Have you ever been on a business team that was stuck with a knotty problem? Ever been responsible for a team that was considered a “problem team”? The symptoms are varied. The team is “stuck in a rut”. People show up for meetings without enthusiasm. Action items get carried over from one meeting to another, held up for a series of perfectly reasonable sounding, and very frustrating, reasons.
Another team may find it easier to address new issues in the same old way, over and over. These methods once worked well, but not any more. Certain problems the team addresses may begin to look intractable.
Another team is hampered by issues that generate high emotions. Everyone is busy protecting their own turf. Arguments repeatedly break out over the same issues. People are civil and proper to each others’ faces, but watch out when they leave the meeting. Gossip is the order of the day, and trust between team members is at a very low level.
At other times a team may feel overwhelmed by problems which it doesn’t feel it has the authority to properly resolve, or it may have gotten involved in so many sub projects that it has lost its’ sense of mission. Team members may feel demoralized, even though they believe in what they are supposed to be doing.
The standard facilitation method is not well suited to resolving these types of team issues. The problem is not keeping the team meetings on track. It’s about finding the tracks, or getting everyone on the same tracks, or even finding out what is undermining the tracks from below.
What teams like these need is a different approach, called Dynamic Facilitation. Developed by Jim Rough and Associates, Dynamic Facilitation breaks through team problems in ways that standard meeting facilitation doesn’t.
First, Dynamically facilitated meetings do away with the typical agenda. The team meets with the task of talking about the issues that are blocking them from moving forward. They meet for up to two hours, and up to four meetings for really difficult issues. The facilitator guides the team in working as a community, unfolding what is at the bottom of the issues.
Second, the facilitator acknowledges and reflects what team members are saying by writing it down on five lists, Problem Statements, Solutions, Concerns, Data, and eventually Decisions. This provides acknowledgement of contributions, a history of idea development and a way for individuals to let go of attachment to pet theories or ways of looking at problems. The five lists become community property, and everyone has the chance to add to or comment upon them.
At the end of each session the facilitator invites the team to concentrate what has happened in the meeting in some form. This becomes either the beginning point for the next meeting, or represents the breakthrough on the issues the team has been seeking. In fact, such breakthroughs can happen at any time during the process, including between meetings.
In Dynamically Facilitated meetings the emphasis is on building trust, opening communication and stimulating creative thinking, not adherence to specific time tables. This method has been used successfully in a variety of settings. Jim Rough gives several examples in his course materials and in articles he has written. I’ll paraphrase one of his examples, and then give one of my own.
Jim relates the story of a team of workers in a saw mill. There was a demand for more workers in the mill to help clean up debris at the point where machines removed the bark from the logs. This was a difficult job. When not done right the process was interrupted, and the standard way of getting around the problem had a tendency to damage the machinery. The problem had been addressed in the past with little long term success. In a meeting facilitated by Jim Rough the workers pinpointed the main problem, went to the work site and developed a simple solution that involved removing a structurally non-critical machine part that was responsible for the buildup of bark and chips. Even though the machine had been looked at many times before, no one saw this particular solution. Dynamic Facilitation opened peoples’ eyes to new possibilities that had not been considered in the past.
In my own experience, I worked with a materials management team. In spite of a history of helping business production units break log jams in the past, the team was experiencing frustration in their current work. The symptoms included being faced with a large number of tasks without a clear direction, frustration over seemingly intractable problems, and loss of a sense of team mission. Over a series of Dynamically Facilitated meetings the team revitalized their mission, cut through the list of tasks to identify a clear way of moving forward, and renewed their sense of working together. Team members report the benefits to have continued well past the initial period.
Dynamic Facilitation supplements standard facilitation methods in a way that can enhance both. Once team members hit upon a breakthrough idea, standard methods of flow charting, fish bone diagrams, etc. can be very helpful. Don’t be content with slogging through problems in unprofitable ways.
FIND OUT MORE
Look up Jim Rough and Associates at www.tobe.net , Then take another look at your teams. Discover what others have discovered through Dynamic Facilitation. You can achieve breakthrough on difficult issues, create choices that work because team members have the energy and desire to make them work, and because they address the real issues the team faces.
This article was originally published by the Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 523, 2011. Mediate.com offers our sincere appreciation to the author and the Nevada Law Journal...By David Larson