Posted by: genevievetaylor | June 3, 2009

Book Review: Managers as Facilitators – A Practical Guide to Getting Work Done in the Workplace

A Practical Guilde to Getting Work Done in a Changing Workplace

A Practical Guide to Getting Work Done in a Changing Workplace

Managers as Facilitators: A Practical Guide to Getting the Work Done in a Changing Workplace has been one of those unexpected treasure troves of information.  The Christmas of 2006, we went to visit my sweetheart’s parents in Indiana.  His mother was just in the process of clearing out books, readying for retirement, and as a retired Human Resources Manager, what a library she had.  This was one book in  a large box that I picked out for myself.   I have  since recommended Managers as Facilitators to clients, who have “gained more in a scan than they have from entire classes on facilitation”,  as well as reading and re-reading it myself.  Now Terry, the principle at Global Genesis, also uses it when thinking about teams.

Managers as Facilitators does several things.

First, it is prescriptive: It tells you how to start a team well, clarifying from the very beginning things such as charge, purpose, roles, goals, and operating procedures.  As the title implies, it is meant for the manager to help their team move quickly through the stages of group development, and points out the tools needed from the manager’s perspective to help the team as a facilitator, not a manager.  The process it uses is thorough, matched with excellent questions to help you.  Their definition of “Facilitation” is best described in the model below – to serve the group by helping them accomplish their task. We might modify that to say, to help the group achieve the results they are looking for – but the emphasis is the same, on the group.

Facilitation Model

Facilitation Model

Second, it is inclusive: It includes not only the intellectually-based process tools, but discusses the finer nuances of facilitating group dynamics, of understanding conflict.  In Chapter 3, it discusses “Using Yourself as an Instrument” and “Group Dynamics” – explaining. for example, how theories such as Tuckman’s Model (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) apply to groups.  It also discusses how one can reflect what they are seeing to the group, checking your own assumptions about what is happening in a particular instance, and then using that to help the group make a break-through.

Finally, it is Subtle: One of the most challenging pieces of facilitation is knowing when to step in, and when to step back; how to deal with dysfunctional individuals; how to help groups work with conflict productively.

For example, Managers as Facilitators notes that process only works for as long as it works for the group; but as soon as it doesn’t, how do you deal with it?  Well, you check in with the group; you adjust and fine-tune; you “co-design.”  This book encourages that kind of subtlety – a point that if missed, could damage the facilitators credibility with the group, as well as the group’s satisfaction with the outcome.

It doesn’t shirk from the hard questions, either – the book also includes a great chapter on “What to do if” – for example, what to do if you have someone who is consistently late or otherwise distracted/distracting.  Or, “What to do if” you have a heated, personal conflict between two  individuals.  The authors do an excellent job of presenting ideas for action in a quick, easy-reference type fashion – you could, as a facilitator, take this with you in your bag, and whip it out quickly during a break if you were really stuck.

What one must be careful of: My criticisms are few of this book, but would probably be limited to that subject of subtlety.  They suggest that the “Team Charter” (the Purpose, Goals, Roles, and Operating Procedures) can be done in a day.  I would say, that is really an ideal situation – and at times, it could take less than that, and at others, it could take more.  The danger, always, of following a prescription is to lose your sense of intuition within the group; I would echo their warning that this is a guide, not a recipe.  Unlike baking -which requires some science, measurements are precise and determine the success of your product, Facilitation is an art. Your intuition serves you well while Facilitating.

The Authors, Richard G. Weaver and John D. Farrell are practitioners as well as teachers.  They have clients, students, (Mr. Weaver is a professor at the University of St. Thomas) and have obviously done a lot of thinking on the topic.  This book was written in the 90s in the big craze of self-determined teams, mission statements etc.; it seems to take the best of what is, and remains highly relevant for work-place teams of the day.

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  1. […] An excellent resource on creating a “Charge” and a “Charter” is the book Managers as Facilitators, which I reviewed in […]

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