Chris Corrigan on facilitation

Chris has a great post today: values tools and authentic facilitation which really resonates with me. This passage gets to the nub:

Chaordic confidence describes the ability to stay in chaos and trust that order will emerge. It’s a subtle art but it is essential to working with groups who are themselves confronting chaos. If you can stay in the belief that order will emerge from what Sam Kaner calls “The Groan Zone” then the group has something to hitch its horse to, so to speak. But if you are married to your tools, and things go off the rails, you feel like a fish out of water, and you flop around unable to deal with the uncertainty around you. I’ve seen it happen – we probably all have – and it’s not pretty.

Developing chaordic confidence is more than acquiring more tools. It is about integrating an approach to life and work that is anchored in a a set of principles and values that serves our clients. For me these values include believing in the wisdom of the group, trusting that chaos produces higher levels of order and seeing conflict as passion that can be harnessed in the service of progress.

I think my own experience reflects Chris’. I trained in a variety of techniques and processes and I have let go of a great many of them. In particular, I use very few of the techniques developed in NLP, although I still admire some of the practitioners. I think the most important practice of all is to really show up to groups, to really be there and attend to my own experience as well as observing that of others.

Chris gets the emphasis right when he describes the methods he prefers, saying

When I use those approaches to working with groups, my clients are getting ME, and not just a set of tools.

I like to talk about “robust uncertainty”. I can say to myself “I don’t know” in a voice of plaintive panic, or one of curiosity and excitement. On the whole, I favour the second. Robust may not be quite the right word, but I want to convey the idea of holding myself in a way that is well-formed rather than collapsed. I sense that this is the sort of thing Chris means when he talks about confidence.

For techniques, I favour simple ones that let the participants do the complexity themselves. I feel this really respects their talents as human beings. Like Chris, I’m a fan of Open Space. I use Improv ideas a lot, I think many of those activities really bring out our deep talent for making stuff work without following a lot of complicated rules. I also like to use things like Virginia Satir’s temperature reading, a simple framework for reflection on the quality of a relationship.

Chris also says

We facilitators don’t talk much about this stuff, but I think it actually preoccupies a lot of our time and thinking. My own preparation for group involves many hours of design and reflection on process and principles so that I can go to work offering the highest level of service to the people with whom I am working. And for me, this means reflecting on what is core to my life and work.

I realise that I find it hard to put down in words what it is about facilitation that so engages me. When he talks about hours of design in preparation, at first I think: no, I don’t do that. But then actually I realise I do; not sitting at a computer in a highly structured way; instead I do a lot of daydreaming about what might happen and, in effect, reflecting on what I might bring to the party. What I realise is: this stuff truly fascinates me.


3 thoughts on “Chris Corrigan on facilitation

  1. Chris Corrigan

    Yes…what a great response. I hoped to draw you out a little with my post and here you are.

    You are right to hear “robust” in my use of the term “confidence.” I talk about that in terms of creating group dynamics that can survive uncertainty in the moment AND afterwards. THis often involves sort of group coaching conversations whereby we notice and pay attention to the way in which the group is dealing with uncertainty in the moment and extrapolating that to the future.

    Great food for thought.

  2. Lisa Haneberg


    I, too, do a lot of facilitation and enjoy it alot. I agree that it is better to stick to the basics of creating great dialogue and apply helpful nudges to open up the thinking when needed. I have been trained in several fancy and complex processes and find that I don’t prefer to use them.

    You are right, it is about the group and what they are trying to achieve. When the magic stays with them, the results will more likely make a difference and last.


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