Transitioning From Process Facilitator to Event Facilitator
from an E-mail by Jon Foley
by Bryan Coffman
Editor's Note: References to specific
clients have been removed as a part of our fiduciary responsibility to
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
- 65 participants
- Tie the work of the DesignShop event
into an existing Vision
- industry trends include:
- Virtual organization
- Alternative markets
INTENDED OUTCOMES INCLUDED:
- 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
- what is a model?
- 9:00 - 11:00 Scenario Challenge
- 8 teams
- it's 2002
- different scenarios for different
- In spite of very challenging
environmental change, your company is thriving. How did you
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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