Why putting yourself at the centre of conversations could be a mistake

Skilled Facilitators

In a job interview for an executive role in the mid-2010s, I was invited to tell the selection panel about my weaknesses. The first one that came to mind was ‘I often do because I can. 

That was a handy weakness when I was working late at night to meet a deadline, something had to be done, and no one else was available. 

However, it made me question many of the times I had planned and led facilitated processes over the years.  

  1. Was I always the best person to take on that role?  
  2. I may have had the skills, but what else was going on that could have mattered 
  3. Did the perceived power associated with my role inhibit other people from fully participating? 
  4. I was saving money doing it myself, but did I miss other benefits? 

The answers probably won’t surprise you, but I’ll share them as they are a good reminder. 

1. No. I wasn’t always the best person for a multitude of reasons. These varied according to the specific situation.

2. I was distracted, focusing on both the content we were exploring and the process of facilitation. The outcomes were okay, but there were lots of missed opportunities because I couldn’t participate and observe the conversations and interactions without having to worry about:

    • whether everyone’s voice had been heard in a way that made them feel safe to participate 
    • how small ‘p’ politics were playing out 
    • whether I was keeping a neutral stance and 
    • the ever important – if we would get where we needed to be and finish on time. 

3. Yes. It didn’t matter how much I tried. If I was leading a process from a perceived power position, it inhibited other people’s participation because I was seen as their boss or the decision-maker.

4. I missed out on other benefits before, during and after the process, including: 

    • access to a fresh, more objective perspective.  
    • stimulation of thinking and help with testing assumptions.
    • the ability to more easily raise the ‘elephant in the room’ without lasting damage to working relationships. 

Looking back, I know we achieved more when I partnered with an external facilitator.  Like when we: 

  • explored the results from our Employee Opinion Survey 
  • needed to work with a broad range of stakeholders on a tricky issue 
  • needed to build stronger connections within the team or  
  • had to get everyone focused on how we would achieve a challenging goal. 

It also made me feel like someone else was invested in my success.  

Partnering with a skilled facilitator made a quote from author and consultant Meg Wheatley come to life i.e. Facilitation is like walking into a dark room with a group of people you don’t know, and you don’t know where the light switch is. But you have faith that, together, you’ll find it.’ 

That’s why I often compare external facilitators to skilled private tour guides when you’re on holiday in another country. They know the terrain, shortcuts, and hidden gems and ensure you reach your destination safely, efficiently and with richer experiences. 

Since starting my practice, I’ve expanded my facilitation toolkit and am no stranger to complex and challenging situations.  

So, if you’ve suddenly realised 2023 is fast coming to an end, and you need to have some crucial conversations before 2024, I’d love to chat and explore how I can assist

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