Are You “Dropping In” or “Dropping On” Your Group?


I recently passed my 21st anniversary in business and I wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about a long time. This is a concept of dropping in vs. dropping on your client group. This is what I mean by each term:

“Dropping on” is the process of creating an agenda and moving from item to item, and to some degree force-fitting your agenda even though circumstances may have changed. The image of this is dropping balls from the air one by one. You will get through the agenda, but you might miss when the group could make a breakthrough because you are paying more attention to the agenda and not to the group needs of the moment.

“Dropping in”, on the other hand, is the phenomenon of noticing a distinct moment or moments in your journey with the group where there is an opportunity to make a profound shift. It is like the experience of a meditator when your mind suddenly becomes sharp and clear and calm. You can literally be in the middle of quite a busy mind when all of a sudden something shifts, and you have “dropped in” to presence, or being here and now. This is the quality that I would like to talk about in this blog. The quality of setting up the conditions for “dropping in” and knowing what to do when the moment or moments arrive(s).

Here is a video to illustrate the concept of “dropping on” versus “dropping in”…

Examples of “Dropping In”

Here are some examples of “dropping in” and what I believe contributed to the possibility of transformation in the group. I have modified some of the circumstances to protect confidentiality.

Training unwilling firefighter participants

The first example that comes to mind is a facilitated training we did with over 700 firefighters. It was quite a long time ago but it’s etched into my mind as a “dropping on” experience versus dropping in and how we shifted that to “dropping in” with the last batch of participants. We were providing very interactive training on accountability for firefighters when they were not fighting fires. It should not be a surprise that firefighters consider themselves very accountable and did not consider the training necessary or meaningful. After weeks of pulling our hair out, we hit the “worst of the worst” (situations) – the most resistant participants were starting to show up at the end of our training days.

One the second to third last training, we realized there was no waythat the participants were going to go with the agenda. So my colleague and I asked the participants: “How would it be if we asked you to com up with the top 10 things you would want new firefighters to know to be accountable.” The moment we proposed that, I realized we had a “dropping in ” moment. The most resistant participants were sitting up and taking notice, and nodding their heads and saying “We can do that!” We asked our most resistant participant to act as small group facilitators. The result was fantastic. There were engaged, they felt it was valuable and we accomplished the objectives of the training in a completely different way were had envisioned. That was dropping in! When we suddenly realized we had to work with what we had and capitalize on the wisdom in the room.

Power imbalance amongst government leaders

Another example of a “dropping in” moment was with a large group of government leaders. We had been doing some strategy work. One of the strategies was related to interrupting the power imbalance in the department. When we came back to ratify this strategy, coincidentally the group that got to first work on revising the strategy was a part of the group that was not in power in this department. They looked at my co-facilitator and called her over and told her, “We cannot do this task. This is inappropriate for us to revise a strategy that talks about interrupting the people with power.” So that was the first “dropping in” moment. We reassigned the task. The second “dropping in ” moment came when we were asked by this same group of underrepresented people if they could first hear from the people in power what they thought of this strategy. We obtained agreement on this process from the whole group. As the people in power started sharing their thoughts, I noticed they were being intellectual about their sharing. I asked them to drop into their heart and avoid just being in their heads. This was the “dropping in” moment where everything shifted. As people spoke from their heart, you could see compassion, deep listening and understanding arising amongst most of the group. In the end, that strategy was ratified by the whole group. If we had not paid attention to these moments, this may not have happened.

Educational staff angry and grieving

The last scenario that comes to mind is a number of educational staff members who were meeting to talk about developing a new program in their faculty. The difficulty that we knew about as facilitators before the event was that there were a few staff who had just learned that their contract would not be renewed.There was obvious grief and anger in the room, both on the part of these colleagues and their colleagues who still had jobs who were grieving losing long term colleagues. We realized we had to create a “dropping in” moment very early in the day’s agenda. So we began with a couple of questions that we hoped would create a positive, engaging atmosphere. The first one was “What is one thing you love about the program or are proud to have accomplished in this program?” A second question we used at the beginning of the day was: “What guiding principles shall we use for today to ensure things go well for us as a team?” These worked relatively well but the real “dropping in” moment occurred when I realized that the group might need something to settle the level of anxiety they had about being in the same room together. So we acknowledged the difficulty of the current situation and had them do a body mind exercise explaining why we were suggesting this. My co-facilitator also noticed I was preoccupied with some room setup and she quietly teased me in front of the whole group and asked if I would be willing to sit down so we could begin. This moment caused a ripple of laughter in the room and they could see we were approachable and authentic as facilitators. At that moment, the majority of the group were with us. Later one person asked to excuse himself and I’d like to think that our honesty at the beginning gave this person the sense that he could do that. We thanked this person for their courage in staying as long as they did and asked them if there was anything they wanted to share with the group later on when appropriate. We let the rest of the group know what happened when it happened. The rest of the day went very well.

Four Tips

Here are 4 things one can do as a solo or team of facilitators to plan for and then capitalize on “dropping in” moments. see the video also on this:

Help the Leaders Share Authentically

Although this guideline was not apparent in my examples above, in fact, we did a lot of this with the educational staff leaders. That is, do enough prework and relationship building with the client, i.e. the person or people who hired you to do the job. This means that when the transformative “dropping in moment occurs, you are fairly confident that your paying client will agree to the needed agenda change and trust your ability to do what needs to be done. You need to have authentic conversations with the leaders and set up contract language to ensure your capacity to respond in the moment. It might also mean as Dorothy Strachan shared at our small table group session called “Breakdown to Breakthrough” by Nadine and Jonathan Bell, that you coach the leader on what exactly to say in his or her opening context words. The opening context by the leader is critical to how safe the rest of the group is willing to share about what is really true for them.

Use Unique or Unusual Tools

Have some tools in your back pocket that are a little unusual. For example, also with the educational group, I asked their permission to do the heart brain coherence technique with them explaining that it was designed to settle their minds and get their heart and brain waves synchronized to do our best possible work on this important topic. You can see how this technique under resources below. Other unusual tools include things like bringing out my toy box that rattles on the table and says in a strangled voice, “Will someone let me out of here?”

Ask Provocative or Compelling Questions

I have found that sometimes the most reliable technique for creating a “dropping in” moment is asking the right question at the right time. Sometime you can plan for it and sometimes you just need to have a lot of good questions in your back pocket. For example, I once asked a group that I knew was in high conflict with each other (they were rural and urban school board members where the rural school board members felt overpowered and underheard), “How have you heard other people describe the urban-rural school board relationship?” In other words, this is really naming the elephant in the room but in a neutral, curious way and not asking them to talk from their own voice but to talk from other people’s voices. It’s safer than asking, e.g., “What do you think is the urban rural conflict?” Another example of a series of compelling questions that I asked a not-for-profit group that had lost sight of their mission was, “Why did you originally sign up to be part of this organization? What did you come here hoping to do? What still keeps you here?”

Capitalize on Wisdom and Experience in the Group

In the case of the firefighters, what we did was, albeit way too late, meet the group where they needed to be. We had heard several of those participants make disparaging comments about the new, younger firefighters and we realized we could capitalize on this in a more positive way by asking them to come up with best practices for becoming responsible, accountable and collaborative firefighters when not fighting fires.

There are so many more examples that you may have and our readers would benefit from hearing about other examples and tips if you care to share them.

The main point is, plan for and pay attention to those “dropping in” moments and review your agendas to make sure they are not just “dropping (your agendas) on” your groups.

Be sure to watch our summary of the 4 tips here…

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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