Thursday, November 18, 2010

Consultative Roles of Facilitators

The facilitator is first and foremost a consultant at heart even though he is to lead generative conversations by their processes rather than through their contents during the facilitated sessions.

This means an effective facilitator has two roles to play. During the facilitated session, the facilitator uses the language of facilitation to mine the collective knowledge, experiences and wisdom of the gathered crowd.

However, outside of the session, he uses a suite of consulting tools to clarify the initiator's intentions before its execution and recommends strategies to fully leverage the session's outputs so that the initiator gets the most out of his investment.

While some clients may know what they want from the session participants on the outset, most do not. The facilitator could contribute the most value by helping these initiators establish the session's objectives and to uncover the means to correctly tap onto the collective wisdom of the crowd.

A facilitated event is like working with Google's search engine and its databases. When we use the search engine to query its databases with the most appropriate keywords, we get to the pages that most likely to give us the answers we are looking for. The reverse is also true. Google refers us to million pages of useless information when we become lax with our query syntax.

Like Google, the successful mining of the collective wisdom of the crowd depends on the accuracy of the questions we pose to them during the discussions.

When we asked the wrong questions, the participants will focus their cognitive energies in the wrong things, and ultimately we get the wrong answers. Unlike the search engines, which are tireless, human's stamina for prolonged cognitive function is limited.

Therefore, facilitators have to be very nimble with the questions used at such events. To achieve this goal, we challenge the dominant thought processes of the crowd. We call this mechanism the 'Challenge Statement', and let's spend a few moment to deconstruct this.

All 'Challenge Statements' share a common syntax stem that begins like this:

'In what ways might I or we ..........?'

This is the structure that put us in the space that calls us into action. Unlike a statement that describes a problem
, which usually presents itself as an obstacle, the ''Challenge Statement' aggressively activates our cognitive functions and resources to create and locate the solutions that may resolve the issue at hand, which is the context. This is a powerful orientation and is
necessary for the successful mining of the wisdom that resides in the crowd.

So, 'not having enough of money' is disempowering since it forces us to focus on the problem, but 'in what ways might I increase my earning potential?' is not. It causes us to exp
lore the different ways in which we could increase our earnings. It focuses our thought processes in solutioning rather than in justifying the reasons for being here and laying blame on others for our current predicament.

However, we must not be led into believing that the context portion of the challenge statement is a product of intuition. There is a couple of steps we need to follow to deliver this to us. There are two broad approaches here - 'Stretching' and 'Squeezing' the challenge statement. We will first explore the construct of the formal approach before examining the latter.

In 'Stretching' the challenge statement, we attempt to question the rationality of including the context in the statement to inform the initiator of the angles of attacking the issue.

So, if the problem was initially described as 'not enough of money' and the first challenge statement was defined as 'in what ways might I increase my earning potential?', we could stretch this challenge by questioning it in the following ways:

For the first challenge statement:

'In what ways might I increase my earning potential?'

Flowing from this statement, we could question the reason for exploring this line of inquiry by:

'Why do I want to increase my earning potential?'

Next, we attempt to answer this question with:

'Because the amount I am earning is below what my peers are having?', and we repeat the process with:

'Why are my peers earning more than me?', and

'Because they enjoy more opportunities than I do.'

We could finally end with:

'Why do they have more opportunities than me?' and

'Because they understand their superiors better than I do?'

When we 'eyeball' the 'becauses', we could create a challenge statement for each of these justifications in the following manner:

For the reason:

'Because the amount I am earning is below what my peers are having?'

The Challenge Statement is:

'In what ways might I match the earnings of my peers?'


'Because they enjo
y more opportunities than I do.'

The Challenge Statement could be crafted as:

'In what ways might I enjoy as many opportunities as my peers?'

And for the reason:

'Because they understand their superiors better than I do?'

We could reword this as:

'In what ways might I better understand my superiors?'

The facilitator could work with any of these Challenge Statements. What is the right statement to introduce to the c
rowd at the facilitated event will depend on the profile of the crowd and the needs of the initiator. By working with one, the challenges presented by it antecedent statements would also be addressed. You may like to download the working template for 'Stretching' the Challenge Statement by clicking on this icon:

Sometimes, when we want to look into the Meta aspects of the issue we may find working with 'Stretching' Challenge Statements inadequate. Now, let's us examine the construct of 'Squeezing' the Challenge Statement to address the limitations.

In 'Squeezing' the challenge, we apply the genre of 'fact-finding' questions to the issue to identify the list of Challenge Statements. Again, we will reapply the problem statement we have earlier identified in this article - 'not enough of money' to demonstrate the process. We could begin the 'Squeezing' process by using:

'Who', we could ask:

'Who else could I approach to help me gain a higher clarity of my issue?'

From this, we could construct the following Challenge Statement:

'In what what ways might I identify the people who could help me clarify my issue?'

'What', we could ask:

'What resources do I need to resolve the issue?'

By repeating the process, the Challenge Statements may look like this:

'In what ways might I identify the resources needed to resolve the issue?'

When we introduce 'where', 'when' and 'how' to the problem, our questions may look like these:

'When is the best time to resolve this issue?', 'Where should the issue be resolved first?' and 'How should the issue be dealt with?'

After converting these questions into Challenge Statements, they could be presented respectively as:

'In what ways might I uncover the best time to resolve the issue, begin solving the matter, and solve the matter?'

Again, the choice of focus will largely depend on the need of the initiator and the target audience from which the wisdom is to be drawn upon.

With the initiator, the facilitator conducts a generative conversation that helps him construct these Challenge Statements from the issue on hand, and to choose from these those that are useful for the worksho
p. You may like to download the working template for 'Squeezing' the Challenge Statement by clicking on this icon:

This article was written by Anthony Mok on 8 Nov 2010,
and updated on 1 Feb 2011 and 29 Sept 2011.

Copyright 2010. Anthony Mok. All Rights Reserved.

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