Archive for the ‘Effective Facilitation’ Category

What’s the Right Size for a Board?

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

A few governance consultant colleagues and I are experimenting with Blab. Blab is a terrific forum for group video broadcasting and live chat combined. On our last Blab, we had some discussion about board size. I made a comment about “doing the math” regarding board size and length of meetings. Most boards do not have enough time for everyone to participate fully. One of my colleagues challenged this comment because not all people want to talk on every topic. My simplistic example was not meant as a prescriptive way to determine board size. What I wanted to illustrate was the issue of being intentional about providing opportunities for gathering collective wisdom among a diverse group.

Larger representative boards can be effective. During the Blab, we discussed the problem of coordination and getting everyone together. A smaller group cuts down on the severity of the problem. Also, collective and diverse wisdom is a board member selection issue. What boards need to seek is diversity of thought and heterogeneity in board composition. However, diversity can yield to adverse affects if the group is too large, e.g., stalemate or lack of mutual trust among members.

“Rich information content must be balanced against the capacity to pool members’ varying types of expertise in an effective manner,” (Krause & Douglas, 2013, p. 147). Krause and Douglas also noted that smaller boards tend to cultivate rich information content by exploiting diverse sources of information. A larger board can be effective if there are ways to ameliorate the social uncertainty of large, diverse boards. That, too, was something we explored — using technology as a way to keep a larger group engaged and involved. We talked a bit how technology can also be a barrier to good dialogue and engagement. If you want to hear the whole thing, it’s here.


Krause, G. A., & Douglas, J. W. (2013). Organizational structure and the optimal design of policymaking panels: Evidence from consensus group commissions’ revenue forecasts in the American states. American Journal of Political Science, 57(1), 135-149. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2012.00614.x

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 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.