The Contemporary Business Climate
In todays business environment
there is an increasing demand for facilitation skills. The volatility
and competitiveness of the market, shifting consumer allegiances, and
the need to respond effectively to a range of new challenges such as new
technology, has provoked a variety of responses from large companies.
These have included massive downsizing, de-layering and restructuring
to far reaching cultural and change management programmes.
In turn, this has resulted
in a demand for a new style of management, one which is less embedded
in command and control styles of leadership and dependent on hierarchical
structures to one more suited to flatter structures and high performance
teams. A new kind of leadership is being called for, one which is about
creating a climate which is conducive to integrated team activities and
with greater focus on the support and development of individual team members.
One which can rise to new challenges with imagination and flexibility
and which is characterised by an attitude of mind which is open rather
than closed, tentative, curious and exploratory rather than definite and
For many managers, these
changes represent a loss of control and require new skills they either
do not possess or have traditionally under developed. Often these are
not the skills for which people have been hired in the first place. To
develop these new skills requires time and practice, and a real understanding
of the core value shift that underlies them.
The Value of Facilitation
One aspect of this core
value shift is a movement from an expert/inexpert model of management
interaction, to a model in which the manager is empowering subordinates
to take responsibility for their own efforts and solutions. Here the manager
resists the temptation to give advice and instead facilitates others in
their own problem solving endeavours. Often this involves deceptively
simple and apparently unglamorous skills such as really listening effectively,
but the results can be impressive.
Research studies show that
when a group is being facilitated by a manager and the manager talks less
than 40% of the time a number of interesting and profound changes occur:
Employees are more motivated to find their own solutions; there are less
arguments in the team; constructive action is more likely; the capacity
of individuals to accurately self diagnosis, increases markedly and the
manager learns more about the situation and the employees involved, than
they would do using a more traditional approach.
What is Facilitative Management?
The dictionary definition
of facilitation is 'to make easy' or to remove obstacles'. Essentially
what it is attempting to remove obstacles from is the process of completing
a task. Too often in a work environment there is enormous attention paid
to the task in hand and too little to the process of how people are going
about things, and it is often the 'how' that undermines the task.
Petty rivalries or jealousies
in the team undermine its competitive functioning, poor communication
between different parts of the team or a failure to address the clear
need for structural change can all make teams of people less effective
than they desire to be. A facilitative management style is about paying
attention to the process of getting things done so that employees can
pay attention to the task and reach optimum performance.
Very broadly speaking a
facilitative management style encompasses a range of interpersonal skills
which are simple to describe but complex to practice and are often undervalued.
This is because they are skills that people generally regard themselves
as familiar with.
They include such competencies
as active listening, being comfortable with silence, the use of open rather
than closed questions, how to use clarifying questions, the use of appropriate
body language and non verbal cues. But these are more than just skills
or techniques which can often appear sterile and manipulative if practised
in isolation without a proper understanding of the values they embody.
A truly facilitative manager embodies this knowledge and makes it their
But facilitative management
is about more than just listening. It is about regarding communication
as a dynamic form of action. Traditionally, we have tended to regard effective
management as about attaining pre-concieved objectives through unilateral
manipulation. But any action can only be effective if it is based on valid
assumptions. What if effective outcomes became more likely, if managers
clarified their goals with subordinates beforehand and spent some time
exploring where the gaps were in individual, group and corporate objectives
A facilitative manager
needs both good intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. They need to be
self aware as well as people aware. They need to be able to engage in
self generated behaviour change as well as acting as change agents. They
need to pay as much attention to how a team is going about the task as
the task itself, recognising that it is often the how that undermines
the what. Rather than manipulating people towards preconceived objectives
they need to be able to conceive of management as a dynamic dialogue in
which each is testing out the assumptions of the other in order to learn
and to operate more effectively.
We have entered the information
age and with it a primacy not only on information but a preoccupation
with the manner in which information is conveyed or received. If organisations
have had to become more flexible in order to cope with the demands of
the market, then so have the individuals within them. To be effective,
today's managers need to be able to engage simultaneously with the process
of learning and doing.
If we are to have learning
organisations then we have to have learning employees. If we are to establish
cultures of continual quality improvement then the individuals concerned
need to be able to simultaneously work and to interrogate what they are
doing at the same time. To embrace a process whereby they are continually
testing their own assumptions and stretching their awareness resulting
in self-initiated changes in behaviour.
Elements is a Management
Development Consultancy which specialises in developing people's facilitation
skills and facilitative management styles through a process known as action