A vital practice of facilitation is the ability to “work a room” akin to a comic. If you have ever watched a seasoned stand-up comedian closely, you’ll notice that they have an uncanny ability to find out what makes the room roar with laughter. They do this by paying extremely close attention to the group’s unique qualities and desires.
As a facilitator, you must learn to read the group culture to fully engage a group. This means you sense the difference, for example, between the mores and values of health science librarians and organic food producers. You will also need to establish some manner of credibility and “standing” (someone people pay attention to) early in the process. This archetype is the stuff of advanced practice for sure, as it has as much to do with finding your personal style and an authentic stance as it does any particular tool.
The Muse Competencies
- Read group culture, i.e. norms, patterns, values, power relationships.
- Use and interpret body language to connect and engage.
- Take advantage of “surprises” and “mistakes” in service of group goals.
- Sense group’s energetic state and how it might need to shift to
support the current task.
- Sense group’s cognitive and emotional readiness for the task and adjusts approach as necessary.
- Sense group’s readiness based on stage of group development.
Watch Oprah. The queen of the muses is none other than Oprah Winfrey. Take some time to watch an old episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and notice how she engages her audience and tunes into the culture of her viewers. She embodies empathy and a sense for drama that routinely creates standing and interest. Now think about your own style. When will you know that it is time to lob in a provocative comment? How can you hold yourself (posture) to really tune into what participants are saying? What would you do to draw as many people into the conversation as possible?
Group Mind. There is a collective space called the group mind. It’s not a made up place, but a living organism that gets created when a group comes together. When a rock star says, “how is everyone doing tonight?’ they are trying to activate, inspire, and connect with group mind. The best way to experience group mind and build your capacity to access it is to put yourself a position to witness groups of people and see how they function collectively. Become a student of how the whole group makes a recommendation, produces a new idea, or comes to the aid of a colleague in need. Who is swaying group opinion? What ideas stick and which don’t and why? What is effective at producing more or less involvement in the discussion? What is the energy level or type of feeling that this group emits? How would you connect and harness the unique culture of this group?
Cognitive and Emotional Readiness. Gauge the level of emotional vulnerability and risk an activity requires of participants. You wouldn’t want to ask complete strangers to reveal their life’s secrets to one another in their first breakout session. Put yourself in the shoes of your participant and ask yourself, “Does a level of trust exist in this group to support what I’m asking of them, and do they have the skills to do it?” Then sequence activities to challenge but no overwhelm your participants.
Group Development Stage. The facilitative leader is keenly aware of the stages of group development. This means that you understand a new board should not be asked to make decisions on a complex topic at its first meeting without extremely careful preparation. They must first earn this right by developing their capacity. The four quadrants can be used at each stage to ensure capacity is built. Using the board example, in the preparation stage we must tend to the various members skills, interests, and backgrounds and welcome them as you would a host at a dinner party. You must also wield crystal clarity about why the group is meeting or risk not igniting its noble intention, mission, and relationships.
 Culture: the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc. 2. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.