“The future is not a choice among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created – created first in mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not someplace we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” – John Schaar
I am often asked by colleagues either to facilitate a process or to recommend a process that they should use for some planning effort. Over the last forty years, I’ve participated in many planning activities (most poorly facilitated with poor results) and facilitated many more. The value of the result is directly proportional to the thoughtfulness in selecting the right process AND selecting and preparing the participants. In recent years, very few management teams are willing to spend more than half a day in any kind of planning meeting. So the selection of a process has to accommodate the time demands of the participants.
As I reflect on the hundreds of processes that I’ve learned or created for the needs of a particular group, there seems to be two primary forms. One form relies on what Robert Fritz calls “structural tension.” This form is most powerful when combined with Gregory Bateson’s “difference that makes a difference.”
- What is the current reality?
- What is the desired future state?
- What are the differences between the two?
- What is the difference that makes the biggest difference?
Once the important difference that makes a difference is identified, then that difference becomes the place to start for implementation.
The other primary form springs from the work of John Grinder who created what he describes as the Outcome Frame orientation.
- What are we trying to create?
- How will we know we created it?
- What resources do we have to get started now?
- What other opportunities does this lead to?
Every time I use the Outcome Frame process, I am amazed at the creative energy that is released in the group.
Grinder contrasted the Outcome Frame with the process that most of us had drilled into us in our schooling or business careers – the problem or blame frame:
- What is the problem?
- How did it get this way?
- Who caused it?
- What are you going to do to fix it?
When I have time to do team building, I generally have the group split into groups of four and give each team a problem to work through using the Blame Frame. No matter how much time is given, none of the groups succeed. After ten minutes, I then have the groups switch to the Outcome Frame to work on the opportunity. The creative energy that is released is always exciting to witness.
When all is said and done the mark of a good process facilitator can be summed up in the following two states of mind:
- People need what they need, not what we happen to be best at.
- I unconditionally accept where you are, but respect you enough to help you reach your ideal.
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