In the last article I discussed the origins of Process-Based Facilitation (sometimes called the Facilitation Process Model) and how Charles and I developed this model. In this article I want to introduce you to the entire model, to complete the picture, and show how it relates to the Agenda Activity Cycle or the A2C.
Before we get into discussing the Facilitation Process Model I wanted to review the concept of Patterns of Group Collaboration.
Patterns of Group Collaboration and its associated concept of the “Five Patterns of Thinking” was drawn from the work of Dr. Gert-Jan de Vreede, Professor at the College of Information Science & Technology, University of Nebraska at Omaha. Dr. Jan de Vreede is a computer scientist working on systems to help groups be successful and explored what groups do when they come together. In his article titled the “Seven Patterns of Group Collaboration”, he writes, rightly, I believe, that facilitators create structures of work that help groups be effective. In a way similar to that of Sam Kaner, Jan de Vreede identified seven patterns of things groups do together, usually led by facilitators. His aim was to create a method of doing these, automatically, without the aid of a facilitator, through applets he called “ThinkLets”. Because two patterns were similar to two others eventually the seven patterns were reduced to just five. His hope was that the ThinkLet could contain enough information to negate the need for a trained facilitator, as if all the facilitator did was design and lead a process.
I believe that Dr. Jan de Vreede was about half right. Half the work of a facilitator is designing and building the structures used by groups in their work. However, 25% of the work is knowing how and when to use those structures and the another 25% is knowing how and when to deviate to address the people issues.
Thinklets document the structures much the same way that our tool and technique worksheets document how we deploy them using our facilitation model in the design of a facilitated event. However, while ThinkLets can be documented with ink and paper, and they can be used to program an online activity they don’t have the capacity to observe the nature of interactions and adjust activities as needed, and a session leader, who is not a trained facilitator, might have difficulty doing this as well.
The nature of the Process-Based Facilitation model makes several things the facilitator does explicit, clear or well understood. Yet, while we work with groups openly, we are doing things behind the activity that we don’t always make clear to members for other reasons. This explicit and implicit nature of our work shows that the Facilitator has two parallel focuses when working with a group. One is openly based on helping the group to efficientlywork through the activity and another that is watching for, acting and intervening, as required, to keep the group effective. I believe that the ThinkLets only address the efficiency element of the facilitators contribution to a group.
Within the structure of the generic group process we use specific models, concepts or frameworks to provide a specific structure for that work. The Process-Based Facilitation model was intentionally designed to align with the group process. The model is an 8 step approach that is unlike any other facilitation model. I can describe the model as having five parts: Process Structures, Opening Steps, Agenda Activity Cycle, Process Interventions, and Closing Steps. I’m going to briefly describe each of the parts and steps. More detailed descriptions are found in the course material and my book.
One of the main differences between our model and all other facilitation models is that ours considers is the fact that process structures are an important part of facilitation. No other model I’ve found in my 22 years as a facilitator and facilitation researcher even considers these structures. I identify these structures in two parts; A Models and Concepts, and B Tools and Techniques.
A – Models and Concepts: Most facilitators don’t just talk and question their group. They are actually asked to do something specific; help with solving a problem, develop a strategic plan, develop an action plan, etc. These are Structural Concepts, general ways of doing things. Models are, often, more specific ways of doing the same things. Also included under this grouping are Frameworks which are incomplete, or partial, Models or Concepts. Models and Concepts are tied to the Step 1-Planning. It is at the very beginning of an engagement that the facilitator starts exploring which model, concept or framework to use for a specific client.
Process Structures: B – Tools and Techniques: This is the second part of Process Structures. Tools are specific structures with physical characteristics that are used when facilitating groups. Tools includes things like whiteboards, flip charts, sticky walls, computer and projector, smart boards, paper, markers, etc…
Techniques are specific ways of doing things. In other words they are the processes by which we organize the work and use tools to accomplish specific outputs or outcomes. When examined techniques can be classified as one or more of the five patterns of group collaboration. Tools and Techniques are shown to have an input from Models and Concepts that informs the type of group activity that will be done at different stages. Together the tools and techniques are integrated into a design that translates the intent of the Model or Concept into specific agenda items. The output is a sequenced plan to the start and carry out the facilitated event.
Opening Steps: These structures include the steps associated with planning and kicking off the meeting. Planning can take several days and even months. It can also include several meetings with the client to plan the agenda and associated activities. The Planning step ends with the end of the administrative portion during the planned event.
Step 1 – Planning: This step begins with the initial call or contact with the client. It often includes several meetings that uncover the purpose, outputs and outcomes desired and may include interviews of participants or other key individuals. This is the Design Phase of the project. The output, for the facilitator, is a detailed project plan, including an agenda and facilitation activities design document using the Facilitator’s Worksheets. Specific worksheets associated with the Planning Step are five pages long although the project plan can end up being significantly longer.
Step 2 – Getting Started: This is the kick-off of the planned meeting or event. It usually covers the same issues almost every time. Getting Started includes setting up the room, welcoming the group, Administrative matters, reviewing the agenda and discussing several other issues. Although in some short meetings some of these issues or structures are not covered.
Up until now all of our efforts have been focused on the design of the agenda and dealing with the logistics of getting ready. On the morning of a scheduled facilitation it’s time to put your planning to work.
Agenda Activity Cycle (A2C): The A2C is a multi-level four-part structure through which we deliver different techniques of the group process. Structurally it is limitless in the number and size of agenda activities. The activity can be 1 step or 12 steps. It all fits within the A2C. Each portion of the A2C relates to, or is part of, an agenda item. The A2C includes the following four steps:
Step 3 – Focus the Group: This is a transitional portion of all activities. It eases our way from one activity to another by connecting them to their relevance to each other and the bigger picture. In addition to the transitional Checkpoint it also provides the purpose and instructions for the next activity we will be engaging in as well as the opening question.
Step 4-Gather Data: Step 4 Gather Data is reflective of Step 3 of the Group Process model. This is the step where we uncover what we know or seek to expand our collective knowledge. This is the divergence process undertaken when any activity is started or during early parts of an event. In general, and in this specific context, all the information gathered, be it data, opinions, numbers, or ideas, are treated as data until the group processes it into meaningful information in the following steps. In later cycles of the A2C data may have already been collected and in this step it becomes the collective review before final processing begins.
Step 5-Process Information: Processing information is the act of making sense of what it tells the group in the current context.This is the step where we start to make sense of all the data we’ve collected. The information is ‘processed’ through any number of methods to converge on a decision. Processing means grouping, understanding, reducing, and combining, to narrow the field and create the best decisions for the group’s situation.
Step 6-Decide: It is often surprising to groups but a decision is not always needed, or advisable, once the information has been processed. Yet, the Decision Step is relevant because it often is needed. When a decision is not required of the group the facilitator should use this opportunity to process the groups reactions to what they learned or simply acceptance of their work.
early in Step 2 we determine what kind of decision is to be made and what process we will use. We may have options developed to choose from for this decision-making. There is a range of decision making modes from command decisions to formal consensus. It is during Step 6 that we implement and document the results of the decision making process we selected.
Process Interventions: Having ways to deal with the interruptions to the smooth flow of the activities undertaken in the A2C are what we call Process Interventions. These are interventions that must be inserted in-the-moment, or situations that require the facilitator to intercede to bring the group through a crisis of need. This crisis is often caused by three things or some derivative thereof:
C: Changed Situation: There are times when the information you gathered was either misinterpreted by you, provided mistakenly by the client, or was intentionally misdirecting (uncovered deception or a hidden agenda). Whatever the case, in the moment, you are facing a situation that doesn’t add up with what you are hearing or seeing with the group. If not dealt with early it could lead to significant conflict.
D: Conflict: Conflict is a natural and inevitable part of life and groups. It is often good (competition, learning) but it can also be bad and destructive to a group. Facilitators need to be able to use the good conflict while capturing and disarming the bad conflict as early as possible. This kind of intervention slows the group forcing them to open their eyes and ears to truly listen to one another. It uncovers the root cause of the conflict and engages the group to overcome it or, at least, minimize it.
E: Training: There are many times that a group is asked to do something that they do not know how to do. So they require some level of training. Training of often scheduled because it is not assumed that participants know everything. Scheduled training is not a process intervention. This training is the kind that is required on the spot, in order to keep the event moving forward.
Closing Steps: There are two steps in closing an event. First is Closing the Session and second is Follow-up and Reporting.
Step 7: Session Closing:
Closing the session is one of the most important activities a facilitator engages in with a group. Closing the session is a specific process that includes a brief review of the entire meeting, highlighting what the group did from start to finish, confirming completed items, and addressing how to deal with open items or issues with the group.
Being one of the most important things we do with the group we must make sure we have the time to properly close the session. This means that we have to watch the clock during the last few agenda items to make sure that our work time does not encroach on the time set aside for Closing. If it appears that it may, then we need to do a time check with the group. During the Closing the facilitator conducts a brief review of the work. He guides the group through a review of their expectations and parking boards. They also review with the group the assigned actions from the event. At the conclusion of the Closing the group evaluates some aspects of the event for the purposes of learning and improving on future events. Finally, if there are expected follow-on events topics or agenda items are scheduled for the next meeting.
Step 8: Follow-Up: Conduct a wrap-up meeting with the client as soon as possible after the event for immediate feedback and confirmation of output expectations. Also schedule a follow-up meeting with the client to deliver your report. If required, complete the documentation and reports and be prepared to brief the client and provide recommendations on next steps. Ask the client for feedback. Then complete you facilitator documentation of the event.