Early in our facilitator training journey, we realized the powerful impact that “teaching” facilitation had on us as teachers. The first step to enabling people to experience high functioning groups was to facilitate a very holistic environment for learning. This meant carefully constructing a safe, trusting, and creative “container.” Once shaped, the container not only offered vastly accelerated learning but also something we didn’t anticipate: it generated curative, transforming insights for all the individuals involved, including us as teachers. We came to know the container itself as an element of healing.
Healing showed up in many ways. People more frequently spoke their truth. They were more at choice in the presence of dysfunctional habits. Others became more confident with their strengths. We could see the difference in the participants…and in ourselves as teachers. We became humbler and less preachy because it was not about what we knew but the shared experience of transformation.
Relevance: Facilitation as an Act of Healing
We realize that speaking of healing in the context of facilitation and leadership may be a stretch for some. So let’s look at a definition from Wikipedia: Healing is the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased, damaged or unvitalized organism. The result of healing can be to cure the cause of a health challenge, but one can grow without being cured or heal without “a cure”.
This leads to our definition of healing: The alignment of thought and actions with values; Integrity in thought and deed.
Application: Creating a Container of Healing and Hope. A powerful healing container for groups contains three elements:
- Shared Purpose (What & Why). When we have a clearly articulated purpose on which we agree, then we all know what we are gathered to do. If in coming to this shared purpose, we are also clear about why it is important, then this purpose has meaning for us all. We now know the direction of “true north.” Anyone in the container can now point out when the group seems “off course.” Without this shared knowledge, groups can argue incessantly and get caught in tangents that rob them of their creativity and energy.
- Operating Agreements (How). It’s seems normal today to be in a perpetual state of harried action, where we are stressed out and filled with dysfunctional communication patterns. Like driving a car with one flat tire, it’s easy to get caught up in getting to our destination as quickly as possible while ignoring the fact that something is seriously impacting our progress.
You can also agree on norms when issues arise in your process. For example, if a cell phone rings frequently during your meetings, suggest stowing electronic devices. Or, if people often talk over one another, suggest that only one person speak at a time.
When participants are reluctant to develop operating agreements, ask this question: What behaviors would GUARANTEE that we have a terrible meeting? Once you list these, then invert them and make the negative behavior into a positive. For instance, if they give the example of talking over each other, then you would list not interrupting as an operating agreement.
- Recruit Committed Participants (Who). It’s important to have the right people present in any group effort. Be sure to involve those who have the expertise, experience, relationships, or affiliations required to support the effort. Include those who have the decision-making authority necessary to support your outcomes. Once your team is assembled, assure that everyone is committed to the work and supportive of the process. If not, find out why and see if the misalignment can be corrected. It’s ok for people to opt out if they find they have other priorities or interests.
Now that you have a container, your work in groups can be healthy, energizing, and innovative…healing what was old, tired, and dysfunctional!