Reflections on Facilitating Future Search

Facilitating a (mini) Future Search conference was one of the more challenging facilitations I’ve helped lead.  It is also one method of facilitation that I know I must incorporate into my skill-set, especially as it applies to big, intractable problems facing developing countries.

The frustration came from my preconceived (and quite honestly, uneducated) ideas about facilitation.  On the spectrum of facilitator involvement, I’ve always been very involved throughout the process.  At the very least, encouraging and affirming people who are contributing is something that I do almost subconsciously through “active listening.”

However, I do see the benefits of expanding my view of facilitation.  One comment from the Future Search book that stuck with me was (paraphrasing) “If you solve the problem for the group, then you have robbed their ability to solve it themselves.”  Especially for large, intractable problems that will still be there after the facilitator leaves, this is point makes a lot of sense.  In many discussions, now as the Monday Morning Quarterback, it seems ironic that we often talk about engaging the stakeholders, but we don’t always let the stakeholders solve their problems — we, as facilitators, in an effort to demonstrate our worth, are compelled to solve it for them.

I am grateful to at least be thinking about this new form of facilitation and look forward to the opportunity to build my skill set.

Thoughts After Hearing South African President F. W. de Klerk

I had the opportunity to hear South African President F. W. de Klerk as he presented at UR earlier today.  Although his leadership speech seemed mostly canned and not targeted specifically to UR, he provided several interesting remarks:

— The risks of radical change must be weighed against the consequences of not making that change.

— Resistance to change is deeply ingrained in all of us.  We think of brilliant new ways of doing the same wrong thing.  Smokers who smoke less believe they are addressing their problem.  Politicians will cling to industries that are no longer relevant.

— It is foolish to be vociferously right at the wrong time.  Change happens at its own speed.

— Announce all decisions in a package.  If one must cut the tail of the dog, better to do with one stroke, rather than piece by painful piece.  (Perhaps a disturbing analogy, but as the owner of a corgi, it seemed to make sense.)

— There is no rest after one has achieved a round of change.  The wise leader will know when to leave…  In Egypt, Libya, we are seeing leaders who missed their opportunity to achieve change and now out gracefully.

— In leadership, you will always receive criticism by one side or the other…  Leadership is not for sissies.

— Good leadership will take values in addition to strong leadership qualities.  (Hence, the classic example of Hitler being a strong leader but not a good leader.)

Of all of these points, I thought that his point of “finding brilliant new ways to do the same wrong thing” resonated most with our class discussion.  In effort to declare victory too soon and rush a change process, sometimes we fool ourselves by redefining success into something that is too watered down to pass for the real thing.  During de Klerk’s rule, there must have been many opportunities to prematurely declare success, and I must imaging the outcome would not have been the same had he taken that bait.