Category Archives: Facilitation


Geoff Brown looks at a model for getting people engaged (or not) in meetings or movements. It’s called SCARF, standing for…

Status – a lot of trouble is caused when people feel the need to defend their status.

Certainty – people like to have some!

Autonomy – people like to feel they have choices

Relatedness – balancing autonomy, people like to feel connected to others

Fairness – trouble brews if people sense this ain’t happening.

Geoff thinks of a few interpretations. I’d say status has a pretty big impact on meetings. Set ups that confer high status on some particpants (chairs, panels, keynotes…) set up for some fairly dysfunctional exchanges, either of pseudo-compliance or aggressive acting out.

Relatedness is worth thinking about too. You can support it in all sorts of ways. One of the best ideas I had on a two day workshop was to suggest a self-cooked barbeque on the middle evening. I had to fend off hotel staff to stop them helping… by cooking the meal together, people got related better. They tended to break their organisational status too… there’s something primal about the act of cooking and eating together than can be powerful. It can help create relatedness even when people have huge disagreements elsewhere.

I wonder if I’d go for the word “agency” over autonomy…. the latter sometimes suggests a kind of isolation, whereas agency is more about feeling connected to action. Again, cooking a meal together gives everyone a bit of agency…

In the detail…

Jon Miles-Thomas facebooked this great video:

Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

It’s about the difference between typical comic movies scenes, and others where visual creativity has been applied. As the commentary points out, improvised performances typically slide towards people just talking to each other, and nearly always more drama is created with movement.

I think this is a great example of seeing opportunity in things that are seen as mundane and inconsequential. For facilitators, it’s so easy to allow business as usual and miss the opportunity for something more memorable.

Magic Feathers

The second video in this series of reflections on working with people. We sometimes create magic feathers, things that seem to trigger more effective behaviour. But we risk turning them into idols at the expense of taking risks and making new discoveries.

Reflecting on trying to impress

I’m making some more little videos reflecting on the business of working with people. This first one was prompted by looking at the sales pitches of training companies at a conference/exhibition. I describe the event as exciting, but in a boring kind of way.

It got me thinking about the urge to impress, and how it can affect the way we talk and create together.

Practice, practice

Like many of my friends, I like to talk about facilitation as a practice. It isn’t a straightforward process of identifying problems and choosing the right recipe to solve them. It’s easy for humans to see patterns that appear from meeting to meeting, but that skill can sometimes blind us to subtle differences, and make us apply formulaic “solutions” to what we think the “problems” are. In the end, I prefer to “trust the people” rather than “trust the process”.

So I really appreciate Antonio Dias’s reflections on what we mean by practice. He makes the important point that practice is not simply doing the same thing again and again until you get good at it.

Practice… is not practicing scales, doing calisthenics, or running through any sort of programatic solution to the problem of “mastery.” Practice becomes a place and a time dedicated to allowing improvisation to happen

That “allowing” process is really interesting. There’s something paradoxical about it, and it doesn’t lend itself to prosaic explanation. When facilitating, I regularly find myself feeling my way through some phases of meetings. Sure, there are times when I can just run a process, but there are others when I sense a pressure to “do something” and I don’t know what it is. I tend to sit with the anxiety and when I am able to just allow it, a moment of calm descends and then I can decide what to do. My hunch is that the move to just allow the uncertainty is key, it’s when I step out of “problem-solution” thinking.

Antonio quotes Peter Kajtar who is poetic on this:

…we … need… a renewed sense of the importance of a moment to moment openness and sensitivity to coherence and incoherence, an awareness that is devoid of, or …actively discarding preconceived ideas, acquired emotional attitudes and other reflexes of the past. As long as that past remains, the ‘now’ will not contain ‘the whole of time’…. Instead … our ‘now’ will simply be the point where the past meets the present and continues (with its sorrow, confusion, conflict, etc.), a little modified. And we may continue on that path to our heart’s content, but we will come to nothing new.