Facilitating through the Storm

Let’s face it. Anyone with any amount of facilitation skill can lead a group that is performing well. That’s the good part.

But what about groups perpetually stuck in storming? These groups pose bad and ugly scenarios that must be resolved before the group can perform. In fact, a group stuck in storming can be a facilitator’s worst nightmare (no matter how skilled he or she happens to be).

So what can you, as facilitator do to break through the storm? First, consider the things that you must never do such as: ignoring the problems being put forward by the team, avoiding arguments that are occurring, and telling people what to do.

None of the above will solve any problems. In fact, they will make the situation even uglier and create even a less manageable team.

To help move teams from storming to norming and then performing, employ these actions:

  1. Get the team to raise all problems/issues and solve them. Note that the team must work on solving them; the facilitator only facilitates.
  2. Encourage members to debate ideas in a non-personal way. Set up a safe environment for discussing issues and coming up with solutions.
  3. Offer clear options for resolving the problems and encourage the team to take control of implementing the solutions.
  4. Help the team identify strategies and action plans, but don’t tell them what to do.
  5. Help members identify their problems and work to resolve them. Don’t solve the problems for them.

Working with a team through its storming stage is the most difficult to manage for any facilitator. In storming, feelings are typically running high and conflicts (old or new) can affect the team’s overall morale. And if not already present, this stage can surface clearly dysfunctional behaviours.

Facilitators navigating the storming stage must remain absolutely neutral and have a high degree of assertiveness. Here are some suggestions for successfully maneuvering through storming:

  • Tension in groups is normal. Accept it.
  • Maintain your neutrality in the situation. Stay calm.
  • Create an environment that encourages expression of feelings. Think Vegas!
  • Admit that there’s conflict – no sense hiding from it.
  • Invite the team to give their input about the situation. Write solutions on a flipchart for all to see.
  • Intervene to correct dysfunctional behaviours. If you have to, quietly dismiss “unmanageable” individuals from the group.
  • Be assertive when refereeing heated discussions. Don’t be afraid to be assertive.
  • Facilitate open and honest communication. Silent disagreement can kill team morale and any good works coming from the group.

In addition to the above, teams deadlocked in storming need an opportunity to vent and resolve their issues. If this does not occur, there is little chance that the team will ever perform well as a group.

Bouncing Around

Did you know that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent? As surprising as this number is, what is more surprising is that those who multitask believe that they are being more productive than if they focus on one task at a time. Let’s have a closer look at multitasking.

The first thing to consider is that no one can truly multitask. What they are doing is “task switching.” According to Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries: “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount. It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum.”

If one is task switching, then the way to save time is to batch your tasks. For instance, if you need to attend meetings, then schedule your meetings all in one day or half-day. This way, you get into the necessary mindset required for meetings and you get meetings done all at once (or in chunks of time). This is much better than having one meeting every day.

Switching frequently between tasks can also introduce errors into your work. This is especially true if your work involves a lot of critical thinking. A 2010 French study concluded that while the human brain can handle two complicated tasks without too much trouble, introducing a third task can overwhelm the frontal cortex and increase the number of mistakes.

Another reason not to multitask is that it increases stress. A University of California found that employees who received a steady stream of email stayed in a perpetual “high alert” mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant access multitasked less and were also less stressed.

Multitasking also increases “inattentional blindness.” One study found that 75% of college students who walked across a street while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. While the brain did not register seeing the clown, there is real danger in inattentional blindness. What if a speeding car was heading toward you while you were engaged on your cell phone?

Multitasking makes it harder to switch between tasks. This is especially true as our brains age. A 2011 study from the University of California in San Francisco concluded that it becomes harder to get back on track after interruptions. This is because sudden interruptions forcing us to focus on another task disrupts short term memory.

All of this begs the question, “Do those who say they can multitask actually multitask and do they do it well?” According to a 2013 University of Utah study, if you engage in multitasking frequently, you are much worse at it than those who only engage occasionally.

The next time you feel the need to bounce around between tasks, STOP. Instead, prioritize and schedule your work to focus on one task at a time. To become more productive, do not divide your attention between tasks. And remember that overall, frequent multitasking or task switching leads to more harm than good.

Thriving or Surviving?

What is your worst case scenario? What will you do if: (a) you are unable to prevent it from happening, or (b) you are unable to mitigate the outfall from its actual occurrence?

What if the worst possible thing happens during your project, in your company, in your life? What will you do if you cannot prevent the thing you thought you could prevent?

It’s true. Sometimes even the best thought-out plans and prepared-for scenarios are beyond our control.

Many organizations create risk management strategies and hope to never use them. Some even go beyond planning and simulate risks to test their risk mitigation strategies. But imagine an environmental, financial, or other disaster that is beyond your or your risk management strategy’s control. The risk blows up your project or your organization.

What happens next is the difference between surviving and thriving.

An organization that survives will patch up the outfall from the risk and continue business with a limp, hoping to get back to pre-risk operations.

An organization that thrives will look beyond the risk, reinventing itself to become a stronger, better service provider. In short, companies that thrive are lean to begin with and are able to bounce back stronger than ever

Many companies anticipate and identify challenges and opportunities in any project. That is a typical first step. However, moving beyond the first step involves change—and change is difficult. For one thing, agile companies (those that thrive) do not have an emotional attachment to the corporate status quo. They are not in love with their product or service. In fact, the less emotionally attached the corporation is to its products, processes, services, etc., the easier it is to change and become a thriving organization.

A thriving enterprise reinvents itself frequently. It not only looks forward five, 10, 15 or more years down the road, but it continuously adjusts its products, processes, and services to meet the approaching challenges and opportunities. In fact, a thriving organization learns to “fail forward” to thrive. That is, developing a perspective around change, challenges and opportunities that are relentlessly solution focused enables organizations to thrive.

Like love and respect for a family, revisiting and remembering the past is good, but not if it stalls your future. Organizations that pre-emptively make the necessary hard decisions, will not only sustain their future, but will thrive in doing so.