In our book, Leading Groups: Effective Strategies for Building Professional Community , we describe seven essential premises for guiding and growing positive and productive groups.
- Groups develop and their development can be positively influenced.
- Human behavior has a biological and sociological legacy.
- There are predictable dynamics in groups.
- Work sessions should be learning sessions.
- Investing energy in design saves energy in delivery.
- Shaping the discourse determines direction.
- You can’t lead where you won’t go.
These premises need to inform the decisions and behavior of all group leaders . But, there are hidden dangers for group leaders who are not clear about their intentions, behaviors, and
expectations when planning for group development and guiding group member interactions. A group leader’s own needs may interfere with a team’s ability to grow and learn from experience. These needs include: the need to be needed, the need to be liked, and the need to be admired. Unchecked, These desires often result in groups that are over-facilitated or groups in which the leader’s voice dominates. Leaders who over-facilitate, are prone to offering lengthy process directions, intervening prematurely to redirect the group, and inserting their own comments about meeting content before others have a chance to speak. Such groups become leader-dependent and are then unable to function with autonomy or ownership for both processes and results. It is no longer the “groups group”, it is now the “facilitator’s group”.
In his seminal book, The Skilled Facilitator, Roger Schwartz reminds us that any action the group leader takes affects the group in multiple ways with both short and long-term consequences for increasing or decreasing the group’s effectiveness. A critical test for any group leader is to assess the development of group member skills and on-going group productivity. If the group is not progressing, the first place for the leader to check is his or her own decisions and behaviors when working with the group.
Schwartz makes a distinction between basic facilitation and developmental facilitation. A basic facilitator runs the process. A developmental facilitator teaches the group processes and ways to monitor and adjust those processes as needed. A developmental facilitator also supports the group in reflecting on and learning from its work and work procedures. In our seminars and products, we come down on the side of developmental facilitation. Our belief is that the leaders should be trying to work themselves out of the job, leaving behind strong, self-authoring groups and a next level of team leadership.
We are guided by the work of Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janus, who in their book Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings That Matter make the case for staying out of the way. They, like us, believe in the power of structure to guide meeting work, reminding us not to fret over other people’s motives. “In other words, instead of managing other people’s behavior, you will manage structure – the conditions under which people interact. The only individual you will seek to manage is you.”
We strongly recommend that group leaders acquire and refine a repertoire of tools for teams. Our book, Groups At Work: Strategies and Structures for Professional Learning, offers are wealth of protocols and structures for organizing productive group work.
One vital tip to close:
Skillful group leaders intentionally describe the what, why, and how of structures, strategies and protocols. This principle for leading groups embodies a spirit of transparency and communicates to the group the thinking behind design choices. The “what” names the structure, strategy, or protocol with which the group is about to engage. The “why” describes the intended outcomes for those choices for the group and the work. The “why” includes benefits such as greater task focus leading to project success and outcomes such as time-efficient task completion, more balanced participation, and the opportunity for all voices to be heard. The “how” offers the directions and describes the procedures and processes that will be involved. The “how” may require graphic support and modeling for multi-step or complex processes.
Schwarz, R. (2017). The skilled facilitator: A comprehensive resource for consultants, facilitators, coaches, and trainers (3rd Ed.), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Weisbord, M. and Janoff, S. (2007). Don’t just do something, stand there!: Ten principles for leading meetings that matter. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.