Facilitative Leadership Magic

July 13, 2019


Anyone who has learned and used the Facilitative Leadership model for project management knows that it can seem like pure magic.


When it is implemented successfully, it feels like the kind of magic out of Harry Potter or religious miracles. You start out with (at best disengaged) or (at worst) disgruntled colleagues and you gain personal buy-in and renewed excitement, motivation, teamwork, innovation.


But there are times when the magic is more like the illusions you get from Penn and Teller and that will only make everything worse.


You start out by gathering stakeholders and letting them know that you want, no, you need their voice. You acknowledge that processes past have not been so inclusive and this time it is going to be different because you are using Facilitative Leadership. You start with sharing and getting to know each other on a new level. You brainstorm and listen. Maybe you even create sub-committees and break up the work load….and then in the end, just before the deliverable has been realized, your tell your team “Hey! Thanks so much! I’ll take it from here!”


Maybe in your own mind, you think you’re saving everybody time or releasing them from an “extra” project so that they can go back to their “real job”. Or maybe you think it’s your job to take everybody else’s work and “finish the job” because you have a “hierarchical system”. 


From the point of view of the people you have worked so hard to win over though, this feels like a slap in the face. You’ve built them up, made them feel important, gotten them to follow through and participate in new ways on new levels…..and then you swiped the rug out from under them right when the final decisions are being made. To your team members, it feels like they have been taken advantage of, getting them to do the underlying work and then taking the credit for “including them” while doing what you had intended to do all along….on your own. 


Just one experience of the Facilitative Leadership Illusion and those people will never trust the process again. The next time, people might show up (because they have to) or not but they will not participate with the same vigor. They may find reasons they cannot attend every meeting or complain that they have no time to complete the tasks you want them to share in.


In order to gain the buy-in and warm fuzzies that are possible, you have to use it to build consensus. Short cuts such as polls, votes and “I’ll take it from here,” undermine the process. Consensus building is hard and it takes time- a LOT of time, but in the end, it is worth it.


If you are using the Facilitative Leadership model, it is of extreme importance that you practice some self-reflection. You have to think about what is behind your choices during the process. 


Here are some red flags that your FA process is an illusion:


1.  Avoiding the “spoiler” Failing to invite the person who tends to question other people’s points of view, bring up potential obstacles to the success of ideas as they are implemented, or resist change makes it clear from the start that you are not really committed to consensus building. You have to not only invite this person to participate but you have to let them speak and actually address their concerns without dismissing their point of view.


2.  Scheduling to your convenience When you schedule meetings at a time or on days when you know that certain people will likely not be able to attend, you amplify your intention (conscious, subconscious or unconscious) to make it seem like you are including them without actually including them.


3.  Jamming the agenda When you jam the agenda full of activities with way too little time to have any real discussion, much less build any kind of consensus, you plant the seed in the minds of your invitees that the process is not leading to real listening.


4.  Vague strategy When you create the process structure independent of the group and there is no real logical or logistical strategy, it becomes immediately clear that you don’t intend for the process to lead to actual deliverables.


If you recognize any of these red flags as something that has happened in your FA attempts of the past, or think you don’t recognize these red flags yet your past attempts at FA have resulted in a lack of buy-in, contact me here. I can help you figure out what went wrong and, as important, what to do to fix it.


For more Institutional process thoughts, check out my blog

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