The Advantage & facilitating on your own.

2013-12-12 13.20.33.jpg

I was recently asked about whether I had ever considered writing a detailed guide for business owners.

They wondered about self-working through exercises for their teams like those found in Patrick Lencioni's The Advantage or 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.  

The answer is probably not what was expected. Thanks for asking the question; it's a good one. It's also great that you are seeking and have support. I indeed have written a workbook for our clients to use as we go through the concepts from The Advantage.

We typically spend 2-3 days together where we help the team get aligned and also get the answers to the Six Questions to help the team get clarity and focus for the next 6 months to 3 years. What I haven't done (yet) is write a facilitation guide for people to do it themselves - and while I could do it, I'll share why I'm not sure the final results would be worth it. (And this isn't a dig at business owners, especially since I've been one for the past 12 years)

Over the past 5 years I've led many Five Dysfunctions of a Team workshops (which have virtually the same material and focus as the 'Align the Team' portion of The Advantage), and consider myself to be pretty darn good at them. Our process augments Pat's material with other exercises, and we've even swapped some of Pat's methods out with others we find work better for our client teams. So it was natural that I felt I could facilitate one in my own company - and yet when I did so I was not happy with the outcome. It was nowhere near what I believe our clients get when we facilitate for them, in my opinion. Here are three reasons why:

1. Leaders can't simultaneously participate in a process, lead and push on a process, and facilitate that same process. My belief, borne out by a fair amount of practical application, is that leaders can really only pick two of the three. When leaders, myself included, try to do all three, team members feel that the outcome is being over-controlled by the leader. As a result there isn't enough positive conflict, and subsequently the team doesn't get deep commitment. For example, when I tried to facilitate the process with my team while also pushing for what I thought was important, team members either cried foul or withheld their thoughts, because (as I found out later) they figured I was going to get what I wanted anyway. 

2. Effective follow-up (as you hinted wasn't happening with the facilitators you've been using) is absolutely critical for sustainable change in an organization. When we do this work with clients, we include 3 follow-up sessions at 30, 60, and 90 days after the initial session. At those follow-ups, we ask the team "How's it going? How are we doing honoring the commitments we made with each other?" As the leader, I could ask those questions yet I'm also responsible for the results up to that point. Having a good facilitator reduces the pressure on the people and the leader to a reasonable point when they review progress. We also typically meet (briefly) with the leader every week, asking him or her "How's it going? Where are you being challenged to hold the team accountable to itself?" and then offer options and advice to get through the roadblocks. I provide a heads-up to our clients that there will indeed be a challenge, usually between 3-6 weeks from the initial workshop, where the positive buzz has worn off and something happens that presents a choice to the leader and team - "Do we go with the new way, or go back to the way we've always done this?" It's a make-or-break moment that can ensure success or failure depending on how it's handled. And frankly I just don't hold myself accountable without the right kind of follow-up.

3. As leader, I'm just too close to the challenges. Even though I try to emotionally disengage from what and how we've been doing up to now, I can't help but have some of those feelings leak through. Those feelings are picked up by my team and the result is a smaller set of possibilities that we could get with a facilitator. Also I believe people hear trusted third parties differently, even when those third parties are asking the same questions or pointing out challenges that people inside the company have already said and done. Nothing to do with me - just the way people filter what other people say based on the relationship. 

I believe a partnership with a great facilitator, coupled with personal support over time for the leader and the team as they make changes, can make the best impact with material as powerful as what Patrick has given everyone access to in The Advantage. We hire facilitators for our company, and with a supportive follow-up structure we get the results we need to achieve together. 

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

So, this is not to say that leaders can't lead change. They absolutely can and must. The point here is to lean toward the understanding that having a relationship with a great facilitator can leverage the strengths of a leader in a vastly beneficial but counter-intuitive way. As you consider whether establishing relationships with facilitators could leverage your strengths, we'd love to help facilitate that conversation.

Photo courtesy of Grace Cooley