The balancing act of organizing self-management

What are the little tricks of facilitating a large group? Let it go! But that’s not so easy…
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Nov 24, 2021

By Elien Rogaar

Self-management is one of the four principles of the Future Search methodology I lean on when designing and facilitating meetings and workshops. However, I do experience a dilemma in this: leading and controlling versus letting go.

Solve their struggle?

An example: if during a workshop I see a subgroup struggling and I observe tensions in their group dynamics, do I go to this group to help them? Or do I let them? Although I see their struggle, I have to let it go and ‘sit on my hands’. Why? It is up to the group to take responsibility for their work, collaboration and results. They can deal with it. Although letting go is counterintuitive, I know that if I would go over to them to intervene, to ‘save’ them or to ‘meddle’ with them, it could make them dependable on help from outside.

Clean their mess?

Another example: If I see flipcharts with valuable notes written by subgroups lying in a corner of the room, do I take the flips and find out to which group they belong? The urge is there to do so, to control, to back them up. But I know I have to let it go. I tell and stimulate participants to take responsibility for their own group-work outputs on flips, post-its, notes etc. And provide them with a space on the wall for their harvest.

Chase participants?

A third example is the dilemma of chasing or not chasing participants to start again in plenary after group-work and breaks. What I learned to do as a facilitator is to start back in plenary at the exact time as indicated, with whoever is there at that moment. Participants experience at the beginning of the workshop that the agreed structure and timings are taken seriously.

Trivial examples? Conscious choices!

These examples may seem simple, trivial, futile. It may seem that I do not do much as a facilitator, and that letting go would suggest indifference. But I regard these simple measures and the attitude of the facilitator as little tricks and conscious choices to encourage self-management as a key to ownership.

Besides this attitude of sitting on my hands, a measure that I apply to encourage self-management is letting participants organize themselves in a subgroup. One person moderates the dialogue, another person takes notes for collective reporting, a third person keeps time and a fourth person reports back in plenary the output of the group-work.

Self-management is key

I learned about the principle of encouraging self-management in a training on Future Search by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. It was an eye-opener for me: to not just do something but to stand there. At the same token, I had to unlearn meddling and mothering, to let go of my urge to help people, the urge to ‘take care of participants’, the urge to intervene.

I have seen that the opposite works better: encouraging self-management leads to higher quality dialogue and outputs, engagement and ownership. Whose process is this after all?