How Experience and Qualifications Amplify the Fallacy of Planning (i.e., “Overconfidence”)


Research by Ana Guinote and Mario Weick shows that people in positions of power are particularly ineffective planners.  People who feel powerful focus on getting what they want and ignore the potential obstacles that stand in the way.  The planning efforts of powerful people rely frequently on “best case scenarios” and lead to far shorter time estimates than more practical plans that take into account what may go wrong.

Overconfidence

Overconfidence

Good time management starts with the deliverable and breaks it into manageable pieces, understanding the activities required to support each, and an estimate based on multiple factors such as group size, functionality, and experience.  However, most leaders are relatively poor at estimating the time they will need to complete any task.  Psychologists refer to this as both the planning fallacy and the bias of overconfidence.  Fallacies and biases put us at increasing risk of reaching our objectives on time.

You can learn more accurately how to predict the length of an activity and become a better estimator and planner, if you consider the potential obstacles and two other factors. 

1. Reflect on your past experiences and how long similar activities have taken in the past, and

2. Break the activity into smaller pieces or tasks (e.g., questions or steps) and factor in the time for each task.

For example, Brainstorming as an activity should be broken into three tasks, namely:

1. Diverge or List—estimate time based on whether or not you are using break-out teams, ELMO rule (Enough, Let’s Move On), etc.

2. Analyze—estimate based on the tool to be used (e.g., PowerBalls or Decision Matrix) and allow time for scrubbing the list.  Estimate separately for some time for thorough definitions, capturing omissions, and deleting sub-optimal input.

3. Converge or Decide—estimate based on providing substantial reflection (i.e., active listening) around the rationale for decisions made and allow extra time for testing the decision against the initial purpose of the decision.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

A Consensually Built Picture Can Resolve a Thousand Arguments


Most of us have heard that a picture tells a thousand words.  Consensually built pictures, especially around complex topics and interactions, can be used to help solve and resolve a thousand arguments.  We are reminded by the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) Quick Tip Bulletin #58 about the value of one picture type, called a Context Diagram.

A Context Diagram, also known as a Scoping Picture or Picture of the Business (area) may look complicated and un-informing to the uninformed, but a picture of the business quickly enables a session leader to tighten the reign on scope creep issues that plague many meetings and workshops.Illustrative Context Diagram

The example shown above illustrates “who” the business interacts (here, an organization or business called “Home Finance”) with, “what” the business receives from them, and “what” the business gives to them. Frequently the “whats” are known as inputs and outputs. Inputs and outputs are used in requirements gathering to narrow the scope of discovery and discussion. The picture helps both the participants and the facilitator focus on the deliverable.

Our simple agenda is shown below, and captures the answers to three simple questions before the modeling is complete:

  1. WHO do we work with to support our purpose (eg, Actors or Agents)?
  2. WHAT do we get from them (inputs)?
  3. WHAT do we give them (outputs)?

Modify this “plain vanilla” agenda as you see fit.  Use the FAST 7-step introductory sequence and 4-step review and wrap for the bookends. Have an ample supply of Post-It® Notes available, in at least three different colors, sizes, or shapes to distinguish the WHO from the inputs and outputs. Once complete, and consensually validated, you can proceed further with follow-up meetings or workshops to further define and illustrate WHO the business uses to support their purpose, and what activities (Activity Flow or Functional Decomposition workshop, leading to use cases such as SIPOC) and information (Logical Modeling or Entity Relationship Diagram) are also required to support their business purpose.

Here is the simple agenda that typically takes two to four hours to complete. Refer to your FAST Professional Facilitative Leadership manual for more details.

  • INTRODUCTION
  • PURPOSE OF THE BUSINESS AREA
  • WHO INTERACTS (Actors)
  • WHAT COMES IN (Inputs)
  • WHAT GOES OUT (Outputs)
  • MODEL AND VALIDATION (Walk-thru)
  • THE SCOPE DEFINED (Narrative)
  • REVIEW AND WRAP

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

14 Facilitator Typologies to Avoid (Humorous, Although Uncannily Real)


In light of upcoming Holiday Spirit, here is a quick and somewhat humorous listing of fourteen different facilitator typologies or “personalities” you might seek to avoid. My favorite is “The Pretender.”

14 Typologies to Avoid

14 Typologies to Avoid

  • The “I Can’t Hear You” Guy—The facilitator who refuses to listen, probably because they are too busy analyzing, judging, and processing information.
  • The Blabber—The facilitator who loves the sound of his or her own voice, and actually believes they are adding value when speaking about content rather than context.
  • The Centerpiece—The facilitator who makes he or she the real content of the workshop, because of course, it’s all about them.
  • The Drill Sergeant—The facilitator who is rigidly stuck on the agenda and puts the clock above quality content.
  • The Guardian—The facilitator who makes certain that all conversation goes through him or her and not from participant to participant, so as not to lose control.
  • The Ice Cube—The distant and aloof facilitator who is unwilling to personalize the experience, sometimes becoming accusatory.
  • The Know-it-all—The facilitator who always has the answer. The know-it-all whom can’t say “I don’t know.”
  • The Marathon Man—The facilitator who piles activities on top of one another, doesn’t allow for breaks, and ignores the need for groups to pause, reflect, and absorb topics and ideas.
  • The Molasses Man—The facilitator who is painfully slow and doesn’t have an innate feel for pacing, variety, or style.
  • The Parrot—The facilitator who relentlessly recaps information, restates ideas, and summarizes the obvious (although sometime justifiable for groups that are challenged to focus and “be here now.”)
  • The Passenger—The facilitator who lets people talk too long and gives up the reins of facilitation to whomever is speaking at the time.
  • The Pretender—The facilitator who doesn’t ask real questions but only “pretense questions” that are really designed to give the facilitator an excuse to pontificate.
  • The Storyteller—The facilitator who tells far too many cutesy stories or “war stories” and never gets deep into the content.
  • The Tunnel Driver—The facilitator who keeps doing the same thing or uses the same method hour after hour.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

An Ice Breaker TIP — Newspaper or Magazine Headlines about Accomplishments


This is one TIP from our collection of practical tips, tools, and techniques. Our tips are gathered from our experience, training classes, and alumni contributions.

Warming Up A Group

This ice breaker is useful for people that are unfamiliar with each other, or for familiar groups that need some new dimension to their relationships for the purpose of the workshop.  It may take up to one-half hour for a group of nine, so manages your time accordingly.

Newspaper or Magazine Headline

Newspaper or Magazine Headline

  • 2 minutes: Have each person write their name on a small piece of paper. Collect the names in a container (e.g., bowl, box). Have each participant pick a piece of paper.
  • 5-10 minutes: Allow a few minutes for each person to find the person named on their piece of paper and “interview” them.
  • 3 minutes: Have the participants write a newspaper or magazine headline that describes an event or accomplishment of the person named on their piece of paper. Consider a specific newspaper or magazine that most members of the group are likely to read. Either emphasize a personal or professional accomplishment, but consistently emphasize the perspective you choose.  Consider the headline appearing on a specific page or within a specific column of the magazine or newspaper that is well appreciated or frequently read by the participants.
  • 5-10 minutes: Have each person read the headline for the person named on the piece of paper.

Alternative

Move the headline to some point in the future (eg, five years from now) when it becomes the aspiration of the participant rather than an actual accomplishment.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

An Active Listening TIP — Listening For the WHY, Benefits Everyone


This is one TIP from our collection of practical tips, tools, and techniques. Our tips are gathered from our experience, training classes, and alumni contributions.

Listening For the WHY

We all know that listening is an important skill. We instruct our students to engage in “active” listening. But, what do we hear?

Listening for WHY

Listening for WHY

Most listening is the act of being attentive to What the speaker says. Our tip today is to listen for Why the speaker is saying what they are saying.  Participants have a natural tendency to speak in symptoms (eg, “I’m fatigued”) rather than the cause (eg, “I’ve been working 70 hours a week.”)

WHY is the Cause (or, the “Because”) of the WHAT

The Why is very often apparent in personal conversation. You might ask yourself (while a stranger is speaking to you) about why they are telling you about a particular fact or story. Determining the motivation for the speaking is as important if not more so than what is said.

Many of us already know this about our children. When a teenager says “I hate you,” he/she is really saying:

  • I’m frustrated
  • I didn’t get my way
  • I don’t have power to influence you or change your opinion
  • I’m embarrassed
  • I’m going to hurt you because you hurt me

Chances are they do not really “hate” you.

The Tip

Without trying to be amateur psychologists here, listen for the why when:

  • A workshop participant is angry and/or confrontational
  • A participant waxes on about something seeming irrelevant, or just waxes on, and on
  • A participant is abnormally active or withdrawn

In our classes we advise to confirm what and why the speaker says. We are also suggesting that as facilitator, you need to confirm why the speaker has said they said in addition to what is being said.

The why usually represents the most important message coming from the person speaking because next steps and actions for groups are built around the cause rather than the symptom.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Seven Top Skills for Managing Change in an Enterprise or Organization


To improve or enhance your personal capacities and to help you understand what skills to seek in others that support effective change, we have isolated seven top skills.

Change Management

Change Management

These skills are those most frequently identified by employers according to Syracuse University public-affairs professor Bill Coplin, author of “10 Things Employers Want You To Learn In College.” With our focus on change and business process improvement, we have modified them and listed them in order of priority as they apply to facilitating and managing change:

  1. Integrity—“Do what you say you are going to do.” Without integrity and work ethic, all the other skills could be dangerous. Coplin incudes self-motivation and time management.
  2. Communications—the greatest and most innovative ideas are impotent if they are not adequately explained to others. Coplin separates verbal or oral communications from written and also emphasizes editing and proofing one’s work.
  3. Team Work—change never occurs in a vacuum and effective change relies on distributed ownership. Stakeholders need to embrace the change or it will fail. Coplin mentions one-on-one, relationship building, and influencing people through leadership.
  4. Infomediary—effectively receiving, archiving, and distributing information that each stakeholder needs to plan, operate, and control and the change effort to their level of satisfaction. Colin refers to gathering information and keeping it organized.
  5. Measurement—“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” so become adept with quantitative tools, statistics, graphs, and spreadsheets. Know how to objectively measure why something is important.
  6. Questioning—Few skills are harder to teach and yet as important as knowing the right question to ask. Subject matter experts abound in most organizations, they need to be stimulated by the right question in the proper context, and they can deliver.
  7. Problem Solving—While Coplin emphasizes identifying problems, developing possible solutions, and launching solutions, we would add the importance of properly analyzing the problems as well. Do not leap from identification to solution without a thorough understanding of the implications of the problem.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Avoid Asking “How Do We Solve Global Hunger?” with Improved Methodology


Meeting participants are all too frequently confronted with questions that are too difficult to answer. When the facilitator receives a blank stare or extended silence after asking a question, there is a strong likelihood that the question is much to broad or vague, and thus difficult (rather than easy, as in facilitaere) to answer. Strive before your meeting to understand that Y = f (X) + (X) + (x) + (x), implying that your big question (Y) is a function of many questions, large (X) and small (x). Break it down to make it easier.

SINGLE-QUESTION APPROACH

The Single Question

The Single Question

Purpose

The following can be used to develop new questions that lead to a workshop method or agenda and the questions that ought be addressed during the meeting.

Larson developed the Single-Question agenda and here it is modified from Larson’s five-step agenda.  The approach is predicated on decomposing the big question that will provide the main answer or solution to a problem.  This quickly focuses groups on the essentials of the problem.

The Big Question           

What is the single question, the answer to which the entire group needs to know to accomplish its purpose?

Example:   A workshop to design a newsletter would begin with the single (and broad) question, “What is the content and format of this newsletter?”

Sub-Questions

What sub-questions must be answered before we can answer the single question we just formulated?  While preparing, talk to participants and find out what questions they need to have answered during the meeting.  Test your questions prior to the meeting for clarity, precision, and completeness.

Example:   Our newsletter workshop question can be answered when the following sub-questions are answered.

  • What are their interests?
  • What do they already know?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  • Which media would they prefer?
  • Who is the newsletter audience?
  • Why would they read a newsletter?

Sequencing                  

Sequence them in order—which need to be answered first, second, and so on.  This begins to yield topical flow—facilitators lead with coherent agenda steps that reflect a comprehensive list of questions.  The sequence is based on which answers help in answering subsequent questions.

Example:   For our newsletter, the questions might need to be answered in the following order.

  1. What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  2. Who is the newsletter audience?
  3. Why would they read a newsletter?
  4. What are their interests?
  5. What do they want to know?
  6. What do they already know?
  7. Which media would they prefer?

Organizing                  

Next group the questions. Participants participate better when we “chunk” information to create natural breaks.  Group the questions so that a single, definable product is developed at the end of each set of questions—or question.

Example:   In our newsletter example, we have four key products, Overall Purpose, Audience, Content, and Media.

  • Question 1 defines the Overall Purpose.
  • Questions 2 and 3 define the Audience.
  • Questions 4, 5, and 6 define the Content.
  • Question 7 defines the Media.

Example:  Our newsletter workshop simple agenda would be . . .

  • Introduction
  • Purpose of the Newsletter
  • Audience
  • Content
  • Media
  • Review and Wrap up

Comments

Advantages—Good if under time pressure and you need to build a 
solid agenda from scratch.

Disadvantages—Very difficult in conflict-ridden or very 
complex situations.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Benefits and Best Practices Using Structured Facilitative Workshops


Structured workshops are increasingly popular among Lean Sigma and Requirements Gathering projects that frequently support business process improvement and product development.   Why?  When properly conducted, they are simply faster and more effective than typical business meeting discussions.  Remember that the terms discussion, percussion, and concussion are all related so if you ever have a headache when departing a meeting, likely it was unstructured.

Benefits and Best Practices

Benefits and Best Practices

Benefits Claimed

  1. By adopting a structured approach, an organization can establish a scalable, consistent process that can be measured and continuously improved.
  2. Overall project life cycle can be shortened by two to four weeks, thus helping business stakeholders realize project benefits early.
  3. Session participants demonstrate a high level of active engagement, claiming and that structured sessions enabled good use of their time.
  4. Structured approaches also produce higher quality outputs, allowing for issues and risks to be identified and resolved earlier in the life cycle, when the cost to resolve them is smaller.
  5. Structured approaches help enhance the perceived value of the session leader role as a valuable provider of context rather than a mere producer of documentation.
  6. Workshop approaches result in clear reduction in time and effort. Many companies claim project life-cycle savings that exceed USD $100,000 and some exceeding one million dollars.
  7. Workshop approaches successfully shift project development activities from being template driven to conversation driven, thus helping build better teaming and collaboration amongst participants.

Best Practices A number of best practices developed during facilitated sessions include:

  1. Defining consensus as a standard that can be supported rather than the ideal resolution that makes participants “happy”, help set a better expectation that should prevent all participants from losing any sleep (a personal standard).
  2. Energize and engage participants by explaining the importance of the session in the beginning and strive to quantify the impact of the meeting on the project valued in cash assets at risk or FTE (full-time equivalent) being deployed.
  3. Use a neutral facilitator. The facilitator must be neutral to content discussed, allowing the participants freedom to edit and modify their own contributions.  Neutrality provides trust that enables higher level of participation and contribution by participants.
  4. Using a pre-defined deliverable, agenda, and participant list.  The deliverable and agenda for each session and participant buy-in ought be articulated in advance to transfer ownership to the session participants prior to the meeting. Thorough preparation helps the participants to focus on topics, questions, and activities that help the facilitator better control the context.
  5. Using a refrigerator (aka “parking lot” or “issue bin”) to store items out of scope or beyond reach for the time available helps separate the co-mingling of strategic issues, tactical maneuvers, and operational issues.
  6. Using a well prepared deliverable and agenda, the facilitator can better control the scope of conversations, preventing circular and irrelevant discussions.
  7. Write it down.  If it is not written down, it never happened. Strive to capture verbatim comments and complete necessary edits after the meeting. This helps to build more confidence among participants. Making the documentation immediately visible to participants minimizes one-on-one follow-ups and email conversations.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs). Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Guidelines for Selecting Appropriate Structured Facilitation Tools


There are hundreds of tools employed by session leaders to gather information, support decision-making, encourage innovation, build camaraderie, strive for higher quality, or guide a facilitator through an unplanned pathway.  Selection of the “best” tool depends on many of the factors discussed below.

Overview of Helpful Tools

A note of caution—beginning facilitators often have a difficult time feeling comfortable because of the newness of the tools and some experienced facilitators overuse a tool—they may forget that when you are comfortable using a hammer, not everything is a nail.  Some guidelines to follow when using tools:

  • There is more than one appropriate option.  For example, we can capture initial input or meaning from participants through the Brainstorming (ie, narrative), Creativity (ie, drawing), PowerBalls (ie, iconic), or SWOT (ie, numeric).
  • Only use a tool if it is correcting a problem or situation.  The tool must add value or it distracts from the method.  For example, do not lead a team-building exercise if the team is highly functional.
  • Do not ask the group permission to use a tool.  You are the leader and need to set the method—so do it.
  • Never present the tool as a game or a gimmick.  This often leads to resistance.  Be disciplined about your rhetoric explaining the Purpose tool.  For example, do not ask about ‘today’s purpose’ since you are expected to know the purpose of the meeting.
  • Except for team building tools, explain the deliverable from each tool used and how it supports completing the deliverable.
  • Do not be afraid to use a new tool—they have all been field-tested and work well when used properly.
  • Build tool contingencies into your agenda—ie, plan to use a specific tool but if a problem arises, do not be afraid to substitute for something more appropriate.
  • For tools designed to correct situations such as team dysfunction and lack of creativity, remember that most groups did not become dysfunctional in ten minutes and the situation will not be corrected through a ten-minute exercise.  It often takes numerous exercises and a great deal of time to see a real difference.  Do not give up and you will earn their respect for perseverance.

The “Right” Tool

Selecting the best tool to use by understanding the desired outcome.  Avoid becoming so comfortable with one or two that those are the only tools you use.  To select an appropriate tool:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Define the desired outcome.
  3. Review the tool selection map on the forthcoming pages to help determine which tool helps achieve your desired outcome.

Team-Building Tools

Suggested steps for effective team-building exercises include:

  1. In advance prepare your materials, prompts, assignments (eg, CEO and team names) and rehearse if the tool is new or complicated.
  2. Provide clear and explicit instructions, preferably posted or written down as handouts.  Emphasize any rules.
  3. Monitor group activity closely, especially in the beginning and make yourself readily available for clarifying areas of fear, doubt, or uncertainty.
  4. Compare the purpose with the output.  Reinforce the learning and how it applies to accelerating the group’s performance toward your meeting or workshop deliverables.

Decision-Making Tools

Use the following matrix to help guide you to the most appropriate decision-making tools based on the type of information 
(ie, qualitative or quantitative) and complexity of the decision 
(ie, concrete or abstract).

Decision-Making Matrix

Decision-Making Matrix

Additional Sources

There are hundreds of tools not included in the FAST reference manual.  Continue to add to your tool chest.  If you are in an enterprise with other facilitators, consider building a Community of Practice (ie, CoP) that archives tools, visual prompts, and retrospective reviews so that your selection is made easier and perhaps not too repetitive for your participants.

For additional exercises and tools for facilitators look at Games Trainers Play and More Games Trainers Play by John Newstrom and Edward Scannell, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, various.  You can also order the IAF (International Association of Facilitators) Handbook of Group Facilitation and other resources at Amazon.com among others.  There are thousands of tools and resources for facilitators and team-building tools in English and other languages.

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project.  It has detailed group agendas and suggested tools to make your role a lot easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Avoid Absurdity While Facilitating, Keeping in Mind “The Abilene Paradox”


Group decision-making, when not transparent or properly facilitated, can lead to awful decisions. Why four intelligent adults would agree and decide to do something that none of them wanted to do in the first place sounds absurd, but is effectively captured in the brief article, “The Abilene Paradox.”

Based on a story that starts in the remote town of Coleman, Texas, four adults travel in a dust storm and 104 degrees (Fahrenheit) heat in an un-air-conditioned 1958 Buick to a cafeteria in Abilene. After returning, the story covers their conversation that could be summed up with the comment “ I didn’t want to go.”  Of course, none of them did, so why did they go?

Jerry B. Harvey’s tale can originally be found in the October issue of the Organizational Dynamics journal, 1985.  Its message is timeless.  He identifies the inability to manage agreement as a major source of organizational dysfunction.  He never mentions the need or value of a professionally trained facilitator, rather describes the caller of the meeting as the “confronter.” A trained, professional facilitator would be much more effective as they could challenge participants (rather than “confront” them).

In his article, he covers six issues:

The Abilene Paradox

The Abilene Paradox

  • Symptoms of the paradox (arguably the most important of the six)
    • People in organization shave private conversations . . .
    • . . . and make private agreements as to the steps to “cope” with the situation or problem they face.
    • They fail to communicate their underlying desires or beliefs to one another leading to a misperception of the collective reality.
    • Members make collective decisions that lead them to take actions contrary to what they want to do, and thereby arrive at results that are counterproductive to the organization’s intent and purposes . . .
    • . . . resulting in frustration, anger, irritation and dissatisfaction with they organization that results in blaming “other” subgroups.
    • Since they are unable to manage agreements (rather than conflict), the cycle repeats itself with greater intensity.
  • How they arise in organizations
  • The underlying causal dynamics
  • Implications for organizational behavior
  • Recommendations
  • Views toward the broader existential issue

His story is also a fun and enjoyable read while his thesis is that the failure to communicate effectively runs rampant through most large organizations.  Attributable to numerous causes, facilitated decision-making provides a dependable answer, or alternative to absurd decision-making.  Why?  People speak symptomatically.  Without proper challenge, they do not think clearly nor do they articulate the driving causes or rationale for their beliefs.

Also citing the “Watergate” fiasco that brought down President Nixon, he notes that “ . . . the central figures of the Watergate episode apparently knew that, for a variety of reasons, the plan to bug the Watergate did not make sense.” Avoid your own Watergate, or an exhausting 106-mile trek by embracing the value of a trained, professional facilitator.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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