Process literacy perks: The participants, as ‘leaders in the shade’

With this new year’s resolution to blog somewhat more than I’ve done in the past four years, one of the biggest and nicest endeavours ahead of me is to finally write a series of posts about ‘process literacy’ – following this seminal post. I’m getting started with this series today, focusing on the benefits of process literacy in relation to different types of people/functions involved in collaboration. In this post I’m exploring the benefits of developing process literacy of (and for) the participants of a meeting or collaboration.

Who benefits the most from process literacy? Of course you might say facilitators and other people who operate most of the time in the ‘process’ realm.

Well, there’s much to say about this, for sure.

Though how about the majority of people that will not end up organising, chairing, let alone facilitating meetings – indeed let’s even just think about meetings here, not even broad collaborative initiatives.

So let’s look at meetings that involve process literate participants.

Cultivate fruitful interactions, collaborations and meetings through making everyone a key actor (Image credit: Atlassian)

You might still wonder: What is the benefit of having participants that have developed strong process literacy when there’s a facilitator taking care of the process, and better still: it’s their job!! – right?

Wrong!

Of course, you can always work with a group that has no understanding of process literacy whatsoever. You don’t NEED it to get where you want. But let’s just say it will take more time…

Let’s examine some benefits of having process literacy as distributed as possible, borne by as many participants as possible:

What becomes possible when process literacy is distributed among participants?

Here are just some very real possibilities…

A handy flowchart (download link here to the left) (image credit: Atlassian)
  • Everyone attends meetings as they know exactly why they attend that meeting (ever seen this handy flow chart about organising a meeting or not, by the way?).
  • They have also a good understanding of the topics and outcomes that are aimed at for this meeting. And if they don’t, they ask questions about it upfront, preventing ill-conceived meetings and inviting the organising team to do a better job at realising why they are organising the meeting themselves.
  • They have realistic expectations about what can be achieved in a meeting and are thus not going to shoot for the moon in a two-hour online meeting (or even an eight-hour face-to-face meeting for that matter).
  • They also clearly understand what is expected of them in terms of dynamics: whether to understand, share ideas, co-create solutions etc. This greatly enhances expectation management for everyone around.
  • They are aware of their own expectations, objectives, communication style, and are capable of factoring this into the group dynamics somehow, instead of focusing on themselves only and letting their emotions rule the game.
  • They create consistent and warm norms that help everyone find their place in the group and contribute, respectfully though potentially in disagreement, and they set examples of behaviours that others can follow to further contribute to this fertile atmosphere of collaboration.
  • They collectively manage time in relation with the overall objectives to accomplish, not just mechanically. And in breakout groups, they are able to keep their eye on the ball of ‘what is it we are trying to accomplish’ rather than just ‘what are we discussing at the moment’.
  • Although they may have some ideas about how to run this or that process, or come up with an alternative way of achieving the objective at hand, they are respectful enough of who’s ‘running the show’ at a given time to make that happen.
  • They really pay attention to each other and to managing relationships, because they understand it’s key to the present and future of that work.
  • On the other hand, if things are going horribly wrong, they will call it out and ask for a serious facelift of the process at hand – even all the way to cancelling or adjourning the meeting.
  • And a real bonus here: You can turn participants into facilitators – whether for break out groups, or even (segments of) plenary sessions.
So what are we waiting for to get into a more process literate collaboration? (image credit: QualitDesign)

…and I can get to think about other benefits still, but you get the gist…

In essence, with process literate participants, you have a group of ‘shadow’ facilitators that understand what it takes to move forward with a complex agenda. They make you that much more likely to achieve the results you set your eyes on. You can count on these ‘leaders in the shade’ to bear the collective process and its integrity every step of the way.

This is of course an idyllic picture, a unicorn in the realm of meetings (sigh…) but it sets a vision for what we should strive for. A bit like communication, process literacy is really everyone’s business, or it should be.

Obviously, the reverse picture of the above is also true, and that’s why there’s a lot of benefits in getting the entire set of participants to develop their process literacy rather than dealing with the ills of process illiteracy…

How to cultivate that process literacy?

Well, that’s my holy grail, and I’m getting started on my quest after some successful but rather random errands in the past.

What is sure, approaches that aim at involving and unleashing everyone, such as Liberating Structures, are key in this endeavour. But many more avenues are worth exploring.

Do you want to join my round table, noble knight of distributed intelligence?

Related stories:

I am, you are, each of us is an ‘everyday facilitator’ – let’s cultivate this together!

While co-working on a facilitation training event, one of the themes we’ve been exploring is that of the ‘everyday facilitator’.

Become a facilitator, and cultivate collaboration, empathy, and sorting out the many problems that really need solving! (Credits: Meetville.com)We don’t need to always rely on superpowers from outside to facilitate our conversations and collaborations.

We can cultivate our own facilitative abilities here, today, now!

Why isn’t it the case already? As a species we humans tend to be lazy thinkers and prefer leaving the mental heavy lifting work to outside ‘facilitators’… that is when we even know why it makes sense.

There are different starting points here, as per this very rough typology of people’s appreciation of facilitation:

  1. Level 1 (the most basic) is complete Ignorance. “What is this ‘facilitation’? What does it look like?”.
  2. Level 2 is when people have a vague idea of what facilitation is and they simply don’t want to invest in it for sometimes good, bad or confused reasons (e.g. “why do we need someone from outside to come tell us what to do?” or “we can manage time by ourselves”). Rejection.
  3. The next level up (Level 3) is Confused appreciation, ie. when people are actually ok with the idea of having facilitation in the room, but they have the wrong idea of what it is – they think it’s moderation, or time keeping (see this post for some answers about that)… It’s an improvement from the previous level, but it still doesn’t really do justice to what facilitation brings in the room…
  4. The level up from that –Level 4Commitment– is when people not only understand, and appreciate facilitation but they actually invest in it on a regular basis because they really get the point of facilitated interactions – more often than not coming from outside.
  5. A final level (Level 5) is Cultivation – when the people in charge not only want to commit towards facilitated interactions but want to ensure it facilitation skills are actively cultivated among their ranks, so that facilitated interactions and general group collaboration depend less and less on an external ‘facilitator superhero’ meant to be helping a group. Facilitators are not superheroes. Great facilitators are just there to help the group do their best thinking, and the bulk of the work.

When people see the value of this cultivation, each of us is set to become (and be recognised as) an everyday facilitator. That is when we start using skills and approaches that bring us closer to one another.

That idea is one of the deep reasons I believe in process literacy. It is also the seed that shows where we should invest our scaling efforts (empathy), rather than believing in scaling up our results.

And frankly, how on earth can we stay away from cultivating facilitative skills?

  • Are we not facing problems that are so complex that we can’t solve them on our own and need collaboration?
  • Are we not working almost continuously with teams, collectives, networks, but still don’t have the baggage to make these interactions more effective?
  • Do we really have enough resources to keep on bringing an expert ‘facilitator’ from outside without getting them to share their expertise with the rest of us?
  • How many insipid meetings, boring-as-hell symposiums, agonising conferences, confusing workshops, pretending-to-be-participatory sessions, just all-out-awful gatherings do we need to go through before we act upon these every day business place sores?
  • Do we really prefer to save a few pennies now rather than save big pounds later by investing in everyone’s capacity to work with groups effectively?

I think this is a pretty universal issue. And certainly in the socially-driven sector.

So get started on your facilitation ‘cultivation’, it’s a decision you’re not likely going to regret.

A concrete opportunity to make it happen…

And because a good piece of news never comes alone, THIS is a golden opportunity to get started with it, whether you already facilitate meetings and processes or not. Go on then, join us and be surprised at the power of simple collaboration.

As you can see in the picture below (that’s our design team for this golden opportunity), working on collaboration is not the least exhilarating of experiences 😉

Our design team (Credits: Nadia von Holzen)

Our design team (Credits: Nadia von Holzen)