Becoming Aware of Metaphor
Using metaphor consciously is another skill involved in mastering facilitation. Humans make sense out of things by comparing what they know with what they don’t know. If the comparison says one thing “is” another thing, it qualifies as a metaphor. If I say it is “like” another thing, it qualities as an analogy. For instance, I could say that the Grove Facilitation Model™ is like a mental keyboard for composing meaning along the “staff” lines of the Four Flows. This is an analogy. With this comparison one might infer that the real process of a group is as complex as a real piece of music, and not be confused with the keyboard. That makes the design and elegance of the “keyboard instrument” even more critical, and hopefully encourages improvisation and “playing around.”
Much of the complexity of working with groups, and especially working with groups as a graphic facilitator where one is writing and drawing down what people say, is learning to understand analogy and metaphor and fly easily through them without getting stuck and confused. (Notice the “fly” metaphor?) Just to make sure everyone isn’t stuck in any specific representation of these ideas (i.e. the specific way the Four Flows is drawn as channels), I also share it as a set of concerns that surround the body of a facilitator, shown in the illustration of the facilitator as a conductor accompanying this piece. Although this is still a musical analogy it is a different representation that chases out different understanding.
I want to reflect a little on why I think that personal development is essential to “mastery” in facilitation, and how we approach teaching about “mastery” at The Grove. We define facilitation as “the art of leading group process toward agreed-on outcomes with full participation, creativity, and ownership from all involved.” Facilitation is about serving the group and its collective purpose as distinguished from one’s own. Leaders and team managers are the ones who often set the purpose and goals for a group.
Consultants may often be acting as agents for leaders, but when a person says he or she is facilitating, most people would expect that person to serve the group. This intention plunges anyone who facilitates into the position of needing to take everyone into account during a process. Given that orientation, one measure of mastery would be the extent to which a facilitator can relate to, understand, and help a wide range of people. That capability requires one to come to accept, with humility, the different aspects of oneself and others that you might not be comfortable with, personally.
It is possible to facilitate within an industry or a given functional area and develop a great deal of proficiency without spreading out to the larger universe of experience represented in large organizations. It is also possible to be very facilitative without much experience if one is firmly anchored in a beginner’s mindset and able to learn VERY quickly from the group.
We need a new image of leadership!
Here’s what we found when we searched the Internet for leadership images to illustrate a workshop flyer on coaching, mentoring, and team leadership:
• A flag bearer leading troops.
• A parental presence leaning over others’ shoulders to examine their work.
• Crowds lifting a single figure aloft.
• Hands of various colors clasped in a mandala shape.
None of these images match, convey or inspire what we see emerging in the meetings we facilitate. And what we see emerging is a leadership model that is vitally alive and suited to today’s challenges.
A few weeks ago, we put the following question to several facilitators’ groups on LinkedIn: What are the biggest roadblocks you’ve encountered during virtual or blended meetings? (We defined blended meetings as those where some participants are face-to-face and some are attending virtually.) In the lively discussions that followed the question, expert facilitators shared the issues they have encountered—as well as some tips for dealing with them. This summary was prepared from their remarks, and our grateful thanks go to those who responded.
The groups represented here include the Organizational Development & Training Forum of Linked:HR, Training & Development, Leadership Strategies Facilitation & Leadership Community, and The Grove Consultants International.
Benefits of Virtual or Blended Meetings
It’s a testament to the positive outlook of the members of these communities that even when asked specifically to identify roadblocks, they still point out the upsides of virtual meetings. They noted that a well-run blended or virtual meeting can involve people who would otherwise be unable to attend, especially in today’s environment of geographically distributed teams. When virtual meetings go smoothly, they take less time than similar face-to-face meetings. In large or newly formed teams, tools like whiteboards and chat windows give people who might otherwise keep quiet a chance to contribute. Instead of having to speak up vocally, they can record their preferences and ideas in a way that is a little less intimidating. In some cases, the meeting can be recorded and used for archival or other purposes, although the recording should not be considered a substitute for attending; it’s even more difficult to stay engaged from a distance while watching a meeting that has already happened.
We’ve all heard of the term “team building”—based on the industrial-age metaphor that people are like construction blocks. You might not even think of this as being a metaphor, but it implies you start with nothing and somehow, after a group process, teams are “built” and everything works.
When Allan Drexler and I set out to create a comprehensive model for team development in the 1980s, we agreed that the building metaphor doesn’t capture how groups really work. Teams are more like athletes and artists than buildings, and are in a journey that fluctuates between freedom of aspirations and real-world constraints—seeking a resolution of the two in action. They pass through different stages of engagement and often go back and forth between these stages as the team coalesces. We decided to visualize the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model® as a bouncing ball, with four stages to create the team and three to describe increasing levels of sustained performance. It starts with people “up in the air” imagining the purpose and bounces off the “ground” of current realities, regaining freedom of movement through mastery of the constraints.