The deeper we delve into any subject, the more complex and intricate it can become. I think it’s common to think that to become an advanced practitioner of facilitation, or any art for that matter, requires a move in the direction of increasing complexity. While a deeper and/or broader scope of knowledge and experience is the mark of a master, there is another telltale sign that I believe is often overlooked in the realm of mastery.
As we advance in our field, it’s easy to give less regard to the basics. Yet no matter how complex our activities are, the basics always form the foundation upon which everything else rests. The highest buildings take advantage of the latest in engineering and materials sciences, yet they must rest on the deepest and and most stable foundations. The higher they rise, the deeper these foundations must go. Similarly, as we grow as facilitators, our success depends on a firm commitment to the foundations of our most complex skills.
I’ve often been struck when listening to celebrated experts in various fields. What usually seems to set them apart for me is their way of fully embracing and articulating the obvious. They are easy to understand. Their language is simple and clear and resonates with a deep understanding of the foundations of their field.
In the past few facilitation workshops I’ve delivered, I’ve noticed a pattern amongst the facilitator participants, many of whom were intermediate and advanced practitioners. Some of the most basic skills were consistently overlooked. For example, many times small groups would move forward on an activity we assigned them without fully understanding what they were expected to do. Or, they would move in a given direction, not really happy with how it was going, but not checking in to consider changing their approach. Under the pressure to just get something done, anything done, even experienced facilitators sometimes forget the basics.
Deepen your Understanding of the Basics
Amnesia Basica. So what can we do about this amnesia of the basics? The following three tips are intended to help you stay grounded in the basics whether you are leading or participating in a group.
Be willing to ask “dumb” questions (these are often the most important). When working as a leader or member of a group, we’ve all experienced the feeling that we don’t understand what’s going on. Either we aren’t tracking with the discussion 100% of the time and missed something that was said, or everyone in the group isn’t on the same page. Actually, no one ever tracks with a group all of the time and seldom is a group in complete understanding of itself. Yet, when we feel we don’t understand, most of us have the impression that we’re the only ones feeling this way. We’ve been conditioned to keep our mouths shut and not to interrupt. Your willingness to voice your discomfort and confusion in a group will be a welcomed gift most of the time.
Have the courage to stop the process. Even when employing the most wonderful group process, if it’s not working, then a change is advised. Usually, just stopping the process to check in will make it clear what’s in the way or if a new process needs to be applied. Sometimes however, it’s hard to stop a group when everyone seems to be “going along” and in action. We seem to be addicted to action, no matter where it’s leading us. Often all it takes is one bold soul to ask the question, “How is this working for you?” to jar people into reality.
Always start at square one, with the basics of who, what, and how. No matter how advanced we are as facilitators and as a group, there are simple foundational questions that must be answered if we are to progress together. These are: “What are we doing?” (what’s our goal here today); “How are we going to do it?” (what process will we use?); and “Who will do what?” (who will facilitate, scribe, keep time, share expertise, etc.) If any of these questions ever become unclear during the course of your work, you will be wise to ask about them. And this is true whether you’re leading the group or not.
The most important thing to remember is to never think that you are beyond the basics. As soon as you do, you’re liable to fall.
What are your ideas on this subject? How will you recommit to the basics this week? Please share your answers, questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.
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