Getting out of the way

Posted by  admin —October 2, 2009
Filed in Uncategorized

Last week I facilitated a workshop with a group of people whose work is diverse and complex and our topic was Floodplain Management. An interesting thing happened …


After making a point that the large circular board room table may be of great use to the group later on, my client started with a short ‘chalk&talk’ presentation to set the scene and context for the day. We identified the key questions to draw out the group wisdom and we ran a structured group process to tackle the first question. Pretty simple so far, then …

We had no plan for the next and most critical part of the workshop. We all knew what needed to be done and it was complex stuff. My initial response was to step in and save the day with some brilliant piece of facilitation … but I resisted the urge and looked for offers from the group. (After all, they had the knowledge of the topic). I stepped back as the group looked to me for direction … I didn’t say a word.

Then, out of the blue, someone madeĀ  an offer to the group about how we could tackle the question. It was so profoundly simple that everyone said ‘yes!’. My job was done and I set to work to support the group with the ‘stuff’ they required. We finished 30 minutes early and everyone left happy.

So, what happened here? Johnnie Moore in his post ‘Do Less’ said this …

“It reminds me a precept of facilitation: get out of people’s way and they’ll organise themselves more intelligently than you can.”

Getting out of the way does not mean ‘doing nothing’ … far from it in fact. Stepping back means ‘noticing more’ about what’s going on in the moment. Sticking to a pre workshop plan often dulls the senses and limits the possibilities that arise. Johnnie again …

“An awful lot of wasted effort goes into designing meetings and expecting fixed outcomes to be reached on a predetermined timetable – an approach that denies the participants the ability to organise themselves more subtly and enthusiastically.”

After 5 years of facilitating, I am learning to do less … slowly stripping back my practice to it’s core and getting rid of the unnecessary fluff.


Leave a Reply