Organizational Transformation through Facilitation

Organizational Transformation through Facilitation

Once I had a client whose understanding of their mandate and mission was to fight the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed in the inner city. This was a foundational understanding for the group, based on their understanding of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

The staff of this organization was in chaos. They had had 5 executive directors in 4 years. Several had left out of frustration, and their work was diminished because of all the infighting within the organization.

So the acting executive director asked if I would come in and facilitate a ToP Strategic Planning process to try to create some consensus on the directions they needed to move.

The Vision workshop was pretty easy – they had a common vision of where they wanted to go. Some of the rifts became smaller.

Then came the Obstacles workshop. Having a solitary brainstorm and time in pairs to write obstacles on cards allowed them to be pretty honest about what was going on. The cards clustered intuitively relatively easily. Then it was time to name the Underlying Contradictions. As I read the cards in the first column out loud, I could see a pattern, but left it to the group to struggle with the insight. It took a very long time. Suddenly, one person in the group said, “It’s, it’s that ‘us and them’ mentality that comes from the oppressor/oppressed thinking! We’ve turned it inward and it’s destroying us!” There was a gasp of recognition from the group, and then they quickly tried to escape the power of the insight. Eventually they named it and went on to create strategies.

A year later they asked a colleague of mine to come in to facilitate a review and re-planning session – they told her that that insight had been a turning point for the organization. They didn’t like the messenger, but the message had gotten through. After that they had the same director for a number of years – the organization stabilized and was able again to serve the community.

My learning from this experience was that a group can, with appropriate process, face and name its own underlying contradictions, which then open the door to transformation. Very often the basic values a group holds dear can be the contradiction that holds them back when they need to change.

This kind of facilitation is not just about getting a rational result or a product, although that is part of it. It is about providing the opportunity for a group to become conscious of its own behaviours and beliefs, and make the profound change it needs. It is about caring for the whole person, and the whole group – its experience and growth as well as its rational products. It requires integrity on the part of the facilitator to honour the group’s unspoken needs without imposing the facilitator’s own values and perspectives.

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