Leverage Your Tools – Turning One Method Into MANY


How many of us have a smartphone that we rarely use just as a phone? It was originally designed to be a phone but now we also use it for a GPS, an audio recorder, a camera and video recorder, alarm clock, newspaper, MP3 player, social media, email, restaurant and movie finder, TV, blogger, etc. In fact, its original use as a phone for me has almost become obsolete because the other ways I have figured out to use it are so much more useful. So, what has this got to do with facilitation?

This is true also of many of the techniques, methods and approaches we learn in facilitation. We are trained to use a method in one way. We think, “Oh – this method is a phone so I can only use it to call people”.  We think we can only use it the way it was intended.  We think we can only use a method or approach as a dialogue tool, or for building consensus, or for doing strategic planning, priority setting, etc.  What if we, as did the smart phone developers, think out of the box and create dozens of ways to adapt a method we’ve learned?  My goal in this blog is to say, “No putting a great method ‘on the shelf’”! How many times have we done that? I certainly have. For example, I learned a great method for complex conflict called Dynamic Facilitation, developed by Jim Rough. I keep thinking I need to have a really HUGE complex conflict to use it on. Nonsense! I could have used parts of it in a dozen different ways. So now, I will go back and see how to do that.

The secret to turning one method into many is to consider breaking apart your preconceived notions of how to use a method or technique and to bust open your mind to a myriad of possibilities.

Example: Turning Appreciative Inquiry Into Many Tools

Let us look at Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as our example of this today – it is a beautiful method. First, it is good to know that AI is what I and others would call a full blown approach to facilitation.  It is not just a single tool or simple technique. It takes awhile to get its essence “into our skin” and be able to adapt it accordingly. This happens regularly with facilitation approaches. The Technology of Participation (ToP) is also an approach. The Five Elements of Facilitation Design is an approach.   The course I noted above, Dynamic Facilitation is an approach.

Back to my point… How can we take the AI approach and adapt it for more day-to-day use? Obviously, see the beauty of its entire four part process and use it in this sequenced way when it makes sense. But don’t be tied to only using it that way, because many groups do not need that exact four part design:  Discovery-Dream-Design-Destiny.

Consider these modifications to the AI approach below and use it as an example to modify other approaches you use to leverage your tools:

  1. Modify the timing and process for each step. You might for example plan out just a day long or ½ day agenda and start with brief conversation on the first step of AI – “discovering” what the group knows to be true about a particular situation. Then you can help the group 2) share their hopes and dreams or highest expectations for outcomes on this problem or topic. You might then help them 3) design a solution or pathway to meeting these desired outcomes and, finally chart a mini action plan that ensures they arrive at their 4) “destination”.
  1. Use its’ essence of appreciation (e.g., inviting the group to stay connected to the heart and head simultaneously and always steer toward hopefulness and positivity). Essentially I use AI lightly in this way. I try to start off my meetings very positively as it raises the energy and productivity of the group and gets their internal intra-personal neurobiology going and connecting with each other. This changes everything.   Design a series of positive questions and put into ToP ORID style format.  Simply asking a positive question when things seem bleak forces the group to really see it from a different angle.
  1. Use any one or two of its four separate parts inserted into a customized design. You could insert them into other methods or agenda designs. Examples – open the agenda with a discovery style series of questions.  Or, spend some part of the day dreaming and designing strategies for implementing the best scenario for solving a problem or dilemma that they can imagine, etc.  Or, Use the concepts of the Five Elements of Design approach to be more flexible with AI.  E.g., The discovery phase is about grounding a group. Dreaming will fire them up and connect them.  Get them flowing like water again.  Design will fire them up and destiny will clear the air and give them deep spaciousness. The whole process will give them space too.

Many of you are much more expert at AI than I am. What ways have you used it?  What else comes to mind when you think of busting out of your preconceived notions of a tool, technique, method or approach while still maintaining its underlying core set of values?

Bottom line… learn to adapt your methods and approaches.  Mix and match.  Modify.  Leverage those tools!

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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