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The opencollaboration blog is a stimulating resource. Today’s post, New paradigms of leadership : from leader to facilitator to we-facilitator, is no exception. However, as reflected by my comment that follows their essay, which I posted on their blog, I have some disagreement.

I have been a number of workshops where something the facilitator/leader of the workshop did was questioned, an act which created a certain degree of uncomfortableness not only because something is being challenged, but also because in this situation it is no longer clear who is facilitating the discussion. The workshop leader has lost a lot their authority temporarily. I have watched with intrigue as different members of the group then attempt to take up the role of facilitator, guiding how and what is to be discussed, highlighting areas of interest, and suggesting certain processes. There can occur what might be dubbed facilitator overlap, as different processes compete for the way things unfold. Sometimes the ensuing discussion gets off the tracks, and falls apart. Other times through people listening, empathy, synergy, and proper switching of process tracks can guide the whole group into balance.

At a gathering last year in Findhorn, Scotland which was brought to discuss the New Story, the new paradigms coming into reality, the agenda was interrupted when the cards outlining the schedule was rearranged by to say We Don’t Know. There was a shocked silence, then the head facilitator suggested people meditate, and then people spoke up. Some were quite angry that this had occurred, one man said it was a violent. There was an urgency from some people in the room to get the conference ‘back on track’ onto a known schedule. There was also a voice that said lets not jump back in so quick, lets be present to what is occurring. Charles Eisenstein ( who writes a lot about the new story in his books, and who later turned out to be one of the pranksters who had rearranged the cards) stood up and asked who it is that we turn to, who has the power in a group. The question of who has the authority hung in the air.

It is at these times the skills of improvisational co-facilitation are needed. Where people are able to listen to the multiple perspectives and energies in the room, and also able to sense into the efficacy of different facilitation strategies. It requires being able to assess on the fly the skills of other facilitators and efficacy of different process strategies. It is about intuitively knowing when better to stay quiet or when to speak. And its about being to dance in that confusion.

What is being looked for, is the ability for a group to self-organize, when there is no clear leader, no clear facilitation process, into functional and energetically healthy collective.

These are some of the skills the Facilitator Improv process seeks to train people to become better at. Facilitator Improv creates a situation where anyone in the group can facilitate the group in a process, and so helps people listen to the group energy, and also be uncomfortable with the extra creativity and unknown that comes with allowing anyone to lead the group at any one time. The basic Facilitator Improv process involves people going into silence until someone gets an intuitive hit of what to exercise to facilitate the group with. Then everyone goes back into silence until someone gets an intuitive hit of what to lead the group with. In more advance versions of Facilitator Improv exercises can be suggested at anytime, even if another exercise is in progress. People have to use their intuition and energetic listening to guide the group well through this format where ostensibly on the surface its anything goes.

In the current mainstream model of organizational development, we have a person at the top who is telling others what to do, they have the authority. In a more advanced model of organizational development, the person at the top is more of a facilitator (as was the case at the New Story Summit). A facilitator model allows more people to participate, to feel involved, to contribute their knowledge, passion, and essence. However there is still an inherent power dynamic there (which is what Charles Eisenstein was bringing up), we still look to the facilitator as the leader. And any leader will have their blind-spots. In the Occupy Movement, there were people who were frustrated with how people who were facilitators seem to have a lot of power to contour where they wanted the conversation to go. In an even more advance model of organizational development, there is a chance for everyone to become a facilitator. Processes are we-facilitated, omni-facilitated. This model requires participants to also have a higher inner self development, where they are able to be present and aware of their own emotions and thoughts, to sense into the collective energy, and to have a higher degree of empathy.

We can think of a society going from a model of leader to facilitator to we-facilitator. In the Integral theory of Ken Wilber the leader level would be correlated with blue and orange levels of the collective, the facilitator level correlates with the green and teal levels of the collective, and the co-facilitator level correlates with turquoise levels of the collective. The hope is the Facilitator Improv practice spreads it will help usher in turquoise levels of development of our culture.

Dear opencollaboration:

Thanks again for a provocative post. Though some of your typos left the meaning unclear to me, I agree with the thrust. Surely the notion of the leader as the one who is always “in charge” is steadily becoming outmoded. And it’s very much true that anyone in a group can exercise leadership at any time by presenting ideas that move the process along.

However, Jo Freeman, with her classic essay The Tyranny of Structurelessness, hit many nails on the head. We often need to select leaders democratically, delegate specific responsibilities to them, and hold them accountable. Perhaps that does not involve a “clear leader” in the traditional sense, and those roles can be frequently rotated. And in small groups we can even require unanimous consent in order to move forward. But especially in larger groups, some clear structure is often beneficial.

Not everyone can do everything equally well. At times we need to delegate specific tasks to those who are most skilled with regard to those tasks.

And Wilber’s whole framework strikes me as too hierarchical. It’s not a matter of one style being superior, or higher. It’s not either/or, but both/and. Even a traditional, top-down, command-and-control approach is needed in some situations.

Regardless, thanks again for your provocation. Keep up the good work.


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