Facilitators Know That Teams Are Tension Filled

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The joy and comfort one finds in real teamwork is not serene; it comes in the midst

of active struggle with colleagues in a similar cause. The idea that teams must get

along well and have good interpersonal relations is an ideal that often does not

correspond with reality.

The teamwork that facilitators advocate and generate is not based on mutual

affection so much as on mutual commitment to a common task. Startling amounts

of diversity of age, sex, culture, ability, and interest can be held within that commitment.

And this diversity is tension filled. But it is mitigated by the common

concern to get a job done to which each participant contributes.When the tensions

are recognized and appreciated, they tend to produce creativity.

Getting a task done is the basis of teamwork. This includes the need for

communication and a shared vision of what the task is about and what it is for.

Facilitation concentrates on the task as the source of cohesion for the group.


The assumptions about what facilitators know give rise to particular actions that,

though symbolic, are no less real. These actions have to do with taking exquisite

care to be sure the group is honored. Life can be thought of as having the dimension

of practicality and the dimension of significance (see the discussion of internal

versus external history in Niebuhr, 1954). The practical dimension is enlivened

by attention to details that point beyond themselves to significance. Attending to

these details constitutes what I mean by symbolic activity, and it directly addresses

this world of significance. It has four aspects: space, time, celebration, and role


Facilitation from the Inside Out 567

Facilitators Take Care of the Space of Their Gatherings

The facilitator takes ultimate responsibility to clean and set up the space. She inspects

the meeting room at least an hour ahead of time, usually rearranging the

furniture to provide a venue that announces to the participants as they arrive,

“Something significant is about to occur here.” Certain room arrangements are

more conducive to participation than others, and the facilitator makes sure that

the space enhances the process.

This may mean providing decor that highlights the focus of the gathering so

that when minds wander, as they surely will, they wander to something related to

the topic rather than to something unrelated. And it means straightening up the

place during breaks so that on reentry, participants get the same message. It may

mean filling the space with sound—music—during breaks to create a mood of relaxation

in the midst of work. The facilitator is the profound janitor for the group.

(See Chapter Five.)

Facilitators Attend to the Time of Meetings

Nothing dishonors people quite so much as waiting for one or two latecomers to

arrive. If it is inevitable that some come late, then the facilitator either begins on

time or has activities for the rest of the group as a special treat. Facilitators also attend

to the ending time: it further dishonors people to be kept past the time they

have agreed to give. If it is absolutely necessary to extend the session, facilitators

get the permission of the group. If that permission is not forthcoming, then

another time to complete the work is arranged. Starting and ending times set the

limits for task completion. Facilitators take them quite seriously. (See Chapter


Rhythm is also important: the facilitator varies the pace of sessions so that repetition

and routine are avoided and people remain attentive to the proceedings. A

boring pace can kill a group’s participation. The facilitator avoids it. The facilitator

senses the rhythm that is most enlivening at the particular time of day and

paces the activities so as to capitalize on the beat of the group. For example, physical

and high-energy activities may work best just after lunch or later in the day

when people tend to be sleepy. Serious and thoughtful deliberations may be best

early in the day when energy is still high. Facilitators need to be sensitive to the energy

level of the group and pace the activities to take advantage of it. The facilitator

is the profound metronome for the group.

Facilitators Celebrate Significant Milestones in the Group’s Journey

Birthdays, awards, anniversaries, task completions, payday, winning (or losing) an

account—virtually anything can be the basis for a celebration. The point is not so

much to have fun as it is to dramatize the significance of the actions that are taking

place. People occasionally need to pause in their work and acknowledge their

significance. It is like taking a drink from a fountain when you are very thirsty.

Celebrations help the group to remember why it is there. And they help group

members to appreciate both their task and their colleagues. In ensuring that celebrations

take place, the facilitator is the profound clown for the group.