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In general, facilitators neither inject themselves in issues nor direct the flow of discussion; they merely go where the group wants to go. There are occasions, however, when stronger responses are needed to make the group more functional and productive. In this module, we will discuss what these stronger responses are, why they are necessary, and when is it appropriate to use them.
Why Intervention May Be Necessary
Facilitators are part of a group for a reason: to help the group achieve their goals in the most democratic and cooperative way possible. Ideally, groups should have cooperative members with knowledge, skill, and personality to assist this process. However, in the real world, groups are much more complicated. Indeed, even well-meaning group members can create dysfunctional teams. For this reason, intervention may be necessary.
An intervention is an injection of one’s self in the process in pursuit of a specific goal. Interventions are what separate a facilitator from a mere participant— the participant’s statements are contributions, whereas a facilitators’ statements are interventions.
Technically, anything that a facilitator does, both verbally and non-verbally, in the course of his or her role in a group is an “intervention.” However, the term intervention is usually reserved to relatively stronger interference in a group’s natural way of doing things.
The following are some of the reasons why intervention may be necessary:
• To help the group achieve their goals. If an on-going dynamic in the group is keeping the entire team from reaching their objective, then it’s time to intervene. For example: if a coalition exists in members, decision-making might get skewed to one side of the issue.
• To protect group process. If the integrity of the chosen methodology in getting results is being compromised, then a facilitator must intervene.
• To prevent the escalation of an issue. Generally, facilitators should let the group handle things on their own. But some hot issues are better nipped in the bud, or they might blow up into a larger issue can create serious damage.
• To sample “skills” to the group. In some occasions, group members lack the skills to deal with a group issue, e.g. two conflicting issues. In these cases, intervention may be necessary to expose the group on more functional processes.
When to Intervene
The following are some situations when intervention may be necessary:
• The group is stuck. This means that the process is not producing results, or the process is not progressing to the next level.
• The group is about to move on to the next agenda without realizing that an important aspect of the discussion is unresolved or unaddressed.
• The group continues to follow a negative pattern despite soft interventions. (We will discuss levels of interventions in the next section.)
• Something unethical is going on in the group, like a personal attack or subtle/blatant intimidation.
• Group process is being hampered by a dominant person or clique.
• Group members are misunderstanding each other.
• The facilitator perceives tension and suspiciousness in the group.
Levels of Intervention
There is a guiding principle in medicine that goes: don’t prescribe strong medicine when a milder one will do. Similarly, interventions in facilitation range from non-directive to directive, subtle to explicit, non-intrusive to very intrusive. It helps to know what the levels of intervention are in order to decide what response to give to different situations in a group.
The following are the different levels of intervention:
• No intervention. Unless there is a pressing concern that requires a facilitator’s intervention, the first level of response is to do nothing. By not responding to a concern, a facilitator is effectively letting the group take care of the problem, and implement their own solution. Note though that even if a facilitator is not directly responding to the problem, he or she may be actively gathering information about the group and how they process their own issues.
• Reflective Technique. The first few levels of intervention are geared towards increasing awareness within the group that a problematic situation is in place. One way to do this is to objectively state what you notice is going on. Note that you are not supposed to voice out your opinions or evaluations of the group dynamic; merely bring to awareness something that the group may not have noticed. The group is left to confirm or refute the facilitator’s observations. Either way, the result may be further clarification.
Example: “I noticed that four of you had been very quiet since we started.”
• Solicit the Group’s Observations. As much as possible, let the group members identify themselves what is happening within the group. One way to do this is to solicit feedback through general leads. Example: “Jane. What can you say about what is happening right now?”
If general leads are not working, you can use direct leads. Example: “Jane, what can you say about the way the discussion about (subject) is going?
• Interpret observations. This becomes necessary when the group has difficulty seeing the implications of what is going on in the process. NOTE: always phrase your interpretations in tentative fashion, as if seeking confirmation from the group if your observations are correct or incorrect.
Example: “I’m noticing that the energy is low? Are we focusing on the right issue? Or is there something else that we have more energy for?”
• Suggest solutions. If the group seems to be stuck, suggest a way to deal with the problem. Note: suggest only process changes. And always get the approval of the group. Example: “We seem to be stuck, would you like to try a different approach?”
• Restructure the process or an aspect of it. Change the group process by re-organizing the structure of dialogue (dyads, small groups, etc.), using problem solving processes, inserting a “process break” or changing the original agenda.
• Confront. This is directly mentioning the problem, or the difficult individual. Note that confrontation is a very strong intervention, and must be used only as a last resort, when all other softer interventions have been exhausted.
Example: “I noticed that you are always encouraging the other members of the group to leave the meeting prematurely. And twice now it has disrupted the process. May I know what the reason why you’re doing this is?”
In the previous module, we introduced intervention and the different levels of intervention. In this module, we will focus on particular intervention techniques: use of processes, boomerang it back, and ICE it.
Using Your Processes
As process experts, the best way a facilitator can intervene in an unproductive or dysfunctional group is by introducing a process that would directly address the problem or issue.
For example, if a group’s problem is the monopoly of the floor by certain members, a facilitator can introduce the round robin discussion to ensure that everyone gets their turn to speak.
If the problem is the lack of information about the issue in contention, the facilitator can make presentation part of the agenda.
If the problem is a lack of understanding between management and staff, the facilitator can break the group into pairs of management and staff.
Boomerang it Back
To “boomerang” an issue back is to present an issue back to the group for them to resolve. The reflective technique (discussed in the previous module) is one of the basic ways of mirroring an issue to a group.
Another way to do this is to rephrase a group’s concern into a question addressed to the group. For example, when a group member says “maybe we are just too tired to think of a new idea for this project”, a facilitator can simply say “do you think you are too tired?”
Or if a group member asks a facilitator a question, the facilitator can just bounce the question back. Example: if a group member asks “should we continue this project?” the facilitator can simply reply “What do you think? Should you?”
ICE It: Identify, Check for Agreement, Evaluate How to Resolve
Another way to intervene is to use the ICE technique.
ICE stands for:
• Check for Agreement
• Evaluate How to Resolve.
When you ICE it, you surface what the problem is, verify with the group its accuracy (or at least their agreement), and then start the process of looking for solutions.
Example: “What do you think is going on in the group right now? So, if I understand correctly, this is what is happening? Is this correct? How do we go about addressing this problem?”