January 23, 2014 1 Comment
“Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need weird shoes or a black turtleneck to be a design thinker . . .” so goes the article from Harvard Business Review June 2008 (pg 87). The author suggests that five characteristics found in design thinkers (ie, innovators) that relate uncannily to core competencies required for effective facilitation. Included (in alphabetical order) are Collaboration, Empathy, Experimentalism, Integrative Thinking, and Optimism.
Collaboration: Increasing complexity of options and decision-making demands the involvement of many, rather than one. Lone genius has been replaced with cross-disciplinary subject matter experts. Select subject matter experts have the talent to succeed, the initiative and motivation to succeed, but frequently do not know how to succeed in a group setting. Many are subject matters across disciplines with experience drawn upon multiple backgrounds and organizations. At IDEO for example, they engage engineers, marketers, anthropologists, industrial designers, architects, and psychologists, among others.
Empathy: Understanding that there is more than one right answer, seeking the best among multiple perspectives lends itself to creating an answer that did not walk into the meeting; rather one that is created during the meeting. To support creation, empathy in the form of active listening with a neutral session leader becomes critical.
Experimentalism: Challenging subject matter experts to make their thinking visible, from the heart, can advance the rationale behind their thoughts that breeds both consensual understanding and breakthrough solutions. Through observation and questioning, session leaders can inspire and transfer ownership of the meeting output.
Integrative Thinking: While analytical methods are certainly helpful, integrative approaches support innovation. A neutral facilitator can help a group understand multiple perspectives and build a solution(s) to reconcile seemingly contradictory points of view. For example, one participant may prefer black and another prefers white. Instead of viewing them as opposing thoughts, how can we integrate both black and white? Immediate answers include options such as two-tone, plaid, polka dot, shades of grey, etc.
Successful session leaders rely on confidence in method rather than expertise around content to generate higher quality solutions. Practically speaking however, optimism and confidence come from experience, so don’t forget to try, practice, and some more. There is usually more than one right answer. You may not be the best facilitator in the world, but you are the best facilitator your group can find.
Trust that in the role of session leader, they need you more than anything else, to lead with Collaboration, Empathy, Experimentalism, Integrative Thinking, and Optimism. Through method you can open the doors of perception that makes it easier for your group to develop breakthrough solutions.
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’re 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.
- Innovation: Are You a Gardener or an Architect? (timkastelle.org)
- Understanding the Future of Work: 8 Traits of Collaborative Leadership [Infographic] (business2community.com)