Alistair Cockburn:

I’ve had to be part of and lead collaborative work sessions. People remark on the strong feeling of collaboration during those meetings, and the speed at which we get results. Other skilled facilitators manage the same. People ask us how we achieve these effects and whether it can be learned. With this article, I hope to show how we achieve these results, and that they can be learned. […]

In the end, three dominant categories of actions appeared. They are:

  • Lift others
  • Increase safety
  • Make progress

Minor categories also showed up:

  • Add energy
  • Build personal relationships
  • Create an identity

I am at best an amateur facilitator so this will be a handy checklist / self-retrospective-list for me. My biggest problem is dealing with what Sam Kaner calls “the groan zone“—the place where progress seems stalled and the group can either move through it or (more likely) fall back. At that moment, a whole bunch of people and ideas are in unstable equilibrium. What I’m not so good at is keeping the strongest personality in the group from tipping the equilibrium to a solution that meshes best with their personality. (Sometimes I’m that person.) Since, as Mencken said, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong,” it’s important to hold the balance.

That’s why I’m most comfortable with situations where we can agree to stop for now, go off and do an experiment that makes us know more. That’s not always possible—and, whenever it is, it requires convincing people to stay in the groan zone indefinitely.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.