I participated in a webinar recently where I heard Seth Godin describe marketing as a process of change that creates tension. He urged small businesses to help potential clients deal with this tension, to help them build a bridge. This idea prompted me to contemplate the tension that my potential clients feel when they experience the quagmire in their workgroups. When they see unaddressed conflict play out over and over again. When they tire of the effort and resources it takes to complete group tasks. When they think about hiring a facilitator.photo of woman suspended on rope

What makes some clients seek the help of a facilitator? What makes other clients avoid doing so? Do both situations suggest ways to deal with the tension of change?

The Avoidant Triangle

1.   Fear of the Unknown

Engaging in a process that is designed to improve group interaction includes uncertain outcomes. Someone in the group may leave because the status quo works for them. Someone else may become unhappy for other reasons and complain. A personality dynamic between two members may prove immutable. The idea of uncertain outcomes can prompt fear, especially for us low-risktakers. It can introduce a tense dilemma: stay with what you know doesn’t work, or risk introducing a new problem?

2.   Belief Rooted in Past Experience

I’ve heard potential clients and their employees tell horror stories about previous experiences with facilitators. The bad experience strengthened a belief that facilitation doesn’t work. And they are partially right. Some facilitation doesn’t work. It’s difficult to overcome past experience when we cannot see how a process might be different. We’d be crazy to try again!

3.   Too Much Work

Just thinking about change can tire some people. Undertaking change can add to an already cumbersome workload. Temporarily anyway.

The Will to Change

Clients who have hired me had two things that gave them the will to engage in change. They refused to fund the quagmire any longer, and they knew facilitation had worked for someone else.

Four Steps to Deal with the Tension of Change

1.   Make Unknowns Known (as much as possible)

In 2017, rising home prices and rents forced me to search for a place to live outside of my local market. A forested county in the northern Sierra Nevada beckoned me to dwell in its solitude and natural beauty. Serendipity connected me to a perfect little cabin with a motivated seller. We shook on a deal and opened an escrow.

Then inspection results and personal opinions rolled in. I learned the property was not only in a fire zone, but in a flood zone as well. Family and close friends expressed surprise and concern. Why do you want to move so far away? You’ll be isolated. How will you deal with travel in the winter? The fear and anxiety came in waves. I would learn something new about the property that meant a new “unknown” about the future and wrestle with it to make it a “known”. My loan officer, real estate agent, various insurance reps, a civil engineer, and my therapist each had several turns answering my questions about specific fears. Each time they did, the path through the murky forest of unknowns led to a clearing.

Start by making a list of your worst fears about what might happen if you were to hire a facilitator. Then turn these into specific questions that if answered would mitigate your fears.

You might ask yourself some of these questions. For example, you might fear that someone won’t like the process and decide to leave the group. You might turn this fear into the question: “what would I do if so-and-so decided to leave the group?”

You might decide to ask someone else other questions. For example, you might fear broaching a conflict that results in a shouting match. You might ask a colleague, “have you experienced such a heated situation and if so, how did you respond?”

As much as possible, make the unknowns known by redefining general fear into specific questions that you can seek answers to and prepare responses for.

The little house in the woods? In the end it was a stop at the snowy shoreline of Lake Davis that clinched the deal for me. I took a deep breath and embraced the adventure of the unknowns.

2.   Open Your Mind to the Idea of Untapped Group Potential

Group potential is always there. Everyone has something to contribute. Think of it as being blocked instead of absent. Think of any bad experience with facilitation as not working to free up the potential to flow. It’s still there. Don’t give up on the group or facilitation of the group. Find a facilitator that you connect with.

You might also talk to your group about the idea of facilitation. Find out what is important to them about working with a facilitator. This will give you some idea about a facilitator that will be a right fit for the group. But check first that you’re willing to be influenced by what the group tells you. Be honest. If you want to make the decision on your own, do it and inform the group.

3.   Strengthen Your Case and Create a Strategy for Facilitation

Strengthen your case for changing how a group works by considering what doing so can give you, the group, and the organization. Think short and long-term. calculating-contemporary-data-2058138 (1)Audit the cost of the status quo, in payroll expenditures, for example, of all the unproductive group meetings in the last year.

Yes, change involves work. But so does maintaining the status quo. The effort to change may seem greater because it calls on you to do something differently, something you may not yet know how to do. But you can learn. You can also strategize how to go about it. You can address the change process in phases, break it up, tackle one thing at a time.

4.   Seek Out Facilitation Stories

Who do you know that hired a facilitator and engaged in a process that really worked wonders for them? Who do you know who knows someone that did? Ask to hear their story. What prompted them to pick up the phone and call a facilitator? How did they find the facilitator they ended up calling? What had they tried that didn’t work? There’s lots to be learned from stories of failed attempts too. You will likely find that you are not alone in this endeavor.

What questions do you have that still need an answer? What support do you need in dealing with the tension of changing the way your group works? Let’s talk. Leave a message on the Flow website.