We specialize in helping facilitators develop a deeper comprehension of how their tools and techniques trigger success and expose them to knowledge and understanding that allows them to adapt their approach to new kinds of projects and new kinds of teams.
In reality, no facilitation technique can be labeled as advanced. Techniques that seem quite advanced in one field of facilitation are day one fundamentals for another field. We expose facilitators to knowledge and techniques that are new to them and likely to expand their ability to succeed with new opportunities.
Fundamentals of Deliberate Creativity and Teamwork
We take a unique approach to understanding fundamental techniques of deliberate teamwork and creativity, an approach designed to provide a foundation for understanding how to go beyond brainstorming and team building to complex problems, to working with different people, and to moving into a facilitators role. Our research and experience has demonstrated that insight is more useful than ideas, teams can be organized to give more relevant AHA's, there is no such thing as resistance to change, and that more complexly creative ideas are more likely to be accepted. The course introduces basic techniques such as brainstorming, creative problem solving, and value engineering along with an exploration of cognitive, personality, and motivational differences among people.
Handling Differences in Style and Culture
In management and facilitation, many get started handling groups of people who are just like each other and just like the leader. They often need to develop new skills to lead people who differ from the facilitator in styles of learning and cognition (including gender related). Many must also deal with differences related to the cultures of academic discipline, race, or nationality. The problem becomes even more complex as the team members differ from each other on these approaches to reality. To handle these differences, leaders need a general approach to differences, familiarity with difference style models, some understanding of specific cultures, and a variety of techniques to choose from to accomplish the desired shift of thinking for people of various cultures and styles. Some of the greatest impacts of the teams we have led have resulted from intensely effective interactions of people of such different style and culture you would not expect them to communicate at all.
Handling Complexity: Complicated and Conflicted
In their team facilitation, most managers and consultants begin with simple techniques like brainstorming to generate long lists of short ideas and then lead a group to consensus about the best choices from the list. Most problems worth solving have dimensions of complexity that require far more sophisticated tools and approaches. Our research has demonstrated that as ideas grow in complexity, dealing with the issues of multiple departments and multiple levels, as they become so creative that we must re-explain the problem to the company, acceptance rises. In other words, creative ideas are often rejected because they are too simple to handle the realities of the problem. We specialize in helping teams understand and address the complexities of situations.
We use the term complexity to refer to two different dynamics. Some problems are more complicated than others, like chess being more complicated than checkers. The number of factors and the number of relationships among the factors can make a problem far too complicated for an individual to understand. Further, the knowledge needed to manage all the factors resides in people of different departments and backgrounds, none of whom knows in detail the whole problem. Tools to increase comprehension, summarize data, and manage the various relationships can greatly improve effectiveness.
The second dynamic is when there is conflict among stakeholders and decision makers on the values, goals, and criteria for the best solution. Facilitating these interactions can take a whole new level of facilitative skill, striving both to better align the values of the participants and to discover ideas which can simultaneously improve things for quite different values.
Using Imagery and Analogy Techniques
Too many problem solving attempts consist of a group of people sitting around talking to each other. which may be the least effective way to think together. Great improvement results when leaders just to get them to write down their ideas and points on flip charts or other shareable media. Research shows that as problems grow in complicatedness, there is a value in moving from trying to solve the problem in words to trying to solve it in pictures. There is a great benefit to jointly creating and discussing images of problems, whether blue prints or flow charts. It also seems that the brain's ability to process complexity often expresses itself in mental images or analogies.
In our experience, teams often discover their greatest success from examining external models such as blue-prints or function/cost models, from being willing to analyze their own dreams and internal imagery, and from deliberately generating an image impression, such as imagining walking through the building they are intending to construct. Facilitators can benefit greatly from both the ability to capitalize on imagery and the ability to convince participants to listen to this smarter part of their brains.
Approaching Motivation, Values, Goals, and Ethics
Creativity and judgment reflect the motivation, values, and goals of those involved. When there is conflict on these among the problem solvers and stakeholders, the problems are labeled "wicked problems". Real world situations are often subject simultaneously to conflicting legal codes (because of multiple jurisdictions), moral codes (because of multiple cultures), and ethical codes (because of multiple professions). Yet managers and organizations have to design and choose actions and judgments to take.
The worst approach is to pretend the conflict does not exist. In our experience, teams can explore these dynamics, often discovering common ground and/or increased acceptance which allows better ideas to be implemented, the true essence of "team building". By seeking both solutions which are more responsive to the conflicting needs and attempting to discover commonality among the stakeholders before beginning conflict resolution and negotiations, better alternatives become available and possible.
Meeting Management/Process Management
The biggest problem with creatively and collaboratively unpacking complex problems is that it is easy to become quickly overwhelmed by the quantity and diversity of ideas, decisions, constraints, interactions, facts, and sub-solutions. There is also value to sequencing the application of different tools and different types of thinking. Real world practitioners have developed a great variety of methods to manage these processes, and a far greater variety of ways to describe those processes. An integral part of these processes is often procedures for managing flip charts, notes, files, etc. Some have developed computer software packages to assist in managing the paperwork. It is often helpful for facilitators to understand some of this variety so that they can integrate useful approaches from other methods and so that they can work effectively with project teams with different training backgrounds. Deeper knowledge of the dynamics of these tools also allows leaders to stop just blindly following a recipe and adapt the tools to the specific situation they are addressing.