Chapter IV. Facilitation
This is a brief consideration of how to facilitate the “Mission: Impossible” projects.
What Is Facilitation?
The following definition fits our perception of facilitation:
Facilitation is the art of moving a group of people through meetings, planning sessions, or training, and successfully achieving a specific goal.
Facilitation involves processes and expertise that help groups to function effectively, including how they talk to each other, identify and solve problems, make decisions, and handle conflict. The facilitator’s role is to guide the group to work together more efficiently—to create synergy, generate new ideas, and gain consensus and agreement—and guide them to a specific outcome. Facilitators point participants in the right direction, make suggestions, take steps to enhance the experience for the participants, and give suggestions—but do not do the work for the group.
When facilitators are involved in the search for solution, their work is not to bring the ready solution to the group, but rather to enable the group to find this solution. For this purpose, facilitators use some approaches. Efficiency of approach determines probability of group’s success and amount of cognitive effort consumed by this work.
There is a reason why bosses prefer inviting the consultants rather than facilitators. First, they expect to get a ready-made solution without “wasting” time and labor of their experts. Second, they don’t trust their experts who already failed to find an appropriate solution. Third, they believe in miracles: my experts couldn’t find solution, but a stranger can.
Is it reasonable? Yes, it is. In some situations. But definitely not in “Mission: Impossible” case. There is another reason why consultant in such case is not a good option. First, experts do not trust a solution brought by a stranger who is neither an expert in their area nor an insider. Lack of both expertise and insiders’ knowledge make such solution non-implementable. Miracles do happen, but not that often. Second, lack of expertise is not a culprit of experts’ failure, the contradiction is. Third, experts are the very people who will implement the solution, so they should spend a lot of time and effort to know all its ins and outs.
Facilitation resolves the aggravated dilemma the consultants usually face. Experts cannot solve the “unsolvable” problem due to their professional blocks and emotional involvement. Consultant cannot solve the complex problem due to lack of both professional knowledge and knowledge of local specifics.
Facilitator drives the experts through well-established steps of process. Experts use their knowledge and find the solution they could not find previously. Facilitation enables experts to distance themselves from emotional involvement and circumvent the professional blocks. Experts utilize deep professional knowledge as well as good knowledge of local specifics, and thus produce implementable solutions.
This is efficient labor division in facilitated process: facilitator and experts are doing what they can do the best, and suggested approach orchestrates their work.
There is one more important reason to invite a facilitator. The suggested approach requires some discipline from experts. Facilitator motivates experts to strictly adhere to the recommended process, and thus enables them to achieve the unique results.
How to Facilitate the “Mission: Impossible” Project
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
- Chinese proverb
How to facilitate the “Mission: Impossible” project? As any other project, step-by-step.
First step is Interview. At this stage, facilitator asks the most knowledgeable expert to tell the story: why should the Mission be accomplished, what was the intent to accomplish it, what does prevent its accomplishment, what attempts were made to accomplish it and why did they fail? Facilitator documents this story as thoroughly as possible. Also, facilitator asks expert about three types of criteria the solution should comply with:
Criteria of accomplishment: How would you recognize that the Mission is accomplished?
Cost criteria: What costs (not only financial) should be limited?
Limitations: What should not happen, at any cost?
Second step is Analysis. Facilitator finds in the documented story the key elements of Model, develops the Model and reveals the apparent decisions and unobvious opportunities.
Third step is Model verification. Facilitator asks project team (experts) to verify adequacy of Model, to define the windows of opportunity to each apparent decision, and to explain why these windows of opportunity are already tightly closed.
Fourth step is Opportunity expansion. Starting with Opportunity I, facilitator asks experts to tell detailed story for appropriate Link and documents these stories.
Fifth step is Opportunity analysis. Facilitator divides the stories into simple phrases (Events) and arrange them into some logical order, then formulates the questions to these Events according to the Opportunity.
Sixth step is Answers. Facilitator divides the project team into pairs and gives them questions to answer. Each question should be answered as if it is unrelated to the rest of situation. Pairs discuss the questions and document the answers. Facilitator oversees the work of pairs but does not intervene. His job is to sit and be silent. Such job usually takes about an hour.
Seventh step is Solutions development. Facilitator creates the summary of answers from all team members, provides this summary to the pairs of experts and asks them to combine these answers into solutions. Experts should combine the answers that:
Gravitate to each other
Support each other (create synergy)
Compensate for each other’s drawbacks
Eighth step is Solutions evaluation. Experts should evaluate every solution by criteria revealed at the first step. Also, they should use two more criteria: feasibility and implementability. Solutions should be ranked from 1 (no compliance) to 10 (excessive compliance). Solution with maximum sum of ranks seems the best one for implementation.
Ninth step is Plan of implementation. Solution that is not implemented is worthless. Implementation without plan is doomed for failure. So, facilitator asks experts about steps of implementation, people responsible for each step and estimated timing.
Each step in this process, as well as entire process, is easy to plan ahead of time. Availability of such plan substantially simplifies the facilitator’s job.
Chapter IV: Brief Summary
Facilitation is the way of enabling experts to find and implement efficient solution to accomplish the Mission that previously seemed “impossible.”
Facilitator who uses the suggested approach runs the process that consumes minimal cognitive effort of experts, while guarantees the needed result.
Facilitation is a way to divide the intellectual labor efficiently: experts use their knowledge and expertise, while facilitator analyzes their information, directs the process and provides experts with appropriate questions to answer.
Facilitator motivates experts to strictly adhere to the recommended process, thus enabling them to achieve unique results.
Facilitation goes step-by-step. The facilitated process comprises nine steps:
Plan of implementation