Blog > Disruptive facilitation #3 – We’re not in Kansas anymore

April 4, 2010

The key to disruptive facilitation is, well, disruption. That’s why you’re there. If you weren’t there it would probably be business as usual. So you might as well take advantage of the opportunity to disrupt. This can take many forms and can be in your face or subtle.

My particular version of facilitation is heavily influenced by improv theatre. One of the principles of improv scenes relates to transformation or to ‘be changed’. For example, “in order to progress, actors in scenes must be affected by the actions and words. If your partner starts out angry, look for opportunities to change them — actions you can take to transform them. Look for opportunities for your own transformations.”

So what happens if I take that attitude into a workshop? What does it mean to me as a facilitator if I expect to be changed by the experience of being with this group? What does it mean for what I do, and don’t do?

And let’s be clear about what I mean about change here. I’m not talking about some pre-determined change process. I mean transformation in the sense that everything appears the same yet everything is different. There has been a shift in awareness, or perception, or understanding which may or may not be explicit.

So how does that affect me and my approach to facilitation? It means I take my cues from the participants and what they are doing and saying right now. Not what they said in a pre-workshop interview or survey, not what the facilitation brief says, not what the organisational documents say. Those are all interesting and may or may not be relevant. All I can really respond to is what’s happening right here, right now, in the room. And how I respond depends on what offers are made.

Offers are another aspect of improvisation. An improviser depends on offers – from themselves and from others. Without accepting offers there’s no movement, no progress. Sure, it may lead us all down a dead end, but we won’t know that in advance. It may just as easily lead us to a new way of thinking or operating that could transform us  and the scene. The point is, we can’t know in advance. And this is where so many facilitated workshops stumble – in trying to predict what will or won’t work, what we should or shouldn’t do in the future (aka strategic planning), by creating complicated action matrixes.

If nothing else, a facilitator can disrupt existing patters of behaviour by encouraging participants to be present, with themselves and each other, and to make, recognise and accept offers. Easier said than done with some groups focused on the next thing and used to blocking, blocking, blocking. Leads to a lot of running on the spot, staring ahead and stumbling over what’s right in front of them.

So here’s the paradox of disruptive facilitation. To be ‘disruptive’ I do as  little as possible. I try and be present and accept offers. And that can be more disruption that some groups can handle!

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