Facilitative Leadership Overview

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In my last post I brought up the concept of a facilitative leader; so what do facilitative leaders do and how do the effectively lead?

What facilitative leaders do

I won’t go into exhaustive details here as this itself could be several posts, however it is important to have some idea what makes a facilitative leader distinct and that is the behaviors they exhibit. We’ll discuss this as if the behaviors are in the upper right of the Leadership Quadrant.

So in this space, a facilitative leader exhibits a desire to serve others, much like a servant leader as described by Robert Greenleaf. They also are participatory in nature, thus rather than say define a plan for a group to do work towards a goal, she or he will help the people create the plan so that is theirs. Thus a facilitative leader is one who helps the group collectively solicit and select creative ideas for the work and committing to complete it.

They also help individuals cope with their ever-changing roles and responsibilities as the team organizes and executes the work. They act as outside observers and offer improvements to the group and overall organization at large. They help the group gain clarity in the goal. They lead through influence.

How facilitative leaders effectively lead

As we explored in the last post, in order to be an effective leader, particularly when using influence as your primary mechanism, one must maintain good will with those you are leading.

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When your actions are opposite of what you say you will do, they work against each other and your will approaches zero. Since influence is based on will, this reduces your leadership effectiveness.

Here’s a few examples, I say I have an open door policy and will listen and attend to people’s needs. If people bring these to me and I never listen, perhaps always finding ways to dismiss their needs, or I never take action when I say I will, I am undermining my will and thus my ability to influence behaviors, my primary mechanism to lead.

If on the other hand, I state I will observe where people appear to have roadblocks and help them through them, followed by attending stand-ups hearing of impediments outside a team’s control and visibly taking action on them, I gain will to get things done.

Side note: for most of this article, I called people a group, that was to emphasize two aspects – 1) this can be done in a non-team environment, particularly if you are a leader that has authority. And 2) you actually don’t need to have authority to influence folks through will; this generally not true where you are directive in nature, there you needed to have been granted authority in some manner.

Introducing The Facilitation Kernel

Now that I’ve reposted a few older posts, I’ll give a new one…

One of the things I often get called upon to do is facilitate; meetings, workshops, retrospectives and other occasional agile ceremonies are all meetings I get called upon to facilitate.  I also find myself facilitating teams talking to one other (which actually goes into the encouragement to get together, not just the resulting meeting session) and sometimes what normally would be one-on-one sessions.

A few years back, I took one of the IC-Agile certified courses on Facilitation; they presented what they called the Facilitation Stance.  It’s useful.  (Because of possible IP ownership issues, I won’t present it here…) One thing that didn’t feel right was the treatment of maintaining neutrality as a facilitator; it wasn’t treated as core.  As I gave training to others on facilitation, they also seemed to question that lack of centrality.  Another area that I personally got, but others struggled with was the “stand in the storm”. So I began rethinking how to depict the concepts and came up with what I think is something easier to understand.

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I call this the Facilitation Kernel.  It places Maintain Neutrality central to the entire concept.  This is important as if I am asked to render an opinion, where I am no longer a neutral party, the entire rest of the Kernel can be sacrificed.  This is particularly true if I am asked to give insight from experience or observations.  The Facilitation Stance doesn’t make this as explicit as I would like (though it does acknowledge it).

My personal feeling is that the ‘Stance’ over complicates itself with the internal “being” and external “doing” (of which maintaining neutrality is an external “doing”.  This may be just me, but I find neutrality at the core.  In the “doing” circle, I place Modeling Servant Leader Behaviors, Leading the Group’s Agenda, Promoting Dialog, Decisions, and Actions, and Harnessing Conflict. Let’s dissect these one by one:

Modeling Servant Leader behaviors is very important to exhibit as a facilitator; you are there for the team and to serve them.  You are not there to serve someone else or yourself.

By Leading the Group’s Agenda you are not just Stance’s Holding the Group’s Agenda; you are also leading them through their Agenda, whether explicit or implicit through design of the session or keeping a watchful eye and ear on what is occurring and needed.

In Promoting Dialog, Decisions, and Actions (which encompasses the Stance’s Upholding the Wisdom of the Group), you are gently nudging the group to a bias of action versus inaction and making assumptions explicit so that good decisions can be made.

And lastly by Harnessing Conflict you are doing more than simply “Standing in the Storm”, but are helping people through their differences to a positive outcome.

To do this, you need to maintain three states of “being”; self management (which IMHO encompasses self-awareness), group awareness, and situational awareness (this may be my aviation background talking to me). The alignment I have chosen in the model is important.  In order to Model Servant Leader Behaviors, I need to mostly manage myself; the situation and group awareness are far less important.  To Harness Conflict, I need to be able to be wary of where the group is currently (in terms of emotional state and energy) and the situation at hand (in terms of positions and opinions).

I places the Lean and Agile Values & Principles outside this Kernel as if I wasn’t facilitating in this realm, it may be replaced some other set.  I think this makes the Kernel fully aligned with what any general facilitator may provide.  I know I have found this useful when considering facilitating more generalized sessions such as Open Space (which I have had the opportunity to do twice) and various workshops.

What do you think? Is this congruent with your thinking on facilitation?