Fifty facilitators of community leadership programs from 25 Kansas communities traveled to Wichita for this week’s The Kansas Community Leadership Initiative (KCLI) Facilitation Workshop, and for instruction on Marty Linsky’s specialty – the use of the Harvard Case Study Method.
But in passing on front-of-the room skills Linsky honed during years of teaching at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and as a Principal of the leadership development firm Cambridge and Associates, much of his Wednesday morning conversation reminded me of mining.
Facilitators delve into subjects, extract as much insight and perspective from the material and from the participants as possible, and then examine the value of what they’d unearthed.
That process, until you’re acclimated, can ignite anxiety or outright panic in relatively new facilitators.
So, while Linsky appeared comfortable facilitating, he suspected some participants still experienced occasional anxiety. He was right.
One person worried about knowing the cases well enough. Another wondered how to engage reticent participants. A third wanted advice on how facilitators could keep their strong, personal beliefs from interfering with case discussions.
Marty focused on facilitation’s purpose and offered suggestions on how to extract the most from discussions.
“This is much more about the art of asking questions, open-ended questions, ones to which you don’t have the right answers,” Linsky said.
For example, he discussed the value of facilitators developing the ability to maintain simultaneous conversations in their minds as well as with the groups they facilitated.
Linsky said facilitators want to develop people’s diagnostic abilities and nurture leadership capacity. That requires countless, real time, internal, mental observations and calculations such as: “Over the past 6 minutes, only men have spoken, should I raise this issue?” Or, “This person just raised an interesting point, should I follow up?” or “Factions have materialized. Should I point that out?”
Facilitators want to surface different perspectives in the room, to get people to see possibilities they haven’t seen before, Linsky said.
“What you’re trying to do is change people’s behavior,” he said. “To do that, you’ve got to get into people’s hearts and stomachs.”
And that often takes a fair amount of digging.