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Home > Business Applications
Facilitating Group Action
by Bob Powell, 11/04/01
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This process enables groups to overcome what might best be called "group multiple personality disorder."

An individual displaying different personalities over time could well be considered by many to be "nuts." But that's literally the exact situation in groups ... lots of individuals with different personalities.

And that's why we often perceive them to be just plain crazy:

Insanity in individuals is something rare –
but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)

The Wheel of Learning. Learning is a feedback process!

This approach is for groups that

  • are frustrated by meetings that seem to drag on and on with few decisions,
  • have issues that are often revisited without resolution,
  • spend too much time on relatively unimportant details,
  • aren't sure of the degree to which there is consensus, and
  • eventually decide to take action, but find group members grumble later that they don't fully support the decision.

The foundation of this facilitation approach is the Wheel of Learning, the feedback process at the heart of all learning.

Groups learn ground rules that promote double-loop learning, which is examining mental models and changing decision rules and strategies to make better decisions even with the same information used in single-loop learning (reacting and adapting). Groups learn how to address the "real issues" by practicing in a safe environment where the use of the more productive norms of behavior are monitored and encouraged.

Each of us tends to favor a personality style (in green) on the wheel. Groups need participants of all styles for effective learning. Unfortunately, people with different styles can drive each other crazy. As an example, "doers" just want to get on with it and "reflecters" never stop thinking about alternatives. This is a major source of group conflict.

The idea is to use the nominal group technique (rather than brainstorming) to cycle through identifying and ranking problems, then causes of the highest-ranked problems, then actions to take to address the highest-ranked problems. Once actions are identified and ranked, one can then use project management discipline to accomplish the actions.

This allows individuals to "have their say" and the group to coalesce around the best alternatives (as determined by the group) rather than the lowest common denominator alternatives that all agree on.


Groups learn this facilitation technique by practicing in the context of a real problem. Workshops can be defined around a process an organization wants to improve where there is hard data (e.g., production or engineering processes), or around an issue about which the group determines the "correct" answer (e.g., group values, purpose, vision or goals where there is no true "correct" answer).

The skills learned in this workshop are a necessary ingredient for:

  • creating exponential process improvement.
  • developing a winning strategic focus.

For a more detailed description of this approach, see the two-page paper on Facilitating Group Action.  (pdf, 100K)

An example of how this was used to help the Colorado Springs Manufacturing Task Force reveal their consensus on initiatives: Manufacturing Task Force Meeting Report, 10/26/04, on "What benefits would you as a manufacturer like to derive from an on-going Manufacturing Association?"

Also, to create effective groups, we must overcome what are known as Defensive Routines. (pdf, 270K)

[Article modified 2/25/16]

URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/facilitation.shtml

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© 2003 Continuous Improvement Associates
Workshop Overview
Facilitating Group Action
Exponential Improvement
Create Strategic Focus
Making Strategic Choices
Project Management Dynamics
Workshop Report on Project Management Dynamics 10/23/04
ST Leadership
Human Resource Structures
Product Life Cycle