Facilitation Algebra

Tabby Kittens

We have all attended events in which we had to yawn. The pace is slow and laborious. We are stuck in a chair listening the whole time, and the mind wanders to what is on the buffet table that we can nibble on.

Imagine if we assigned a rating for degree of engagement when we gather people together for group work. Let’s say we collapse, for simplicity, the difference between engagement of speaking, learning, or connecting, and just say engagement.

If I have forty people in the room and only one is speaking, the engagement of the speaker, I hope, is maximal. Some percentage of the room, depending on what is said and their interest, is in various states of engagement.  We might be able to calculate, if we knew those degrees, the sum of the level of engagement in the whole to what is being said (minus degree of engagement on other devices or to other topics in mind).

Let’s say the activity is introductions, and each person is speaking for 1-2 minutes about themselves, so the group knows itself. It will take 60 to 80 minutes to go around the room. It will also, usually cost, the facilitator energy to police the 1-2 minute limit unless they use a device like a pre-written 3×5 card to keep people brief. (I have used these cards to keep within intro time limits and then made harvest documentation by having them post to a wall using an association method, which can be quite helpful in knowing ourselves as a whole.)

Now, let’s say, instead, I ask those forty people, as part of their introductions to each other, to organize in space around the room as if it was a map of the world. I give them a compass point and four locations to work from. In 3 minutes the group has some sense of where everyone is from and who is near them. They all used their bodies, and had to talk with 2 or 3 others to be sure they were in the right relation to proximal people. What is the algebra of engagement of this activity? Assume there was no need to move chairs or change the room to do the exercise. In 30 minutes of these sorts of exercises (align yourself on a spectrum of interest in… or belief about…, for example). For documentation, you can have someone take photos of the arrangements.

The art of facilitation is the crafting of optimal processes for engagement and achievement of collective goals. There are no perfect solutions, and every group has needs to be addressed that shape the processes that can work. Facilitation is the art of creating process that moderates the flows of individual engagement and catalyzes the flow of necessary information leading to action.

Abra cadabra – work with the algebra of group energy to achieve outcomes to make magical experiences of flow and contribution.

When designing group process ask:

  1. who will be in active engagement during this process?
  2. who will be in passive forms of engagement during this process?
  3. is there another way to achieve this outcome that would change the active and passive engagement ratio?
  4. if each person’s time and attention has a numeric value, and I do the algebra, have I optimized the value in the group? Is there excess capacity that I could/should engage?
  5. how simply can I explain what the process is?

Creative Commons License photo credit: www.metaphoricalplatypus.com