Staying Calm When the Group Hates Your Facilitator Process!


Or you, the participant hate the process!

Some people profess to not like process. I guarantee that at times in meetings, it might be as high as 75%+ of the group who are not enjoying the process. If you could hear people think out loud it might sound like this, “Why can’t everyone just think the way I think?” Or, Why can’t we just move this along faster?

What do you do to help process-adverse people stay engaged if you are a process facilitator? Or,  what do you do when a group does not seem to like a particular activity you have chosen for them? This blog helps you stay calm even when a tidal wave (see blog banner) threatens to take over your process!

Also, if you are a meeting participant, who has been impatient with process in meetings, you might find this blog helpful.

Why don’t people like process?

I think people don’t like process because it takes too long to get a decision or a product. What people sometimes forget is that with good process, the product will be better, last longer, and willingly implemented. The time it takes to use good process to reach a decision will be immediately gained in the shorter time it takes to implement a decision, plan or program. A long time ago, an Oregon colleague, Tree Bressen, showed me this diagram in a short course she was teaching about decision-making. The diagram shows when people make a quick decision, the implementation time is longer (Diagram 1). Or in reverse, when you use process and good group discussion to get to the decision, the implementation time is shorter (Diagram 2). I remember this when I get discouraged by the amount of time it seems to take a group to resolve something. Thank you, Tree!

Take a recent meeting I was in for example. I was with a group of people trying to decide how to design their meeting activities. I was surprised to learn that some people don’t like personal reflection exercises. I always love that because even though I am doing my own individual work, I find it helpful to talk about my ideas with other people who are working on the same exercises as me. Another person raised the fact that they didn’t really want to spend too much time on sharing learnings with the other group members. This person imagined it might be difficult for them to have anything valuable to share. I was thinking in my mind “I totally disagree. This person has amazing wisdom to share with the group”. I noticed in myself a certain impatience. I even thought, “Why don’t they think the way I think?” I  had an aha as a facilitator, I need to be VERY patient with all the people in the room who think, “Why can’t we just move this along faster?

Why make the benefits obvious?

Let me share with you once again the reasons for making the time to have a group discuss (at times exhaustively) the product you’re trying to create. Remember, when I talk about product, it could be a plan, a program, a decision, a policy, an image, a values or mission statement, a piece of software or hardware, a marketing campaign, a communications plan, an important meeting agenda, organizational goals and strategy, etc. 

My moasic teacher,
  • If you only have one person’s perspective thinking about a product, it will only reflect that one person’s perspective. The program will only appeal to those who think or behave like this person. So the product will have immensely less value to a wider audience than if many perspectives are considered in developing the final product.
  • People willingly implement, recommend, and endorse products or programs they have been involved in developing. You have an instant group of advocates when you involve as many people as possible in the development of your product. Imagine how well that will go if you are trying to launch something quickly. The IT person loudly proclaiming the product’s efficiency… The finance person touting its profitability or money saving virtues…  The HR person who will talk about reduced absenteeism, or teamwork. All of these different roles in the organization will now have ownership for its success. Their voices will reach different audiences once the product “leaves” the work site.

Note: Process facilitators do not recommend using much group process or multi-stakeholder decision-making when only a few people are going to use the product. That would be a waste of everyone’s time. 

Here are some things that facilitators do to help people trust the process.

  • Involve as many stakeholders as possible in the planning of the process (choice of activities) so they know what to expect and they can weigh in on it ahead of time. 
  • If participants were not able to be part of planning the process, set the context at the beginning. This includes: explain the agenda and the activities, and make sure everybody knows why each activity has been chosen. Before you begin any activity, participants should know explicitly how each process will contribute to the final product.
  • Choose your process and activities carefully to match the needs and culture of the group. Only then, “trust the process.”

What if people are still resisting your process?

It sounds like this, “Why are we doing this? Wouldn’t it be better if we did this…?” When that happens, good facilitators reflect back to the group.

They ask, “How many other people are feeling like this?” If several hands go up, you might say, “I am hearing perhaps that you would rather use a different process than what we are proposing here.” Note: This can be a little dangerous because it could unravel your entire agenda. Perhaps there were many people in the room who were involved in designing the agenda. You might remind them of that. You could say, “Many people from this group were involved in planning this agenda. What has changed your mind about the process we are using now?”  Depending on what they tell you, you might then say for example, “I heard people say that the process feels too long and too laborious for the time we have left. Let’s take a small break. I’d like three people to come up with me and during the break, help me determine how to shorten this process but not lose the quality outcome we are aiming for”.

What we DO NOT recommend

What a facilitator should try not to do is to say, “Please trust the process”, or even worse, “Please trust me. I know what I’m doing.” Rather, know there is a good reason that the group is feeling unsettled. It might take 10 to 15 minutes extra time to sort it out. But my experience has almost always been that the group comes back and says, “Thank you very much for being adaptable to change the process when we needed it to be changed. That shows that you are listening”. This is one of the core IAF certification competencies –  being adaptable and flexible and adjusting to the group’s needs.

Like the banner of this blog, YOU need to trust the process. BUT, only if you have thoroughly thought about why you are using it and how it will meet the needs of the group.

Let’s hear your stories of how you helped a group accept and willingly participate in your chosen process.

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.


  1. Kira Higgs on July 10, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    So much wisdom here, Barbara. I love how you frame “product” as the actual outcome of any process the group has undertaken. And I agree wholeheartedly with your tip to take a break and re-configure the session with input from people in the room. I like to include at least one of the original organizers when a break is called for.

    The only thing I’d add is that it’s helpful to acknowledge your own feelings (silently) in the moment, do your best to not take it personally, and then process it later if needed. Larry Dressler’s book, Standing In The Fire, is a powerful resource to help high-stakes facilitators separate out how they feel personally from what’s really happening for the group.

  2. Barbara Mackay on August 6, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you so much Kira. So wise and thanks for this reminder resource.

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