Can't Win for Losing

After my experience a few weeks ago where the group I was facilitating had a very tough time with the loose structure I placed on the meeting, I went to Los Angeles last week to do work with a different group and felt better that my co-facilitator had developed a detailed and structured agenda.

Of course, this time the group bristled against the structure and demanded that they have more open conversation! Couple of lessons from the facilitator's perspective:

1. In tough conversations there is almost always push back against the process. This means that as a facilitator, you can't be too tied to your process, because if you meet the resistance with too much resistance you can end up creating a new dynamic that prevents the work from being done. On the other hand, be clear about how the process affects the outcome. In this meeting we changed our process significantly in response to the group's desires, but we still held our ground when it came to having each individual share during important parts of the conversation, because we knew we needed more voices in the room.

2. It's easier to move from more structure to less on the fly, than it is to move from less to more.


  1. 31.12.2008 at 12:49 am

    Hi there, it is great to read someone who is thinking about facilitation and what it means. It was interesting that you received such different feedback from the two groups. It can be hard to deal with a group that is challenging what you are doing, especially when what they are challenging is the pre-determined plans of the facilitator.
    I’m not convinced about your point 2 – I have not found it hard to change from one way to the other – the hard bit is for the facilitator to change their initial plan. I think the facilitator has to have in mind their client’s objectives and how they can participate in the group most effectively. It is relatively easy to provide more structure by getting agreement to limiting the terms of the discussion.
    I think facilitators in general try to have too much structure. And group members are used to facilitators who have structured activities, and can feel uncomfortable without such props. Ordinary conversation has a structure that most people are not aware of, and I would rather draw attention to this than respond to requests for more structure by attempting to ‘give’ more structure.
    I hope you will keep on talking about facilitation challenges in future posts.
    Regards, Stephen