Blog > Disruptive facilitation #4 – Emergent practice

April 26, 2010

Throw away the plan. Better than that – don’t plan at all, which of course, is not the same as being unprepared. However there’s an element of risk and courage required to trust yourself and the group to let go of the need to know in advance what will happen and let informal emergence take place. And there’s also the potential that some things will work and others will fail. And it’s really easy to get trapped into the ‘don’t fail’ syndrome by playing it safe.

The conventional wisdom around facilitation is that it’s to make the task easy for the participants. I don’t buy that for a moment. A lot of work people have to do in workshops can’t be channelled into a set of discreet instructions, questions or processes. It’s messy. It’s often hard work. They grapple with finding meaning. The world in which people operate is messy, and finding a way through is not always easy – even with a facilitator.

And I’m also starting to question the role of the facilitator as ‘process’ holder, or expert.  A process that works here and now isn’t necesarilly going to work in another situation or with another group.

So if we take away the role of facilitator in making the task easy and we take away process, what’s left for a facilitator to do? This last week, I’ve been using the Cynefin framework with a group to enable them to explore the differences between their simple, complicated, complex and chaotic work. Facilitating with people in a workshop is a complex task. Who’s to know what might happen? I think this is why I’m becoming increasingly skeptical about processes. By trying something and noticing what happens, or doesn’t happen, the next approach emerges. That’s not something you can plan.

The Cynefin framework suggests that in complex environments, what’s needed are “multiple small and diverse interventions to create options.” Probe – Sense – Respond. Now that sounds like a description for facilitation that better represents my actual experience.

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