Groupwork Centre Blog

Contracting Controversial Facilitation Work

Resolving through collaboration is not always a piece of cake

Being asked to come in and help around a controversial issue, takes us to the deep end of facilitation. It can be exciting to be invited to provide facilitation for such work, and it is very rewarding to see it through to successful and sustainable outcomes.

However, we are regularly gathering stories of how such controversial work can be de-railed… and we have our own experiences to add to the mix!

This controversial work will probably involve:

  • Strong feelings
  • Conflict
  • Winners and losers
  • Change
  • Unstated dynamics
  • Rank and Power

These are big issues to facilitate!

I decided to write this article after a particularly tricky facilitation job I was asked to do at the start of this year. It was this job, plus the weight of other stories from ourselves and others, that motivated us to strengthen our approach to negotiating controversial work.

Key Factors To Consider:

  1. We need to be involved in the process design from the word ‘go’. We need to be engaged at the earliest possible point – not after the process and other key factors are firmly in place.  NOTE: If we are asked at short notice to step in, it is highly likely we will be asked to undertake some one else’s process. This someone else is unlikely to be a facilitator!
  2. We need to be involved in all decisions around the process we are using – including invitations, venue and time.  NOTE: We are being employed for our process wisdom as well as our facilitation skills, and need to see that all aspects of the work are well attended to.
  3. Establish early – a clearly stated purpose that all parties are prepared to endorse.
  4. We believe that good outcomes are the result of a well planned, transparent and enabling process – that is well facilitated. If, in our professional judgment, we believe the process has been significantly compromised – then we will withdraw our services.  NOTE: In the work we were offered at the start of the year, we withdrew our services as we did not believe the process in place was capable of achieving the stated outcome.
  5. While it is important to acknowledge that the work has been contracted with a particular person/entity,  we see our facilitation being at the service of the whole group. Thus we see the whole group as our client.  NOTE: Sometimes the person paying the bill feels they can exert undue influence on the process.
  6. We need to be involved in establishing who should be present at the meeting.  NOTE: Again, the client will probably have their biases, and there will be a need for an independent assessment!!
  7. We need to establish who is the employing entity’s primary liaison person for this work, and who is the facilitation entity’s principal liaison person. All contact either way with any others – needs to be undertaken with the knowledge of the respective two key liaison people.  NOTE: Sometimes other people make unilateral decisions that compromise the work.
  8. All key people involved are willing to attend, understand the process, and are prepared to engage in it. The process will involve being able to clear strong feelings.  NOTE: This is the bit that people will likely want to glide over, or avoid altogether! Yet controversial work involves strong feelings – otherwise it is not controversial! All people need to have a general understanding of what they are being asked to participate in. They need to be prepared to ‘give it a go’ – even though they may not be happy to be involved, or optimistic about the outcome.
  9. We are being employed for our process wisdom. Thus, we will invoice for all work undertaken up until the time of withdrawal.  NOTE: We are still chasing payment for our considerable effort contributed before we withdrew from the work at the start of the year.

In Summary

Well folks, all this may seem a little excessive. Yet the ongoing stories we hear at the Victorian Facilitators Network (VFN), the Australasian Facilitation Network Conference, our Facilitation courses… and our own mistakes has got us to this point.

Sometimes our eagerness, our ego .. or our economics can get us to ‘yes we can’ a little too quickly. We need to get to the point of a good ‘gut feel’ about the work. This usually involves a lot of questions.

And even when we say ‘yes’, we need to be clear of our trigger points – so we can withdraw our services if facing unacceptable compromise   …. even if we may not get paid!