is a ratio of experienced to inexperienced that can be crossed only with threat of dire consequences. That ratio is probably 1:2, or one experienced for every two inexperienced.

Overall, I was uncomfortable much of the time, mostly cognitive dissonance from being in a different role than usual. (But I want to do it again!) I communicated my discomfort to the KreW in many ways, and although everything I said was true, it is also true that the KreW, as almost always happens in a event, did a wonderful job of coming together and getting the job done. The KreW worked hard to deliver what I asked for, as soon as I asked for it!

I had learned the week before at another DesignShop event how much difference it can make to have a KreW member synthesize and analyze the Take-A-Panel copies. Our Take-A-Panel module took place late on the second day, and it took until mid-morning on the third day to get back a report from a knowledge worker, but it still helped me understand some of the issues and things we could accomplish. I'd like to see this become a standard practice.

This is not only a good way to get a sense of range of issues, problems and solutions in the DesignShop event, it's also excellent preparation for adding value to the Journal and for building a framework for the Work Product. See related article on creating Work Products. I've frequently analyzed exercises from Day One during an event (it was one of the first things I was encouraged to step up to when I joined MGT in 1984). I discovered that the ultimate solution to whatever problem the client was facing was contained in these early exercises and could be revealed after a rigorous synthesis. I'd take a Scenario exercise, for example, analyze it and present it sometime on Day Two and it always corroborated a critical strategic solution or direction that the participants needed to take.

Process Facilitation and Facilitation
I discovered that I think about things differently when facilitating than when process facilitating. When I'm process facilitating, I'm concerned with how much "human capital" it's going to cost to get the writing, graphics, work products, etc., done, i.e., how much sweat equity has to go into the support. As a facilitator, I'm much more concerned with what the client needs or could use, and the KreW's efforts become minimized in my mind. I'd like to be more balanced. Or perhaps the balance already exists in the nature of the team.

Another Process Facilitator gave me strong feedback that I need to let go of process facilitation when I'm facilitating. I understand her point, and agree with her. AND there were times when things would not have happened if I hadn't stepped out from the front of the Radiant Room and asked the KreW for specific things.

Environment and Technical Systems
New space and lots of new KreW members made for a tough time. We had many technological glitches - at the end of Day Two, we still didn't have Day One's documentation complete.

It is difficult to come into a space and not find a turn-key technical operation. There were a number of system crashes, which forced us to re-create much of the work. In spite of all our experience, we still haven't learned that there are times when it's okay to work on the server, and times when it's not. It's no fun to be in the middle of a long report out and have the server crash because someone can't wait until later to load software onto it, move things around on it, etc. We "know" better, but we seem to act anyway.

Working With Sponsors
I think I learned a lot about working with sponsors, but won't really know until I've had a chance to work with some again. Matt seems to move so seamlessly from one point to the next, that it's easy to miss a carefully calculated (on his part) transition. I did recognize a number of times when he was testing his conclusions and ideas. As process facilitator, I've usually only partially focused on the sponsor meetings, since there were so many other details to take care of at the same time, so this opportunity for total concentration was educational.

After the event is Over
Finally, I learned about how it feels to be a facilitator on the fourth day after the sponsors have gone. I've never really come to closure on my feelings about facilitators and what they should do or not do at this point. Part of me says they should be able to add value, but part of me says get them out of the space. I finally left after dinner on Saturday night. I expected to feel guilty. I felt wonderful.

copyright © 1997, MG Taylor Corporation and Gail Taylor. All rights reserved
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