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Honoring The Wisdom Of The Group

Feb. 1, 2022
The Art & Science of Facilitation: How To Lead Effective Collaboration With Agile Teams: Part 3 When groups convene, they have the power to create something together that would not […]

The Art & Science of Facilitation: How To Lead Effective Collaboration With Agile Teams: Part 3

When groups convene, they have the power to create something together that would not be possible from thinking of just 1 or 2 people. Groups can see problems in new ways, and craft solutions that weren’t apparent before. But the creation of new thinking relies on a group’s ability access their collective intelligence.

Honoring the wisdom of the group, at its core, is about trust. It’s about trusting that the group has its own wisdom so that you can help develop an environment where each member of the team can grow, stretch, and achieve as a respected and valued collaborator.

Everyone on the team has both wisdom to gain and wisdom to share.

In theory, honoring the wisdom of the group is really easy. Often, both leaders and group members agree: of course the group has wisdom!

  • Some will have read books like The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith.
  • Others will have first-hand experience of making decisions collectively in a collaborative manner, and they will remember feeling involved – like they own a piece of the direction and outcome.
  • Still others will just have an intuitive sense that they trust in groups and teams.

But then real life happens. Decisions need to be made. Direction need to be set.

Think about, for example, when a software team needs to make a decision about which architecture to use. Let’s say the most senior architect has some ideas, but, collectively, the team disagrees. 

  • Some teams might voice their disagreement.
  • Some teams will remain silent and politely defer to the more senior voice in their team.
  • In some cases, the team leader might just take the decision away from the group and make the decision on their own. 

It’s easy to imagine any of these situations, isn’t it?

It’s often easier to honor the wisdom of the group in principle than it is in the moment. This is what pressure does. In the moment, group members might express a different internal narrative altogether.

  • One that might suggest, for example, that there is nothing useful to be gleaned from groups.
  • That group thinking is a waste of time.
  • For some people, group meetings might trigger a dreadful memory of a group project in high school where they were stuck doing all the work. Their teammate benefited from the grade, but didn’t contribute equally to the product.

In high-pressure moments, leaders, in particular, might be challenged by the concept of honoring the group’s wisdom. They would rather just make the decision on their own and tell the group what to do.

However, just because something takes longer than you might have anticipated does not make it invaluable or not useful. Sometimes, the work we must do as facilitators is to help a team increase its patience.

Really good ideas are often just on the other side of breakdown, frustration, and confusion ….

… Sometimes we can be really good at creating a vision for what we want: Teamwork, collaboration, agility. But in the execution, we can be really good at getting in our own way.

One of the most powerful beliefs you can hold as a facilitator is that the team has the wisdom it needs, even when it feel difficult. Even if the road is bumpy and it feels like you took the wrong exit, holding firm in this stance is one of the most empowering things you can do for a team. Over time, it build their capacity. It helps team members learn that they can get through difficult conversation. It helps them understand that if they abandon their roles of wisdom – even for a moment – no one else is going to step in and take over, so they would be better served to keep at it.

This is how teams get better at being teams. And as a facilitator, this is one of the greatest gifts you can bring the group.

Further reading in the book, and especially in the chapter Honoring the Wisdom of the Group, includes sections on:

  • Leadership and Facilitation: Why Breakdown Happens
  • Creating a Space for Everyone in the Group
    • When the collective wisdom of the group is not voiced, there is work to do.
    • Honoring vs. not honoring group wisdom – what it looks and feels like for facilitators.
  • Words of Caution
  • Starting the Practice
  • The Over-Collaborative Trap
  • The "Something’s Missing" Trap
  • What Type of Meeting Is it?
  • Types of Decisions
  • Level the Playing Field

… And more

This article is adapted from Acker’s book The Art & Science of Facilitation: How to Lead Effective Collaboration with Agile Teams.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marsha Acker is a professional facilitator and an executive and team coach with 25+ years of experience supporting leaders as they tackle complex challenges and spearhead change in their organizations. The Founder and CEO of TeamCatapult, she uses systems thinking, structural dynamics, dialogue, and agility, to help teams collaborate and align with clarity, purpose, and vision. Connect with Marsha Acker on Twitter @MarshaAcker and LinkedIn. For more information, visit theartandscienceoffacilitation.com.

About the Author

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