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HPMD Quotes & Sources


Here's are the sections from Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, on facilitation. I also added these to the Articles & Quotes db.

The team facilitator

THE TEAM CAN DEVELOP SKILLS FASTER IF IT HAS AN OUTSIDE FACILITATOR who is trained in techniques for building reflection and inquiry skills, as well as dialogue facilitation. Team members often unknowingly collude to misrepresent reality to each other, and cover up the ways in which they do so. Only an outsider can see these learning disabilities clearly enough to lead the team to deal with its undiscussable behavior or issue. That is why a member of the team, no matter how skilled, is not the best facilitator. However, if there are limited funds, or if there is an expectation of long-term practice, then an internal facilitator may be worthwhile, particularly if this person can receive on-the-job training from a skilled outsider. This insider should be as distant as possible from the team and the team's political web. As the process spreads, the organization will need a cadre of people who can initiate, facilitate, and enable other teams, so plan from the start how the organization will increase its facilitator capacity.

Senge, Fieldbook, p. 356. [underscores added]

The facilitation of dialogue: notes for and
about the dialogue "specialist" William Isaacs

WHILE DIALOGUE CAN'T BE FORCED, IT CAN BE NURTURED. YOU CAN CREATE conditions under which it can occur. In fact, most of our theoretical work so far has revolved around identifying the personal and interpersonal climates which encourage or derail it. These conditions include the internal climate and point of view of the facilitator.
Dialogue does initially require a facilitator, who can help set up this field of inquiry, and who can embody its principles and intention. But this is not familiar "group" leadership. The facilitator should not be seen as the "prime mover," "leader," or "cause" of the dialogue session. Instead, it's helpful to think of dialogue as a process with no single "cause" or "prime mover." Putting the conversation together is a collaborative effort. It doesn't depend on any individual's intelligence. Over time the process should evolve toward a collective facilitation, with reliance on the dialogue "expert" diminishing to nothing.
Why, then, is a facilitator necessary at all? Because the process of dialogue is unfamiliar; because it can bring up difficult emotions and misunderstandings; and because skilled facilitators know how to anticipate and help people through the "crises." This requires a wide range of skills: evoking and refining the team's collective attention, intervening in complex social systems, and actively inquiring into defensive routines. The facilitator must develop both an awareness of how his or her own defensive reactions might be triggered, and a large enough presence to embrace all sides of any intense polarization that appears.
For example, in a dialogue in Israel that David Bohm led, one participant stood up and said, "Zionism is the problem with Israel." Another person stood up, enraged, and took the opposite view. The facilitator would have to be able to embrace both views without voting externally for either, to enable the inquiry to get beyond this familiar and stuck polarization. What is the ground between the views? This can't be explained if the facilitators cannot help to create the right kind of space.

How am I hearing what is being said here?
Who am 1 as I listen here?
What am I in this scene?
Where am I listening from in myself?
Am I "them"? Am I the silence? Am I my ideas? Am I my disturbances?
Where are the factors that might stretch or fragment the container?
Who is in an emotionally tender place here?
Who's going to want applause?
Who's going to want to be constantly adjusting and improving the process?
Who's going to want to fight with the facilitator?
Who's going to want to raise objections to the process?*


*Some material in these questions derives from work by Cliff Barry about how to identify and heal fundamental Identity wounds that people bring into groups.

Basic components of a dialogue session
William Isaacs

The invitation process begins building the container, People must be given the choice to participate. They must understand that their resistances and fears are safely answered. Dialogue can't be shoved down their throats, because that will invoke the memory of previous times when something was forced on them, whether at your organization or elsewhere. You'll get a primitive "fight...... flight," or "freeze" response. Your goal with dialogue is to evoke a higher-level response. Freeing up traditional structures of imposition and hierarchy in a group is essential to allow new energy for collective inquiry.

To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the "music," but to the very essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for who he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of the light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind's hearing to your ears' natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.

When we observe the thoughts that govern how we see the world, we begin to change and transform ourselves --and this is as true for a team as it is for an individual. Many of the dialogue techniques --like silence are based around developing an environment that is quiet enough so that people can observe their thoughts, and the team's thoughts, Once that happens, things can change without conscious manipulation.

Dialogue encourages people to "suspend" their assumptions --to refrain from imposing their views on others and to avoid suppressing or holding back what they think. The word suspension means "to hang in front." Hanging your assumptions in front of you so that you and others can reflect on them is a delicate and powerful art. This does not mean laying your assumptions aside, even temporarily, to see what your attitudes would be if you felt differently. It means exploring your assumptions from new angles: bringing them forward, making them explicit, giving them considerable weight, and trying to understand where they came from. You literally suspend them in front of the group so that the entire team can understand them collectively.
We have found that to understand the term "suspension" we must see it as several activities, not just one. First comes surfacing assumptions: one must be aware of one's assumptions before one can raise them. Typically others are more aware of your assumptions than you are, and less aware of your intentions; as the team inquires into the relationship between assumptions and intentions, the suspension process is begun. Second comes display of assumptions: unfolding your assumptions so that you and others can see them. This act of displaying assumptions is itself a kind of suspension. The third component is inquiry; to suspend with the intention of inviting others to see new dimensions in what you are thinking and saying.


Part of the purpose of suspending assumptions is to honor the passion that underlies every participant's viewpoint, while refusing to allow that passion to become a roadblock. No one is asked to give up his views; nor do you impose one view on everyone; nor is anyone expected to remain quiet, suppressing his reactions if he disagrees with the prevailing Wisdom. The assumptions hang in the midst of the room, available for all (including the person who holds them) to question and explore. In our dialogue work, we have found it useful to mention Bohm's metaphor --assumptions suspended in the air before us, as if hanging on a string a few feet before our noses.
Suspending assumptions is a difficult stance to learn to take. Your assumptions are tied closely to your deepest beliefs and values; if anyone challenges them, he is challenging the feelings closest to your heart. Normally you protect your assumptions from inquiry, instead of saying, for example, "Go on. Can you help me see something else about my deepest beliefs that I'm not now seeing?" Implicit in the willingness to suspend assumptions is a sense of confidence; that if your deepest beliefs are worthwhile, they'll withstand inquiry from others, and if they're not, you 'II be strong enough, and open enough, to reconsider them. --BS

Disagreement as an opportunity Bryan Smith

A DIALOGUE GROUP IS ALWAYS ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THOSE MOMENTS when an almost imperceptible disagreement rises to the surface. Inevitably there will be a temptation to think: "Let's just get on with it. The difference is just semantic." But chances are, if the difference is not easily resolved, it is not just semantic. The facilitator must say, in effect, "Our purpose is not to get on With it,' but to use potentially subtle disagreements to show us where to dig deeper."
The moment of disagreement is cause for celebration: "This little discrepancy is intriguing. It's a real opportunity. Let's not lose it. Let's slow down a little bit, play back the tape, and see what's really going on below the tip of the iceberg . . ." In fact, if there is no disagreement, that can be a sign that the group is moving too quickly.
Often, an affection develops between members of the group With the most opposing views, as if the affection itself is fueled by diversity: "Isn't that amazing," someone might say, "that you have such a different idea? Why do you feel that way? How did you come to it?"

Senge, Fieldbook, pp. 376-379 [underscores added]

Creating a productive conversation

WE NOW DESIGN ALL THE FORUMS TO MOVE RAPIDLY TO A COMMON supperordinate vision. By doing this in a transparent way, through a process of dialogue rather than discussion and decision, we diffuse most of the win-lose positions which people wish to occupy. By putting vision and current reality in relationship to each other, we release the energy and creativity required to move. People want to resolve the tension through practical action steps, with clear accountability for their execution. This mutual desire to act has itself been an important basis for creating alignment among the participants.*

These forums are heavily influenced by the Innovation Associates Visionary Leadership and Planning process. See p. 568.

Facilitators must continually bring forward people who have not spoken, and prompt them to add their views. They must regulate the flow of conversation, following a model of dialogue which invites people to suspend their assumptions and treat each other as colleagues. All the while, the facilitators must ask people to explain why they said what they just said --to urge them to describe what's behind their thinking. If the facilitator has credibility, then people are quite willing to talk in this way.

For more about dialogue facilitation, see page 357.

By the end of the forum, people want to get things done. So we have them develop action plans, much like Alain Gauthier's "strategic priorities." We tie this up with what we call the "accountability matrix," a chart which allows the entire group to assign duties and schedule milestones democratically, so that no one feels singled out to do the dirty work. We have now created a diverse team which will continue to work together during the months ahead.

For more about strategic priorities, see page 344.

We set up the recording process so that a full record of the proceedings emerge for people to take away at the end of the workshop, Even the last twenty minutes are included; we use them to develop ground rules for the team, which I record on an overhead transparency. At the last moment, we photocopy the transparency I am writing and add it to the packet. Through this, we have taken away every excuse not to act.
The sense of empowerment that is developed in these workshops comes both from exercising choice, and from being heard and seen by the other members. People develop what I see as the essence of leadership --the ability to declare a position on an issue but remain open to influence. People start taking responsibility for self within the context of the community, and feel fully accountable for achieving their shared purpose. I feel that something magical happens in the process --I have never seen it fail to release tremendous energy within an alignment with a purpose.

Senge, Fieldbook, pp. 428-429. [underscores added]

Short Quote:

"Facilitators must continually bring forward people who have not spoken, and prompt them to add their views. They must regulate the flow of conversation, following a model of dialogue which invites people to suspend their assumptions and treat each other as colleagues. All the while, the facilitators must ask people to explain why they said what they just said --to urge them to describe what's behind their thinking." --Peter Senge
© Copyright 1996, 2006, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

Author:Senge, Peter, etal.
Title:The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook
Publisher:Doubleday Currency
Place (City):New York
Publication Date:1994
Pages:pp. 356, 376-379, 428-429
Source Type:Book
Quote Number:300
Categories:Teams, Process