I enjoy airplane metaphors, perhaps because I’m a private pilot and fly them occasionally. While reflecting the other day on what I believe to be core acts of facilitation, a series of airplane metaphors came to me. One thing I most value about metaphors is that once they are felt and understood they tend to become part of us. They become tools we can rely on to guide us in the future.
To that end, I share with you a series of flying metaphors that may help you someday when you and your group are flying through a figurative storm.
Leading Groups is a Lot Like Flying
Just as in flying an airplane, in facilitation…
We need to plot a course to know where we’re going. This is why we have agendas in meetings and facilitator guides in work groups. Without them, we usually drift aimlessly.
We must continually make course corrections. Just as aircraft are seldom actually on course, if we are clear about where we’re trying to go in our groups and we continue to make corrections when we’re not heading in that direction, we’ll get to our destination.
We need basic operating rules. Flight attendants tell us to turn off our electronic devices, stay in the plane, and give up our weapons before coming onboard the aircraft to assure we get to our destination safely. Consequently, in group work certain basic operating guidelines or ground rules help us get the job done safely, efficiently, and effectively.
We note but don’t divert to appealing destinations. We may find an interesting topic that’s not in our plan as we move through our agenda. This is fine, and most of the time it’s best to note these issues or ideas in a Parking Lot to be resolved in the near future.
We are kind to our fellow participants. Just as in an aircraft full of passengers, group work can feel confining and unpleasant at times, especially when working with people who may not be our best friends. This is all the more reason to be respectful of one another, owning our feelings and discomforts and not projecting them onto others.
When clouds form, we need instruments to guide us. When flying without visual reference to the ground, a pilot must scan key instruments to keep the plane upright and on course. We need to learn key indicators to watch for in groups and intervene actively when heading into dangerous territory. See this article for some basic instruments.
Sometimes we get antsy because we’re not there yet. Relax, and check to see that we’re still on course. If so, it will take as long as it takes to get to our destination. Keep the doors closed, stay with the process, and keep moving forward. If you’re off course, consult with the pilot.
We don’t deplane as soon as we arrive! Please remain seated until the plane comes to a complete stop. We may have reached our end point, but we’re not done yet! Get everything in order for effective follow through. Document and agree to action items, decisions, assign accountable parties, evaluate the meeting process, and set up dates for the next meeting. See this past article on strategies to facilitate follow through.
We hope you enjoyed your flight…
How can you use the lessons from the airplane metaphor above? Please to share your questions, feedback, or experience in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.