I’ve been facilitating groups for as long as I can remember, going back probably 20 years to high school when I ran both informal and organized youth groups with my peers. It has probably been about twelve or thirteen years ago that I started to actually pay attention to what I was doing. But only in the last five or six years, as I have been facilitating full time, have I noticed a deepening in my practice.
Work as practice. And by practice I mean something akin to a spiritual practice, whereby one undertakes a life of value and meaning through living in a particular way. When I feel my facilitation practice deepening, I notice that what I do is becoming more and more aligned with who I am.
I am starting to see just how important that is in the work I do with groups. When I was first starting out, I used to collect “tools” for working with groups. I had what amounted to a cookbook of ideas for working through different processes. I got some success in simply following the instructions and helping the group get to where they wanted to go. For most groups, and perhaps even a lot of facilitators, this is enough. It certainly served my work for a number of years.
The thing that changed that, and caused me to deepen my practice, was noticing what happened when things went wrong. Occasionally groups strayed far from the expectation I had for them and when the movie departs from the script, the facilitator’s REAL work begins. In these situations What I noticed was my own anxiety and panic about being in the unfolding chaos. I had very little idea what to do, and on a couple of occasions, things just went very wrong.
In reflecting on these experiences I realized what I was lacking was chaordic confidence, a term I appropriated from my friend Myriam Laberge. Chaordic confidence describes the ability to stay in chaos and trust that order will emerge. It’s a subtle art, but it is essential to working with groups who are themselves confronting chaos. If you can stay in the belief that order will emerge from what Sam Kaner calls “The Groan Zone” then the group has something to hitch its horse to, so to speak. But if you are married to your tools, and things go off the rails, you feel like a fish out of water, and you flop around unable to deal with the uncertainty around you. I’ve seen it happen – we probably all have – and it’s not pretty.
Developing chaordic confidence is more than acquiring more tools. It is about integrating an approach to life and work that is anchored in a a set of principles and values that serves our clients. For me these values include believing in the wisdom of the group, trusting that chaos produces higher levels of order and seeing conflict as passion that can be harnessed in the service of progress.
I began looking at some of the tools and processes and approaches I was using and started to realize that the things that worked for me and that brought a better experience to my clients, were processes rooted in the same values that I try to live. This weblog,tagged as “living in open space” is largely about that journey to live and work with the principles of Open space Technology – principles that amount to creating a practice of invitation. Living a life of invitation is a blast.
And there is more. My repetoire of approaches is expanding into a full range of what Toke Paludan Moeller calls “hosting practices.” And as I adopt and work with things like the world cafe and appreciative inquiry, I realize that the values and principles underlying those processes feel authentic to me. When I use those approaches to working with groups, my clients are getting ME, and not just a set of tools. I try to bring my whole self to this work now, with a large dose of chaordic confidence rooted in principles and values that link what I do with who I am. Doing and Being meet in the board room or the retreat centre.
We facilitators don’t talk much about this stuff, but I think it actually preoccupies a lot of our time and thinking. My own preparation for group involves many hours of design and reflection on process and principles so that I can go to work offering the highest level of service to the people with whom I am working. And for me, this means reflecting on what is core to my life and work.
So this is a long winded way of offering some insight into facilitation practice, perhaps mostly for those who are new to this path and who are realizing, as I am, that there is a life time of learning about oneself involved in this work. So as a service to those who might be interested in developing this deeper connection between life lived and tools used, I offer a set of links to principles underlying the processes I work with (and some I don’t work with!) in groups and communities. I offer these up both as a guide to group work and as a compendium of principles and teachings about living. See what you think…
Principles of process and life
- Open Space Technology
- Appreciative Inquiry
- World Cafe
- Dynamic Facilitation
- Chaordic principles
- Four fold way
My recipe book is changing. It’s no longer about tools for group work, but is instead a collection of teachings about living a true and good life of service to heart and community.