One of the characteristics of complex organisations is that they rely on different forms of expertise to function. However, problems arise when the experts are siloed in their own teams or departments, perhaps exchanging a few friendly words with colleagues from other specialist fields at lunchtime. Experts from different disciplines speak different technical languages to one another and collecting them together in a room to discuss an organisational issue that affects them all confronts the facilitator with the problem of jargon: these gatherings can be incomprehensible to some of those present.
Good facilitators should be comfortable and confident with experimentalism, challenging experts to speak about their specialist subject matter with all the passion they feel about it, but in language everyone can comprehend. Their unique perspectives – the issues their knowledge enables them to see – then become available for consensual understanding and mutually-created breakthrough solutions.
Facilitators practising experimentalism – literally, conducting experiments involving the playful mixture of different (conceptual) solutions – will be astute observers, noting when other participants look blank or puzzled, for example. They’ll also be good questioners, inviting someone to restate an important point by saying something like, ‘that sounds really interesting. Could you run that past me again so that I’m sure I understood you properly?’ That kind of question will bring enormous relief to those who felt they missed the message altogether.
Performative questioning like this and analytic perspicuity are crucial to effective facilitation. However, so is the capacity to integrate. Neutral facilitators are in the best position to help groups understand multiple perspectives, assisting them to forge solutions that truly reconcile what previously appeared to be contradictory points of view. Black versus white morphs into, how can we integrate black and white? Shall we opt for two-tone, shades of grey, polka-dot, etc.?
Finally, the most effective facilitators have faith in the people they’re working with and optimism that solutions will be created out of their combined talents.