Facilitation – some new ideas?

By Elisabeth Goodman, 21st May 2015

The Ideas Centre – a great resource for creative thinking

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of Dave Hall’s workshops from The Ideas Centre. Dave regularly holds off-site and in-house workshops where he introduces delegates to principles and tools to stimulate their creative thinking, and so enables them to find novel solutions for their problems, issues, challenges and opportunities.

I found the workshop tremendously insightful, not only to reflect on one of my own business questions, but also to challenge my thinking as a trainer and facilitator. (See also one of my previous blogs – Reflections of a team facilitator.)

Using Lego for solution development
Using Lego with The Ideas Centre for solution development
The picture above represents the ‘solution’ I found to my business question. I would strongly recommend one of Dave’s workshops to help you explore how you can use Lego and his other ‘tools’ for addressing your own challenges.

In the meantime, here are three things I discovered and will be exploring further in my work as a trainer and facilitator.

Facilitators should take an active role in idea generation

One of the challenges facilitators often have is finding the right balance between addressing the content as opposed to the process of what they are facilitating. Whilst Dave is adamant about there being a clear problem owner for idea generation, and this person never being the facilitator, he does allow the latter to be more actively engaged in the discussion than might traditionally be the case.

So, for example, the facilitator is the one that holds the pen in the discussion. He or she will actively ask questions both to clarify the problem, and to generate ideas. So far this is not too unconventional.

Where Dave introduces a different element is that the facilitator is also ‘allowed’ to make suggestions that will help to shape the problem owner’s thinking. This is true whether the facilitator knows something about the subject area or not. In fact the problem owner will benefit from as much input as possible, and so the facilitator should definitely support this too.

At the end of the day though, the problem owner will be the one to select the final solution, and the facilitator has a key responsibility to enable the process for getting to that point.

Naive participants are invaluable for idea generation

Break-out groups are a core element of my work as a trainer and as a facilitator. They give participants the opportunity to explore new principles and tools in more depth, and to apply them to their own issues and challenges.

I have typically (up to now) encouraged participants in break-out groups, in both my off-site and on-site workshops, to work with people who are doing something similar to them, so that they can add their expertise to that of the problem owner’s. In fact some delegates have expressed anxiety when they have not felt sufficiently knowledgeable about the area being explored.

However, such content ‘naivety’ is, according to Dave, to be actively encouraged. Participants who are not familiar with the subject area are more likely to challenge assumptions, and to bring in novel ideas which, whether useful or not, will encourage the more divergent thinking that is critical to innovation.

This is something that I had previously only been subconsciously aware of.  Now I will make more active use of ‘naïve’ participants, whilst also ensuring that the problem owner has other subject matter experts to support him or her.

Emotions will support rather than hinder innovation

My courses on management skills, and on Lean and Six Sigma typically include sessions on continuous improvement. As Dave rightly pointed out, there is something of a gap between this kind of incremental innovation, which is obviously still useful and important, and breakthrough innovation. In fact delegates at my workshops sometimes want opportunities for more blue-sky thinking and, I do look for ways to enable that too.

However one principle that Lean and Six Sigma techniques strongly uphold is the fundamental importance of facts and data. Subjective or emotional problem statements such as ‘this process is taking far too long’ are strongly discouraged, and instead must be written for example as ‘this process is taking 2 hours longer than it should’. This then sets the scene for exploring all the root causes for the problem.

The Ideas Centre has its own methodology for articulating problems that paves the way for generating solutions, but what is particularly novel is how they encourage the problem owner to use emotional language. The impact in the workshop was startling. What was otherwise a dry and somewhat boring statement turned into something that grabbed everyone’s attention and committed them to finding a solution.

Using more emotional problem statements is definitely something I will be experimenting with when a client is willing to explore something other than the more purist approach to Lean and Six Sigma.

My courses also address how to manage change, where winning hearts as well as minds is such a critical factor for success. I will be experimenting with the use of emotional problem statements in this context too.


You can find out more about The Ideas Centre from their website.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the recently renamed Methods and Standards theme for the Enabling Change SIG.