FACILITATOR INTERVENTIONS
Excerpted from Schwarz, R.M. The Skilled Facilitator. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

A General Diagnosis-Intervention Cycle

Observe behavior. First, the facilitator observes the behavior of the group, watching for certain behaviors and patterns of behavior but open to identifying other behaviors not immediately recognizable as significant. For example, a simple behavior may be that each member speaks only after the supervisor in the group has spoken.

Infer meaning. Second, the facilitator infers some meaning from the behavior. An inference is a conclusion reached about something unknown, based on some things that are known. When the facilitator observes that subordinates speak only after their supervisors, the facilitator may infer that subordinates are reluctant to contradict their supervisors.

Decide whether to intervene. Third, based on the observation and inference, the facilitator decides whether to intervene in the group. In practice, the facilitator observes a behavior more than once before deciding to intervene in order to clarify the inference. Assume, for example, that after observing further, the facilitator notices that although subordinates wait until their respective supervisors have spoken, later in the meetings they often disagree with them. Consequently, the facilitator may change the inference from " subordinates are afraid to disagree with their boss" to " subordinates need to know their supervisors' opinions before offering their own."

Describe observations. Facilitators who decide to intervene enter the fourth step, describing their observations to the group. In this step, facilitators describe the behavior they have observed and ask group members whether they have observed the same behavior.

Test Inferences. In the fifth step, the facilitator and group test the inference the facilitator have made and decide whether it is accurate.

Help group decide whether and how to change behavior. Assuming the group and the facilitator agree with the facilitator's inference, the facilitator and group enter a sixth and final step in which the facilitator helps group members decide whether and how to redesign their behavior to be more effective.

After the group has decided whether to change its behavior, the cycle begins again, and the facilitator observes whether the group has in fact changed its behavior in the manner it wanted.

The diagnostic steps describe the facilitator's thinking, and the intervention steps describe how facilitators share their thinking with the group. Note that steps one and four, two and five, and three and six are parallel steps.

General Types of Facilitator Interventions

Identifying team member behaviors that are inconsistent with a group's groundrules is a major part of a facilitator's interventions. Other general types of interventions include the following: Exploring, seeking specifics, emphasizing process, diagnosing, confronting and other feedback, managing group process and structure, making content suggestions, teaching concepts and methods, and reframing. The following material attempts to address the question: As a facilitator, what should I say and to whom should I say it?

Exploring. Exploratory interventions help the facilitator understand a situation by getting the basic facts, understanding how a series of events unfolded, or finding out how members think or feel about something. Examples include: "Please tell me what you feel the problem is," "What do you want to accomplish?" or simply, "Say more about that."

Seeking specifics. One principle for effective group process is being specific -- using examples. People are so used to talking in abstract terms that the facilitator often needs to clarify exactly what they mean. Examples include: "Can you give me some examples of what you mean by 'not taking initiative'?" and "Who are 'they'?"

Emphasizing process. Because the facilitator helps groups improve their process, the facilitator must understand the processes underlying groups' problems. In making the intervention, the facilitator also explores and seeks specifics. Examples include: "Tell me what happened, step by step," Tell me the exact conversation as best you remember it," and "What did you do then?"

Diagnosing. Diagnostic interventions move beyond simple exploration and help the group and facilitator analyze a situation. The intervention includes exploring members' interests; identifying the causes, symptoms, and consequences of a problem; pointing out similarities and differences among members' comments; and exploring members' theories and hypotheses about situations. Examples include: "what do you think are the causes of the problem?" and "What leads you to believe that processing clerks are unable to handle difficult calls from customers?"

Confronting and other feedback. Confronting interventions require the group to reflect on some aspect of its behavior that the facilitator considers dysfunctional. The facilitator may point out inconsistencies between what the group espouses and what the group does, inconsistencies between the group's actions over time, or inconsistencies with different people. Identifying behaviors inconsistent with a group's groundrules is a confronting intervention. For example, a facilitator might say, "Lynn, a minute ago you said 'I just want to stop the project.' Do you remember that?" If Lynn remembers, the facilitator would continue, "Lynn, your statement focuses on your position, without identifying your interest, which is inconsistent with the group's groundrules. Do you agree?"

Managing group process and structure. In these interventions, the facilitator helps the group determine what topic will be discussed, when, by whom, how, and for how long. Managing process includes setting agendas, switching topics, recognizing people to speak, reducing interruptions, and monitoring time. Examples include, "How about if the group uses the problem-solving model to discuss this problem?" "I suggest that members first list all the expectations you have for each other. Then you can discuss each one. Does anyone have a problem with that approach?" and "You set aside twenty minutes to discuss this topic, and twenty minutes have passed. Do you want to continue or move on to another topic?"

Making content suggestions. In this intervention, the facilitator suggests ways the group can solve some substantive aspect of its problem. (Note: This action is appropriate if the facilitator is a member of the group. If the facilitator is not a member of the group they should first receive the group's permission and immediately afterward ask whether the suggested solution meets all the members' interests. Generally, content suggestions that relate to group process are more consistent with a facilitator's role). For example: "Tawana, you said your interest behind sending a memo now was to let the department know what progress the group has made, correct? (continuing, assuming Tawana agrees) Ted, you said your interest behind not sending a memo now was to avoid having people falsely conclude that the group has made a decision, correct? (continuing, assuming Ted agrees) If the group sends out a memo stating very clearly that the memo reflects the group's current thinking, but that the group has not made any decision, would this meet everyone's interests?"

Teaching concepts and methods. At times an appropriate intervention is to teach the group concepts and methods it can use in solving its problems. Facilitators do this when they explain the principles for effective group process and ask the group whether it wants to adopt them as ground rules. Other examples include teaching a group to use a general problem-solving model, how to identify root causes of problems, and how to analyze forces for and against a proposed change.

Reframing. Reframing interventions help members change the meaning they ascribe to events. As the meaning of events changes, peoples responses and behaviors also change. For example, group members are often reluctant to give each other negative feedback, because they say they care about members and do not want to hurt them. The facilitator helps members overcome the reluctance by helping them reframe what it means "to care." The facilitator suggests that really caring about members means giving others feedback about their behavior that can help them improve their professional effectiveness. Further, by withholding information, members hurt each other by precluding each other from making an informed choice about whether to change behavior.

Choosing Words Carefully

Use words and phrases that have one meaning -- the meaning one wants to convey. For example, making a statement such as "I don't care which way you do it" can be interpreted as "I'm not interested in your problem" or "I have no preference for how you do it."

Use descriptive words when they can be substituted for evaluative words. In summarizing two alternatives posed by members a facilitator says "You have identified two alternatives. The radical one is X. The other alternative is Y." The adjective 'radical' loaded alternative X with political connotations, for some members positive and other members negative. An unnecessary evaluative component had been added. Intervening in a purely descriptive way, the facilitator could have said, "You described two alternatives. One is X. The other is Y." Another example might be a facilitator saying, "Sidney refused to participate," the implication is that Sidney's behavior was uncooperative. A descriptive statement alternative would be, "I did not see Sidney participate."

Use proper nouns or other nouns rather than pronouns. For example, using the pronouns he and him to refer to different people can cause confusion. By using individual's names or their distinctive titles, facilitators can avoid confusion. Similar confusion can be created by the pronouns that and this. Instead of saying, "Dan, would you be willing to explain what your interest was behind that?" the facilitator could say, "Dan would you be willing to explain what your interest was behind meeting with Andrea alone?"

Use active voice unless the identity of the actors is not clear. Active voice identifies who or what is taking the action; passive voice does not. "Sue decided to promote Glen" uses active voice. "It was decided to promote Glen" uses passive voice. When facilitators use active voice, they provide valid information to the group, reduce potential ambiguity, and act consistently with the belief that individuals should take responsibility for their actions.

Use words that give equal recognition to all members and tasks. Remaining neutral and credible with all subgroups entails referring to each subgroup in a way that maintains its identity and does not subordinate it to other groups. The principle is to refer to each subgroup in terms that reflect its independent identity rather than in terms that use another subgroup as a point of reference. Sexist language also fails to give equal recognition to members of both sexes. Avoid using the supposedly generic words he, him, man, or men to designate both males and females. Other language is sexist because it assumes that certain roles or jobs are held by a particular sex. Consider the terms woman executive or male nurse. Also, gender neutral terms such as spokesperson would be preferred over the term spokesman.

Choose words that distinguish the facilitator from group members' roles. When the facilitator is not a member of the group he or she should refer to the group as you or the group rather than we or our group.

Avoid imperatives; focus instead on cause and effect. Imperatives such as "you must" or "you have to" discourage groups from making free and informed choices and put the facilitator in an expert role. An example is, "You must check out your assumption before acting on it. Do you agree?" Instead, focusing on the relationship between members' behaviors and their effects helps members see the consequences of their actions, without telling them that they must change. For example the facilitator might say, "When you acted on your assumption without checking it out, your action omitted valid information that reduced the group's ability to make a choice. Do you agree?"

Avoid facilitator jargon. In basic facilitation should use everyday language instead of jargon, e.g., "role conflict." However, in developmental facilitation teaching the group the language of facilitation is an appropriate task in connection with teaching members to develop their own facilitation skills.

Avoid humor that puts down or discounts members or that can be misinterpreted. Humor can be a valuable tool for relieving tension in the group, emphasizing a point, and helping members to examine their behavior. However, certain types of humor can reduce the facilitator's effectiveness. Sarcastic humor about members' ineffective behavior can decrease their trust in the facilitator because they are likely to interpret the humor as unsupportive. Ironic humor can cause problems because is requires the listener to interpret the humorist's meaning as the reverse of the literal meaning of the words. The ironic statement "I can see that there is a high level of trust in this group" means "there is not a high level of trust in this group." If members do not detect the irony, they will interpret the statement literally. Consequently, the members may begin to question the facilitator's diagnostic skills if they believe there is low trust in the group. Even if members do detect the irony, the facilitator has failed to be a model of explicit communication.