Horse sense for people

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

From Rick Lamb of The Horse Show came the following gem. People in groups have similar focus issues! When I read this, I thought that these similar things happen in group meetings. The job of a facilitator is to create the focus exercises that help the group stay on task.

With apologies in advance to Rick Lamb, I’ve inserted “people” words [in brackets] for “horse” words. Enjoy!

The world is full of distractions for your [group]. Getting [them] to focus on the task at hand starts with you.

You can’t change what goes on around you and your [group] and sometimes you will lose [their] attention.

Trainer John Lyons suggests that you have an exercise ready to work on, focus on doing that exercise, and be ready for a little mental battle with your [group].

“[Groups have a tendency to mentally wander. They distract themselves by mentally playing] a game. I bet I can make you think [I'm really very important because I need to be constantly in touch via cell phone or text]. No, no, I’m doing this. But I’m [not interested in this part. I want to move on to the next agenda item]. No, no, I’m doing this. But [lunch is] coming up. No, no, I’m doing this. But there’s a lot of people. No, no, I’m doing this. And so it’s just a game and it’s learning how to keep our focus on that game. Then what’s going to happen, the longer [the facilitator stays] focused, pretty soon that [group] is going to come right over and start working on what I’m working on.”

Avoid checking out the distraction yourself. It usually doesn’t matter what it is, and if you let it draw your attention, you’ve lost the focus game.

Do I need a professional facilitator?

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Insights into group dynamics are essential to facilitators to successfully accomplish the purpose of the meeting.

Facilitators should have a working knowledge of organizational behavior.

Organizational behavior is the applied discipline of understanding individual behavior in groups, group process and facilitating individuals in groups to work more effectively and efficiently. As a field of study, organizational behavior integrates psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics and political science. As applied in practice, organizational behavior helps facilitators motivate and encourage people in the group to be flexible and innovative as well as work together successfully.

As a facilitator, I need to understand the principles and stages of group development to cultivate effective group process and decision-making. In some situations, the group does not necessarily need to become a team but some teambuilding is advantageous. My strategies for the groups depend on what stage the group is in – forming, norming, storming, or performing (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forming-storming-norming-performing for more information). In addition, I need to observe group behavior throughout a session in order to create participation.

A facilitator will find it inherently useful to understand the culture within an organization. The organization’s culture is like societal culture and is comprised of a variety of things such as values, beliefs, norms, experiences, attitudes, artifacts (stories, rites and rituals) and patterns of behavior.

Functionally, organizational behavior becomes an organizational control mechanism that informally defines what is acceptable and what is not.

For facilitators, understanding organizational culture provides a powerful level for guiding group behavior. Each organization’s dominant culture is unique and can contain subcultures and countercultures.

As a facilitator I have observed that subgroups often form in a group that’s in the storming stage of development. This state occurs when members of the group find that they like some members but not others. The group is divided into factions. The storming stage is the most difficult stage to facilitate since it is full of tension and emotion. The best approaches I have found in this situation is to surface all the problems (get the “dead moose” off the table), create norms that make it safe to discuss the problems and encourage members to debate in a non-personal way. The worst thing is ignoring the situation, attempting to avert arguments or becoming authoritarian. The group will end up focusing its energy on being dissatisfied with me rather than solving its problems. I need to remain clear that I am not taking the group’s behavior personally and accept that tension is normal.

Again, I most often encounter subcultures or countercultures in groups during the storming stage. When interpersonal aspects overshadow getting the job done, I need to bring people’s attention back to process and help people learn group skills. I need to help the group identify their differences or issues and solve them together. I need to stay neutral and totally calm in order to best facilitate communication in this situation.

 

I use a number of process tools as a facilitator to create effective communication and feedback in a group.

I use:

The tool that I choose depends on the job at hand and the group’s stage of development.

I am constantly learning about group behaviors, theories of group interactions and group processes.

My personal vision for every group is to integrate the shared commonalities and align the wonderful differences within a group.

In reality, this is not always achievable but a purposeful direction is necessary. If I can at least cultivate a sense of shared group responsibility and move a group toward the collaborative or performing stage, I believe I am successful.