Jadding and Predictable Tensions

UnknownOne of my first facilitation experiences was co-facilitating a Jadding session in a large oil company where I was a corporate trainer. JAD stood for Joint Application Development – a fairly new process at the time that engaged the client or end user in the design and development of computer applications. It was my first taste of facilitating a process rather than delivering a training program, and I loved it.

One of the models we explored was Predictable Tensions between the priorities and interests of units and centralized corporate groups:

Unit Priorities

  Corporate Priorities
  1. Functionality
  2. Performance
  3. Cost
  4. Support
  5. Standards/Integration
  1. Standards/Integration
  2. Support
  3. Cost
  4. Performance
  5. Functionality

The model, although simplistic, struck me as the Yin and Yang required for effectiveness, opposite but complementary energies. The model helped depersonalize conflict by helping groups “walk in each other’s shoes”.   Groups could confirm or revise their priorities, using the generic list as a starting ground. But most importantly, it gave a language for groups to reach common ground.

I have used the Predictable Tensions model with:

  • Head Office and Field Groups
  • Corporate Functions like HR, Finance, IT and Communications and their internal customer groups
  • National or provincial associations and their local offices

In all cases, it has helped surface unmet expectations, provide insights about conflict, and pave the way to more effective working relationships.




Setting the Stage for Dialogue

I first experienced the power of dialogue at the hands of an expert facilitator from the World Business Academy. The facilitator was hosting dialogue sessions with diverse groups of employees as part of an intensive corporate culture change effort.

I called my first experience “a waterslide” conversation. Within minutes of the facilitator sharing the groundrules, I felt myself plunge into a stillness of deep listening, genuine inquiry and fresh insights.

Hal Saunders of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, defines dialogue this way:
“Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn. Each makes a serious effort to take other’s concerns into her or his own picture, even when disagreement persists. No participant gives up her or his identity, but each recognizes enough of the other’s valid human claims that he or she will act differently toward the other”.

Here are some groundrules used to set the stage for dialogue:

1. Speak to the center of the circle rather than to any person.
2. Really listen. What does the dialogue bring up for you?
3. Speak only when moved. Be “economical” with what you say.
4. Leave a space for silence after people speak. Don’t think about what you are going to say. Digest what was said.
5. Speak in “I” statements and only on behalf of yourself.
6. Do not use any evaluative comments – neither supporting nor disagreeing. Simply make your own statement.
7. Ask questions to the center of the circle. Do not direct questions to any one person.
8. Everybody is responsible for following and ensuring everyone follows the rules for dialogue.
9. Speak in a way that others want to listen, and listen in a way that makes others want to speak.

For more information on dialogue, I recommend William Isaacs Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together.

The founders of the dialogue movement believe we can change the world by changing how we talk and listen. I believe and hope that is true.

Start and Finish Well

It seems simple, but many people underestimate the importance of starting and finishing meetings well. Have you been in meetings with ragged starts or where people were unsure if the meeting was over? Effective facilitation at these critical times can dramatically improve the tone, energy, participation and follow-through after a meeting.

To open well, here are a few processes I consistently use:

  • Start on time, or acknowledge why you have not started on time and commit to start soon.
  • Have the host, organizer or project sponsor open the session with a welcome and short remarks to provide context.
  • Have participants briefly introduce themselves, or if everyone knows each other, use a short icebreaker such as sharing one piece of good news (regarding their company, their department, the project, or their personal lives). The intent is for every participant to speak to the large group as early as possible in the meeting.
  • Review the 3 Ps: Purpose of the meeting, Payoff or desired outcomes expected at the end of the meeting, and Process or agenda to achieve the payoffs.
  • Review groundrules (expected behaviors) for the meeting.
  • Review the role and responsibilities of the facilitator (or chair).

Investing the first few minutes of a meeting in this way creates an inviting, participative and focused environment.

To close well, I consistently:

  • Summarize next steps, clarifying who will be doing what and by when.
  • Evaluate the meeting. I often use a Plus/Delta format. The “pluses” are what worked well and made the meeting effective. The “deltas” are the changes or improvements that would have made this meeting more effective, or could make future meetings more effective. The key is to continuously improve meetings based on participant feedback.
  • Last words by the host, organizer or meeting sponsor.

Ending meetings well ensures clarity, commitment to follow-through, and a sense of accomplishment.

IBM used to offer a tool to measure the return on investment for meetings. Their approach was to tally the salaries for time people spent in the meeting, and compare that cost to the benefits achieved. Starting and finishing well significantly ups the odds of a positive ROI.

Acing Your Leadership Transition

Have you been promoted or assigned to lead a new-to-you team?  Are you looking for a fast way to get up to speed and provide effective leadership?  A Transition Workshop might be a perfect way to ace your leadership transition.

What is a Transition Workshop?

  • A facilitated one day working session for a newly appointed leader, and an already established team

What is the purpose?

  • Provide the new leader with the information needed to make sound decisions and provide needed direction for the  team
  • Set or confirm goals and priorities for the coming six months
  • Accelerate the integration of the new leader and the team


  • The Transition Workshop was first developed by the US Military in the late 70s to address transition issues faced by newly assigned officers. Corporations have since adopted the process as one of their most effective tools in times of reorganization, mergers and acquisitions, or leadership changes. During change, organizational performance can drop for up to six months as employees wait and see what changes will come with changes in leadership. Bill Bridges called this time the “neutral zone” – a time of confusion at best, or inertia at worst, with the potential to negatively impact team and individual performance.
  • A Transition Workshop accelerates the formation of new, healthy and functioning teams. The organization can reap benefits in terms of productivity, morale, retention and reputation.

Preparing for a Transition Workshop

  • The new leader meets with the facilitator to clarify the goals of the session.
  • The new leader prepares information on his/her career to date, leadership style and expectations of the team.
  • The facilitator conducts confidential interviews with some or all of the team members.

Typical  One Day Agenda

  • Opening and welcoming remarks –  New Leader
  • Review agenda, and set ground rules – Facilitator
  • Introductions including clarification of roles – Each team member
  • Overview of the role of the team, history of the group, functions performed, clients, and key stakeholders – Team members
  • Current State. Identify information, issues, commitments and plans about which new leader should be aware – Team members
  • Prioritize action items for the new leader and the team in terms of urgency and importance – All


  • Share information about his/her work history in the organization and prior, his/her leadership style, and expectations of the team – New Leader
  • Provide input on what the team needs from the new leader – Team members
  • Clarify how the new leader and team will handle meetings, communication, performance reporting, issues management and other work related processes – All
  • Open forum for questions/answers – All
  • Clarify next steps – All

Your choice is simple: Wade through the “Forming” stage for six months or more, or invest in a Transition Workshop to jump start you and your new team forward.  Go for it!

What’s in a facilitator’s toolkit?

Have you ever wondered about the “tools of the trade” used by a professional facilitator?  I use the following list as a checklist before I head to a client event.  I no longer trust hotels and other event venues to provide even the basic facilitator tools so I travel with my own.

My toolkit is a Jack Georges bag. It is large enough for all my materials as well as the inevitable rolls of flipchart paper I bring back from each event.

I always travel with:

  • Markers, usually Sharpies or Mr. Sketch
  • Masking tape, green painters’ tape or Blu Tack
  • Packages of Post-It notes in various sizes and colors
  • A small clock

I often add:

  • Small toys such as palm sized footballs or stress balls
  • Hard candies
  • Tibetan bells
  • A talking stick
  • A camera

In terms of paper, I sometimes add:

    • Extra copies of the agenda
    • Handouts
    • Wallcharts
    • Questionnaires
    • Psychometric instruments
    • Evaluation forms

In the past few years, most of this material is distributed electronically.

And then, depending on the icebreakers and other experiential activities I am planning to use, I pack:

    • Blindfolds
    • Egg timers
    • Rope
    • Bolo Bats
    • And other eclectic items

One thing I do not travel with, but intend to, is a selection of upbeat music that can be played during breaks.

In addition to the physical toolkit, I travel with a toolkit of models and processes in my head that I can bring forward as different situations require. Early in my career, I was privileged to take a workshop from Jim Weber, and receive a copy of his “toolkit”, a binder with hundreds of frameworks  which he later published as “Facilitating Critical Thinking in Groups” .  His binder became a model for how I built my process toolkit.

So there you have it- a peek inside one facilitator’s toolkit.  I don’t leave home without it.





Rock It: Design Tips for Multi-Day Sessions

In a time pressured world, offsite courses and retreats are rarely longer than two or three days. When you are fortunate enough to have this time, it takes extra skill as a designer and facilitator to maintain participants’ interest, energy and learning. Here are a few of my favorite design tips for these occasions:

1. Create a “sub-plot” of secondary activities that complement the objectives of the program, provide variety and create an opportunity for participants to see each other in action.


  • At the beginning of the first day, assign each participant to one of the following teams:
    • News, Weather and Sports Team which is responsible for opening day two and three with a “talk show” format of things to inform and entertain the participants.
    • Energy Team which is responsible for planning and leading activities at scheduled points during the day to raise the energy and fun level in the room.
    • Recognition Team which is responsible for observing and recognizing participants for helpful behaviors at the end of each day.
  • As prework, identify Harvard Business Review articles that are relevant to the objectives of the program. Have each participant select an article and prepare a 5-minute presentation on the key ideas. Schedule the presentations throughout the session.

2. Design in variety.


  • Ensure the agenda appeals to all learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic).
  • Build in a mix of solo, pair, small group and large group activities.
  • Change the seating arrangements each day or half-day.
  • Bring in guest speakers, customers, organizational leaders, etc. for cameo appearances.
  • Add an outdoor experiential activity, artistic venture, or volunteer activity for the community.

3. Use a visual roadmap.


  • Line a wall with paper. Use graphic facilitation to depict the key activities and learnings each day. Start and end each day with a review of the journey so far.
  • Post and review the session objectives, shading the ones that have been completed.

Multi-day sessions are a huge investment in time and cost. Design well to maximize the return.

Trust the Process

I see the world through a process lens, and know that not everyone does. By “process”, I mean proven, reliable methods that can help you achieve a desired outcome.  The judicial system, for instance, is built on “due process” as is cooking and almost every other aspect of our lives.

I design and facilitate processes to create strategic and business plans. Some of my colleagues call themselves “process artists” which I think is quite apt.

A well-designed process is a beautiful thing. It creates a journey of discovery and learning. Each step engages participants and creates something new, often unanticipated, that feeds into the next step of the process, making the outcomes richer.

What does “trust the process” mean?

  • “Be open to outcome; not attached to outcome.” These worlds come from Angeles Arrien, author of the Four Fold Way.  Keep an open mind and don’t drive to a preconceived outcome.
  • Persevere through the “groan zone” best described by Sam Kaner in his Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making. Most people will experience doubt or frustration at some stage in the process because they can’t see how the current step will get them to the desired outcome.  Recognize this as a natural transition time.
  • Accept that some processes can’t be rushed.  As the adage goes, “It takes nine months to create a baby, no matter how many good men you put on the job”.

This might be a lot to ask people who have been subjected to painful, bureaucratic processes, forced to go through unnecessary hoops, or follow a process for process’ sake.

“Trusting the process” assumes that the process has been well designed by a creative and competent facilitator who is truly focused on achieving your objectives.

Balancing Six Paradoxical Tensions

In his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer outlines six paradoxical tensions that  enable powerful dialogue and learning. Palmer says the space must:

  1. Be bounded and open.
  2. Be hospitable and “charged”.
  3. Invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group.
  4. Honour “little stories” of the participants, and the “big stories” of history and society.
  5. Support solitude and community.
  6. Welcome silence and speech.

The challenge for any facilitator is how to create an environment that holds these opposing energies. Here are some ways I have found to honour these paradoxes:

Establish and use groundrules.
Clarify roles and review agenda.
Practice “emerging design”. Treat agendas like accordions.
Pay attention to light, space, smell and comfort.
Make sure each person feels expected and welcome.
Create and remain in “creative tension”.
Do not rescue, protect or try to relieve.
Invite the voice of the individual
Invite the voice of the group
Respect the value of a single comment.
Support people who stand alone.
Search for themes.
Honour the language of the group.
Honour little stories
page1image39448Honour big stories
Start with the personal connection and help enrich/enlarge the stories.
Identify stories that have meaning for all.
Support Solitude
Support community
Hold no prisoners.
Acknowledge that thinking is participating.
Acknowledge comings and goings.
Acknowledge shared interests and concerns.
Welcome Silence
Welcome Speech
Allow the pregnant pause.


Encourage those who have not spoken.
Be patient with those who are not succinct and/or have contrary views.


Of course, balancing these tensions is not easy, and things can go wrong.  When that happens,

  • Be aware of your emotions and reactions to the situation.
  • Acknowledge things are not going well. The capacity to demonstrate vulnerability is key to creating the conditions for dialogue and learning.
  • Ask the group what we should do to get back on track. (Don’t fake it because you won’t make it.)
  • Call a timeout so the pattern is interrupted, people can reflect and replenish, and there is a chance for a fresh start.
Best of luck in balancing the tensions.
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